The year was 1969. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The Beatles recorded their final album. And crashing to Earth aboard a damaged spacecraft was a lone survivor of a dead planet who discovered that the sustenance she needed in order to live flowed not in rivers but in the veins of the humans of this strange new world. A huntress named Vampirella.
In From the Stars…a Vampiress, bestselling author Steven A. Roman examines the Warren Publishing adventures of the queen of the bad girls whose reign has lasted through five decades of published comics and novels, and turns a critical eye toward her sole motion picture appearance, as well as the 1970s movie version that might have been. Combined with an extensive checklist of her Warren Era appearances and rare behind-the-scenes material, From the Stars is a smorgasblood of information for Vampirella fans.
We caught up with author Steven A. Roman to talk about the book.
Horror News Network: Can you tell us a bit about your love for the Vampirella character?
Steven A. Roman: It started back in 1976, when I came across Warren Publishing’s Vampirella #55 in a mom-and-pop candy store. The visual of a half-naked comic heroine was what caught my eye (and no doubt my hormones), but what kept me as a reader was the quality of the stories. Vampi had the benefit of her first regular writer being the legendary Archie Goodwin, who set up all the main cast of Vampi’s world: her magician friend, Pendragon; her love interest, Adam van Helsing; his father, vampire hunter Conrad van Helsing; and her number one enemy, the Cult of Chaos. It was through his Vampirella work that I learned about one of Goodwin’s influences: the works of H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos (the Cult of Cthulhu was, of course the basis for the Chaos church). And after Goodwin you had guys like Bill DuBay, T. Casey Brennan, and Mike Butterworth finding new, weird ways to keep Vampi interesting.
Then there was the art! Jose Gonzalez remains the gold standard for Vampirella artists, with Gonzalo Mayo a very close second, and Enric Torres-Plat is still the Vampi cover artist (no disrespect to Sanjulian, who did that cover for Vampi 55 that got me started). They set the bar for making Vampi the sexiest vampire in comics and, honestly, I think they’re still unmatched.
Not that there aren’t contemporary writers and artists who do as good a job at her current publisher, Dynamite. I think Nancy A. Collins found a way to balance old-school Vampi with a more modern-day approach to horror, and Christopher Priest has also found a way to appeal to both new and old fans with his new series. Plus Dynamite has started doing replica reprints of Warren issues, so between the new comics and the classic reprints, there’s something for just about every Vampi fan these days.
Horror News Network: Can you talk about the genius of James Warren and Forrest J Ackerman when it came to creating and publishing Vampirella?
Steven A. Roman: Well, as I explain in the book, Vampirella’s creation really started with Warren Publishing needing a strong shot in the arm after the sales of Creepy, Eerie, and Famous Monsters of Filmland spiraled downward. The company was having trouble paying not just the bills but the the writers and artists as well, and James Warren decided that the only way to solve the problem was by taking a gamble and launching a new series. So he and Forry Ackerman put their heads together to come up with a new character and, since both of them were influenced by the popularity of the Barbarella movie starring Jane Fonda, they came up with Vampi, although it was really Ackerman who ultimately devised the name and the outer-space vampiress idea (Warren had originally wanted what he’d dubbed a “mod witch”).
It was Warren, though, who insisted on a female horror heroine in the first place, and Warren who commissioned Frank Frazetta to design Vampi’s look based on his feedback—and then when Frazetta didn’t quite get what Warren was looking for, it was underground artist Trina Robbins who figured it out, did a quick sketch right in Warren’s office, and described it over the phone to Frazetta. Fifty-plus years later, it’s a costume design that people still immediately recognize. And it was Warren who gave the writing duties to Archie Goodwin, who set the tone for the series.
Without the innovative, collaborative efforts of Warren, Ackerman, Frazetta, Robbins, and Goodwin—and the guidance of writer/editor Bill DuBay that followed—Vampirella might have become just another long-forgotten comic character waiting to be rediscovered. But Vampirella’s never been out of the public consciousness for long, and considering she celebrated her fiftieth anniversary last year, that’s some accomplishment.
Horror News Network: What made you want to create this unauthorized biography?
Steven A. Roman: It actually was meant to be just a collection of Vampi comic book reviews I’d done over the years for a site called Comics for Sinners, but then I started finding little behind-the-scenes tidbits about some of the classic stories while I was putting it together. Then I started going through my horror magazine collection, like Famous Monsters and Fangoria and The Monster Times, and finding information about the Hammer Films adaptation and other Vampi-related stuff, and before you knew it I had the makings of a book. Then it was just a matter of re-reading all the Warren Vampi stories and the 1970s novelizations by Ron Goulart—okay, maybe not “just,” it was actually a lot to read—and putting it all together. But I think the end result was worth all the work!
Horror News Network: Was there anything that you learned while researching for this book that you didn’t know going in to the project?
Steven A. Roman: A lot—you’ll have to read the book to find out what exactly (hint, hint)—and it couldn’t have happened without the help of the Official Vampirella Historian Sean Fernald, who wrote the foreword and ran Harris Comics’ Scarlet Legion Fan Club, and Benjamin DuBay, Bill DuBay’s nephew and the rights overseer of Bill’s most famous creation at Warren, the time-traveling Rook.
