WonderCon 2023: Ryan Cady Talks ‘Haunt You To The End,’ Climate Apocalypses, And Tommy Burgers
by Erik Amaya
Top Cow’s upcoming Haunt You To The End, from writer Ryan Cady and artist Andrea Mutti, is a self-described horror tale set inside a climate apocalypse. A rough-and-tumble group head off on a mission bankrolled by an extremely wealthy man to prove one of his life-long beliefs is true. To do it, though, they must enter a region of the country ravaged by decades of ecological disaster. During WonderCon 2023, Cady spoke with Comicon.com about the series, reteaming with Mutti, the absence of a star investigative journalist in our own realty, and the ability to digest a burger from Tommy’s Original, a Southern California burger chain famous (and infamous) for its chili.
Erik Amaya for Comicon.com: Bringing disparate groups of people together to weather a crisis is a hallmark of disaster stories. But why this particular group? Why these occupations?
Ryan Cady: Well, thank you for that — double puns in that question really — Thank you. [It is] the sort of classic expedition for a trope like this, you have to have a crazy rich guy. And so we have Kalam Shan, who is a Pakistani Indian tech investor billionaire. And I wanted to ramp that up to a million. Instead of the classical nefarious dude, I wanted him to be some guy who’s just like, “No, I really, really love ghosts. I know ghosts are real. I want to go ghost hunting.” And so from there, I tried to extrapolate those kind of typical archetypes, but also maybe that felt more like millennial future looking ahead.
We have Gersh, who is our military contractor, snake skin lady, very like Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate. And then our chief medical officer is a leftist radical doctor who’s been working in climate disaster relief areas and she’s kind of like, “F*ck this, f*ck this billionaire, f*ck all this stuff. But also, I do believe in ghosts. I think they’re real.” I tried to tweak that.
And our main focal guy is just a washed-up social media journalist. I did a lot of journalism work when I was younger. I relate more to [the burn out] than an intrepid reporter; someone who’s like, ‘Yeah, I kind of got put through the journalistic ringer and now I’m just doing whatever and this rich guy really thinks I can help him prove ghosts are real. So, he’s got me over a barrel. Whatever he pays, I’ll do it.”
EA: Just thinking of the intrepid star reporter thing. I’m old enough to remember Max Headroom and [its fictional investigative reporter] Edison Carter.
EA: But that sort of person doesn’t really exist.
RC: No. I thought for a little while that maybe TikTok or YouTube streamers who are focused on newsroom stuff would occupy that. But I think instead no one has risen above. Yeah, people are making videos and I’m sure there’s tons of journalists who are eeking out really, really good visual news representation, but there isn’t that one star reporter. There’s no one we think about. Cronkite is an even worse, older example. I know he was an anchor, not a reporter, but there’s sort of that, where’s this person? We don’t have someone to send on the expedition we can trust.
EA: Exactly. So looking through those preview pages, I spotted the Tommy’s Original and the Vincent Price star. Is the story set in California?
RC: Yes. I have a little bit of a bee in my bonnet because horror’s my favorite genre – it’s all I want to work in – but California doesn’t get a lot of horror. We are new. Everything’s bright and shiny here. There is old Hollywood stuff, but that’s really it. There’s never a creepy small town that’s a beach town and the surfers there and that sort of thing. I really want to try and set stuff there and play with it.
But yeah, that opening sequence in this future, California’s been evacuated. And that opening crew is the billionaire on one of his previous expeditions – exca-vacations, they call them. The hobby of the ultrarich in this era is like, “Oh, let’s go to someplace ruined by climate change. Find the coolest souvenirs and treasures we can find because we can afford to do it and bring them back.” I was like, “Oh, they should go pick a star.” And I tried to pick a really good paranormal star that I wanted it to be. Vincent Price seemed just the best to me. And I had to have Tommy Burger in there. It needs to be LA.
EA: No, exactly. Which leads to this question, can you still digest Tommy Burger — talking about a different kind of horror?
RC: My big thing in college, I wrote for the OC Weekly. I wrote a column called “We Eat It so You Don’t Have To.” I had to put the gut through the ringer, so I can’t tell if I’m desensitized or if I’ve really sort of taken so much damage that I can put up with a little more, but it’s going to come back to haunt me, I’m sure.
EA: How long after that initial climate disaster is this story set?
RC: I’m playing fast and loose with near future here. I don’t want to put a date on it, but we’re looking at a possibly more realistic approach where we are just slowing climate change to a crawl. It’s definitely after 2060, sometime near the centennial mark, and it’s just in the middle of the US. Denver is one of the most populous and successful cities because of high altitude. It’s not near any oceans, that sort of thing. And those are the kind of cities that are thriving in the world [at that point], but coastal areas are ravaged. It’s a pain in the ass to fly anywhere because they have to be really careful when and how they track stuff and use really enduring vehicles and stuff like that. It is sort of that really slowing down, the decline of the Roman Empire thing, but it’s our whole civilization.
EA: Do you think a real-life climate apocalypse would move at that pace versus The Day After Tomorrow, where it’s such a sudden hit? Of course, I ask that and the last couple weeks in Los Angeles, we’ve had the sudden hit.
RC: It’s true. My whole street is just the infrastructure ruined by potholes everywhere. They’re repaving everything.
