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These Savage Shores: Kill The Fucking Vampire

Daniel Crary writes about how These Savage Shores redefines vampires in a historical context that is all too relevant.

These Savage Shores is a perfect vampire story. 

The 2019 breakout from Vault is a modern classic; not just horror comics, but for comics in general. It tells the story of vampires and monsters on opposite sides of The First Anglo-Mysore War in the late 1800’s. (Read Ritesh Babu’s amazing piece on NeoText Review to better understand the history and the context.)  It has vampires, monsters, vampire hunters, military campaigns, love, loss, and is told in a perfect 9 panel package. But through this story, writer Ram V has shone the vampire for the real monster he is: the colonizer.

Credit: Ram V/Sumit Kumar/Vittorio Astone/Aditya Bidikar

Not since the Anglo-Irish class narrative undertones in Stoker’s Dracula has the eternal night stalker even hinted at his most obvious allegory. The nature of the creature is to survive the life of another. Whether the slavery of a thrall or the life blood of victims, the vampire is inherently reliant on the labor, land, and blood of others to survive. Vampires are by their nature, colonial, capitalist, bourgeoisie parasites. Which is why this story by an Indian English creative team that is aimed at a western audience succeeds so wildly in making vampires truly horrific.

Think on modern American vampire stories for a moment. There are thousands, but I’ll narrow it down to King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and Meyer’s Twilight. These are perhaps the most widely recognized examples of modern vampires. And each shows  a different side of the creature in question. With King, Barlow is a force of nature that kills or turns everyone in a small town. In the post-Vietnam America that seemed under attack from unknown culture and change, this darkness was all too real to middle American readers. With Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, the lavish long lives of Lestat and Louis are tragic affairs with queer underpinnings that make for sympathetic, gothic figures of mystery and intrigue. They endure for a host of reasons, but the angst of their condition is chief among them. And in Twilight, vampires are teen idols. They are sexy creatures that can love, live, and fight for their lands and loves.  Stephanie Meyer makes the blood sucker a hero free from moral complications after about a book and a half. This sanitized version went on to be hit with a white Christian middle American audience more than any other recent version.

But These Savage Shores is not concerned with humanizing vampires. There are no Edwards or Angels here. It is not concerned with the tragedy of their condition. Vampires here are predators in every sense of the word. We don’t have to grapple with the unknowable darkness in the main vampires of Jurre or Pierrefont. We know them.  They are the director plagued by scandal who can live abroad as if nothing happened. They are the investment broker with a private island exclusively for sexual crimes. They are the tech billionaire with the audacity to thank those he exploited to get to space.

Credit: Ram V/Sumit Kumar/Vittorio Astone/Aditya Bidikar

Not tragic, not misunderstood, and not redeemed, the vampires in These Savage Shores are the worst kind of monsters: they are us. This is not “us” as in society at large, but “us” as in the white, colonial, patriarchal power structures that dominate the western world that the book is released in and marketed too.  

In many vampire stories, the worst thing that can happen to the protagonist is to be turned. I think this is because it speaks to a specific western white fear.

“What if I’m one of the bad ones?”

A western white audience sees the powerful creature taking and killing as a cautionary tale. But maybe vampires aren’t meant to be understood, warned against, or feared. Maybe vampires exist to be slain.

Credit: Ram V/Sumit Kumar/Vittorio Astone/Aditya Bidikar

These Savage Shores is a fantastic story, with stunning art by Sumit Kumar and Vittorio Astone. The lettering by Aditya Bidikar is perfect, as the  letters between characters are as important to this story as they were in Dracula. This team and Ram V have crafted a story that stands as a pillar in the vampire horror genre; one I return to once a year. And when I read it, I walk away with the same call ringing in my head. One that echoes when confronting our broken power structures; it is a phrase that I hope you will hear coming through its pages as well. 

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