Written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Martin Chaplin, Sugarvirus is an early 1990s comic about addict behavior, survival drives, and the scariness of being alive. Sugarvirus is built on organs and bodily fluids, because fluids are what keep us alive, fluids can feed addictions and bring them on, fluids lubricate, and naturally, as a vampire comic, without fluids involved, what have we but a dry, unsatisfying proxy of motions.
Early Ellis is a visceral mix of the mechanics and biology of Realism and the language and connection between personal feelings and weather of Romance, hovering in an often playful, but always seriously-committed decadence. Bedsores and sexsweat, and things that stand for and represent, delineated in clear images and lush lines.
“Old wings caught on a different air.”
Sugarvirus is more Trainspotting than Tomb of Dracula, but it is more DeQuincy than that. In a time when the burgeoning Vertigo line from DC Comics, touted as the explosion of adultness of the era, was mostly superhero stories or superhero motifs fit around the flesh and bones of other genres, this gives the comic a verve genuine literariness and violent brazenness. No punches are pulled. The passion is brutal passion. The b.s. is thick and steaming on the street, on the bedsheets, in heads and in your gut.
This is a gut-churning comic, as well as arousing, cold pain, and intellectually stimulating. The distinctions that make these vampires and distinguish them from others is exciting world-building, and helps ground a very fantastical comic in something that feels like real pavement, real bedrooms, real streets, real bodies. That exacerbates the body horror of mutilated and suspended immortals, and the ugliness of petty and grandiose cruelties.
The most pervasive horror here is never bloodletting or blood-drinking. We all bleed. We have all done something perverse or delibrate with our bodies or someone else’s.
The ragged, studied misogyny of Sugarvirus, gives it both the shivers of terror on every page and the perpetual feeling of both youth and creaking old age.
“Her flesh is forced to heal like this.”
The the whole self-justification for hating women wrapped in the idea they haven’t been fucked enough.
That every vampire fuck is a dry one. Desperate, unpleasant raw friction chasing after something wet and mutual. Ellis turns the word, “fuck,” into wreck.
John Cefalu, one of the worst horrors of the book, unconscious junkie holding a bottle in his bed, naked on a mattress on the floor, is surrounded by framed pornography: eyes on eyes, vagina dentata, faces and genitals mirrored maws, nude women dominating or murdering men. “Women scare me,” he narrates for us, “They scare me because death is their idea.”
Martin Chaplin plays the men of the story as visual types, walking caches of tropes. The women, by comparison, are greatly individuated. Cindy is a person. Rose, a person. Louise, sad victim’s victim, a person. John is a type, and a type we all know or fear that we know.
Cindy Ruin is someone whose eyes we can look through, while John is someone we look at.
Or, maybe I can’t get behind his flayed face and wear it like a mask.
We bring ourselves in, reading something like Sugarvirus. It is a little world, a little deeply hurting bad feeling we wear for forty-some pages or the days and days it takes us to shake off the rotten sense of it.
Maybe there is only so much of it we can wear without it breaking us.