With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals, and things that go bump in the night. Today we’re diving into a haunting horror story that launched a popular writer’s career and gave us a remarkable horror metaphor.
Vault Comics quietly built their portfolio and reputation with a line-up of fantasy, science fiction and horror titles. Multiple titles have made big splashes in the industry and have become popular standouts. One of the most notable was the stunning These Savage Shores. Coming from Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, and Aditya Bidikar, the series was a unique and horrifying take on the vampire genre.
In 1766, the East Indian Trading Company seeks to secure their hold on the lucrative Silk Route. An ancient evil has come to India with the company ship, planning to prey on the people of this newfound land. He will soon find that this land comes with its own daemons and legends far older and more powerful than himself…
Tony Thornley: Right up front, this is one of the most interesting and complex stories we’ve talked about. On the surface level, it’s a vampire story, specifically the classic trope of transplanting the classic Dracula style vampire into a new setting. But it’s also meant as an Indian mythology introduction, a political thriller, a fantasy war epic, and an allegory. Each bit of it was equally interesting, and if you missed any part of that, you’re not going to feel unfulfilled.
Totally shows how good of a writer Ram is.
Brendan Allen: I was, admittedly, a little disappointed in the first part of the story, when it seemed to be just that, a rehashing of the ‘transplanted vampire’ cliché. Then after that initial big twist, my interest was piqued. Have to believe that was intentional, but I wonder how many readers fell off before getting to that first hook.
Tony: Yeah, I think that’s fair. It was very tropey at first, but that last page of the first issue killed (pun intended) and all the tropes went out the window.
I’m reminded a lot here of the first arc of American Vampire, which was also a period vampire piece. There are plot similarities, and a few elements of the structure of the story are shared. Now, I only say that as a “if you like ____, you should read this.” Ram clearly didn’t take inspiration from Scott Snyder in the telling of this story, and it’s so much more than just “vampires in a new setting.”
I really love how the horror here is literally colonization. The British Empire’s atrocities are in full display all through the story, so that’s not even allegorical. But the addition of the European style Dracula-rules vampire adds a key layer to the story. It’s not just about these Indian kingdoms fighting off colonizers. It’s preventing these monsters from turning the native people into livestock.
Brendan: Which, while you say isn’t allegorical, how is it not? It’s interesting that the allegory is taking place within the setting of the true events, but the monsters are mirroring the intent of the Empire, in real time. Find a culture that is ill equipped to deal with your particular brand of evil, and exploit it to your gain. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Tony: Yeah, it’s both an allegory and not which is an interesting contradiction that improves the story.
At first, I thought the daemon Bishan was a vampire of Indian myth. I loved that he turned out to be so much more though. It made me learn about mythology that I hadn’t heard of and didn’t understand before. And he was a badass.
The twist of Alain Pierrefont’s fate was also really well done. To have him be set up as the main antagonist, then pull the rug on that relatively quickly showed that this was not your normal horror story. The whole time, Ram was subverting expectations.
Brendan: That’s actually one of my favorite pieces to this story. It’s a textbook use of the false antagonist. Very slick. This is the kind of stuff that reminds me why I love comics.
Tony: Yeah, me too. It’s a very effective use of the trope.
Brendan: I’m not a huge fan of showing the letters back and forth for exposition. It feels a little slow and drags the pace down in a couple places. Those long letters could have been excerpted to give bits of information without having pages and pages of that flowery script. It does work in the end, but it feels a little like homework at times.
Tony: Yeah, I keep mentioning Ram using and subverting tropes well, but that’s one that just never really works, no matter who the writer is.
Kumar and Astone do gorgeous work. They bring a culture to life here. I’m familiar with modern India (though not as much as I’d like to be), but we see the people, the colors, the architecture, the jungles near Calicut… Visually, I think this is one of the most lush and detailed we’ve read. It’s a history through fantasy, almost.
Brendan: I’m not as familiar with India, but I remember something I heard at an NYCC 2018 panel on the historical context of horror films. Professor Brad Duren said something like “If you want to know a culture, find out what scares them.” (HEAVILY paraphrased.) I absolutely love hearing horror stories from other cultures, and seeing what monsters are conjured up in other parts of the world.
Tony: Yeah, absolutely. And this book is full of that on top of what we conventionally think of horror in the Western world. The page near the end when the vampires strike at Bishan personally? (You know the one.) It’s absolutely chilling, and it’s a perfect mix of East and West sensibility.
Bidikar adds to it too! His lettering is just as much a part of the art as the line work and colors. Just awesome stuff.
Brendan: I do like that each of those aforementioned letters is written in a different script. It’s clear from each sequence who the narrator is. The first cursive font is a little hard to read, but I get it. Flowery cursive for a European dandy vampire.
Tony: So what’s your verdict?
Brendan: It’s a tight little story. This is one of my favorites that you’ve brought to the table.
Tony: Fantastic, me too. It’s one of those I was surprised by and couldn’t wait to talk about. We’re going to have to do more of Ram’s creator owned work soon. What do we have up next?
Brendan: I think it’s about time I read some of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I don’t honestly know why I haven’t read it yet. Anansi Boys and American Gods are two of my favorite novels. Volume 1- Preludes and Nocturnes- is included in Comixology Unlimited. Seems like as good a place to start as any.
These Savage Shores is available now in print and digital editions from Vault Comics.