INTERVIEW: BENJAMIN PERCY on Bringing Werewolves to the Pandemic in WEREWORLD
For quite a long time, zombies have been the ultimate metaphor for humanity’s violent tendencies, and they’ve packed a lot of punch. Insane consumerism, highly contagious crowd mentalities, and predatory capitalism were all things zombies wore quite well on their shuffling bodies throughout the 1960s until the early 2000s.
Our time, however, where deteriorating social structures and highly infectious viruses dominate the political landscape, may call for a more brutal and subversive monster. Writer Benjamin Percy found exactly that, and he’s fiercely convincing: the werewolf. In her new short story, wereworld, Percy makes a creepy but strong argument as to why these indiscriminately snarling and sadistic creatures are the monsters of our time.
wereworld is an urgent horror story about, essentially, a werewolf pandemic. I use the word pandemic with every ounce of meaning that the current gap between the voluntarily vaccinated and the unvaccinated has widened over the past year. A mysterious virus appears to create werewolves, and it is unclear how people are infected. A man in a small town watches the wolf virus make its way to his community to tear it apart, both figuratively and literally. Spot misinformation, denial and fear, all of which are now part of our new normal.
Percy weaves a tale in the tradition of Stephen king‘s Werewolf cycle (1983) in which the politics of small towns prove to be as vicious and monstrous as the things that come out on a full moon.
As Werewolf cycle, wereworld presents color illustrations between chapters. Francesco Francavilla lends his signature inks, as well as his orange and red-heavy art style, to these pages, adding a richness to the textures already defined in the story to better flesh out his world. As Bernie wrightson before him, Francavilla knows how to extract the horror already present in each chapter while leaving just enough room for readers to fill the darker parts of the story with their own dark imaginations.
Rhythm corresponded with Benjamin Percy to talk about werewolves, the pandemic, and give classic monsters something new to say about us. It follows below.
RICARDO SERRANO: wereworld feels like a horror story that’s about distance, of how we let paranoia, fear, and perceived threats keep us away from each other. There are certainly very direct references to the COVID pandemic in history that tie into this, for example. What were you trying to capture or exploit with this news?
BENJAMIN PERCY: Speculative stories often channel cultural unrest. We live in a time of fear and paranoia. I was exploiting this when I wrote wereworld. Contagion is spreading and no one knows the truth of what is to come. As a result, the people are separated; because no one knows how the infection spreads, anyone could be an enemy. A colleague, a neighbor, even a family member.
I gave the werewolf myth an analog to the pandemic. Because it always occurred to me, watching movies like An American werewolf in London or read novels like Hour of the wolf, that there was something inauthentic about their content. If a werewolf were on the loose, there wouldn’t be one, but several. A constantly evolving pack. Exponential growth. They are, after all, machines of rage and hunger.
As the title suggests, I am writing about a planetary crisis, but I have chosen to gradually reduce the focus. In a city, a street, a house. A family is in crisis, and they are going to have to defeat their inner demons if they are to survive the monsters on their doorstep.
SERRANO: The illustrations by Francesco Francavilla, which reminded me a bit (in terms of implementation) of those of Bernie Wrightson in Stephen King’s book Werewolf cycle, gift those snapshots of the world you have created and do a great job of conveying the violence it contains. How did you approach the selection of images and how much did they reveal?
PERCY: He’s a brilliant artist – whom I’ve been in love with ever since I read his collaboration with Scott Snyder in Detective Comics, about ten years ago now – so I’m glad to call him partner in crime. We talked about Bernie wrightson and Stephen king, Yes. We also talked about EC Comics as the general vibe.
He asked me to throw three or four ideas for each month of the calendar (the story is divided into twelve chapters, a year in the life of a small town). And I did, but I also told him to ignore them completely, because his vision is the best. He read the story. Then he considered the suggestions. Then we entered into a generative conversation. Her illustrations are all perfect – they show just enough of it. Because horror exists in the shadows. Sometimes the involvement is more electrifying than a direct revelation.
SERRANO: As a writer you have a job that sometimes includes adding new twists to proven horror genres. I think about your zombie comic Year zero and how his story unfolds. Did you tinker with the werewolves idea for a while or did you all click all of a sudden seeing what was going on all around us?
PERCY: Werewolves have always been my favorite monster … because like Angela Carter once written, we are all hairy on the inside.
I have a grade six artifact – a “research” article titled “WEREWOLVES!” (Yes, with an exclamation mark) – in which I detailed the history of lycanthropy and even performed a ceremony to become one (spoiler alert: it worked!).
My breakout novel – Red Moon, released in 2013 – is about werewolves.
And I… missed them. wereworld has been in my brain for a long time. It’s kind of like a strange mixture of The purge, american beauty, and Contagion, while the veneer of civilization collides with an overwhelming savagery.
SERRANO: Did you take elements from other werewolf movies, books, video games, or comics when you built your story?
PERCY: Werewolf cycle is an obvious influence, as we have organized the story into twelve chapters, each with its own unique illustration.
I also take my hat off partly for Ginger biscuits, in that the onset of puberty in girls is linked to themes of transformation.
SERRANO: Another classic monster you’re looking to dive into for a unique version?
PERCY: I have a Frankenstein concept (already fleshed out) that I would like to write. I’ve been sitting on it for over a decade (if only there was enough time).
wereworld is now available digitally on the NeoText website.