LAZARETTO is a brand new creator-owned series from BOOM! Studios, set to go on sale early next month.
The brainchild of writer Clay McLeod Chapman (Spider-Verse, Ultimate Spider-Man, American Vampire, Vertigo Quarterly) and rising star artist Jey Levang (HeLL(P)), the series instantly grabbed our attention with its high concept premise, and so we were thrilled when we were able to sit down and have a chat with both of its creators.
But what’s it all about, I hear you ask? Well, how about we let Clay himself explain?
CLAY MCLEOD CHAPMAN: It’s time to go to college! It’s your freshman year! You’re no longer under the watchful eye of your parents! You’re free! Free! You can do anything you want! Stay up late! Party hard! Anything! But… as fate would have it, on Day One, your campus is hit with a vicious outbreak of a very virulent strain of the H3N8 virus, a.k.a. the “canine flu,” which has pretty much already wiped out the entire Eastern seaboard before you finish unpacking…
So, your college sets up an isolation facility, renovating your dorm into an on-campus quarantine for you and all your infected classmates. Now you’re stuck in your dorm until you’re symptom free. No classes! No homework! But it doesn’t take long before the typical social hierarchies found at college begin to curdle. That undergrad pecking order perverts itself, heavily influenced by a highly infectious virus that causes hallucinations and… well, nasty, nasty adjustments to one’s own physical disposition. You’re trapped, and things are going to get a lot, lot worse before they get better—if they ever will again.
This is a true story. For real! Well, almost. A few years back, when the swine flu flushed through the nation, colleges were smacked with a bit of a predicament: What do we do with all these infected kids? Easy! Throw ’em into the same dorm building and pray they make it out… I’ve wanted to write this story for years now. Years. How come nobody has written it yet?! Not that I’m complaining.
BCP: Clay, what was it about Jey’s artwork that you thought would be a perfect fit for the series?
CHAPMAN: Jey is the headcheese of my nightmares scraped straight out from my skull. I’ve never known someone’s style to embody anarchy as freely as Jey’s does. Perfect for undergrad unrest. There’s chaos to the page, really and truly. It’s wet, it’s palpable… I couldn’t imagine Lazaretto without it. Jey has made the halls of this dorm feel like hell on Earth and I feel downright blessed.
BCP: And likewise, Jey, what was it about the story that appealed to you as an artist?
JEY LEVANG: I was sold from the first moment I heard the pitch for the story. A virus? Students being kept quarantined on a campus where a new, violent society emerges? Yes, please!
I knew I had to say yes to work on this from the moment I heard about it, but that the story, characters, and everything would fit my style this perfectly is still hard for me to grasp. The story is chaotic, messy, and ugly—everything I feel my style is made for!
BCP: Tell us a little bit about the cast of characters trapped in Pascal South. Are there any characters in particular our readers should be looking out for?
CHAPMAN: There’s a solid cross-section of students to navigate Pascal South alongside. My hope is that readers might discover a character who they closely resembled when they were in college, or someone they might recognize. There are our main protagonists, Charles and Tamara, freshmen who are struggling through their own sense of self-discovery while at the same time struggling to survive. But that said, there’s another character I really want to introduce you to.
Meet one of our tragic antagonists, Mary. She’s a granola girl with the whole get-up, the faux-dreads and the piercings. She’s a shopping mall trustafarian coming from the suburbs who’s got her own credit card, probably two credit cards. A nightmare roommate. Especially for Tamara. As it turns out, Mary may—or may not—be our Typhoid Mary (ahem). She’s one of our earliest infected students and we watch her descend through her symptoms up close. In essence, she shows us the early stages of the virus—and it’s not pretty. As much as it sounds like I’m judging Mary, believe me, I’m not. I really feel for her. My heart breaks for her. We put her through hell. Forgive me, Mary.
BCP: What kind of tone should readers expect from the series, both visually and in terms of the story itself?
CHAPMAN: As far as the story goes, I’m aiming for a slow, slow burn here. We’ve got five issues to tell this story, so we’ve taken great strides to map out the world and its characters, so that when the snot really hits the fan, you feel as if you’ve lived in this dorm as much as these students have. We play it pretty straight up front, but I’m scripting issue #4 right now and I’ve just got to say: This thing is getting bonkers. I mean, really crazy. Each issue ratchets up the insanity. And gets wetter. So, so wet. So wrong. I can’t even imagine how we’re going to top ourselves in issue #5. Where do we go from here? I don’t know if I want to know… God forgive me.
LEVANG: When you pick up Lazaretto, there might be a moment in the beginning where you think, “Well, this isn’t too bad?” Don’t be fooled. You’ll quickly feel an unsettling atmosphere creep up on you as the story progresses. It’ll give you a sense that there are bacteria and viruses floating in the air all around you. Yeah, it gets pretty dark and pretty wet, like Clay put it.
BCP: Jey, have you made any changes to your established style from, say, Hell(P) to better fit Clay’s story?
LEVANG: Working on HeLL(P) is very different from working on Lazaretto. HeLL(P) is a very spontaneous and rough comic, both story and art wise. It has always been something my partner, C. Vinter, and I have worked on in between a million other things. As a web comic, every week has a deadline, so the art has to be practical and effective.
As for Lazaretto, the biggest difference for sure is that it’s in full color. The extra dimension of color allows the scenes to get more atmospheric than when working with a limited color palette. The linework is tighter, the backgrounds are more detailed, and every page is generally more “polished.” Other than that, I wouldn’t say I’ve made any big changes. I guess the story and the crazy, crazy stuff Clay asks me to draw feel very natural to my style!
BCP: Clay, is there a message behind the book, and the way society breaks down into established social groups when the going gets tough?
CHAPMAN: I genuinely believe we are only one sneeze away from societal upheaval. We have become intensely aware of the well-being of those in our immediate surroundings, thanks to SARS and the avian and swine flus, imbuing every sneeze, every sniffle, with downright dread. These are paranoid times, people. There have been times when I’ve been riding the subway here in New York and nothing sends people scrambling than some stranger sneezing close by.
Epidemics bring out the worst in people. Our will to survive eclipses our compassion. Now imagine being a college student facing a highly contagious outbreak. Who are you going to help? Your roommate? That puny freshman kid from the ground floor? What are you willing to do to survive? Yeah… College is the perfect microcosm to explore the macro-machinations of humanity at its most base, most desperate, most deplorable.
BCP: How do the pair of you think you would cope in a prolonged quarantine situation like the one in the book?
CHAPMAN: I wouldn’t survive. I’m just copping to it up front. I wouldn’t make it. I’d go stir crazy. Completely shack-whacky. I’d take a header right out my window. I’m sorry, ma…
LEVANG: Eh, I would probably try find a somewhat safe and quiet place to hide away to draw all day and all night. Maybe I would make some silly comics about the weird stuff I would observe and experience. I mean, Instagram doesn’t update itself!
BCP: And finally, what would you say to someone who was on the fence about picking up Lazaretto to help convince them?
CHAPMAN: You don’t want to read this. Believe me. It’s not for you. I’m telling you up front, for your sake, dear reader. Put the comic down. Don’t read it. Wherever you think this story is going… we go further. Blame our editor, blame BOOM!, but they’ve given Jey and myself carte blanche to push the envelope… and lo and behold, we found the abyss and fell on in.
LAZARETTO #1 (of 5) goes on sale in print and digital on the 6th of September, and if the above interview isn’t enough to convince you to give this one a try, take a look at the EXCLUSIVE artwork preview of the first issue below.