A body-horror comic series about black-ops exploitation of children’s adolescence that’s gone horribly awry, we talk with author Chris Kipiniak about this harrowing horror story. Available in stores this July 6th.
Perhaps every parent’s greatest fear is hearing the words: there is something wrong with your child. It’s one of those very particular fears that evokes silence in the room. The kind of pin-drop moment that tells the audience that, whatever lies on the other side of that door, things may never be the same again.
This is what makes Behemoth’s tale unique. That it’s not necessarily a tale about the nature of the monsters themselves, but rather, the horrible people who control them.
As described in Behemoth’s story synopsis:
“Theresa woke up one day with claws. After a fight with her mother turns violent, government agents take her to an internment camp holding others going through similar transformations. As Theresa adjusts to life surrounded by monsters, she finds herself becoming more beast-like in mind as well as body. Her only hope to protect her intelligence is the training that is part of Project: Behemoth, a covert program that turns volunteers into living weapons. But will joining protect her humanity? Or make her more of a monster? Behemoth is a coming-of-age story told through horror, about contemporary themes of identity, individuality, and resistance. It’s like the ‘X-Men’ if the Xavier School were a government-run black site”
#BEHEMOTH. From writer @ckipiniak and artist @JK_Woodward with letters by @Jesse_Post ,published by @TheBlackCaravan & @ScoutComics. Preorder from your LCS today! (or link in bio) And now, a look at the latest cover. Here’s #BEHEMOTH’s Theresa in time lapse. pic.twitter.com/nSu35RuMTi
— JK Woodward (@JK_Woodward) June 1, 2022
Created by Chris Kipiniak and J.K. Woodward, Behemoth launches from Scott Comic’s Black Caravan imprint, for an officially printed release this July 6th. The final order cutoff date will be set on June 5th, so be sure to reach out to your local comic book shops to pre-order.
The series is about a group of kids whose adolescence sees them oddly being turned into Lovecraftian monsters. Afterwards they are rounded up to either continue living as prisoners or serve the US government for their black-ops program: Project: Behemoth.
I had the chance to chat with Kipiniak about details regarding this upcoming release. A long-standing comics writer whose worked on titles such as Nightcrawler, Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man and Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s City On The Edge of Forever, Chris Kipiniak is by all means a journeyman’s creative as I’ve ever met. He’s someone who has delved into a little bit of creative everything. I ask him several questions about Behemoth below.
Can you briefly describe what Behemoth is about, and quickly, describe what makes it different from something like an X-Men or Suicide Squad in terms of its concept?
“The elevator pitch I use is, ‘Kids, turning into monsters, are put into camps and given a choice: live out your life as a beast or run suicide missions for the U.S. Government as part of Project: BEHEMOTH.’
For me, Behemoth is about identity and the internal struggle to hold on to your sense of self when circumstances, including your own changing body and the outside world’s perceptions, want to define you as something else. Is Theresa a monster because of her body or because people treat her as one?
It’s different from the X-Men in that the X-Men have a supportive power structure in the form of Professor X and the Xavier school (or, currently, Krakoa), which nurtures community and a sense of belonging. The characters in BEHEMOTH are systematically dehumanized and taught that their differences makes them less.
The Suicide Squad deals with fully formed individuals, adults who have created/taken on identities, self-identified, “villains,” who have engaged in a kind of bargain based on that identity, as opposed to the young people in BEHEMOTH who are being told what they are during a time when they’re still adjusting to changes.
I love both the X-Men (especially Gerry Duggan’s current run) and the Suicide Squad as both concepts and comics, but BEHEMOTH engages with these issues in very different ways.”
What is it like working with artist J.K. Woodward? How does communication work between the two of you and what was your collaborative process like?
“J.K. is an amazing artist who is getting better all the time. He is best known for his photo-realistic work in the Star Trek books, but in BEHEMOTH, we get to see another facet of his art, which both harkens back to his fine arts background and displays his talent as a designer.
I wrote these as full scripts which we’d then go over together, in order to clarify and tweak in terms of page layout and design. This was our first full collaboration so one thing I learned was just how creative and full of ideas he is about story, about character elements, and about visual presentation.
On our next go round, I’d want to take better advantage of by beating out story points with him before scripting to get a different perspective and to better write to where his passions and interests lie.”
A unique thing about the series is how it features children that are transforming into grotesque monsters. What inspirational sources, styles, or research did you pull from regarding the appearance and abilities of these creatures?
“Some of it was personal, in the sense of thinking of my own fears or things I find scary or disgusting, and building characters backward from there. Some was thematic. A theme in the book is dehumanization and, in a related sense, devolution. The camp they are kept in is called ‘The Kennel’. They are trained by breaking complex tasks into simpler, smaller actions. Theresa is reverting, becoming more bestial, and losing her humanity. So animals became a touchstone.
For me, her transformation involved something unexpected coming from within, engulfing her, and perhaps trapping a shrinking human part of her inside. So that made me think of exoskeletons, both in nature (bugs, lobsters), and in comics and pop culture.
Then, of course, just visual coolness/design became part of it. So, some of the reference pulls (for the main characters and some we haven’t seen yet) were Cronenberg’s The Fly, Marvel’s Thing, DC’s character, August General in Iron, the Herculoids, Xenomorphs, and the whole ever-expanding genre of Lovecraft inspired weirdness. There are also a lot of background characters which J.K. did an amazing job with, who populate this world with so many weird and unsettling images that instantly hint at different stories.”
