‘Society Is One Sneeze Away From Collapse’ – Clay McLeod Chapman On His Viral Miniseries, Lazaretto
by Brendan M. Allen
Back in September of this year, I had the opportunity to read and review the start of a new series from Boom! Studios called Lazaretto. The title caught my attention, and then the story and art pulled me in. You can read my review of Lazaretto #1 here. Series author Clay McLeod Chapman (Edge of Venomverse, Self Storage, Amazing Spider-Man) recently sat down with me (virtually) and let me pick his brain about his new survival horror miniseries.
Comicon.com: Hi Clay! Thank you so much for taking some time with us to answer a few questions. Let’s jump right in. Where did the idea come from for Lazaretto? What’s your inspiration for this story?
Clay McLeod Chapman: As far as where the idea for Lazaretto came from… believe it or not, but it roots itself in reality. Back in 2009, the H1N1 virus—the swine flu—was sweeping the nation. This was late summer, I believe, leading right into September, so it dovetailed quite haphazardly with the school year. Infected students were bringing the swine flu with them to campus, so a handful of colleges initiated these “self-isolation facilities.” Actual on-campus quarantines. Dorm buildings were becoming makeshift leper colonies. When I read about them, I knew there was a story there…
Comicon.com: So, did you intentionally time the release of Lazaretto to mimic the real life events that inspired the story, or were you just trying to freak out every freshman parent who just sent their kids off to school?
CMC: Timing is everything, right? It was such a happy accident that it worked out that way…It couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve actually had a university health services coordinator tell me she was using issue #1 as reading material for her students, in hopes of discussing the do’s and dont’s of on-campus hygiene. Talk about a thumbs up! Mission accomplished!
Comicon.com: You’re known for short stories, theatre, comics, and film. What made you decide to go with comics as the medium for Lazaretto?
CMC: Thank you for saying I’m known for anything…I feel like a real master of none these days. There are so many stories to tell and different ways to tell them, I usually let the tale itself dictate the medium it wants to be told in. Truth told, if Lazaretto weren’t a comic, there’d be no art from Jey Levang—and I whole-heartedly believe Jey is the comic. Their artwork creates a palpable presence on the page. It’s hard not to have a physical reaction to the comic itself. These pages are so gooey, so ick-ridden, there are times when the reader can’t help but feel the need to put the comic down and break out the hand sanitizer. You can’t get that from a short story or play.
Comicon.com: How did you find yourself working with Jey Levang on this project? What is it about Jey’s work that suits Lazaretto so well?
CMC: Our editor, Eric Harburn, totally played Cupid and brought us together. I owe him everything. The rawness of Jey’s pages has rendered this story completely pulpy—and by pulpy, I mean mulched. Soft and wet. Have you ever been walking along the sidewalk and passed by a dead bird or squirrel? Ever felt the compulsion to take a stick and flip it over? But in doing so, you discover that the bottom-side of it has already begun to liquefy? It can no longer hold its form. That’s Jey’s artwork for me. That’s where Lazaretto resides. In that icky transitional state between solid and mush.
Comicon.com: I picked up some slick references in the first two chapters that I mentioned in my review of Lazaretto #2. Yersin University. Pascal Dormitory. Typhoid Mary. Did I miss any besides the glaring one on the cover?
CMC: Good catch! I was wondering if anyone was going to call me on it…In issue #2, there’s a roll call of characters. It’s a little less overt, but all the names of students now sequestered in the dorm are taken from the world’s leading bacteriologists or virologists. If you’re reading this, Dr. Anil Thachil, forgive me.
Comicon.com: We’ve seen the setup and the catalyst in chapters one and two. Where are we headed in chapter three?
CMC: Issue #3, in my mind, is the “action movie” issue…Issue #1 was all about setting the stage and introducing our main players. Issue #2 was the “party issue.” Issue three is consequences and escape. To me, it reads like a breakout-from-prison film. It’s the fastest issue of the whole series. It’s nothing but run run run. We wanted to really ramp up the tension. Make it feel fast. It’s all action and running and breakneck decisions that usually end up going the wrong way.
Comicon.com: What are you trying to say with this book, besides never, ever go outside again?
CMC: That civil society is one sneeze away from collapse. That the norms we’ve structured around our everyday lives are flimsy and fragile. That cliques can mutate, digress, much easier that evolve. And that college can be a scary, scary place. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your dorm room…”
Comicon.com: Are there any other projects in the works that you can let us in on?
CMC: Oh, man…There’s some really exciting stuff coming down the road. I can’t announce it juuust yet, but I’ve been working on a new children’s book that’s going to blow your mind.
Comicon.com: Thank you again for giving us your time and lending some insight into Lazaretto. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with us?
CMC: More than anything, thank you for having me on board to chat about Lazaretto. I really appreciate it. This is the L’il Comic That Could—and it’s only going to get into readers’ hands with word of mouth. Every little bit helps it, ahem, spread! It’s a small, unsuspecting story with very few bells and whistles…But I’ve been dying to tell it for years and it’s great to see how it’s landing with readers who come across it, positively, negatively, or otherwise. It’s definitely not for everybody, but boy oh boy, for those who want to go along for the ride…you just wait.
Lazaretto #3 releases next week, on November 1st, 2017.
Here’s a Comicon.com exclusive sneak preview of issue #3:
Lazaretto #3 (of 5)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: Clay McLeod Chapman
Artist: Jey Levang
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Cover Artist: Ignacio Valicenti
On sale: 11/1/17
Synopsis: As the sickness takes a greater toll on the trapped students, Charles and Tamara attempt to break out of the quarantine.