Disclaimer: I would like to thank Jason Padua for his help in putting this feature together. Jason will be reviewing Carnal by John Connell and Jason Bergenstock for Comic Booked, and kindly agreed to lend a hand with the interview below.
Comic Booked was given its first look at the latest title from Sea Lion Books Carnal back in October. With the publication date in late January approaching fast, creator John Connell stopped by to discuss the inspiration behind the title and his plans for the future. But first, let’s have a look at the trailer for Carnal!
Carnal’s distinct aesthetic and striking imagery comes courtesy of artist/creator John Connell. The story is set in what he describes as ‘New Africa’ at an undisclosed time. The continent is ruled by several species of humanoid animals – lions, hyenas and water buffalo among them – with the plot focusing on the struggle for survival between them. As it happens the reason this project has such strongly defined visuals is because its creator was first inspired by a vivid dream. “I dreamt I was staring up at this massive grey rhino”, Connell explains, “covered in black striped war-paint standing on two legs. Hyenas were savagely clawing all over him as he held the head of a lion in its fist. That image sparked the premise for the world of Carnal and I’ve never been able to shake it.” In the ten years since that nightmare, Connell has concentrated on detailing this vision, developing characters and ideas from the images in his head. Eventually he decided to collaborate with writer Jason Bergenstock, to further realize what would become Carnal.
For the first book in this series the focus is on the lions, with each successive book spotlighting a rival species. Connell hinted that the reason behind the absence of humans for the most part would eventually be revealed, not to mention other races that might have suffered a grisly fate. “There were additional races that existed in the past. But remember: only the strongest survive.” The characters in Carnal are not quite good or evil, with survival and power the key motivators that move the plot along. Not to put too fine a point on it, Connell states “Life in New Africa is a constant struggle and we wanted to make this very apparent in the story. No happy endings here.”
Readers will also note the distinct style of the book, assembled in a format that more resembles an ‘illustrated novel’ than a comic. “Being that I’m an artist I think and work visually,” says Connell wisely playing to his strengths, “I want to showcase Carnal as a visual medium along with a dark story. There is a lot of meat to this saga; I felt that an illustrated novel was a better fit for the main series than the traditional graphic novel text-box format. This was intentionally by design. I want to keep it fast moving because there is a lot of ground to cover. This can become difficult being that I’m very detail oriented. The art in this book is most definitely a labor of love. This never felt like work for me as I’ve enjoyed working on each page. I feel truly privileged to share it.”
Of course the events of Carnal, the development of the witch Kuma into a genuinely formidable antagonist among them, demands a sequel and Connell is happy to oblige. “Rise of the Bull will introduce the Cape buffalo. In the Carnal world they are feared. Compared to the other races, one on one they are the strongest physically, although they are primarily a defensive race. Remember, the buffalo are herbivores, so the fight for food isn’t as significant. I don’t want to give too much away on this just yet.”