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Comicscape: Sucking Life with Gabe Soria

You think your life sucks.

By Kurt Amacker     May 14, 2008

You think your life sucks. You think your job sucks. It feels like it will never end. But for Dave Miller, it’s all true. Dave is a vampire, but he owes his allegiance to Lord Radu Arisztidescu, the vampire owner of the Last Stop convenience store in Los Angeles. Lord Radu creates young vampires to work in his convenience store, so that he can stay open 24 hours while he plays cards with the other vampire elders. If being forced to work all night weren’t bad enough, Dave is a former vegetarian. He lives on a diet of plasma, and refuses to hunt. His friend in vampirism, Jerome, drops in to rib him and watch the parade of Goth girls moving to and from the nearby club. When Matt falls for Rosa, he thinks his undead life might not be so bad. Unfortunately, Wes—a rich vampire surfer with no scruples—decides to affect the Goth look to seduce her. The two make a bet—neither can use their vampiric powers to win Rosa’s heart. The only problem is that Rosa wants to be a vampire more than anything in the world.
 
Gabe Soria, Jessica Abel, and artist Warren Pleece have crafted a comedic graphic novel that reads like the love child of Clerks and Interview with the Vampire. It skewers the romantic depictions of vampires in so much horror fiction, and asks what happens if a young bloodsucker still has to pay the rent. I spoke to New Orleans native Gabe Soria about Life Sucks for this week’s Comicscape.
 
Kurt Amacker: There seems to be a movement in contemporary fiction towards writing stories in which vampires are placed in more offbeat or comedic settings. Life Sucks is definitely one example, along with the novel Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore. It seems like the goal is to undermine the “velvet and lace” vampire aesthetic of Anne Rice. Do you think Life Sucks deliberately subverts that more romantic subgenre?
 
Gabe Soria: When we first started writing Life Sucks, the potential for a particular type of vampire story hadn’t been mined yet. I think it’s the wrong impression to think that we don’t like the “velvet and lace” vampires. I really enjoyed the first couple of books in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. They’re really fun to read. They’re really lurid, and for their time, they were completely groundbreaking. We kind of take the idea of getting that close into a vampire’s psychology for granted now, but when Interview with the Vampire was first published, that was new. With Life Sucks, it wasn’t our intent to mock that kind of story. It was to put a new spin on it and poke gentle fun at it.
 
KA: It’s interesting in that vampire stories are often seen as a kind of cultural barometer. Critics almost inevitably attach some sort of metaphor—usually by decade—to the films. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was capitalism and AIDS. In the 1930s and 1940s, there was maybe a rising sense of xenophobia. It really depends on which critic you talk to. Do you think that Life Sucks has any contemporary cultural reflection? I don’t know when you all started it, but it almost seems more like a youth-oriented independent film from the 1990s, like the obvious example, Clerks.
 
GS: A shitty job is timeless. People have always had crappy jobs. People are still working jobs that seem to have no end. If anything, we’re out of the salad days of the 1990s. And, even though some people are doing really well, some people are doing really badly. Expenses are going up while wages remain pretty much the same. We conceived the story not to really represent any era, but of an age mindset—that of someone in their 20s and 30s, working a job where every day is the same, and conceivably he or she could be there forever. But, we took that to an absurd degree. Dave literally could be working at the Last Stop forever.
 
KA: That’s clever, because you’re taking what you feel when you work a job like that—and I’ve certainly had a couple—and making the circumstances more literal. You might have to work at a place like that forever if you were slave to a Romanian vampire in a jogging suit.
 
Let’s talk a little bit about the inception of the book. I understand you cowrote the book with Jessica Abel, and Warren Pleece did the art. How did you all come to work on the book together?
 
GS: Jess and her husband Matt and I were walking down the street recently. The conversation led to me talking about how absurd it was that vampires in fiction were always rich. They have no cares in the world except which beautiful victim to pick out next. I thought it would be interesting to look at vampirism from the point of view of a real working system. I wanted to consider the idea of a poor vampire—a guy who is immortal, but who hasn’t benefited from it. He has to work all the time and pay the rent. Jess really took it to heart. She saw the kernel of something that could be really cool. We started sitting down and riffing on the topic. We’d already come up with the basic framework at a bar, but then we realized that we had a lot of work to do to make this world even partially work. One night Jess was at a party and started talking to Mark Siegel at First Second, and she told him the idea. He said he wanted to do it, and we were one of the first original properties they acquired. Then, we really had to start working hard. Collaboration was really difficult. We both had our own schedules. I was working a fulltime job. Jess had her book La Perdida coming out. But, we wanted to get it done. Warren didn’t even have a finished script before he started drawing it. We were still figuring it out. We managed the high-wire act in making this kind of coherent. It does have its rough patches—and I won’t tell you where they are; I’ll leave that to the reader.
 
KA: I see where you’re talking about. There are a couple of instances where it feels like you all used dialogue to fill in plot that should’ve been depicted visually. Having written a couple of comics myself now—unpublished ones—I know that sometimes you can’t fill in new material for a variety of reasons, and you have to use your characters to talk your way out of it. I don’t think it distracts from Life Sucks that much, though, so I wouldn’t worry about it.
 
