Like most grindhouse masterpieces, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer and Christopher Sebela’s Running Blood is at its best when it’s mobile, chasing a giddy, concise concept to its bloody conclusion. In this case, that concept is a vampire getaway driver, given one last job by a mysterious employer who needs a package delivered to Tijuana in exactly four days. Along the way, our undead driver barrels down dusty roads in a vintage muscle car, feasts on scumbags and picks up a stranger who’s on the run from a doomsday cult that keeps calling her “mother.” Nothing really makes sense and that’s just fine, all you need to know is that our two leads have to keep running or they’ll meet a violent end. What more do you need?
Sawyer and Sebela originally made the comic for a digital, scrolling format so it’s laid out horizontally, but that adds to the grindhouse effect, framing it like a drive-in movie screen, the panels suitably flanked by blacktop as the leads barrel forward. Sawyer’s black and white art likewise feels naturally grimy and stark, the bold lines and creative use of overhead views giving the story a sense of propulsion and linearity that perfectly fits a series where the rules are simply kill or be killed. Running Blood’s character designs are striking as well, particularly in the way the series creatively ramps up its mystery by keeping the face of its main character, Kit, obscured by bandages and luchador masks. In the scenes where that facade drops to reveal Kit’s monstrous nature, the effect is more pronounced, with Sawyer zooming in on Kit’s terrifying, soulless eyes and sharp teeth in action.
Whether by design or by accident, Running Blood’s chief flaw is the dialogue, which frequently feels stiff and lifeless. That is of course consistent with so many of the grindhouse works Running Blood draws inspiration from, but it’s hard not to miss the punchier style Sebela brings to other work, like his equally immortally oriented series with Sawyer, Welcome Back. Running Blood also stumbles when it starts to explain more of Kit’s background and what Kit was before becoming a vampire; the flashback sequences feel a little too much like American Vampire by pulling the reader out of the ’70s aesthetic and dropping them into overdone ’50s Americana.
But even with these issues in mind, Running Blood is so swiftly paced and kinetic it’s easy to forgive minor disruptions. The hints the story gives about how the larger world of Running Blood differs from our own also helps distract from that, imbuing the story with a pre-apocalyptic tone, like Escape from New York by way of From Dusk Till Dawn. Kit routinely points out that any given rescue isn’t because of a moral code but because of hunger, as though the only hope in a hopeless world comes from some other predator snatching you out of the jaws of defeat because it was eager to eat what was preying on you. Given our current state of affairs, it’s not hard to connect with that.
Running Blood isn’t quite surpassing its influences just yet but that subtle world building and the tension it brings to already anxious scenes indicates that if it can pace itself it will easily outrun the bulk of its grindhouse comics peers. At the very least, there’s no doubting it will go out in violent style.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover