Blooming Love: A Review of Vampire Blood Drive, by Mira Ong Chua

            It used to be that, in order to get your stories out in the world, a creator needed a publisher.  To get a publisher, you needed an agent, followed by a contract.  As many writers and artists know, just having the talent and the drive is not always enough.  Sometimes it can come down to luck, or connections, or simply perseverance.  However, the internet changed all of that, providing way after way for creators to develop their work and get it in the world independently.  Books can be self-published, and there are even websites to help you design basic covers.  Further, the advent of crowdfunding has provided a source of freedom and a revenue stream, letting creators make some money to focus on their work.  For anyone looking to print copies of their books, crowdfunding can provide the much-needed funds to hire a printer.  Do well on a crowdfunded project, and your new fans will spread the word, helping to bolster future projects.  While there are the stories of crowdfunded projects failing to get off the ground or misleading backers, it has overall been a boon for creativity.

            Vampire Blood Drive is the latest independently published comic book by extraordinary writer and artist, Mira Ong Chua.  Originally a short, single-chapter story called My Very First Vampire Blood Drive, Chua later returned to the story and characters she created with Vampire Blood Drive 2.  Both were published as downloadable pdf files originally, until Chua announced another return to the setting.  This time, she launched a successful crowdfunded project to not only create additional stories featuring the same characters, but also print physical copies of the collection.  For anyone who has been following Chua’s work over the years, including Goodbye, Battle Princess Peony and Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip to Love, any new project of hers is reason to get excited.  While her first two vampire-centric comics where excellent in their own rights, they also acted like short stories, each ending on beautiful notes that did not necessarily need a follow up.  However, Vampire Blood Drive lets Chua flex her creative muscles and take the characters to new heights.

Bunny finally realizes what she’s signed up for

            Vampire Blood Drive takes place at Bloodhorne University, located in an unnamed town somewhere in the world.  For intents and purposes, Bloodhorne and the town are completely, one hundred percent normal.  Except for the fact that they are also home to the local vampire community.  Every year, Bloodhorne University holds a blood drive, allowing humans to volunteer to donate blood to the vampires, providing them with most of the food they require throughout the year.  From the very beginning of the story, it is obvious that these are not your traditional vampires and that Chua is not super interested in a traditional vampire story.  Gone is the extreme weakness to sunlight or the aversion to religious symbols.  Early on, there is even a joke about vampires not staying where they have been uninvited, but it is treated more like politeness than anything.  Vampire Blood Drive is, primarily, a light-hearted romance story, the tone reflects that.  Originally, the main character freaks out at the prospect of giving blood to vampires, but mostly because she did not realize vampires were real and her friend let slip that people had passed out in previous years.  But Chua makes it clear from the outset that her anxiety if far from the norm, and that the vampires in this setting are just people.

            Vampire Blood Drive follows protagonists Bunny and Velvet as they meet for the first time, fall in love, maneuver around the complications life throws at them, and steadily deepen their relationship and love for one another.  Bunny is human, with the story beginning as she arrived at Bloodhorne University’s annual blood drive for the first time.  Velvet, meanwhile, is a vampire with slightly gothic tastes, in both the way she dresses and the way she carries herself.  Where Bunny is more feminine, Velvet is much more butch, and later chapters even have Bunny referring to Velvet as her butch girlfriend.  At the start, Bunny is understandable nervous about allowing a vampire to feed from her, but the story quickly reveals that Velvet has a very rare-among-vampires blood allergy.  She is only able to drink type AB blood, and spent the previous year nearly starved due to a lack of donors.  Thankfully, Bunny has type AB blood, and she allows Velvet to drink from her.  Throughout that scene, Bunny’s growing attraction to Velvet is palpable and, even though the moment is presented from Bunny’s point-of-view, Chua’s art makes it clear that Velvet returns that affection.  From this first chapter on, the two become girlfriends, and each subsequent chapter focuses on another moment in their relationship as they grow together.  The tension of each story has more to do with how the couple will navigate their way through a new complication, but Chua knows the type of romance her readers want from this story, and there is never a real danger of Bunny and Velvet breaking up.

Meeting Velvet for the first time

            Mira Ong Chua is no stranger to writing romance stories, with her previous two long-form works, Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip to Love and Goodbye, Battle Princess Peony, both focusing on more slow-burn romance between their sets of respective heroines.  Vampire Blood Drive is different only in terms of pacing and tone of the romance.  By the end of chapter one, Bunny and Velvet are a couple and very much in love.  While one chapter does focus some of Bunny’s insecurities, the overall tone of the story is very light-hearted.  As usual for a Chua comic book, the main romance is also a queer one, featuring love between two women.  In fact, part of the draw of Chua’s work is her focus on lesbian relationships and removing any stigma of queer relationships from her stories.  She seems to be aware that people do not read her stories looking for bigotry or hatred towards lgbtq+ people.  The romance between Bunny and Velvet also maintains the balance between sweet and sexy, and Vampire Blood Drive can be very not-safe-for-work in a few places.  Appropriately, as the story progresses and the relationship deepens, the book gets a little raunchier, even allowing for some kink.  Appropriately for this approach, Chua also makes it clear through her storytelling that the keys to a healthy romance are devotion and communication, and Bunny and Velvet solve every obstacle by simply talking and being honest.

            No review of a comic book is complete without talking about the art style, and Chua’s art style is superb.  Drawing more from manga than western art styles, her characters are tremendously impressive and detailed.  Every emotion pops off the page, and even shading Velvet’s eyes differently is enough to remind everyone that she is a powerful vampire.  A darkened blush, a bead of sweat, the turn of a mouth: singular details are put together to create some of the sexiest scenes in the story.  Also, in the vein of manga, the backgrounds serve one of two purposes: setting the scene or focusing on a character.  By using blank or line-drawn background in numerous places, Chua can easily keep a sense of placement while letting readers focus on the real draw of the story, the characters on the page.  Chua also makes a point to include a variety of body types on the page, a refreshing change from most mainstream comics that seem to copy and paste character’s faces on a template of body types.  Velvet is very butch with broad shoulders and a strong build, while Bunny is slightly on the chubbier side, with ample curves that only increases her beauty.  Between chapters one and two, Velvet even undergoes a top surgery, presenting even more masculine as the story progresses.  Even for side or background characters, everyone’s body is different and beautiful in its own way.

It gets much, much spicier after this scene

            Any new release from Mira Ong Chua is a cause for celebration, and her stories only get better and better with each new book.  Fans are always looking forward to what story she will tell next, and her social media is full of artwork and celebrations of her artwork.  She is one of those artist and storytellers who has not only been consistently great in her work, but seems to somehow improve all the time after reaching new heights.  Her romances know how to keep the balance between cute and sexy while embracing both, and she is not afraid to approach her subject matters in very frank, mature ways.  While all her works are excellent, Vampire Blood Drive is a welcome entry point, and the original short comic served as many fans’ introduction to Chua’s work.  Her stories are the type that always leave you feeling good and satisfied at the end, even those that are tenser than others.  We may not know what her next work will be just yet, but knowing Mira Ong Chua, it will be even better.

Vampire Blood Drive can be found in Mira Ong Chua’s online shop, miraongchua.shop

Total Read Time: 3 days

Next on the List: Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree

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