Sean worked with Forry Ackerman for over twenty-five years, and therefore has access to Forry’s archives—he provided me with the photos that appear in the book; the 1969 memo that Warren wrote to Ackerman describing the new character that eventually evolved into Vampirella; and, most importantly, a copy of the little-seen screenplay by Christopher Wicking for a Hammer Films adaptation planned in the 1970s; in fact, it was Peter Cushing’s personal copy, with the front and back covers absolutely covered in notes that Cushing had written to himself for how to play Pendragon.
And Ben provided me with access to behind-the-scenes documentation from the Warren bankruptcy and the later negotiations with Harris Publishing—it was pretty eye opening to learn what went on after Warren Publishing was forced to close its doors in 1983.
Horror News Network: Can you talk a bit about the Vampirella movie, which would have starred Barbara Leigh and Peter Cushing?
Steven A. Roman: In 1975, Hammer Films optioned the rights to make a Vampirella movie—in a weird parallel, Hammer, like Warren Publishing in 1969, turned to Vampi as a way to turn around a financial downturn they were going through, only in Hammer’s case it was because audiences in the ’70s had become more interested in harder-edged horror movies like The Exorcist than Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein period pieces. So Hammer got the rights and cast actress and Playboy model Barbara Leigh as Vampi, and then announced that Hammer mainstay Peter Cushing was going to be her sidekick, the stage magician Pendragon. But in no time at all the plans for the movie started falling apart and it shut down before it really got going.
I tell the whole story behind the production, from start to finish, in the book and try to put the sequence of events in chronological order—there’s been confusion over the years as to who was in the running for the Vampirella role and when it happened—and I also explain the reasons behind the shutdown. It’s one of those crazy moviemaking stories where the legend about this never-made project is probably better than what the final film might have been.
Horror News Network: Can you tell our readers about the different sections in this book?
Steven A. Roman: Sure! There are five main sections:
“The Vampire Who Fell to Earth: A History” is Vampi’s “biography” of her Warren Publishing days: her 1969 development; the adventures she went on via the writing and artistic talents of such visionaries as Archie Goodwin, Bill DuBay, Jose Gonzalez, Enrich, Gonzalo Mayo, and many others; and the cancellation of her series in 1982 when the company collapsed. It also looks at the work of four Vampi writers who were just as talented but not as well known: Mike Butterworth, who wrote under the pseudonym Flaxman Loew; T. Casey Brennan; Rich Margopoulos; and Gerry Boudreau.
The Vampirella Episode Guide – The largest section of the book, in it I examine every story starring Vampirella during the Warren Era: over 100 entries, some with little known behind-the-scenes details. Plus there are a few stories behind some of Vampi’s unpublished adventures!
Vampi Goes to Hollywood – Like I said earlier, I use this chapter to attempt to clear up the confusion surrounding the failed Hammer adaptation, detailing the production from its launch to its unfortunate ending. I also discuss a couple of horror movies that have loose ties to Vampirella—including one in which Forry Ackerman appeared just a few years before Vampi’s creation. And then I write about the awful Vampirella movie that was made in 1996, starring Talisa Soto and Roger Daltrey—a movie that’s even hated by its director!
The Literary Vampiress – From 1975 to 1976, Warner Books published a series of Vampirella novelizations by science fiction and pulp author Ron Goulart. I take a look at each novel, and explain why they’re worth tracking down…if you can find copies!
And The Vampirella Warren Era Checklist is a detailed list of every Warren Vampi story, plus every reprint volume from Harris Comics and Dynamite Entertainment, along with little-known trivia.
From the Stars also features a peek at Peter Cushing’s personal copy of the Vampirella screenplay; a frontispiece by legendary artist Bob Larkin, who painted covers for Warren’s Vampirella, The Rook, Eerie, and Famous Monsters of Filmland; and rare photos from Forry Ackerman’s collection.
Horror News Network: Where can readers find out more about this book?
Steven A. Roman: From the Stars…a Vampiress: An Unauthorized Guide to Vampirella’s Classic Horror Adventures can be ordered from retailers like Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, brick-and-mortar bookstores, and from the StarWarp Concepts website. The PDF e-book edition is available for download from DriveThru Fiction and StarWarp Concepts.
Horror News Network: In closing, what would you like to say about From the Stars…a Vampiress: An Unauthorized Guide to Vampirella’s Classic Horror Adventures?
Steven A. Roman: If you’re an old-school Vampirella or Warren Publishing fan, a new Vampi fan who follows her Dynamite comics, or just a fan of horror comics in general, From the Stars…a Vampiress has a ton (or as Forry Ackerman would say, a “smorgasblood!”) of information about Vampi’s Warren days, with a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff you’ve probably never heard before. I had a lot of fun putting it all together—and I hope the readers will have fun poring over it!
Horror News Network: Thanks for your time Steven! Best of luck with this project.