GS: Hopefully, the good parts overwhelm those instances.
 
KA: I think the greatest strength of the book really is the relatively familiar story of a love triangle. But not only is it done with vampires, it’s set in and around the Los Angeles Goth scene. It’s between Dave, Wes, and Rosa. Both of the guys have their vampirism, which is the thing she wants most in the world. But, they agree not to use that to their advantage. In the worst case scenario, that’s a Saved by the Bell episode. In the best case, it can be used to explore other territory—in the case of Life Sucks, it seems to be class conflict.
 
GS: There’s definitely a lot about classism, and a person’s “place” in society. All three characters represent that, as well as Dave’s master, Radu. He’s a recent arrival to our country—he’s an immigrant from Romania. He doesn’t have everything given to him. He’s living the American Dream. There’s a line in the book from Wes’s human familiar about Radu, in which he mocks him for being an immigrant. It occurred to me that that sort of thing would be a problem even in this culture.
 
KA: What I really enjoy about Radu is that at the beginning of the story, he almost seems like he’s going to be the antagonist—or a least a right pain in the ass. By the end of the story, you realize that he’s not really such a bad guy. At the end of the day, he’s reliable and even kindhearted—just shrewd.
 
GS: He’s loyal to his employees! Hopefully, the impression people take away from the book is that not everyone is as simple as you think. Even Wes, who is the antagonist, has bits of humanity. The desire that he has to develop a relationship with Dave as his vampire brother is honest. He’s a psycho, but it’s still an honest need for some sort of family. Even Dave has moments of venality, and realizes a little bit too late that he had the power to change his life the whole time—if only he had just done it instead of being a p—y.
 
KA: I think that’s really where Life Sucks is very similar to Clerks. The whole point was that Dante realized that he needed to get off his ass. It was like this wakeup call to Generation X, saying that at the end of the day you’re the only one that can change your life. Let’s talk about that, because the influence of Clerks is pretty clear in Life Sucks.
 
GS: Honestly, when we were writing it, we weren’t really thinking about Clerks. But in retrospect, it owes a bit to that film. It’s a little bit less jokey and a little bit less overt in its pop culture references, but that stuff’s in there. A convenience store just lends itself so well as a location for mid-20s ennui. But hopefully, people don’t find it too similar.
 
KA: I think the main similarity I noticed was the relationship between Dave and Jerome to that of Dante and Randall. They both work at similar businesses, but, like Randall, Jerome is a lot more comfortable in his station—at least as a vampire, if not as an employee. Randall is a prick in Clerks, but he knows what he is and embraces it. That may be kind of sad, but he has no delusions about it. Unlike Dave, Jerome actually hunts and kills people, rather than just living on plasma.
 
GS: I think everyone that has worked at a job like that where they know a guy that always finds a way to break the rules. He always has time to get away and hang out.
 
KA: I think the other thing is that you get people that in those jobs that have been there forever. Maybe they hate it or they’re at least resigned to it. Some of them even like it. They just accept that as their lot in life. With his vampirism at least, Jerome just accepts what he is and rolls with it.
 
GS: It’s become his trade, and he’s perfectly happy with it. He thinks it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Ironically, though, Dave has the same thing and doesn’t want it. And, Rosa doesn’t have it but desperately wants it.
 
KA: Let’s talk about some of the stuff dealing with the Goth scene in Life Sucks. Have you had a lot of experience with either the Los Angeles or the New Orleans scene, or were you just writing off the cuff?
 
GS: I worked with quite a few Goth guys and girls back in the 1990s, both in L.A. and New Orleans. I’d never claim to be an expert on the scene, but I hung out at the Crystal in New Orleans. Most of my “knowledge” of the scene comes from a couple of people I worked with at the Rue de la Course café in New Orleans. And they were hilarious, because they’d constantly tell me these stories about all the infighting in the New Orleans Goth scene—this person thinks they’re more Goth than that person; that person is a perkygoth; they like this band, but they’re stupid because of that. These stories were incredibly amusing, because I almost felt like a 50-year-old man listening to them!
 
KA: The scene is a hotbed of drama and infighting. You would not believe some of the prolonged arguments over the most inane disagreements. Some of it lasts for weeks.
 
GS: The intention was definitely not to skewer the Goth scene, even though it happens in the book, because sometimes it is worthy of mockery. But, it was more to mock a certain attitude romanticization of the Other. The idea was to slightly critique the Goth scene’s notion of vampires. It’s important in our lives to dream about things, and it’s important to aspire. But, it doesn’t serve us well when we dream about things and forget about the practical issues. It seems like idealizing vampires doesn’t really think the whole idea through. The idea is to just take everything with a grain of salt. Think about the Other without blindly idolizing him. On the other hand, I completely admire the Gothic scene. It’s f—king ballsy. It’s not easy to not dress like every f—king person in the world. It’s not easy to follow through on an aesthetic like that and stick with it. That’s incredible. It’s not my cup of tea, but I really admire it for being so out there and dedicated to itself.
 
