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Cannibal: A New Twist On An Epidemic [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: You describe CANNIBAL as an "anti-apocalypse story." Can you tell us what you mean by that?

JENNIFER YOUNG: Cannibal is the anti-apocalypse story in that the townsfolk of Willow will arm themselves and be wary of the neighbors they once trusted. They won't give in to the cannibal virus that some think could lead to an epidemic. People want to stay immersed in their everyday lives instead of giving in, seeking refuge, or leaving town.

BRIAN BUCCELLATO: One of the tropes of stories about global pandemics—Dawn of the Dead, World War Z, I Am Legend, and 12 Monkeys, for example—is that they lead to an apocalyptic breakdown of society. But we wanted to tell a story where mankind is too stubborn to give up their way of life. CANNIBAL is a story about man's resilience at the dawn of what MIGHT become an apocalypse...but not any time soon.

IC: Most people's first thought when they hear the word "cannibal" will be "Oh, they're zombies!" What kind of cannibals are you depicting in this series? How do they differ from zombies?

BUCCELLATO: Zombies are the dead come back to life to feed on human flesh. They are undead monsters. Our Cannibals are everyday people who have been infected by a virus that causes them to crave human flesh. The infected become overwhelmed by the need to feed and are driven to the point where they will attack humans to feed on them. It's like the worst drug addiction ever. However, because they NEVER lose their ability to reason or their conscience, once they get their "fix", they must deal with the guilt of their actions. To make a long story longer, our cannibals are regular people who eat other people...then feel REALLY bad about it.

YOUNG: The main difference between OUR cannibals and zombies is that our cannibals are just like you and me. They think, react, and, most importantly, feel remorse. They don't actually want to eat you but they must in order to survive. Unlike a zombie, someone with the cannibal virus can live and function among the rest of us. Only when their hunger has gone on too long will they become a threat. It's like an addiction. They can be your mother, brother, boss, or preacher—living their normal lives just like you and I. But in order to survive and feed that deep, primal hunger, they must feed on humans.

IC: CANNIBAL takes place in the Everglades, a rare setting for a comic. What was it about this location that made it the right one for this story?

YOUNG: I am from a small town in Florida where everyone knows everyone else, their parents, and especially each other's business. The town I am from is part farmland, part beach, and part swampland. Growing up in that part of Florida was an adventure every single day. During my childhood I saw more gators, sharks, snakes, and frogs to last a lifetime. Years after leaving Florida, I realized how intoxicating the setting was, and felt blessed to have had that life. Having CANNIBAL take place here is my way of revisiting my childhood and hopefully capturing its essence for readers.

BUCCELLATO: We wanted to focus on ONE small town's experience with the onset of this viral epidemic. And with the backwoods, hunting, and gun culture of that area, it seemed like a natural fit. Also, Jennifer's roots are in Florida, so she knows these places in a way that brings realism to the story.

MATÍAS BERGARA: From a visual point of view, the Everglades and swampy areas in general are great settings for creepy and unsettling stories. Nature and wildlife become characters in themselves and play a silent but powerful role. Rivers and creeks—running water—usually give you a sense of a story going somewhere, leading to something, like it happens in Apocalypse Now. These are dark waters, with the small fictional towns and wooden bridges decaying just like rotting plants. It's great for this story!

IC: Matías, this seems like a pretty down-to-earth tale, even with the cannibals. Can you describe what the story is going to feel like, visually? What does your take on the Everglades look like?

BERGARA: It's gonna be gritty and very textured. By that I mean that I'm using ink and brushes intentionally to create lines, shapes, and characters that mirror the tone, emotions, and occasional wildness that gets the story going. Brian and Jennifer gave me lots of freedom when defining these particular elements and—being an "expressive" artist, so to say—I'm using lots of slashes, strokes, and blots when necessary to produce certain effects and peaks of drama. I'm also having lots of fun drawing the jungle and vegetation as a living force around the characters. Swamp flora is usually chaotic and random-looking in its natural arrangement.

IC: Small towns tend to have tightly knit casts of characters, too. Who are Cash and Grady Hansen? What makes them stand out?

BERGARA: They're brothers, and—as usually happens between brothers—they have very different and complementary personalities, strengths, and weaknesses! And they share a wonderfully tough dad watching over them.

BUCCELLATO: Cash and Grady are brothers with different priorities and worldviews. Cash is homespun and never ventures outside of their hometown of Willow. He is content to live the small town life. Grady, on the other hand, is a commercial fisherman who thinks more globally. He's adventurous and would probably never return to his hometown if not for the fact that his father and brother live there.

IC: The Hansen family forms the core of CANNIBAL, but how is the town they live in taking the rise of the cannibals?

BUCCELLATO: Cannibals are something that the townsfolk have seen on the news. The same way we've all heard about the Zika virus or the bath salts incident but don't have any direct experience with it. At least, not at first. The awareness starts to grow once cannibal attacks begin to happen in this small town. And when that happens, the townsfolk stubbornly refuse to let it take over their lives. They start openly carrying guns and becoming xenophobic as their distrust of strangers takes root. They're not going gently into that good night, even if they have to shoot folks they suspect are cannibals...

CANNIBAL #1 is available now.