“In 1986, I wrote and drew Jack Frost #1 and #2. Ten years later, I wrote a screenplay adapting it to film. Seven years after that, I directed and edited the film over time with my company and friends joining in all facets of getting it done from shooting it to the VFX.  The film came out and became the 18th highest grossing Direct-to-DVD release of 2003.”

I was perusing Facebook when this blurb written by Kevin VanHook caught my eye. The post included pictures of the covers of Jack Frost #1 and #2 along with the DVD cover of Frost: Portrait of a Vampire.

VanHook is a skilled veteran in the comic book world. He’s worked for comic companies big and small from IDW Publishing to Marvel Comics, from DC Comics to Valiant Comics, to countless other comics he’s written and/or drawn over his many years. Most famously he is co-creator of one of the most amazing characters ever created: Valiant’s Bloodshot. Growing up in the 1990’s there was no bigger day than November 18, 1992 when both Superman #75 (The Death of Superman issue) and Bloodshot #1 both hit the stands. It will go down as one of the most legendary days in comic book history. Can anyone forget that black polybagged Superman issue and the Bloodshot issue with the chromium Barry Windsor Smith cover? It was mind-blowing. And Kevin VanHook? He was a gigantic part of that tremendous day in comic book history.

After reading that VanHook not only wrote and drew these two Jack Frost issues for Amazing Comics but then wrote, edited, and directed a film adaptation over fifteen years later boggled my mind. I’m well versed on comic book films big and small so I was surprised that Frost: Portrait of a Vampire had managed to slip under my radar. It seems the tale of VanHook’s character is one well worth delving into so I set out to find out what I could about a man named Jack Frost.

In the eighties David Campiti started Amazing Comics as an off-shoot of Eternity Comics. Eternity Comics published Ex-Mutants #1 before Campiti was asked to spin-off the book to a separate company. Eternity Comics continued while Campiti brought writer David Lawrence, artist Ron Lim, and Ex-Mutants over to Amazing Comics to be the cornerstone of a new black-and-white independent line. Amazing needed a stable of books and would quickly launch new titles to fill out the line including the anthology Amazing Comics Premieres, Daemon Mask, Wabbit Wampage, Domino Chance, and Tales of the Sun Runners.

Campiti still vividly remembers how VanHook came to Amazing. “I remember that, at Chicago Comic Con ’86, Roger McKenzie introduced me to Kevin and (his wife) Carol VanHook. Kevin never doubted his own talent. He showed me Jack Frost, about a detective hunting vampires, and he seemed to be doing his artistic riff on Secret Agent Corrigan.”

“Back then, Chicago Con was always July 4th weekend,” Campiti continues. “By then, we’d already solicited for August, September, and October; what’s more, that was in an era when many companies, including Amazing and Wonder Color (another publisher under Campiti that published full color indie comics), produced their own solicitation brochures, of which they sent thousands to the Distributors, all of which took time. We were likely working on the November solicitations when I met Kevin. (The book) deserved a chance so we added Jack Frost to our roster. So by the time we’d agreed to a deal, prepared contracts and gotten them back from Kevin to send on to the publisher, then produced the solicitation, December was the earliest we could release Jack Frost. Sure enough, on-sale date for Jack Frost #1 was December 20th, 1986, and issue #2 was a month later.”

When the reader opens up a copy of Jack Frost #1 they are introduced to a man who may be a spy or possibly a mercenary. He is a man who seems well trained and ready to kill at a moment’s notice. Jack narrates that five of his friends were hired by a man known as The General to fight in the Middle East, doing so as he climbs a mountain to reach a stronghold. Frost tells us they finished their mission but were slaughtered afterwards. Frost thought this his best friend Nathaniel MacKenzie was amongst the dead but came to learn that his friend somehow survived. Jack finds The General and avenges his friends’ deaths though he comes no closer to finding Nat.

That is until a few weeks later when a burglar enters Jack’s house back in the States. The burglar turns out to be Nat’s wife Nancy who has come looking for Frost. At first everything is cordial until Nancy pulls a gun on him, demanding to see his teeth. Frost is puzzled but Nancy soon reveals that she believes that the husband she hasn’t seen for a year is now a vampire – a man killing in cold blood searching only for the warm blood of his victims.

Jack seems to be the ultimate pessimist and really doesn’t know how to take Nancy’s story. A vampire? Really? But as Jack starts looking for Nat (and actually quickly finding him), he realizes that the friend he once knew clearly is no longer the same man. Not knowing who to trust or who would believe him Jack visits his friend Micah Tomes, a blind man who runs a curio shop in Manhattan. There Jack learns how to properly kill a vampire.

