Writer and editor, Eliza Viera, talks with writer Matthew Erman and artist Emily Pearson, to discuss their upcoming Vault Comic book; Bonding. In a parasite-infected humanity, two strangers meet and develop a bond, learning about each other, friendship, and how to deal with their parasites.
Hi Matthew and Emily! Thanks for agreeing to do an interview. I’m so excited to talk to you about Bonding! We’ll start with:
Some Questions for Both of You:
Before we get into that, however, Gatecrashers starts every interview asking: What are your favorite sandwiches?
Emily: I am a feral mess of a human being and eat the same sandwich for lunch each day. It’s just basically bagel bread with turkey, cheese, spinach and spicy mayo but it’s so, so good.
Matthew: Lately, I’ve been really enjoying a grilled chicken sandwich with greens, salted tomato and mayo. It’s really simple and the sky is the limit as far as how good you want it to taste, that’s a good one, for sure.
Your graphic novel comes out in October! What do you want to tell us about Bonding?
Matthew: I’d love to tell you so much, but I think Bonding is something that works best when you go in without any expectations or notions. Sometimes genre can put a story in a box like that, when it’s not necessarily those things so I’m hesitant to lay it on thick that this story is “about” anything, one thing in particular. It’s not a romance or sci-fi story in the genre-sense, but it shares certain things. I’d say it’s a generational story about a family, and how they exist in a world where everyone is forced to carry an alien parasitic slug that’s attached via a fistulation in one’s chest. That’s maybe all you should know.
Emily: Bonding at its core is a great romance story. There are a lot of excellent science fiction parts, as well as generational stories, but it really focuses on the relationship two people have when having romantic involvement with each other, and all the personal baggage and trauma each person holds. If you enjoy character driven stories, I think you will really like this book.
You’ve both previously worked on really cool projects! For fans of Matthew’s writing on Witchblood, or Good Luck, or Emily’s webtoon White Shadows, or art in The Vain, what can we expect to recognize in this new work? What’s totally different here that you’ve never done before?
Emily: It’s cartoony! I’ve never had a chance before this to do a cartoony book, all my previous books have been a bit more on the realistic side. This book really opened up trying out different styles of art for me, and it’s brought a lot of enjoyment into my life because of it. Most of my previous books have also been a bit more crime-focused, or set in more realistic settings, but I really got the chance to explore a suburban sci fi setting for this book, and I think that’s something that had been a strength of mine that I never got to explore previously.
Matthew: This was the second comic I’d ever written. It’s taken a bit to come out in part because of COVID and the circumstances surrounding that — Vault really wanted to carve out space for it and so we waited to put it out into the world. So it’s strange, I wrote this all before Witchblood and Good Luck, I wrote it more or less, directly after Long Lost. So it’s really bizarre, when I was writing this I’d never done anything like this — and still nothing I’ve done has really touched what this project is or how it was created. I wrote the script specifically for Emily, to her specifications and didn’t restrict or put boundaries on what the page was, it was very open and free. That kind of writing I don’t do much anymore, in part because it’s very difficult to find the kinds of artists that want to work with a less structured script and it’s harder to write that way as well, kind of blind to what can fit onto the page. As far as the things that are a constant in the work that I do, you know it’s a chatty book. Lots of dialogue, I think that’s something I do (for better or worse) and it can also be pretty funny. It’s a story that doesn’t really fit into a traditional act structure, and does its own thing.
Questions for Matthew:
In the announcement press release, you describe Bonding as scifi, romance, and horror. Matthew, how do you balance these different tones and the different expectations that readers of these genres might bring as audiences of this book?
Matthew: It’s a struggle, to be honest. You have an idea as to what these things mean to yourself, and how you define these things but when you hold that up to what the audience expects it becomes kind of painful to suss out. I think fans of these genres will find aspects in this but it’s not horror in a traditional sense or romance in a traditional sense. These things can be more ephemeral and still guide the story without laying the blueprint of a cookie-cutter version of these genre-stories. It’s how something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can be called a sci-fi rom-com, but it’s not really any of those things. That’s how Bonding feels to me.
