The above image is the cover of Issue #1 of “Vamps”, a short series of obscure comics from the mid-1990s. I came across it in my mid-teens and loved it. It was all about these gorgeous girl vampires who formed a gang and motorcycled around, seducing men and drinking their blood. The girls were turned into vampires by a male vampire who was a selfish, abusive jerk, and the series was partly about the way they defeated him and seized freedom.
One of my big takeaways from reading “Vamps” came not from the series itself but from the author’s afterword. The comic was created by a woman, Elaine Lee, and although I don’t have access to the quotation now, I seem to recall that she described receiving a ton of vitriolic hate mail over “Vamps”. Her theory was that vampires are basically a rape fantasy, and that readers were incredibly disturbed to see the “typical” rape fantasy “turned around” such that women were taking that kind of aggressive and violent sexual power over men.
Anyone who does any serious research about vampire tropes will find almost immediately that vampires are historically, consistently associated with “deviant” sexuality — meaning queerness and, of course, BDSM. (Hello to my fellow blood fetishists!) Vampires are some of the most hidden-in-plain-sight BDSM fantasies available, so it’s not surprising that vampires would also be affected by some of the gendered stereotypes about BDSM roles that get expressed in the BDSM community: for example, that men are the “natural” dominants/sadists and women are the “natural” submissives/masochists. People have a hard enough time accepting female dominants; it’s not surprising that female vampires might be considered more unsettling than male vampires.
That said, I think the cultural tide has turned a bit since the 1990s, though everything isn’t fixed by a long shot. The 2000s saw the wide release of “Underworld”, an action movie with a badass and aggressive vampire lady as the main character. (Which, by the way, blatantly cribbed from one of the best roleplaying games ever made: “Vampire: the Masquerade“. The makers of “Vampire” sued the makers of “Underworld” and settled out of court. In fairness, the game “Vampire” was both an excellent overview of vampire tropes and a significant influence on ideas about vampires, so it’s conceivable that some of the writers on “Underworld” weren’t familiar with the game.)
A couple of years ago, I wrote some fiction whose main character was a female, masochist, submissive vampire. Her master was a mortal, and I really enjoyed thinking about him feeding her his own blood as a gesture of power, or as a reward when she did what he wanted her to do. She only wanted to drink from him, and she loved him … despite her strength and predatory power, she ended up enslaved by her own hunger. I’ve thought about trying to revise that story and publish it somewhere, but I’ve never gotten around to it. (The original is incoherent and unpublishable.)
I found an original copy of “Vamps” Issue #1 in a comic shop recently and bought it ($1!) … I wasn’t as excited about it the second time around, but there’s still a lot to love.
As a side note, I must leave you with one of my favorite jokes. It’s kind of ridiculously terrible. If you are of delicate sensibilities, then it might appall you. Ready? You’ve been warned ….
Q: What did one lesbian vampire say to the other?
A: “See you next month!”
Actually, as a side side note, I must leave you with my personal vampire-related recommendations.
* The movie “Night Watch” (originally of Russia)
* The song “I’m A Vampire” by the Future Bible Heroes
* Neil Gaiman’s “Vampire Sestina”
* The novel Blindsight by Peter Watts (free to read online)
* The novel Agyar by Steven Brust (one of my favorites)
* The classic roleplaying game “Vampire: The Masquerade” (non-nerds need not apply)
* Feministe post and comments on how Twilight (which I have not read) is “a powerful cautionary tale about accepting traditional gender roles and conforming to expected societal norms“.