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Wondercon Exclusive: Guillermo del Toro Talks Dark Horse’s “The Strain: The Fall”

by on March 30, 2013

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Tired of sparkly vampires with rippling abs? Had it up to here with the CW’s Vampire Diaries‘ teen drama malarkey? Do you just want the Strigoi to scare the shit out of you once again? Well, you’re in luck, because we’re proud to report that Dark Horse‘s The Strain: The Fall, the second installment in Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain Trilogy, is coming your way this July 17th (and The Strain, Vol. 2 TPB drops on June 12th). Slated for a nine-issue run, The Fall picks up in the crushingly sad wake of The Strain #11, in which CDC first responder Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, rat exterminator Vasiliy Fet, and vampire hunter extraordinaire Abraham Setrakian tried and failed to slay that nefarious vampiric overlord, The Master. Forget about the Muppets; this time the vampires are taking Manhattan.

Need to brush up on the first series? Here’s the skinny: “When a Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and goes dark on the runway, the Centers for Disease Control, fearing a terrorist attack, calls in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his team of expert biological-threat first responders. Only an elderly pawnbroker from Spanish Harlem suspects a darker purpose behind the event—an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness.”

Now, Eph’s ex-wife-turned-vampiric monster Kelly is hunting them down, and won’t stop until she’s turned their son Zack into a bloodthirsty barbed-tongued corpse-man with a penchant for putrefaction. Rather than wildly speculate on how writer David Lapham and artist Mike Huddleston will bring del Toro and Hogan’s next chapter to life, we decided to go right to the bloodsucking horse’s mouth and caught up with Guillermo del Toro himself, who told us all about what we can expect from the sequel, the upcoming FX television adaptation, and his secret vampire library. And because we love you guys, we’ve also got an exclusive first look at the cover of The Strain: The Fall #1 and some interior pages, so get out of the sunlight and read on!

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Nerdist: I have to be completely honest. I read all eleven issues of The Strain last night, then woke up this morning at 6 am and began throwing up quite a bit. Given that I’m already pretty unconscionably pale, I was seriously worried that I had turned into a Strigoi myself.

Guillermo del Toro: [laughs] You’ve got all the symptoms.

N: If I wasn’t in a hotel room I’d use some ultraviolet light to be sure, but in this case, I think ignorance is bliss. Anyway, let’s talk comics. If I didn’t know that The Strain was part of a trilogy, it would have one of the most brutal endings I’ve ever seen. That being said, what can readers expect from The Fall? Is this our Empire Strikes Back with horrifying tongue-barbed vampires?

GDT: In a way, each of the three books wanted to be very different from the one before, and The Fall, as indicated by its very hopeful title, is the fall of mankind. It’s full-blown vampire violence and the beginning of the hostile takeover of the world. Then, The Night Eternal is a fully established regime of vampires ruling over Earth. It’s a progressively thrilling and bleak series of adventures, and what’s great for me in this book is we tried to make the heroes have elements that you don’t normally associate with heroes, and we tried to give the bad guys some humanity or lucidity. There’s great variety to be had in the next two installments of the trilogy.

N: Exactly. Ephraim’s alcoholism, for example, isn’t a very heroic quality, unless you’re Tony Stark. Plus, it’s always more compelling when you’re given a moment of pause when the villain does something humanizing.

GDT: We did it in the three books – I think that David Lapham and Mike [Huddleston] are doing an amazing job with the comics, and we’re doing it on the [upcoming FX] TV series too now that we are on our way to filming. We just finished writing the pilot, we’re going to shoot it in August.  We’re trying to do the same thing with the series so you get a little more dimension in every incarnation of the story.

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N: In terms of the FX series, will it mirror the comic’s adaptation or stay truer to the book?

GDT: Well, I think the comics are a really great adaptation. David’s adaptation of the book, he’s not being slavish; he’s rearranging, reinventing and the same is going to happen in the FX series. The tenets of the books are going to be there, the A to B to C, but we’re also bringing some surprises to the game. The FX series, like the comics, is a limited run. You’re not going to go back to the books in the same way. We’ve got some new set pieces, expanding relationships – we’re having a lot of fun.

N: Awesome. Have you made any casting decisions so far for The Strain pilot? Can Ron Perlman do a good Eastern European accent and play our favorite rat exterminator Vasiliy Fet?

GDT: [laughs] We’re right in the middle of casting and we’re about to close a couple of principals. We’re shooting in a few months, so I think we’ll start closing the cast this month.

N: One of the things I really enjoyed about the comic adaptation is that horror and a sense of dread aren’t the easiest things to pull off in comics, but The Strain managed it beautifully. What is it about this trilogy that you found uniquely suited for comic books?

