Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Art of True Blood

Or at any rate, the art of Lisa Desimini, for the covers of Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Novels, adapted for TV as True Blood; but that really doesn't trip off the tongue.

Let's begin with the TV series itself before we look at the books, because True Blood begins its British TV debut on FX later this week, and I have an interest in vampire lore. Many more moons ago than I care to admit, I began a thesis on The Role of the Gothic Outsider. I had high hopes for the thesis, and I was surrounded by people who had authored books on Gothic literature and even edited the The New Critical Idiom series on the subject, but during the research phase, I stopped believing in the subject matter.

Then I saw Guillermo del Toro's steam-punk vampire tale, Cronos and I was interested in the Gothic all over again. My appetite whetted, I even reread Anne Rice's Lestat books, two of them at least, and even partly resumed my studies, for my own benefit, and then, well, nothing much happened for the longest time, until that is, Let the Right One In appeared. My God, that is one seedy book. The movie of the book, which is brilliantly acted, is less seedy, but disturbing on many levels, especially if one has read the book beforehand, which many of the reviewers had clearly failed to do.

And now, along comes the TV adaptation of Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries, featuring Sookie Stackhouse, surely one of the most determined and daring heroes in any literature. In the TV adaptation, by Alan Ball, the creative genius behind the movie American Beauty, and the TV series Six Feet Under (surely the closest TV has ever come to creating art), the part of Sookie Stackhouse is played by Anna Paquin, the very versatile Oscar-winning actor who played the part of Holly Hunter's daughter in Jane Campion's marvelous The Piano, and Rogue in the X-Men movies.

The opening credits for the series, created by the same firm that created the opening credits for Six Feet Under, Digital Kitchen, are absolutely spectacular, and the theme song Bad Things, by Jace Everett, are really helping create the right buzz for the show. I have to say, looking at the True Blood merchandise on HBO's site, and the Digital Kitchen credits and the outline of the creative process on their website, I am really impressed by the ultra-professional way the various teams get right behind an idea they believe in, in the US. There is a sense that there is a well-oiled machine at work, but I don't mean that in a pejorative way, you don't loose sight of the individuals behind the project, it's just that all their talents seem to have been pooled together to create this juggernaut; from the author of the original books, to the screenplay writers, to the direction, to the acting, and the lighting, and the music and the mood, it's an all out attack on the senses. It's one very seductive package. The only worry I have is that Gothic is a romance genre, and very melodramatic and even when the melodrama is tinged with irony and humour it can still seem a little OTT. Hopefully though, the savvy viewers will stick with it as by about episode 8 of the first season True Blood really finds its feet. No spoilers, but season 2 is even better.

The one gripe I often have when a series like True Blood takes of in such a spectacular fashion, and I'm sure it's not one that the authors in that happy position share, is that book covers change to suit the new readers the shows or movies attract. A case in point would be the fantastic P.G Wodehouse covers by Ionicus, that one can only find in second-hand bookshops or vintage book emporiums or whatever they call themselves nowadays. It would be a shame if the same thing were to happen to the marvelous covers created by Lisa Desmini for Haris's books. There is something captivating about Desmini's drawings, and much as I like the series there is no way photos can capture the same magic.

I have to say, I was delighted to find that Lisa Desmini is making prints of her artwork available online here at her site. I'd actually quite like side by side copies with and without the lettering, but that's me. I think my favourite cover is A Touch of Dead. It shows Sookie perched precariously on top of a gravestone she is perched between life and death, between the land and the sky, between the Earth and the moon. It is a marvelous illustration.

You'll find a goodly number of True Blood sites out there but you could do worse than starting here at Loving True Blood in Dallas.


Anonymous said...

I bought a print.

Rod McKie said...

Good for you. Try to buy an original some day. You can't beat owning the real thing. Good for the soul.