I cut my teeth on comic books. Well, in its fashion. I grew up reading the horrific Marvel Star Wars side universe and graduated to more ruthless titles such as the Uncanny X-men and Spiderman. Mine was a world of violence and superhero throwdowns that were bloody and filled with rage. (In its own respect it was very much the predecessor for the WWF and the more provocative UFC.) I was a witness to the comic atrocities of the Mutant Massacre and the eventual Fall of the Mutants. I was around when Marvel instituted the Mutant Registry Act and I was a bystander when Wolverine and Spiderman beat on one another. I stalked the night with the Green Arrow and met four little turtles way back before they were a cartoon or a live action movie. I helped shoulder Cub when Lone Wolf trekked through the wilderness. I have seen devils rise and angels fall. I know my way around a comic book.
I understand the animated world. Go back in time to Ralph Baskhi’ Lord of the Rings. I was there. Go back to Disney’s early Symphonies. (I’m not that old but I grew up with them.) Japanimation lurked in the shadows. Films like Akira and Vampire Hunter D were an undercurrent in the animated world. In the nineties, animators hooked into the comic world, spawning the afore mentioned X-Men and a plethora of other titles. Following these titles were spin offs like Teen Titans that played on the manga concept yet held a ferocious spirit as well.
All this brings me to Vampire Free Style. Written and drawn by Jenika Ioffreda, Vampire Free Style tells the story of a cat, a witch in training, and a vampire. I have to admit this is gross simplicity at its finest. The story is much more complicated than that. There is a host of characters, a history (one which the reader travels through as characters are revealed), and a missing girl.
Ioffreda takes her time in a whimsical fashion. The characters seem to be a visual hybrid of Dave McKean from his work on the Sandman series. (Neil Gaiman is an influence according to Ioffreda’s website.) They are drawn elegantly, and one cannot help but appreciate these characters for what they are. That being said, I do have to take some issue with the cat. The cat within the story functions as an almost living vessel for the missing girl. It is as if she were the cursed princess waiting for her release. For me, the cat’s drawn style was distracting — much like watching an American cartoon that is heavily influenced by manga where the character is transformed into something absurd and loud only to revert back to its original form. (Teen Titans was renowned for this.) The cat seems out of place. I know this is by design. And I know there are fans out there saying “duh” (my daughter is one of them!). For me, the cat seems a little too Disney Formula, a little too playing by the rules of cute sidekick.
That is where I find myself with the story. Not formulaic. Vampire Free Style is anything but formulaic. If it were a meal, I would say it is something of a dessert: light, airy, and not too heavy. The artwork is splendid, and one sees a tremendous amount of time and love has been put into crafting not only the characters and the story, but the appearance as well. The pages are professional, glossy, and showcase the talent behind the creator rather than the printer. My hat’s off to Miss Ioffreda for her undertaking!
Would I recommend Vampire Free Style? I would. I would caution those of the exceeding testosterone inclinations; this ain’t your Poppa’s comic. This is something different. Don’t expect snarls and claws, goofy quips from spandex masks. Expect something a little different, a little ethereal. In a genre inundated by impossible bosoms and muscles, something a little different isn’t so bad. In fact, I would recommend it every now and then — and Vampire Free Style is a good place to start.