In the seasonal spirit of Stephen King's collaboration with artist Bernie Wrightson for Cycle of the Werewolf, author Benjamin Percy has teamed up with artist Francesco Francavilla to tell a new kind of lycanthropic tale in the illustrated novella The Wereworld. Comprised of 12 monthly chapters and set in a small Minnesota town where a werewolf infection wreaks havoc once a month, The Wereworld is now available digitally on NeoText, and we caught up with Percy in our latest Q&A feature to discuss the real-life influences behind The Wereworld, pairing his impactful prose with Francavilla's amazing illustrations, and the exciting projects he has on deck.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Benjamin, and congratulations on The Wereworld! When did you originally get the idea for The Wereworld, and how many drafts did you go through before this novella was ready for publication?
Benjamin Percy: In 2020, when everything shut down, when everyone retreated into their homes, I was out walking my dog one night. The moon was full and silvered the neighborhood. The windows of the houses glowed, and I could see people moving around inside, but it occurred to me that they were essentially living in aquariums, rarely leaving. Because they were afraid. Of an invisible enemy that anyone could be host to.
Most werewolf stories focus less on the pack and more on the individual. If the myth was real—if people went into berserker mode every time the moon was full—I’ve always thought infection would be far more widespread and out of control than what we see in the movies.
So my weirdo brain created a situation that channeled the heightened anxiety of the moment. A contagion is rapidly spreading—and once a month, when the moon is full, homes become steel-doored, barred-window fortresses. Heavily armed and dotted with surveillance cameras. The enemy is certainly without, but it could also be within. I guess you could refer to The Wereworld as a kind of supernatural Purge.
I’m a huge fan of Francesco Francavilla’s artwork for Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. How did Francavilla get involved with The Wereworld, and what made him the perfect fit to help bring this story to life?
Benjamin Percy: John Shoenfelder—a producer at Addictive Pictures and the boss over at NeoText—heard my pitch for the story and told me to get hammering. He also asked what artist I’d like to work with. I’ve been stalking Francesco since I read his collaboration with Scott Snyder in Detective Comics. I love the shadow-soaked darkness and EC Comics energy he brings to the page. He’s a horror Hall of Famer in my eyes. Thankfully, he agreed to partner with me.
Did Francavilla create the artwork as you were writing The Wereworld, or did he create it all after you had finished the story?
Benjamin Percy: I’ve always loved illustrated stories, including Stephen King and Bernie Wrightson’s collaboration on Cycle of the Werewolf. In that same tradition, The Wereworld is broken up into twelve chapters encompassing a year in a small town. For every page of the calendar, we wanted a singular image. Something that would capture the plot and atmosphere as the stakes raise, as chaos descends on this small town.
Francesco read the story after it was completed, and then we brainstormed various ideas. He absolutely killed it, as I knew he would.
As someone who has lived in Minnesota their entire life, I think this state is the perfect setting for a werewolf story, and I’d love to hear how you decided to set The Wereworld in Minnesota. Also, how much did the real-life town of Northfield, Minnesota, impact your version of Northfield in The Wereworld?
Benjamin Percy: Minnesota is a state where it’s easy to get in touch with wildness; you’re always ten minutes away from deep woods or a glassy lake. Loons cry. The northern light pulse. Wolves haunt the woods.
But it’s also a state where people aren’t known for freely sharing their emotions. That repression is central to a story about letting go, the id uncaged.
I live in the woods outside Northfield. It’s a lovely town, but it’s also a bit of a Norman Rockwell bubble. The sort of community where no one locks their doors and handsome maples offer shade and farmers' markets spring up in the brickwork downtown and college professors linger in parks with lattes in hand. Civilization is a veneer. There’s always ugliness hiding beneath the surface. Things happen behind the drawn drapes. When people are angry, drunk, high, exhausted, lustful, whatever. They behave in ways we would never recognize if we only know the person from church or the grocery store. So—because I have a twisted mind—I loved the idea of a postcard perfect community descending into total chaos.
In addition to palpable body horror, The Wereworld also features intriguing social commentary about paranoia, violence, and mistrusting your neighbors. How important was it for you to interweave these timely themes with the visceral scares of The Wereworld?
Benjamin Percy: I wanted to lean into the darkness of the past few years, when paranoia poisoned us, when distrust divided us. The characters in The Wereworld can’t trust their neighbors—or even their family members—because anyone could be carrying the virus. And the symptoms only present when the moon fattens.
I’m always trying to thrill my readers, with language, with plot, with scares like you’re referring to, but if a story doesn’t have resonant themes and a human heart beating at the center, then it lacks soul, capitol-A Aboutness.
The premise and calendar structure of The Wereworld immediately made me think of one of my favorite books, Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf (with illustrations by Bernie Wrightson). Were you influenced by Cycle of the Werewolf or any other werewolf books or movies while writing The Wereworld?
Benjamin Percy: Yes, absolutely. Their collaboration was a north star for Francesco and I. But other stories influenced this as well. Such as Blue Velvet. Think of that moment when the camera slowly finds the severed ear—seething with ants—in the lush green lawn as a kind of thesis statement. American Beauty is another. The relentlessness of the monster’s approach in It Follows. And The Purge of course, except that instead of once a year, once a month the world becomes a lawless place.
