Arts & Entertainment
3 min

On the web: Photonovella thriller

A different kind of bloodsucker haunts Parliament Hill

PARIAHS? A bill in Parliament that grants legal recognition of vampires polarizes the nation, pitting the vampire Notion (Shaun Proulx, left) against Elias Galt (GD Matte), a mortal.

Websites are the new black. There are those who have a website, those who want one and those who simply aren’t interested in participating in 21st-century technology. With the flurry of on-line journals, zines and photo-based sites, websites aren’t just promotional tools but can be cyber worlds of immense creative energy.

Writer Jared Mitchell has created Fotonovella.com (formerly known as Skipperworld.com), a site combining the storytelling of a novel with stylized photographs, an aesthetic much like a graphic novel. Mitchell says his third and most recent outing, Law Of The Vampire, is a story of “social upheaval caused when Ottawa mulls legislation that would give legal status to vampires.” The metaphor unmistakably plays on queer rights. The Photoshop epic, roughly an hour long, features more than 3,000 photographs; it revels in reinventing the art of storytelling, merging text and image with interactive technology. Each page is easy to view by scrolling down with the cursor, intentionally accessible for both cyber-geeks and newbies.

The photographs are campy, saturated in colour and sometimes highly pixilated. Many photographs appear to be shot with a convex lens, lending a fish-eye perspective and creating a haunting Jack-The-Ripper dimension. Mitchell has clearly given each photograph loving attention. Shot in Toronto and Ottawa, there is a distinct Canadian Gothic feel. Never has Ottawa looked so appealing and cinematic; Mitchell calls Ottawa “the film noir capital of Canada.” Images of Toronto take on new meaning with Mitchell’s fascination with “nooks and crannies” throughout TO. “It’s time to mythologize our own city as it actually is, rather then pretend it’s an American city,” he says.

Inlaid and superimposed are images from crime novels and magazines, giving the site a collaged and playful air.

The story begins with a mortal (nonvampire) activist Elias Galt launching a campaign to smash antivampire prejudice; his slogan, “Justice for everyone; stop the stigma.” Not all vampires, however, are on the same page; some are opposed to legal status. “We call that internalized pathophobia,” says one vampire, “blaming yourself for how others see you.” A debate in Parliament ensues. The government opposes legal status; posters state “Vampires are not born, they are made.” Galt goes through a self-inflicted crisis, in order to find himself. Sexual obsession, intrigue, murder and a crumbling vampire campaign threatens the end of justice. Deception and lies result in a tale without a definitive end, leaving the viewer/reader to form their own conclusion.

The large cast of 30 people includes Dale Hennessy, Michelle Rose, Jeffrey Hewer and Barr Gilmore and stars Xtra folks Shaun Proulx and GD Matte (formerly Greg Kearney). The homoerotic history tied to vampirism isn’t lost on Mitchell; he is well aware of Ann Rice’s novels and Bram Stoker. But make no mistake, Mitchell doesn’t see his characters locked in some sexual taboo like Stoker’s Dracula where, according to Mitchell, “vampires sucked blood rather than fuck.”

There is a film quality to Law Of The Vampire as Mitchell uses universal visual language — like the reaction shot, a closeup of a character’s facial expression. Maybe it’s more of a comic book element. While images abound, it is a story-driven website. (Two other photonovella’s from Mitchell’s older website Skipperworld.com are here, too, Wash Out and The Sister Season.)

The first page of Law Of The Vampire contains a 19th-century prayer to dispel vampires, and it is immediately apparent that Mitchell, a novelist, senior editor at Maclean’s and contributor to numerous publications, including Xtra, loves to wordsmith. Throughout the site innuendos suggest not only political content but also a joy of language. Text overlaps images in addition to being clearly legible on the sidebars, exhibiting Mitchell’s savvy with creating text that is user-friendly yet artistic.

Mitchell’s vampires are not ravenously jamming their teeth into the necks of bewildered victims; instead they skillfully use knives to make a fleshy slice. One can’t help but see a BDSM theme involving knife play and blood sports as characters negotiate their feedings. Mitchell pushes the envelope by casting a 15-year-old boy, though nothing overtly sexual happens with that character. But regardless of whether or not there’s explicit or vague sexual content, as Mitchell says, “somehow, it enters dangerous waters with our current milieu.”

As kryptonite is to Superman, garlic has been the one sure way to fend off vampires. Yet Mitchell takes an unusual approach, morphing it into a food allergy, much like lactose intolerance or wheat allergies. Somehow this makes vampires more human and less mythological.

Law Of The Vampire consistently examines Canadian politics and what Mitchell calls “the artificiality of the left and right binary.” Mitchell stays decisively critical of both sides of the political fence as the fight for vampire rights works its way through Parliament. The parallel is obvious to the legalization of same-sex marriage, where “outcasts” want legitimization rather than be perceived as a destructive force in society.

As the days get hotter, why not sit back with your laptop, break out a cold one and peruse Law Of The Vampire?