If you’re a fan of the FX TV series, “The Strain,” or more generally of Guillermo del Toro’s work, then head on over to Burbank’s Dark Delicacies (3512 W. Magnolia Blvd.) Wednesday evening from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Robert Abele, author of Insight Editions “Art of The Strain” will be signing books.
“I’d done a couple of books for Insight Editions. They do all these wonderful ‘art of’ books,” Abele commented in a telephone interview. If you’re wondering how Abele got the job, it’s all about connections.
Abele is a Los Angeles-based film critic and journalist who has become something of an expert on vampires. His pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and the LA Weekly. He knew someone on the Twilight Saga team who “hooked” him up for the a book on another vampire reality taken from book to screen: “The Twilight Saga: The Complete Film Archive” (2012).
If you’re unfamiliar with Insight Editions, this book publisher creates distinctive illustrated books that “celebrate cultural milestones in entertainment, history and arts.” Guillermo del Toro called them the best when I spoke to him about the “Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness.”
For “The Art of The Strain,” the book jacket is thick quality paper with a poster quality image for both the front and back. Underneath, the cover of the hardback book has a different illustration that compliments the cover. Guillermo del Toro wrote the introduction which briefly reveals how he came to obsess about vampires.
Abele commented that Insight Editions’ books are for people who are “fans of strong art direction” or movies and TV shows with a “strong visual sense.”
When Abele came on to “The Strain” book, the series was in the middle of shooting the first season. For those unfamiliar with the story, Del Toro had the idea for “The Strain” and attempted to gets a network interested in doing a television series. When that didn’t work, del Toro teamed with writer Chuck Hogan to write a 2009 vampire horror novel, “The Strain.” That was followed by “The Fall” in 2010 and “The Night Eternal” in 2011.” Del Toro’s version of vampirism is far removed from the Twilight Saga. As he describes it in his foreword for “The Art of The Strain,” that vampirism is “a form of systemic, sentient cancer.”
Abele commented that the Twilight Saga harked back to the Victorian traditions where vampires were “associated with romanticism.” Abele joked, “This is very much the two different ‘strains” of vampire lore, pardon the pun. Twilight was the young virginal love reflected through vampires.” With “The Strain, vampirism is more “biological, clinical and terrifying.”
Yet, he maintains, that del Toro is “always thinking about emotions.” Even in the “biologically-minded gory” version of vampires, love is “very much a factor of the story.” Parents looking for sons. A man looking for his ex-wife.
Of course, del Toro had a lot to say with how the book turned out, Abele admitted. Before “The Strain” became a TV series (premiering on FX on July 13, 2014), it was a graphic novel (Dark Horse Books, 2012). Del Toro picked the artists and so the visual nature of the story was well developed before the TV series was underway. With a script by David Lapham and visuals by Mike Huddleston and Dan Jackson, the graphic novels became like development storyboards.
Abele hadn’t read the novels or the graphic novels before he learned about the project, but once on the team, he did his research. “One of the funny things I learned from Guillermo when I interviewed him was he wanted to make this show like this 1970s drama ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker.'” For those of you unfamiliar with the short-lived one season ABC series, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) was a Chicago newspaper reporter. Kolchak was first introduced with two TV movies, “The Night Stalker” in 1972 and “The Night Strangler” in 1973.
In “The Night Stalker,” Kolchak suspects that a Las Vegas serial killer is actually a vampire. In “The Night Strangler,” Kolchak is now working in Seattle, Washington and believes that the killer of exotic dancers requires a feasting on blood for a period of time in order to make him immortal. The TV series expanded from vampires to include werewolves, mummies, witches and zombies.
Abele was also a fan of the original Kolchak series and found that del Toro had a great way of describing things. “He has very vivid way with words.”
Working with del Toro didn’t change the way he felt about the director in terms of how he was a great filmmaker, but it was illuminating to listen to how this project was developed. “My favorite passage is about what goes on inside the body when a vampire has attacked. It is terrifying gross detail that you’ll never see depicted. It’s both hilarious and disgusting.” Yet Abele feels this illustrates the “full on commitment” del Toro has to such a project.
As with most of his work, del Toro usage of color is important. With “The Strain,” gold and blues symbolize day and night. Red is used very sparingly. “When red showed up as blood or in some other way, it has to be important to the viewer,” Abele explained. Think of that red dress of the dead girl calling to her father during Season 1. There’s love as both the strength and weakness of the human species. In del Toro’s concept, vampires first search for those they love.
Other things that tickled Abele was learning from the production designer that a tunnel was built and redressed and redressed to be different tunnels. Other sets were scavenged for tunnel material to create a “franken-tunnel.”
“This book is a Gray’s Anatomy vampire book. The vampire biology is fantastic. It’s a great chance to see the work of all the artists from the beginning,” Abele described the book.
The content is divided into: A Viral Idea, The Hunters, A Master Plan, The Infected and It Spreads. The Hunters and A Master Plan look at the main characters. The Infected describes the kind of training under choreographer Roberto Campenella the actors had to undergo because in del Toro’s mind, there are four stages in the vampiral infection. Vamp camp as it was dubbed helped to develop and concept of progressive stages of the infection, but how to film the growing numbers for Season 2 and other logistical problems are touched on.
If you’re a fan of the series, this is more than a coffee table book. It is a behind-the-scenes book made like an art exhibition catalog. If you’re a fan and want to cosplay, this book gives you beautiful photographs and sketches to serve as a foundation to begin your own creative enterprises.
The book is currently available at Dark Delicacies (3512 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank). Abele will be there Wednesday evening from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. signing books. Insight Editions will also be at San Diego Comic-Con.