Jack once again goes off in search of Nat and the conclusion is not a full out brawl but two old friends who both know what they need to do in a final standoff. For Nat it is to continue to murder people and drink their blood. For Jack it is to kill his old friend by any means necessary. Only one can ultimately survive as Jack finds himself going from mercenary to vampire hunter.

The detail in VanHook’s artwork is stunning. The work comes off even more amazing in that VanHook wrote, penciled, and inked the entire book himself. Ex-Mutants writer David Lawrence had said within Jack Frost #1, “Anyone who’s payed any attention to comic the past few years has seen the kind of work one talented creator with a strong vision can produce. Frank Miller and John Byrne come to mind.” It’s not an easy feat for a fledgling writer/artist to be compared to legends like Miller or Byrne but one look at the quality of these early Jack Frost books and there is no denying the talent that VanHook had.

“Kevin was never afraid to leap in and tackle anything and everything in his way,” Campiti adds. “When we developed a color process at Innovation a couple of years later, Kevin mastered it before anyone else. Years later, when he reached the upper echelons at Valiant, and later was writing and drawing stuff at DC and Marvel, it wasn’t a “How’d he do that?” as “But of course!” Kevin always looked at the next things he wanted to be doing.”

Kevin would move from the first two issues of Jack Frost right to another Amazing comic book with writer Roger McKenzie who, at that point, was fairly well known for his work on Daredevil with Frank Miller. Campiti says, “After Kevin wrapped (the two issues of Jack Frost) he jumped straight to drawing the one-shot “Ninja*Bots” issue that Roger McKenzie and I scripted for Amazing Comics Premieres #1, and that actually shipped before Jack Frost #1 — in November of ’86. (It was) a silly story where Roger and I alternated scripting pages while in the same room.”

Campiti had great faith in VanHook and knew his work matched what he wanted to accomplish at Amazing Comics. “I had four areas on which to focus,” Campiti says. ” I wanted to give deserving fresh talent the opportunity to become paid, published professionals. (The comics) had to be fun, readable product. (The books had) to be produced within the budgets and schedules I was given.) and it had to be done on time. Jack Frost hit all of those. And Kevin’s career trajectory showed I was right. While Jack Frost didn’t quite sell Ex-Mutants numbers, it wasn’t as lighthearted or sexy as our flagship book, it would have continued had the publisher paid everyone.”

The back of Frost #2 had the cover for a third Frost issue. With a box exclaiming ‘For Mature Readers’ now adorning the cover this issue promised the readers a look back at Frost’s back as the title read ‘Frost 1960: The Beginning’. Unfortunately for fans of Jack Frost issue 3 would never be completed nor released. Amazing Comics was shut down, leaving many of its creators in the lurch. To this day the behind-the-scenes dealings with the shutdown remains a sore subject for those involved with the company – even thirty years later. But VanHook was determined not to see Jack Frost die out. Campiti would go on to launch Innovation Comics in 1988 which would become a powerhouse in the comic book market for the next few years. VanHook would come aboard as Innovation’s production manager with Carol VanHook providing colors on some of Innovation’s titles.

In 1989 Gary Reed would launch Caliber Comics – another independent comic book company that would go on to make huge waves. Many famous creators that are beloved today would get their start at Caliber including Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack, Michael Gaydos, James O’Barr and Ed Brubaker. Reed not only published the books but wrote many of them as well including such famous early Caliber series as Baker Street and Dead World.

“I had heard that Gary Reed was publishing black and white books in Michigan and I had an opportunity to be near his shop in 1989,” says VanHook. “I swung by and met Jim Kessler, who was working there. Gary was out, but I left some copies (of Jack Frost), sent him a note, and he sent me a contract. A few months later, he offered me a job as the art director of Caliber Press. I moved my family to Michigan and worked there for about a year.”

With VanHook now working at Caliber it also gave some new life to Frost. A one-shot was released in 1989. VanHook would have some script assistance on this book from his old friend James Perham. “James Perham and I knew each other from 7th grade,” says VanHook. “He was one of my best friends and he wanted nothing more than to work in comics. I tried to help him get his name out there when I could.” Perham would later go on to also work with VanHook when he became the Office Manager at Valiant Comics in the 1990’s where he also wrote issues of Valiant titles like Archer & Armstrong and The Second Life of Dr. Mirage. “Sadly, he passed away in 2008,” VanHook notes.

