As an introduction to our new blog series: Children’s Gothic, Stephanie Gallon has provided a detailed look into the female vampire in children’s contemporary media. Stephanie has recently graduated with an MA in English Studies.
The vampire is a universally recognizable creature, distinguished usually by its pale skin, odd dress and pointed fangs. For many American children, their first vampire is The Count, a character on the popular educational programme Sesame Street. With his Transylvanian accent and memorable laugh, The Count teaches children mathematics. He is a Dracula rip-off meant as an educational tool for the development of a younger audience. Most male vampires are deviated from Dracula; see Young Dracula, Count Duckula as examples.
Children’s television is unique in this manner though; while its primary objective is to entertain, the secondary objective demands education. It teaches children implicitly or explicitly lessons that can be applied to their own lives, whether it be a skill like spelling, or something broader like the value of friendship. It is interesting to see how they handle the vampire with this in mind.
This post will concern itself with the animated female vampire.
The animated vampire is most noticeably unhuman-like in its appearance. This because of the medium they are in, which allows for fantastical character designs that, may be unachievable on a live action budget. The vampire is often characterised with pale or oddly-coloured skin. They dress in eccentric or formal clothing, marking them as older and othered, even in worlds where they are not the only supernatural or strange being. They have fangs that are prominently displayed.
MONA THE VAMPIRE
From 1999-2003, a popular children’s television show was Mona the Vampire. It was based on the short stories of the same name by Sonia Holleyman. Mona is not a true vampire like the other examples. She is a young human girl with a vivid imagination, who imagines herself as a vampire who goes on adventures. The episodes were structured in a formulaic manner: something strange would happen in Mona’s life which she would attribute to some unseen supernatural force. As her vampiric alter-ego, Mona could investigate the odd happenstances in her town. In the end, there was usually a rational, non-supernatural reason for the drama, though some episodes hinted that Mona’s stories had some truth to them.
Despite being human, Mona fits the appearance criteria for a vampire. She has pale skin and dark hair. As a vampire, she has prominent fangs, as does her familiar Fang the cat. Her uniform as the vampire was a white shirt, a bow tie and a floral cape. As part of her vampiric fantasies, she believes she is vulnerable to garlic and other vampire hunting tools. She of course is not.
What others Mona is her creativity. In a world of suburban problems, Mona sees the potential for something more. Here, vampirism is escapism. There is no reason for her to pretend to be a vampire other than a fantasy created by her own imagination.
In Adventure Time, a cartoon created by Pendleton Ward, the main vampire character is Marceline, the Vampire Queen. She is an old being, who is half-vampire and half-demon. She is one of the most popular characters in the franchise, and very much an alternative character in the colourful world of Oo. She wears grunge rock clothes and carries a guitar; she sometimes sports a half-shaved head.
Oo as a world is literally Candyland. Anthropomorphic pieces of candy roam the lands, with a monarch of one of the kingdoms being a literal piece of bubblegum. There are other monarchs, almost all princesses, but they are all edible or humorously odd, such as Muscle Princess. Marceline is played as a serious and important character. She is an embodiment of darkness with incredible powers, such as flight and turning in to monsters or a giant bat. She is a powerful and strong character who is drawn and written as different.
Direct sunlight can kill her, but she can avoid that with a large sunhat or parasol. She is not a villain character though. She lives on the border of good and bad, taking glee in mischief but operating on a moral code which puts her loved ones ahead of everything. Perhaps her most interesting attribute is how she eats: Marceline does not need to drink blood. Anything red will do.
Part of what makes Marceline an Other is that she is a queer character. To be specific, she is the ex-girlfriend of Princess Bubblegum. There is coded subtext within the episodes, but official confirmation came from the series creator and Marceline’s voice actress.
Marceline’s vampirism is a celebration of darkness in a bright show. She is not the only dark character, but she is given the most attention and is the only one the series hero calls a friend. She is sensitive, she is talented and she is deep. Her music is melancholic and sincere. Adventure Time is a silly show on its surface, but Marceline is never silly. Everything is played seriously.
Monster High is a web-series based on the popular doll line by Mattel. Its main cast are a group of teenage girls who happen to be the daughters of famous monster: Frankie Stein is the daughter of Frankenstein, who we assume is the doctor as opposed to his Creature; Clawdeen Wolf is the daughter of the Wolf Man, one of several litters; Cleo de Nile is the daughter of the mummy and a princess; Lagoona Blue is the daughter of the Creature of the Black Lagoon; Ghoulia Yelps is the daughter of a zombie, one of many who crowd the hallways of Monster High.
And of course, there is a vampire amongst them; Draculaura, the daughter of Dracula. Draculaura is 1601 years old, making her only a teenager in vampire years. She is bubbly, enthusiastic and a compulsive trend-follower.
Draculaura’s signature colour is pink. She has pink highlights in her hair, light pink skin, and wears a pink shirt covered in glitter and black lace. Her style is more formal than the clothes her friends wear, similar to the Gothic Lolita style popular in Japan.
What is interesting is that while Draculaura is a main character, she is not the protagonist. Often in these monster mash TV shows, the vampire is the protagonist. In the 1980’s paranormal classic Monster Squad, Dracula is the main antagonist. More recently in the animated children’s film Hotel Transylvania, the main story follows Dracula in his hotel. Even Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is remembered predominantly for its Barnabas the vampire storylines. Not only this, but in media for young girls, the pink character is usually the main character—think Blossom in Power Puff Girls or Apple White in Monster High’s sister series Ever After High. Despite all this, Frankie is the protagonist who acts as a stand-in for the audience—someone new to this world, just as we are.
Perhaps the only drawback to Draculaura is her primary concern in life: she cannot see her own reflection, so she’s never sure how she looks. Her vanity and self-image issues are not a healthy message, but she is not the only character concerned with fashion. The series is, ultimately, about dolls and the many accessories that come with them.
Draculaura is not the only vampire in the series. In the season 2 TV special Fright On, we’re introduced to an all-vampires school called Belfry Prep, which had previously been alluded to. The vampires from this school are more aristocratic with preppy clothes, though they dress exclusively in black and red. They are more similar to a Twilight-type vampire, with similar hair and a hatred of werewolves. Draculaura exists as the typical good vampire—accepting, friendly and strictly vegetarian. She even dates Clawd wolf, the casketball star and her friend Clawdeen’s brother, proving she is more accepting that the other vampires.
Here, vampirism is made acceptable by alienating bad attributes. It offers bad vampires to play the villains, acting in the same capacity as the Twilight villains. She is made palatable by dressing her in harmless pink and hearts, and making her weak at the sight of blood. With her fainting, old-fashioned clothing and strong, supernatural boyfriend, Draculaura fulfills the role of Gothic heroine in a paranormal romance than she does the femme fatale we’ve come to associate with vampire women.
There are overarching themes in creating animated vampire women, but a common theme has emerged: they are always the Other, even in worlds where they are not the only one. Whether they are young girls with over-active imaginations, the shadow in a world of light, or the sensitive every-girl surrounded by cold others, these women are Others of their respective worlds. That they are vampires seems pure incidental, a sure-fire shortcut for conveying that these creatures of darkness are not like the others.