You have experience writing both novels and comic books, and The Wereworld combines elements of both of those mediums. What was it like for you writing this novella with that hybrid approach in mind?
Benjamin Percy: It felt like a nice compromise between my literary pursuits. Here I am writing novels—a marathonic, hermetic medium—and here I am writing comics—a sprint of a collaboration. The Wereworld falls somewhere in between. It’s something like 45 pages with 13 illustrations total. The prose and the art complement each other in a lovely, horrifying way.
Out of all the monthly chapters in The Wereworld, do you have a personal favorite that you’re excited for readers to experience?
Benjamin Percy: Hard call. The story begins with dread—and moves toward outright terror—and then mellows into sad resolve. The October installment is a fun one. It follows some characters who form a kind of dawn posse; they search the parks and fields and woods after the full moon, carrying hoes and baseball bats and kitchen knives, looking for the naked people who might be waking up and racing home after a night on the prowl.
If given the opportunity, would you like to continue the story of The Wereworld beyond this novella?
Benjamin Percy: Well, I’m just now starting to talk to Hollywood. I’ve always imagined this as a screenplay as well, so I hope I have that opportunity for adaptation. And yes, I can see a thousand different ways the concept could continue.
What has it been like to team up with NeoText to release The Wereworld digitally?
Benjamin Percy: John Schoenfelder is a very sharp guy—with an encyclopedic mind for story—and it’s always a pleasure to build things with him. The Wereworld is just the beginning. NeoText will be publishing more and more by me (and thankfully Francesco is game to continue collaborating).
With The Wereworld now available digitally on NeoText, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
Benjamin Percy: My latest novel, The Ninth Metal, released in June—and the sequel releases in January. I’m also writing Wolverine and X-Force for Marvel Comics—and my big hairy event, The X Lives of Wolverine/The X Deaths of Wolverine, drops in January. Many more things on the horizon, including a feature I wrote with director James Ponsoldt called Summering.
Press Release: Acclaimed author Ben Percy and superstar artist Francesco Francavilla have collaborated on THE WEREWORLD, a new illustrated novella about a year of increasing terror in a small Minnesota town. The supernatural novella will be published by digital publisher NeoText this fall.
What if The Purge were supernatural? What if, instead of one night a year, the world went wild once a month? When the moon was full? What if the contagion was spreading among the population—and no one knew who was infected—only that the violence was growing more severe and widespread? You couldn’t trust anyone—not your neighbors, your friends, or even your family.
Manitou Street—in the cozy college town of Northfield, Minnesota—has always been known for its shady maples and flower-filled gardens and backyard bbq parties and general sense of safety and comfort; but over the course of twelve months, its residents become deeply paranoid and divided. Houses transform into fortresses—with deep arsenals and barred windows and steel-sleeved doors and surveillance cameras—because every time the moon grows fat, the neighborhood has to hunker down and wait out a nighttime assault, uncertain if the enemy is without or within.
"I relished the Michael Whelan illustrations in Stephen King's The Gunslinger as much as I did the prose,” said writer Ben Percy. “My memories of A Christmas Carol are informed as much by John Leech's art as by Charles Dickens' story. I specifically picked up a copy of Dracula because it featured the paintings of Greg Hildebrandt. So the opportunity to join forces on THE WEREWORLD with Francesco Francavilla—one of my all-time favorite horror artists—was a dream (or should I say nightmare?) come true. The story takes place over the course of a year—organized by monthly chapters set in and around the time of the full moon—and as the pages of the calendar tear away, the paranoia and terror deepen. We hope you have as much fun reading THE WEREWORLD as we did creating it."
“"I've always loved illustrated prose/literature since I was a kid,” said artist Francesco Francavilla. “I own lots of old classics illustrated by Gustave Dore' (The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost) and new classics illustrated by Gorey (Dracula) and Bernie Wrightson (Silver Bullet), so to have a chance to dip my artistic toes in this field was a bit of a dream come true. It also helps that Ben's work is SO GOOD and so inspiring. I'm very happy with this collaboration and it definitely left me wanting to do more of these illustrated novellas."
THE WEREWORLD will be published digitally on September 14, 2021.
Benjamin Percy is the author of five novels – most recently The Ninth Metal (Mariner Books) – three story collections, and a book of essays. He writes Wolverine and X-Force for Marvel Comics. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in Esquire (where he is a contributing editor), GQ, Time, Outside, Men’s Journal, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Paris Review. His honors include the Whiting Award, the Plimpton Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, an NEA fellowship, the iHeartRadio Award for Best Scripted Podcast, and inclusion in Best American Short Stories and Best American Comics. Learn more about him at www.benjaminpercy.com
Francesco Francavilla, an Eisner and Eagle Award winner and New York Times bestselling creator, is best known for bringing his signature neo-pulp style to the comics industry, from horror to superheroes and sci-fi. Francesco has worked on the acclaimed horror series Afterlife with Archie and Batman: The Black Mirror. He wrote and illustrated Will Eisner’s The Spirit, and is currently illustrating his own creator-owned The Black Beetle. In addition he works on movie poster art, cover art for movie and music albums, concept art and storyboards for film and TV, and editorial illustrations for a variety of books and magazines. Born and raised in Italy, he now lives in Atlanta, GA, with his lovely partner Lisa and their two cats. You can find Francesco on Twitter/Instagram at @f_francavilla and on his website www.francescofrancavilla.com.