The Frost one-shot was quite a different story than what was previously done in the Amazing books. The story had Frost thrown together with a woman he didn’t know getting caught in a shootout with a bunch of thugs. Thanks to Frost they are both able to make it out of the situation relatively unscathed. Or so Frost thought. When the same woman ends up murdered just the next day Frost takes it upon himself to find out what happened. Frost’s investigation ends up taking him right to the killer and an incredibly awful motive that could be ripped from any headline in today’s newspapers. The one-shot ends with a flashback story that tells a traumatic story from Frost’s past. Pieces of the story were originally going to be in the third issue of the Amazing Comics Jack Frost.

The one-shot saw Frost entangled with local thugs, investigating a murder, and, once again, had Micah dispatching some advice to Jack. The one thing missing from the book were vampires. The vampire story that had played out in the Amazing Comics issues seemed to be the end of that storyline as the Frost one-shot moved Jack Frost to more realistic problems.

Frost would also have a brand new short story in Caliber’s A Caliber Christmas #1 which featured new stories from Caliber books like Baker Street, Dead World, Aniverse, The Realm, and more. The book remains a collectible to this day thanks to having an early story featuring James O’Barr’s famous character The Crow.

While trade paperbacks weren’t the norm in the late 80s/early 90s Caliber would also publish a Frost trade collection that contained the original Amazing issues, the Caliber one-shot, the Christmas story from A Caliber Christmas, as well as some sketches.

It would not even be two years before Frost popped again. VanHook would make a deal with Caliber to produce a new Jack Frost that would be titled Frost: The Dying Breed. The four issue series would not only be a new adventure for Frost but also delve into the character’s past. Dying Breed had a truly unique look as VanHook would draw flashbacks to Frost’s time in 1971 Vietnam in one style while drawing Frost’s present day adventures with a completely different look. If you didn’t know any better you would swear that it was two completely different artists on the book but it was all accomplished by one single man.

After a flashback showing Frost captured by the Viet Cong, Dying Breed moves to the present day with Frost spending his days hiking and rock climbing at the Grand Canyon. Frost ends up meeting a stunning woman named Liz and the two just have fun together – that is until Frost runs into her father Paul. Paul is an old acquaintance of Frost and ends up telling him about a politician’s daughter being held prisoner in Africa.

Frost is quite reluctant to head to Africa. I mean he is hanging with Paul’s daughter at the Grand Canyon every day having a good old time. Why go rescue some girl in Africa? But it seems that the hero in Jack’s soul speaks to him and he joins the rest of the mercenaries in Africa as they train and plan to rescue the girl.

I love books like these that have flashbacks that then weave back into the present day story. We get to learn more about Jack’s life and how the repercussions of what happened in Vietnam can still come back to haunt him much later in life. One thing for certain is that Jack still has what it takes to handle a gun or come crashing through a window. He’s like John McClane without the stupid one-liners. When Frost realizes that the mercenaries he’s working with might not be the people he wants on his side – he does what it takes to get himself and the girl out alive. No matter who is standing in his way.

Part of what made Frost: The Dying Breed stand out were its covers. The covers were paintings drawn by Hugh Fleming who, at that time, was just trying to break into comics. While many years later comic books would see more and more painted covers (certainly helped by the popularity of Alex Ross) it certainly wasn’t the norm when Fleming met VanHook. Fleming remembers how he came to work on the project, “I was 23 and the Frost covers were my very first work in comics. I got the job on my first trip to the San Diego Comic Con in 1990, shopping my folio around as you do. Kevin hired me based on some movie-related fan art that I had painted. It may have been the Hunt for Red October montage that caught his eye as one of the characters in Frost was based upon the actor.”

“For the first cover montage I earnestly rendered the character looking “exactly” like (Red October actor Sean) Connery and learnt my first lesson about exercising caution not to violate likeness rights,” Fleming says. “The rendering had to be modified, of course. I was quite proud of the work and thrilled to have landed any kind of pro gig at the time.” Fleming would go on to work for companies like Dark Horse and DC Comics where he provided artwork for such books as Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Batman.

While the end of the third issue promised that the next issue of Frost: The Dying Breed would bring readers the conclusion to the storyline, the book was never released. According to VanHook it was decided that a fourth issue was not to be done. “We were around half way through when the Gulf War broke out,” says VanHook. “Sales of Indy comics tanked and it was decided to not do the fourth issue.” At that time VanHook didn’t script out his book but preferred a method where a book was thumbnailed first and fleshed out from there. As such no script for Frost: The Dying Breed #4 exists. Fleming recollects painting the three covers for the issues but not a fourth thought he does admit, “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn I’d forgotten completely about a fourth (cover). I only have memories of three covers, the originals are still in storage somewhere.”