There’s this really cool resemblance between body horror and adolescence. As both mark a moment of awkward development and change. Can you talk about Theresa’s journey of transformation and identity?
“Theresa to me is a tragic figure. As you point out, adolescence is its own moment of rapid and terrifying change where we are all trying to navigate what to hold on to and what to let go of. In Theresa’s case, that change is accelerated, magnified, and made worse by added outside pressure. She–and we–can’t help but be informed by the way people around her treat her, which imprints itself on her, driving her further and further from truly knowing herself, or being able to choose who she wants to be.
By the end, how much of who she is comes from her own choice and how much from what the world allowed her to be? If she had done something differently, could she have changed that? There’s an obvious metaphor for adolescence in there and how societies create adults which often have more to do with what the societies want than who the adolescents truly are.
But life is all about change. This dynamic is constantly playing out. Your, and her, identity is never truly set, or truly finished. You don’t stop changing until, well, the end, either of the story or of life. That can be sad. Or it can be hopeful.”
Mental deterioration is a big plot point in this story. Especially, in how the government seems to be exploiting this for the sake of using these people for forced missions of project Behemoth. What can you share about this military origination in this comic and especially, the role of the project head: Major Rayne.
“I see Major Rayne as being a little inhuman himself in that he is utilitarian to the point of being almost sociopathic. In his eyes, the country has this problem of its people turning into monsters, and there are no clear solutions as to what to do about them.
Can’t do nothing, because the monsters become a threat to everyone else. Locking them up is its own kind of torture and a drain on resources, as well as posing the obvious threat of potential (inevitable) escape. Killing them outright shocks the conscience. But maybe, after locking them up, they can be trained, given something to do, something useful…it benefits the volunteers by arresting their mental devolution, keeping them from being bored, and gives them meaning.
If they die, at least it was for a cause…and also alleviates overcrowding. If they are captured on foreign soil, they become someone else’s problem. Most importantly, there are no human rights qualms because they are no longer seen as human. This kind of thinking is what leads to the project. It’s inherently exploitative, and based on contradictions which it would be inconvenient to see. But it can be presented to those being exploited as a choice.
This dynamic is, I think, pretty common where there are in-groups and out-groups. The mental deterioration element is important to me because I think it is the thing that makes us feel human. It’s one thing if others try to take it away from you. It’s another, more heart-breaking thing, to feel like you are losing that.”
You’ve done many creative endeavors throughout your career. How is writing different than say acting or narrating something on audio? What do you think makes comics so unique?
“Acting and narrating are both interpretive arts, taking an existing script/book and then filtering it through your own perspective to communicate it to an audience. Writing is a little more basic, a little more generative. More of its raw material comes from you. Comics are unique in the way that they are experienced in a way that is both static and moving through time simultaneously.
You can marvel at the same comic page for hours, examining the facets of the experience of an instant. You can put it down, come back to it, and it will be forever locked in that instant. That special effect, of playing with, slowing down and speeding up, time, is almost totally subconscious on the part of the reader.
Other visual media can be as dramatic, or as visceral, and word based forms can be as imagination-based. But nothing joins the external/objective drama with the internal/subjective experience in a way that is quite as personal as comics.”
What were some of your favorite comics that you’ve worked on throughout your career and why? Was there anything from these experiences either stylistically or narrative-wise, that audiences can sort of recognize in Behemoth?
“I love comics and each one I’ve written has been a joy from start to finish. It’s impossible to pick a favorite! I will say doing the Nightcrawler limited series from Marvel was exciting because it was my first published comics work, my first work for Marvel, and was part of the happiest time of my life.
There are narrative and stylistic overlaps between it and BEHEMOTH because both are about defining oneself through action taken in the face of impossible circumstances, and both are as concerned with examining character motivation and repercussions of action as much as showing the action itself.”
This comic was originally printed by a different publisher. Can you explain the change, and better yet, the sort of audience you’re now trying to reach?
“The original publication was exclusively digital. Which was gratifying and wonderful. But the book was conceived for print, and so this format is in many ways a better way to read it and particularly to be able to see J.K.’s art. I think we hope to reach a market that has a little more time to be more deliberate in their reading.”
What is the biggest thing you’d like fans to take away from the series?
“I feel that art and entertainment foster empathy, broaden perspectives, and deepen the soul by virtue of experiencing them. I don’t want to prescribe the interpretations readers will have of the themes I’ve mentioned above because it will, I hope, hit different readers differently. What I hope they take away is that they found themselves intrigued, entertained, and moved to feel. And that the story and the images stay with them.”
How can audiences best support Behemoth?
“The most important is to pre-order your book from your local comic shop this weekend. Just call and ask for the book by name, BEHEMOTH, published by Black Caravan, an imprint of Scout comics. The Previews code is MAY221281. The Lunar code, which is another distributor shops use, is 0522SC231.
Shops order issues based on these pre-orders numbers. If you don’t have a local shop, you can get in touch with shops online. Second most important is to buy the book on its release date, July 6, 2022. And third is to follow J.K. and I on social media and help spread the word about the book. Thank you for supporting us and for supporting independent comics!”