GDT: Well, we always thought that it would be a story that would be enhanced by images. It’s a very visual story, and the set pieces are very compelling. The characters and the monsters are very compelling visually. And I tell you, quite honestly, David Lapham is one of the strongest writers in comics today. This has been some of his best work and Huddleston’s done some of his best draftsmanship. With the comics, each issue gets better and better. Right now, we’re in the middle of The Fall, and we have to approve the layouts, drawings and sketches months before it ever comes out, so I’m telling you that what’s coming in The Fall is some of the best work both gentlemen have done in the series. It’s really amazing.

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N: It sounds like you have quite a bit of creative control over the comic, acting in a producer-style role. Is there a chance we could see you or Chuck step in to guest-write and issue?

GDT: Not really, I mean, it’s a medium that I enjoy as a reader and a medium I’m enjoying as a sort of overseer or secret editor – whatever you want to call me – but layout is such a mysterious art for me. I can recognize a great layout in a comic, but I cannot do it. I don’t think I could do it. And these two guys have done splendidly.

N: It definitely seems like a whole narrative language unto itself. So, will The Fall be similar in length to The Strain?

GDT: Yes, we have the same amount of pages planned as we did with the first series. Also we will be doing a couple of spin-offs and one-shots about characters that we really, really like. As the second and third series unfold, our deal with Dark Horse is that we’ll be doing various spin-off/one-off books that will follow a character only through one issue. Because in the second and third book, the cast of characters expands quite a bit. We get many many more players than in the first book.

N: I’m glad you said that. The Strain, in particular, seems like the kind of book that can really benefit from providing additional backstory. Since you’re adapting a novel, it’s difficult to pack all that in there otherwise.

GDT: Yeah and I think the cast of characters – you get new antagonists, new heroes, unexpected characters like a Mexican masked wrestler in The Fall. I really like the idea of expanding upon this.

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N: Okay, now a question that’s hopefully a bit easier. What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?

GDT: You know, I’m mostly following stuff that isn’t mainstream. I love Jim Woodring, Richard Corben – whatever Richard Corben draws, I follow. It can be a mini-series or a one-shot. I’m a devout follower of an artist called Rick Geary; he draws A Treasury of Victorian Murder, a sort of true crime story which is incredibly gentle and incredibly violent at the same time. Those are my favorites. Beyond that, I follow the sort of Dark Universe crossover series that DC was putting out in the New 52. I really tend more towards re-reading. I follow Hellboy, of course. Hellboy in Hell - I’m following currently. Not too much big mainstream stuff. If you put me under torture right now, I couldn’t tell you what Superman is up to.

N: [laughs] To be fair, he’s in so many titles that it’s a bit difficult to keep up.

GDT: It’s exploded. I really have decanted myself to the more obscure type of comics. I love certain comics, but they are very, very slow to come to me. There is a European comic, a European artist I follow named Joann Sfar and he has a very prodigious output, but most of the stuff remains unpublished in America.

N: Do you hear that, comics publishers? Get this man more Sfar, stat! Backtracking just a bit, I have one last question about The Fall for you. One of the things I most enjoyed was the creature design. The vampires seemed like an amalgam of different mythologies from around the world. Tell me a bit about the design process for these terrifying creatures.

GDT: The main thing – the stinger lore – that comes from Eastern Europe. The Eastern European vampires, in old books about vampirism, are said to have a stinger, like a bee’s stinger under the tongue. I read that when I was a kid and it’s stayed in my imagination ever since. The rest of the stuff comes from me. For example, Mexican vampires are hairless. They have no hair on their head or body, and I really liked the old European lore of vampires coming back to convert their loved ones, the people they loved the most. All this stuff is lore that I’ve collected since I was a kid. I have a full library at home, an entire library dedicated only to vampires. It’s a couple hundred books, some of which are original first editions from the 1770s and the 1800s. I collected manuscripts for books, and you’re talking about decades of obsession. I started keeping notes about vampires before and after Cronos in the 1990s. All that has gone into Cronos, Blade, The Strain – whenever I have an outlet, I like to put that mythology there.

N: Wow. Well, it definitely sounds like you’ve done your homework and it shows.

GDT: Vampires are more like a hobby or an obsession of mine. I like vampires that are nasty. I’m not a guy that likes to read romantic vampire fiction. I really don’t understand it.

N: Really? I had you pegged as a huge fan of Twilight. I’m really surprised.

GDT: [laughs] I respect that side of fandom, but it just doesn’t float my boat.

N: Understandable. I’ll take the horrifying vampires from The Strain any day of the week.

Need another taste? Feast your cold, lifeless undead eyes on the cover for The Strain: The Fall #1.

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Are you looking forward to more vampiric mayhem from the mind of del Toro? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for part II of our exclusive Guillermo del Toro interview where you’ll get the skinny on what to expect from Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero tomorrow.