Interview: Nadler and Thompson Bring the Body Horror in COME INTO ME

Dinner. Coffee. Cats. Do you feel like you share too much on social media? What if there was a way to share more of that with someone else? What if you could directly plugin to someone else’s mind? This is the unique premise of Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson new comic book series Come Into Me. The book is a new body horror thriller from the two talented writers that promises to take the reader into the next level of social sharing. I recently had the opportunity to plug into Nadler and Thompson’s mind for a deeper look into the concept of the series.

Chris Campbell: How did you come up with the idea for Come Into Me?

Lonnie Nadler: This is the first project Zac and I developed together. Some time ago, about five years at this point, Zac and I decided we should try our hand at co-writing a comic book. We were both looking for ways to break into the industry and realized we had a lot of mutual interests, cemented by a deep love for David Cronenberg’s filmography. We knew we wanted to write a body horror story, to flex our genre muscles, but it had to be a narrative that was ripe with social commentary and cultural allegory. We didn’t want to do gore and guts just for the sake of it because there’s no bigger travesty to me than underdeveloped horror stories. Over many late nights and many beers we determined that we wanted to address issues of social media and Western society’s current obsession with sharing our lives online, with each other, for approval. But when it came to this, we didn’t want to have real social media in the book because first off, it dates the story, and second, it would have felt rather surface level to play off things that already exist. We wanted to come up with an odd, unsettling prophetic technology, but also one that’s not impossible to believe.

Zac Thompson: After many nights of double IPA’s Lonnie and I realized that we were both afraid of oversharing on social media. I remember one discussion in particular surrounded the idea of people having Facebook pages after they die. How their memories stay there as a lingering reminder of what once was and a group of people passively interact with those memories to pay their respects. As the discussion deepened we decided to explore it through a genre lense. Early on in our discussions Lonnie and I kept coming back to body-horror and the work of David Cronenberg. We wanted to use these fears around social media and embed them within the human body. Taking those ideas of oversharing and the modern idea of social memories and throwing them inside the flesh. It was a strange marriage but all weird ideas are.

CC: Is Come Into Me body horror or would you consider it to be “social horror.”

ZT: It’s a little bit of both. It’s definitely body horror in the end but the book starts out exploring social issues in a slow boil. We wanted to take the ideas of two minds sharing one body and let that slowly mount until things blow wide open. In that gradual build up we want to create horror from things that seem rather ordinary like the idea of sharing your day with another person. Come Into Me strips away the filter and removes the barrier between people. That allows information to overload the mind and barrage a person with the multitude of memories that make up a single person. Among that are the contradictions and the things we don’t love about ourselves. Within each moment of sharing there is a cost on the flesh.

LN: When we started to develop the book, I don’t even think the term “social horror” existed, or if it did we were not aware of it. It seems to be a term that cropped up after Get Out and Black Mirror, but like Zac said Come Into Me definitely exists at this crossroads between body and social horror. It makes a lot of sense to us to bridge the two subgenres because we exist as humans in a physical form and those vessels are the basis of most of our social interactions. With social media and online dating, the more our lives become digitized the idea of a the body is becoming more elusive as we exist in simultaneous spaces. It’s not just physical anymore. The way we exist and how our minds process information is fundamentally changing because of these platforms and so our social lives are impacting our bodies on a major level. We wanted to use our genre influences to bring these ideas to the extreme, explore the philosophical implications, and glimpse into what the worst-case-scenario future could look like. In a lot of ways this goes back to the dawn of science fiction, books that dealt with new scientific endeavours but were also horror stories like Frankenstein, The Time Machine, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So we’re not doing anything new here, but just updating these kinds of stories for a modern age.

CC: Why did you choose that particular quote from Williams James?

LN: Zac and I almost always start our issues with quotes. It really allows you to set the tone off the bat and give the reader something to think about over the course of the issue, something that lingers in the back of their mind. We prefer for the quotes we choose to not be on-the-nose completely, but we still like them to speak to our central themes. William James was a philosopher and psychologist who often wrote about the epistemological ideas we are trying  to address in Come Into Me and his quote about “craving to be appreciated”, for us, fits perfectly with the first issue, but also the series as a whole. I really love the way that page turned out. Piotr’s spread of Toronto is just stunning with Niko Guardia’s colors, and Ryan Ferrier’s title design just fit over top of it perfectly. That page wasn’t even in the script originally but the other guys on the team really brought it to life and I can’t imagine that quote working without that image.