KA: That’s the only reason the scene exists—to perpetuate itself. It has no final goal, like anarchy. It only means to create more Goths and maintain a space for them. It’s kind of like the Borg. But, I thought the characterization by way of Rosa was really on target. Her story explores a lot of the familial conflicts that people in the scene experience. There’s a cultural conflict that comes into play with her Mexican heritage. Her mother just doesn’t get it. She’s obviously pretty Catholic, and she stays up all night waiting for her daughter to get home from the club. People in the Goth scene have to deal with that kind of thing all the time. Rosa’s not a caricature. She just works a day job at a clothing store, and has to deal with a mountain of bullsh-t on the side. That’s admirable, because most people don’t get that.
 
GS: Thank you, and on Jess’s behalf, thank you. Jess and I worked on the whole book together, but I think I brought a lot of insight to Dave and his roommate, Carl, whereas she brought a lot to Rosa. We really tried hard to make her a well-rounded character. I feel for her, because I’m half Mexican. But, depicting her as a young Mexican woman in Los Angeles allows us to explore that conflict between first and second generation immigrants. It shows what it’s like to be an oddball in your own community. Rosa’s mother clearly loves her, but her daughter’s kind of an oddball to her.
 
KA: I wasn’t trying to get you to go on the defensive about your depiction of the scene, though. Most parodies of the Goth scene aren’t much cleverer than calling people “vampire fags.” It’s never quite as nuanced as what you’ve portrayed.
 
GS: Our next book totally rips apart hippies.
 
KA: Nobody likes hippies. So, what’s next?
 
GS: Hopefully, there will be a sequel to Life Sucks. A proposal is in, but we have to see how this one does. Movies that don’t make money don’t get sequels, and neither will this if it doesn’t.
 
KA: Have you been approached about adapting Life Sucks into other media?
 
GS: Apparently, it’s in development as a television series. This company called Kick Start Entertainment is developing it. Hopefully, next time we talk I can tell you that it’s going to finally be on television!
 
KA: Thanks, Gabe. It’s been great talking to you.
 
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COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 14
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gimpythewonder 5/14/2008 3:04:43 PM
"KA: Nobody likes hippies." I'd much rather hang out w/ a bunch of hippies than w/ the Death Club or Les Infants du Sang.
lister 5/14/2008 7:21:27 PM
Hippie here. Deal!
bear90 5/14/2008 8:02:58 PM
You guys should send Christopher Moore a copy of your book with a thank you note. I suppose you never heard of "Blood Sucking Fiends: A love Story" Published in 1996. http://books.google.com/books?id=1kA19ZaJkAIC&dq=blood sucking fiends a love story&psp=1&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0
deadcowboy138 5/14/2008 9:55:35 PM
Um, yeah, Kurt here. I mentioned Bloodsucking Fiends in the first question.
darkheart00 5/14/2008 11:33:41 PM
After reading the synopsis and interview for "Life Sucks" I had to fast track it through Amazon with my Savage Sword of Conan Volume # 2 order. Personally cannot wait...sounds like good times. Thanks guys.
fenngibbon 5/15/2008 5:48:27 AM
In the last few weeks I haven't been able to see Comicscape on the site until Thursday morning, but all the time stamps here say Wednesday. Is this some weird quirk of the computers I'm using or something else?
bear90 5/15/2008 6:49:53 AM
I noticed after the fact. My Firefox foo must be off. Anyone know if there is "Turkey Bowling" in the comic?
deadcowboy138 5/15/2008 12:33:51 PM
Hey guys, Kurt here again. 1. The lateness could be a techincal issue, or it could be because I didn't finish the column until 1:00 a.m. that morning. You try writing in a city where the bars don't close. 2. Unlike Bloodsucking Fiends, there is no turkey bowling in Life Sucks. I have Christopher Moore's book, but I have yet to read it. It's on the list. I thought it would be declasse to ignore Bloodsucking Fiends, as it has come to be the standard-bearer for contemporary vampire fiction -- absent anymore Anne-Rice-wannabies that might still be cranking out the last few titles of a dying breed. Bring on the alt-vamps, I say. K
surlybitch 5/16/2008 7:33:11 AM
Okay, as if the site redesign wasn't bad enough, comments like "nobody likes hippies" from the person who authors the article seems just plain mean. Whoever was responsible for the site redesign should be fired as I'm no longer interested in coming here and struggling to find the stuff in which I'm interested. Adding in the casual arrogance of the aforementioned "hippies" comments has finally convinced me to remove this site from my Bookmarks. So long, Cinescape, but I guess you've been dead for a while now.
surlybitch 5/16/2008 7:50:26 AM
Okay, as if the site redesign wasn't bad enough, comments like "nobody likes hippies" from the person who authors the article seems just plain mean. Whoever was responsible for the site redesign should be fired as I'm no longer interested in coming here and struggling to find the stuff in which I'm interested. Adding in the casual arrogance of the aforementioned "hippies" comments has finally convinced me to remove this site from my Bookmarks. So long, Cinescape, but I guess you've been dead for a while now.
1 2 >  >>  

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