One would think that the cancellation of Frost: The Dying Breed would have been the end of the Frost character but that assumption would be incorrect. VanHook remembers, “When we stopped Frost: The Dying Breed, I spent about six months as a graphic artist in Indiana. That company was having financial troubles. It was a typesetting company at the beginning of the desktop publishing era. I sent samples out to various comic book companies and ended up at Valiant (Comics) a few week later. (It wasn’t) as a writer or artist, but as their Production Manager. I started writing with Jim (Shooter) about a month into that stretch.”

VanHook would also go on to write books for Valiant which include Solar, The Visitor, and Eternal Warrior. It was in Eternal Warrior where VanHook would go on to co-create the ultimate killing machine known as Bloodshot. Bloodshot would prove to be one of Valiant’s biggest characters and Bloodshot’s first issue sold upwards of 850,000 copies alone. VanHook would write 40 of the 51 issues of Bloodshot.

It was Bloodshot #33, with a cover date of August 1995, which had a solicit that read: Bloodshot’s closest ally has been infected by a pack of vampires and it’s a race against time to save him! Tracking these fanged killers and the source of their mysterious infection will take all of Bloodshot’s skill. Will he be able to save Malcolm before it’s too late, or will his old friend succumb to the bloodlust inside them?

Bloodshot #33 is actually the second part of a two-part vampire story. The issue opens with Bloodshot taking on his friend Malcolm who, as the solicit described, has been turned into a vampire. Bloodshot tangles with Malcolm but he is able to escape his grasp. Bloodshot is not ready to turn his back on his friend. Bloodshot’s search for Malcolm bring him to another vampire which is where the name Frost is first mentioned. The search then leads Frost to the curio shop owned by Micah Tomes.

Micah and Bloodshot have a quick moment to banter back and forth before Micah lets him know where Frost can be found. Bloodshot ends up running back into Malcolm and while the two are fighting it is Frost who finds Bloodshot. Armed with his handheld crossbow Frost takes Malcolm down but surprisingly Frost works with Bloodshot to try and reverse Malcolm’s vampirization.

It was great seeing Frost not only back in action but on the prowl against vampires once again as the Caliber Comics focused on Jack as a mercenary (or a man in the wrong place at the wrong time). The Bloodshot issue has Frost on the prowl for more vampires, vampires that he can hopefully cure. Frost makes an off-the-cuff remark about trying to save the vampires because he once had a friend that he was unable to save – establishing that Frost’s battle with Nat also took place in the Valiant Comics universe.

“Kevin and I had been teamed up on Bloodshot for quite a while before #33 came along,” remembers Bloodshot artist Sean Chen. “I knew as soon as I read the script that these issues would be different. I always knew that Kevin had created the character Frost and had a few comic published. My M.O. for drawing comics usually meant considering the script a “suggestion” and I would often change elements that were not integral to the plot. Thinking about that now, I can’t believe how disrespectful to the writer that was. Issue #33 was different though because Frost was Kevin’s baby. After hours, I approached Jim Perham, Valiant’s Office Manager at the time about the character, and he told me a bit about the history of Kevin’s creation. He said that Kevin was inspired by Mike Grell’s Jon Sable comic, and further reiterated Kevin’s passion for the character.”

Chen continues, “Nearly all comics creators have a character or story that they created that they would like to one day develop as a comic. Most of these creations go nowhere since they are products of a certain time or place in our lives. They get replace by newer and “better” ideas as we are continually inspired by whatever we are exposed to. But then there is often the idea that “sticks”. These characters grab a hold of their creators and get developed and fleshed out over years. Knowing this, meant that I had to handle the guest appearance with much respect. Kevin really should have been allowed to draw the book himself (he had all the skill sets of a pro artist) but I was the artist on the book at the time. The least I could do was try my hardest to match his vision. I think the book was more like Bloodshot being the guest in their horror/noir world rather them guesting in Bloodshot’s book. I remember there were some side characters like the blind curio shop owner that were fully fleshed out three dimensional characters who really transcended their bit roles. I also remember there was some character in that issue that was based on Jon Hartz who was head of marketing at Valiant. My main concern back then was that my drawing abilities were not developed enough to capture the vision in my head. Having to capture the vision from someone else’s head was even harder. I’m not sure what Kevin thought of how I portrayed his characters, but I would like him to know that it did matter to me, and I did my best.”