I think it’s going to be a slow thing. I was much more pessimistic about it a few years ago, and I’m optimistic overall about our chances, but I’m still pretty pessimistic about our response. I do think it’s going to be a really slow trickle, and then some places will recover or will adapt. Can I go off on a weird tangent?
EA: Oh, sure. Go ahead.
RC: I’ve been really into this British writer for Bernard Cornwell. There’s a Netflix show based on his work called The Last Kingdom. He does [the] Saxon Stories. It’s all about the founding of England. But all of his stories, regardless of what they’re about, they all take place in this post-Roman Britain and these characters – whether they’re good guys or bad guys – most of the thoughtful characters think “We descend into chaos. Look at the works of Rome all around us slowly collapsing.” People know they’re heading toward a Dark Age, and yet they don’t have the knowledge to do anything about it. And I find that really fascinating and a little prescient.
Again, I’m overall optimistic about our chances, but I do think we’re going to head towards darker ages. And I think for a lot of us, we’re going to be like … to use the Cornwell analogy, “I can patch up this stone mansion, but I don’t know how to build it. I don’t know carpentry.” And obviously it’s different with the knowledge lacking, but I do think we’re going to have some trying times.
EA: I totally agree with that. Is ecology important to you?
EA: Does it feel like the climate crisis and ecology have become two separate things? I’m an old-timey Doctor Who fan and in the mid-seventies, the showrunner was just an out-and-out ecologist. There were a lot of stories about the topic, but they were firmly grounded in the notion of ecology versus global warming or climate crisis or anything like that. Now it feels like they’re these two separate tracks of inquiry.
RC: They are. In 1990s and a lot of our Gen X content, I feel like the politicized aspect of it had to be mocked. We had to be apathetic about it or be like, “Oh yeah, you care about the whales or whatever.” And so I wonder if that’s why we’ve still carved out this separation of people who wanted to take it seriously, focused on the ecology route and more of a measured scientific perspective, not talking about our action or just more impact stuff. Whereas we’re kind of in this – I don’t want to do that thing everybody says, “we’re in a highly politicized environment,” but we are, and everything’s loud and busy and social media and everything is intense. I feel like because it’s so much more like, like you said, the climate change side of it is so removed and it’s just a political hot button topic, there’s drawbacks that we’ve lost some things, I think, in removing a studied, examined approach about this.
EA: Switching gears, do you think exca-vacation could become the next Instagram-able getaway for Super Rich? You’re definitely putting that word out into reality.
RC: Yes [laughs]. I’m really trying to manifest, I guess it’s a bad thing to manifest. My friend always makes the joke anytime someone says something horrible: “No, you’re giving power to the Dark Multiverse. You’re making this horrible idea come true!” When I came up with the exca-vacation, I was a little bit too proud of myself and a lot of my friends were like, “Calm the f down.” And I’m like, “No, I just think it could really happen. They won’t be able to afford to go to Mars, but they’ll get to rip all our treasures out of the ground.” And I guess it’s like, you can see it kind of being a positive thing. Like, ‘Look, we went on exca-vacation and recovered history, how great! The ultra-rich of the past!” But I don’t know. If we’re really lucky, it won’t have to happen. But yeah, I guess I will take the reluctance profit angle [laughs].
EA: Andrea Mutti’s art in the preview pages is very Euro comics, stuff that NBM might publish. What was that one of the key reasons to work with him again?
RC: Yeah. I love Andrea. After Infinite Dark, we always talked about working together again, but he started to put out Parasomnia and Bunny Mask and some of those, and I was like, “Bro, you’ve got a new style.” I’m like, “Where was this guy?” And one day he hit me up out of the blue and was like, “We really should do another book.” And I looked at some of his recent issues and I’m like, “We have to do weather content.” His washed-out watercolors were really inspiring. I was like, “We have to do something with weathers and storms.” I guess even though I’m not a nihilist, I guess I’m the bleak, tell-stories-about-the-end-of-everything guy. But he didn’t hate it, so off to the races.
EA: How did it end up at Top Cow? You already mentioned Infinite Dark.
RC: Infinite Dark was a great project with them. I loved the whole experience. And I have history; I’ve edited for them in the past, and I’m pretty close with everyone there. And from the jump, they were really enthusiastic and supportive and it just felt like, “Yeah, let’s play the hits again. No sophomore slump for us, Andrea, let’s just do it again, but better.” I really feel like they’ve been really nice and championing. And for a book that’s really, I guess, bleak, I do think everybody’s being really huggy and supportive about it. It’s a good environment. I like those guys a lot.
EA: That’s great. And so if it is a ghost story, is it also sort of a … How do I phrase this? A “ghost of the future” story?
RC: There is an element of — I’m not trying to be too on the head with it or anything — but there is sort of this, “these are the ghosts of what we’re burning today. These are our consequences that we’ve set up for ourselves.” And just playing with that, the idea of a trapped ancient evil, that sort of crafty thing or “Earth gone wrong.” And I’m like, well, maybe this is a little heavy-handed of a metaphor, but what is “Earth gone wrong” if not sludge and slurry and tar pits and stuff? Definitely trying to play with that.
Haunt You To The End #1 hits comic book stands on June 14th.