ZT: I spent a lot of time studying the work of William James in university. He was the first person to coin the idea of a stream of consciousness. In keeping with what Lonnie said we’re also going to be literally exploring that stream. What is it like to share that stream of consciousness with another person and where do you go when someone else takes control. As the current of your stream meshes with another – what happens? When two minds blend within one body anything we can know with certainty starts to become elusive. James’ work encapsulates everything we’re trying to explore with Come Into Me.

CC: What is your personal experience with social media? Do you over share or do you tend to stay more private?

ZT: I think I tend to share more than Lonnie. For me it seems like a necessary evil when you’re trying to build a public persona. Although I’m actually becoming more apathetic about the whole process as I don’t really see any difference in the way people react to my work in the real world via social media. Social media has a lot of utility when it comes to keeping in touch with friends and loved ones but there is something strangely disconnected about the nature of the platform. Nothing really resonates anymore, it’s all designed to be consumed in bite size disposable chunks before we move onto the next thing. It’s like trying to yell the loudest in a crowded room of people screaming.

LN: I’ve always been torn between social media’s benefits and drawbacks. It really is an all-consuming thing, and can function as a drug of sorts so I’m very wary of how I engage with it on some levels. With that said, I am addicted, and it is important to market yourself online, to engage with fans and other members of the community. That’s the business side of writing that almost never gets talked about, but it’s like a full time job in and of itself. It’s a necessary evil. I wish I was a talented enough writer for my work to speak for itself, to be able to avoid social media altogether, and just live a secluded life. Unfortunately that’s not a reality I’m living in. I try not to overshare but I catch myself doing that sometimes and then fall into a pit of self-loathing. I really have a disdain for people who throw their every thought and every waking moment up on these platforms. It feels like there’s no filter, no thought or care behind it and sometimes I fear critical thought is being eradicated. At the same time there are some amazing, informative accounts that I’ve gleaned so much information from, that expanded my world view. You just have to sift through the dirt to find the gems. I feel like I’m oversharing right now…

CC: Why do you think movies and comics that have are very body horror focused have become so popular? What do you think the appeal is to consumers?

LN: It’s funny, when Zac and I started working on this book body horror was sort of a lost art, abandoned largely after the late 80s. Since then there’s been this huge wave of 80s horror nostalgia and obviously body horror played pretty heavily into that time period. It’s still not as prevalent as say, the Amblin style of horror that’s coming back, with stuff like It and Stranger Things, but it seems to be crawling its way into our hearts again. The problem is that most of the films, comics, and shows coming out of this body horror revival aren’t very good because they don’t do much other than offer some cool imagery. The whole appeal of body horror from back in the day of Cronenberg and Clive Barker was that it was horror with a brain. These are some of the most cerebral films and books ever made with a genre twist. They used the body, the basis of human interaction, and explored societal fears of the time, whether that was about the future of technology, sexual freedom, fetishism, or the role of media we consume. Zac and I worked hard to bring that sort of intellectual aspect back to the genre to properly pay homage to those who inspired us from the 70s and 80s. Niko and Piotr are a big part of that as well because they are really the ones who bring back that visual flavor. They’re huge fans of those kind of films as well and so it all came together so naturally.  

For consumers, I think the appeal is that these are visuals that are challenging, new, and make you question your experiences as a physical being. The hope is that we ask questions, make people uncomfortable, and give readers an experience that continues beyond the page.

ZT: Yeah, I think Lonnie hit it on the head. There’s something about modern body horror that offers a whole host of insane imagery but nothing of substance beyond that. As a huge fan of the genre I consume everything I can get my hands on and very few modern entries evolve past a cool premise. The cerebral aspects that Cronenberg and Barker evoked in their work seems to be a long dead art form but we’re pushing to bring that back. We want, more than anything, to make people deeply unsettled with the implications of sharing their lives with other people. We want to inject people’s minds with lingering thoughts and fears that pervert their interactions going forward. We’re still bringing the insane imagery but we’re going to ensure that every piece of body horror is coupled with a terrifying realization about the human mind. You can’t have an erosion of the material body without thinking about the immaterial mind.

CC: Did you do any kind of research into medical technology for this story or did you come up with your own ideas?

ZT: Oh boy, yes. Lonnie and I spent a painful amount of time researching what medical technology already exists that allows brains to link. There’s a study from about five years back that allowed two people to control each other’s nervous systems and the implications of that we’re stunning for our research. I don’t recall what the device was called but we also heavily researched “neuromorphic” technology – which is tech that is built to replicate the processes of the human brain. While this is obviously in very early stages of development and is predicated on the idea that we’ll ever understand how the brain works.