His appearance in Bloodshot would mark Jack Frost’s end in comic books but not the end of the Jack Frost character . VanHook would make a career change and go from comic books to films. “Before long, Kevin … went to Hollywood and made Frost into a movie,” Campiti happily notes. “He built an amazing career from there as a writer, director, producer, Starz executive, and special effects guy. I’m smiling ear-to-ear every time I see his credits on something.”

Frost: Portrait of a Vampire would be a labor of love for VanHook who spent over four years completing the project. Vanhook would write, produce, edit, and direct Frost: Portrait of a Vampire which would certainly be a daunting task for any first time director. While VanHook was no stranger to the Hollywood scene, having worked on visual effects for years prior, it would be his first time behind the camera.

Portrait of a Vampire would not be a completely new story. The film would be a retelling of the Amazing Comics issues. The screenplay would greatly expand on the two issue story and update it for modern times with Frost and Nathaniel fighting Afghanis and Russians in Afghanistan, Nat being bitten by a vampire, his transformation into become a vampire, and what ultimately leads him to a final showdown with Jack.

Jack would be portrayed by actor Jeff Manzanares and Nat by Charles Lister. While their names might not be familiar to most the man who would play curio shop owner Micah Tomes is a name known worldwide. From his dramatic performance in The Buddy Holly Story, his comedic roles in films like Black Sheep and Rookie of the Year, to his legendary action roles in films Lethal Weapon, Under Siege, Predator 2, and Point Break Gary Busey is a man who almost needs no introduction. He’s famous the world over but also infamous for his behavior on and off the set.

“Busey was gettable because he had been in The Buddy Holly story produced by a mentor/friend of mine Fred Kuehnert,” says VanHook. “He had name value and was somewhat affordable because he had a reputation for being difficult. (The reputation) was well-earned. That said, his name helped make the film a success.” As VanHook had pointed out, Frost: Portrait of a Vampire was the 18th highest grossing direct-to-DVD film of 2003. That’s huge for a low budget feature which took over four years to make and used early digital effects.

As an adaptation of a two issue comic book the screenplay does a great job of fleshing out the entire plot. We learn much more about Jack and Nat, their time together, and how vicious Nat becomes when he turns into a vampire – something that was missing from the original comic. While comic books have almost no limitations, since you can basically write and draw whatever you imagine, it is a magnificent feat to make a film version that can greatly expand upon what was on the printed page and improve on it. In the artwork featured on the DVD it seems that, at some point, it was planned for Nat to show off his shape shifting abilities as he had done in the comic. It was not seen in the final film.

Manzanares does a good job as Jack Frost though I’ll admit that it is sometimes hard for him to emote with those shiny aviator glasses on. Lister’s Nat gets to have a lot more fun and there is a great fight scene in a bar that shows just how vicious the character can be. VanHook never lets a low budget or many years in production bring the film down and I enjoyed the retelling of the original Jack Frost story quite a bit. It was great seeing Frost hunt a vampire once again.

The one thing that occurred to me is the story of Jack Frost could have been told as a special feature on the DVD. I was surprised to search the DVD to find no featurette talking about Jack’s comic book origins and how the Amazing books were adapted to the big screen. The DVD cover actually says that the movie is “Based on the Best-Selling Vampire Comic Book Jack Frost” but the only comic book mention I saw on the DVD was the cover to Amazing’s Jack Frost #1 hidden with storyboards contained on the disc. Maybe a comic-to-film featurette will come one day with a Frost Blu-ray release. Maybe for a Frost sequel?

Is the character Frost gone forever? The answer to this is most likely no – though the last time he was seen in print was the Bloodshot issue and no follow-up movie has yet to come about. “Frost (is) always important to me because it was my first real creation,” says VanHook. A follow-up series was discussed recently but another recent passing has put Frost’s resurrection plans on hold. “I had talked to Gary Reed about doing something with it since he was starting to publish again,” VanHook notes. “His passing has at least put a hold on doing a new series.”

VanHook is considering digitally publishing the past issues of Frost though such outlets as ComiXology though time will tell if Frost if that actually happens or if Frost will be brought back for a whole new generation of comic fans to discover.  It’ll be interesting to see if Jack Frost does return which one will be get. Grizzled war hero turned mercenary? Vampire hunter? Maybe a reboot with a combination of both?

Discovering these comics and the feature film was simply a lot of fun and I got to not only unearth a character I had missed the first time around but a bunch of great history along the way. One can only hope that Jack Frost does return again someday for a whole new audience to enjoy.

I wanted to give a very special thanks to Dean Zeller of the Comic Book Karma Association. Dean basically made this article happen – whether he realizes it or not. Thanks Dean!