Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl, by Pat Shand, Roberta Ingranata, Carola Borelli, and Jim Campbell, is short and funny and surprisingly tender. It is, as the first section is titled, a Meet Cute—with, of course, vampires and shapeshifters and small demons (and raccoons). While they’re all collected in one volume, the book is itself almost a series of vignettes, an exploration of a burgeoning relationship between two strange and wondrous creatures, and also their pets/familiars. It reminds me a bit, in fact, of Sarah Anderson’s Fangs, which I absolutely adore (and which I’ve also reviewed).
I hadn’t, in truth, expected the tender part, when I backed Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl on Kickstarter. I thought it would be funny, and I like pictures. (I can be a very simple person.) And it is funny, and I do like pictures, but it is also quite tender, and there are some striking moments of political commentary—all of them served up in fun, engaging, and tender ways.
The book opens with “Vampire Emmy and the Meet Cute.” Shand and Ingranata do a hell of a job of dropping world-building in here without ever bogging down the plot: we learn that Emmy likes to dip her cheese-fries in blood (“Type A-positive, just how you like it, Emmy”), that she has some sort of pet demon, and that she has issues with the sun. We also learn a lot about her hot new garbage girl, even as an adorable trash panda and that pet demon cause problems for them both. Ingranata’s clothing and hair styles do a great deal of heaving lifting here, too, showing the decades of Emmy’s life without requiring much in the way of text.
And when we learn just what kind of shifter the garbage girl, Annabelle, is—well, we can see Ingranata’s foreshadowing throughout. There are also some gentle reminders of class: Annabelle’s a sanitation worker, and Emmy’s god knows what, although she certainly appears to have money. Her house is bigger and fancier than Annabelle’s, and her world, despite the blood, is inherently cleaner…because Annabelle and others like her keep it so. Shand and Ingranata don’t go into great depth here—this is a vingette, after all—but that class distinction is noted, even as it is clear to us readers that Emmy and Annabelle, despite because decades apart, are inherently equals.
Vignette One, “Vampire Emmy and the Pride Parade,” which serves as something of an interstitial between chapters, is another political space. When our lovers have to make an emergency tire change at a gas station after a Pride Parade, Annabelle, draped in a Pride flag, hops out to do the deed. (I agree with Emmy: “That is…very impressive.” Also kind of hot. I suck at tire things.) But Annabelle, who isn’t coded as white and is draped in a Pride flag, sees some white bro watching her from his monster truck, and is scared. Briefly scared enough, in fact, that Emmy, coming back with donuts, notices. They have a particularly tender moment together, and as Emmy drives away, Annabelle singing, “We are very, very gay! … Super gay and in love in this gas station! Like…just so gay!”, our dude is watching—and, even if only to himself, coming out, too.
“Vampire Emmy and the Werewolf Ex” is hilarious, which is definitely intentional. Ingranata’s art codes that werewolf ex so well that we’ve already got an idea of what we’re dealing with (she’s got A Really Big Attitude), and that curse is hilarious. I especially love the demon’s “assistance,” most of which reminds me a lot of the ways in which Elvis chooses to help with an assortment of things, such as hanging off my arm with all his claws and teeth and trying to murder all living things that aren’t people. As Emmy’s pet demon shows, this can be not so great…and also super helpful. Thanks, demon!
The final vignette, “Vampire Emmy and Spring-Heeled Jack,” is written, not illustrated. My only complaint here is that there are no pictures. Ingranata’s style adds a hell of a lot to Emmy’s adventures, and I would have loved to see some illustrations of the sniveling, whiny pissant who goes by Spring-Heeled Jack. (Maybe that’s to come?) But it’s a hilarious little section, and I love the dynamic between Emmy and Annabelle—and the ways in which they are beginning to open up to each other more, including about Emmy’s less-than-savory vampire years. (Every vampire has them, I assume.)
Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl is so much fun, well-written and exquisitely illustrated. But it’s so much more than just fun. Through Shand’s text and Ingranata’s art, Emmy and Annabelle explore identity, class, and memories, nodding to the horror and difficulty of our world even as they keep the vignettes light-hearted and always moving forward. It is tender, and surprisingly deep, and though it is classed as horror, I think it might almost be closer to a dark love story, filled with tenderness and non-burning, non-sun-based, light.