Cover of Vampi's first issue. Artist: Frank Frazetta.

VAMPIRELLA

Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Warren Magazines
First Appeared: 1969
Creator: Forrest J. Ackerman
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Jim Warren, publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Screen Thrills Illustrated and other paeans to B-movie sci-fi, entered the comic book field in …

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… 1964 with Creepy, which was done in the format of Mad magazine (larger than most comics, and printed in black and white). But its content was anything but Mad-like — Creepy consisted of grisly horror stories, and was formatted that way to bypass the Comics Code Authority. Five years later, Warren introduced his first continuing character, also of the horror genre — Vampirella.

The first issue was written by Forrest J. Ackerman, who had edited Warren's movie magazines — and who, incidentally, coined the expression "sci-fi". But Vampi's many fans generally credit Archie Goodwin, who began scripting her in the second issue, with fleshing out her personality, building her supporting cast, and generally making the character come to life. Goodwin's many scripting credits also include Manhunter for DC Comics and Spider-Man for Marvel. On Vampirella, his best-known artistic collaborators were Tom Sutton and Josť Gonzales. The early covers were drawn by master fantasy painter Frank Frazetta, whose credits in comics range from DC's Shining Knight to background assistance on Al Capp's Li'l Abner.

Vampirella, as she appeared in Warren's magazines, was a refugee from the doomed planet Drakulon, where everybody drank blood, could sprout bat wings at will, and wore less than the average Earthling would believe possible (Vampi could easily win an award as Least-Dressed Woman in Comics — no mean feat, considering what female superheroes wear these days). But Vampi was a "good" vampire, and devoted her energy to ridding our world of the homegrown "evil" kind. She continued her crusade until 1983, when Warren left the publishing business.

The company's assets were bought by Harris Publications, Ltd. Harris issued a reprint edition of Vampirella in 1988, but didn't really do anything with the character until '91, when, with Vampirella: Morning in America, they gave the character a full-scale relaunch. Since then, she's appeared in dozens of mini-series, specials, graphic novels. She's had crossovers with other companies' "bad girl" characters, such as The Catwoman, Lady Death and Purgatori. Scarcely a month goes by without a new Vampi appearance; and this time, the comics are in color.

In the Harris version, Vampi's origin was jettisoned in favor of an intricate story (some say "intriguingly complex"; others say "hopelessly convoluted") of ancient family secrets and feuds among supernatural beings. Apparently, the story is not yet complete, as bits and pieces continue to appear. The original origin was explained as artificially-induced false memories.

Vampi has seldom ventured outside the comics medium, but she did appear in a series of paperback novels during the Warren years, and has occasionally been marketed as a statuette or action toy. And in 1996, she was made into a movie that aired on the cable station Showtime, with Talisa Soto in the title role. In it, her origin was tinkered with again — here, she left Drakulon voluntarily, 3000 years ago, to chase the killer of her stepfather, and finally succeeded in tracking him down on Earth, where he was known as Dracula. The movie was later released on video, and is rumored to be headed for theatrical release.

Vampirella may not be the biggest media star around, but she certainly does have staying power — which proves there's a place in the world for a gorgeously stacked woman who excites erotic horror fantasies while prancing around practically naked.

— DDM

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Text ©2000-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Harris Comics.