When it came to memory we wanted to unpack how strange and unreliable our minds are. We spent a lot of time reading about memory recall and the elusive and ever changing nature of our own minds. There was a really fantastic article shared by Warren Ellis in his Sunday newsletter that informed how we approached upending our modern idea of memory. Social media conditions us to think of memory as finite images and videos that are artifacts of the past which never change. Because these social media platforms curate these “moments” we’re conditioned to think of the one particular context for every image that was set at the time it was uploaded. But context changes with time and so does the memory. I think we use social media to forget that.

LN: We tried to place this in the real world and for the technology to feel organic and not completely foreign to readers. While it is alienating to see the machine itself, the hope is that when you understand what the machine does that you think, “Whoa, this isn’t that far off from what’s already happening.” I read so many articles and entire websites dedicated to how memory functions and changes in the brain and it’s so complex, but amazing that we know so much about such an evasive part of our minds. We also did a lot of research into modern startup companies who work with medical technology or brain-storage devices, which seem pretty impossible, but we wanted the company in Come Into Me, InBeing, to feel like a Silicon Valley startup with all those buzzwords you see flying around from these up and coming enterprises. It’s a strange world to say the least.

CC: What inspired the very organic design of the equipment being used?

LN: There were quite a few things that went into the design for the InBeing machine, as we call it. Mostly, it was a combination of various flesh-technology from different Cronenberg films. Namely, the gamepod from eXistenZ and the extremely phallic stinger from Rabid. In addition, we wanted it to still feel of-this-world so we borrowed from a lot of things like lighting and color from modern technology like fitbits, gaming computers, Apple devices, some of the crazy machines doctors use now for surgery. I drew out some really rough sketches of the machine and then sent those off to Piotr who took it and ran with it to make something truly horrible but also very real. The way he combined the tech aspects with the biological are extremely uncomfortable, and was exactly what Zac and I were looking for.

ZT: We also loved the idea of having a world where this was taken as baseline fact. It’s not the type of book where you unpack how these devices work with fifteen pages of backstory. This wasn’t about justifying its existence – we wanted something weird and unsettling with no explanation. There’s something beautiful about that.

CC: Do you really think this a possible next step for technology and online social interactions?

ZT: I sincerely hope not. I don’t think we’ll ever truly figure out the human mind in a way that we can leverage it like this. There are just too many variables to consider. I’ve never met another person who understands the world like I do. For something like this to exist we’d have to find an objective understanding of the human mind – I think that’s impossible. Instead we’ll keep relying on tools that represent more diluted forms of mutual understanding.

LN: Unlike Zac, I do think something along these lines is not only a possibility, but a probability. I’m not saying we’ll be putting our minds into other people’s bodies, but memory storage, sharing, and transferring seems to be on the horizon. The digitization of the mind doesn’t feel far off given that a lot of thinkers like Ray Kurzweil predict that the technological singularity will happen within our lifetime. It’s scary to consider, but paradigm shifts are occurring every day now and in the next couple decades we’re going to see a whole lot of technological advancements that feel more like fiction that fact.

CC: What can you tell us about all the different symbolism in the book. For instance “tabula rusa” graffiti or the fetus in the spilled coffee.

LN: I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’m glad you caught onto those little details. Zac and I try to fill pages and panels with little hints along the way that speak to the themes of the book because our favorite books are always the ones that go the extra mile to give a rich reading experience. I can’t say what they mean, but we promise all those things come back by the end of the book. We’re just fortunate that Piotr does such detailed work that we’re able to ask him to hide things in the backgrounds of the panels. Without him, planting these small hints wouldn’t be possible.

ZT: Everything is there for a reason. Lonnie and I meticulously create our comics to speak volumes in every moment, even in the background of panels. Luckily we’re working with storytelling masters like Piotr and Niko who help us craft that insane vision. I don’t want to elaborate much, but you’re looking in the right places…

CC: What can we expect for Quinn to go through over the next issues?

LN: The series begins as a slow burn for the first couple issues as Sebastian struggles to keep his company and his body functioning, but both of them are on the brink of destruction. The series takes a pretty hard turn after those first two issues and that’s where we really begin to see the body horror elements shining through. Without saying too much Sebastian’s body will begin to deteriorate in horrible ways but he’s still unable to stop working. It’s a sickness he has, but also a coping mechanism. We wanted to set up a world and characters that you build a sympathetic empathy for, and then bring it all to the ground. You can also expect some stunning and grotesque artwork from Piotr and Niko going forward. That’s what people should be most excited about.

ZT: Imagine unfiltered sharing where someone is blasting you with a firehouse of their memories and the only thing you can do is blast them with memories of your own. Now imagine that you’ve lost control of your body during that process. The flesh can only handle so much before it begins to break. It’s a slow boil but nothing will prepare you for the final chapters of this book.

Look for Come Into Me to hit your local comic book store March 14, 2018.

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