It sounds like Bonding is a very human-driven story that will have a lot of feelings and emotions. How do you tell a story that gets at the heart of humanity (pun intended) while exploring such a rich and complex setting? What themes will this graphic novel explore?
Matthew: I never set out to tell a story that gets to the heart of anything. I don’t think I’d ever set out to do that honestly, it seems like I’d end up with a really, really bad story. Things come up, as I write this book and any book, that help me decide what happens and why it happens and how the characters respond. It’s not anything like “this story is about blah-blah-blah” so those themes have to be kept in mind. The story evolves, and becomes what it is through trial and error, through Adrian’s guidance as an editor, and through some form of intuition I guess that pushes me forward deeper into the story.
I’ll say this, at the time I wrote it — it was the most stressful and therapeutic story I’d ever written and to this day remains a source of anxiety and pride.
Questions for Emily:
How did the world of Bonding develop? How did you settle on the look and feel of the setting?
Emily: From what I remember, Matthew didn’t have a specific setting in mind for the book, but a lot of it did feel like it would take place in a city or just outside of a city. Personally, I really dislike drawing big cities and skyscrapers, I don’t find them as interesting as nature.
I started looking into more suburban looking cities, specifically referencing a lot of suburbs from Japan, South Korea, and figuring out what made those beautiful to me, so I could get that feeling in a more western setting. Alongside that I brought in some minor sci fi elements, like Matthew specifically suggested the giant metal “eye” watching over the city.
You also list character designer in your Twitter bio, and have been doing a lot of DND character commissions lately! Has this work influenced how you approach your projects like Bonding at all?
Emily: A big reason why I love character design is because I love fashion. One of the most enjoyable things to do for a comic is figure out a character’s own personal fashion, and how it reflects their personality and builds the setting. And also, doing concept art and character design made it a lot easier to think of different designs for the slugs, the aliens that show up in the book, and a lot of weird other absurd designs that I can’t spoil just yet.
Some More Questions for Both of You:
As co-creators, can you tell me about your collaboration process?
Matthew: I wrote the script for Emily as much as I could, to tell her the story so she could relay it to the audience with her illustrations. It was this book that really let me see what can happen when you trust your collaborators, your artists, whoever to meet you at the same space and mutually create something that feels like a part of each of us. I worked pretty in-depth with Adrian and the mechanics of the story — lots of stressed phone calls about how I was stuck or something wasn’t working or how something needed to change. Adrian has always been such an advocate for this book and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
Emily: It was pretty straightforward, after I did character designs, Matt would give me a script, and I would start drawing it as he worked on the next issue. Matthew was kind enough to give me open scripts(no direction for panel count, I can lay out the page however I choose, as long as I fit the actions and dialogue in) and I think that made my job a lot easier. I find it easier to work with other collaborators when the direction of the page and the art is my choice.
If you’re a comic writer, it’s always helpful to ask your artists what types of scripts they prefer.
This novel was in development for at least three years, how has it changed since the first announcement?
Emily: This book went through a lot of changes in its development. The team has always basically been myself, Matt and KAY but we were exploring many different formats for how long the book was, if it was split into one volume or two, and the audience and age range we wanted to reach. Overall I think we’re both really happy with the format that we ended up with, and I think it was the best option for the book.
Matthew: In a very strange way, it hasn’t changed at all from the initial pitch but this is after nearly everything about it had been changed and then changed back to another thing— the format, the demographic, the release — somehow through sheer force of will the book remained what it was always meant to be, which is very bizarre and a testament to the contents— they could only be told this way, by these certain people, at this specific time.
What would your own parasites look like? Would you dress them up?
Matthew: Probably like a Dachshund mix but a parasitic slug.
Emily: It’s so hard to answer this question without wanting to go in and draw it out! Mine would probably be blue and/or pink, probably with a lot of nature or flower-inspired shapes. I would definitely dress it up though, probably as something that’s just so incredibly stupid like my Dungeons and Dragons character or something like that.