I got to know fellow academic and fan Nicholas Yanes when he interviewed me about Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, and the process of putting those books together with the Supernatural actors. We share an appreciation of that show, so I was excited to hear that Nick and colleague Kyle Moody have just published a new book on another fan favorite television series – Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal.” I had a chance to ask Nick and Kyle a few questions about the book and the series and its creator, at a time when Bryan Fuller is being discussed quite a bit in fandom at large.
Here’s some information from the press release description of the book Hannibal For Dinner: Essays on America’s Favorite Cannibal on Television –
Bryan Fuller’s and NBC’s Hannibal only lasted for three seasons, yet it became a critical darling and grew a ravenous fanbase that remains active five years after the show ended. Hannibal is the very definition of a cult show, one that only grew in stature after its unfortunate cancellation. Even when placed in context with Thomas Harris’s popular novel and Academy Award-winning film series, Hannibal stood out as a singularly artistic experience. When it arrived back on Netflix in the United States in 2020, it shot into the Top Ten and immediately sparked discussion of a possible cast reunion and new seasons. Fortunately, academics had already spent years writing scholarship linking Hannibal to changes in television production, mythological interpretation, food culture, and pop psychology, and now there is an edited collection that combines academic and insider production perspectives. In the wake of the show’s return to popularity through Netflix streaming, Hannibal for Dinner includes interviews with writers and producers of the show as well as academic essays that explore the Hannibal franchise – “its evolution, creatively bold risks, mythology, a culture of killers, and how to be an entertaining host when having friends over for dinner. (Well, the last one is a joke for the Fannibals.)”
I like a book that isn’t afraid to include some in-jokes!
Based on the character from the novels and films, Fuller’s version of Hannibal has been called “unique, weird, beautiful and grim.” The show follows the evolving relationship between FBI investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). USA Today covered this new book and called the show a darkly comedic horror thriller that some viewers have also interpreted as a twisted love story, saying the show is “all over the place in the best way possible” with grotesque imagery that is simultaneously visually appealing. They also called it visionary story telling at its finest, lauding the show’s ability to find beauty in the macabre, with some of the most depraved scenes also awe-inspiring spectacles.
The show is controversial because of its unique ability to combine the grotesque and the beautiful and for the relationship between Will and Hannibal that USA Today recognized as the love story at the heart of the show. It’s the kind of morally complicated relationship that fans love to “ship” and to explore in fanworks. Add to that a “tragic, ambiguous and beautiful” finale and you have the ingredients for a passionate fandom – and some controversial ships.
Series creator Bryan Fuller has been vocal in pushing back against the show’s fans being shamed for their shipping preferences or for expressing creativity in their fanfiction, fanart, etc. In a twitter back and forth with some who took issue with certain fanworks and attacked the fan creators, Fuller responded with a now viral tweet:
I’m not disgusted by Art. I’m disgusted by cruelty. I’m disgusted by hate. I’m disgusted by those who would shame others for expressing themselves creatively.
I asked editors Nicholas Yanes and Kyle Moody about that twitter exchange and other aspects of the controversial show, and how those are addressed in the new book.
Can you talk a little bit about Fuller’s attitude toward fanworks, and how that has influenced the fandom and the way ‘Fannibals’ interact?
Yanes: In the chapter “Empathy for the Audience” by Nicole Wild, which is one of the many great chapters in Hannibal for Dinner, Wild discusses how the actors and creators of Hannibal often appreciated fanworks. The people behind Hannibal enjoying fanworks has been documented widely. This mindset helped create the Fannibal community we have today. The reason being that it was not fanworks versus the show; instead, it was fanworks being seen as an extension of the show.
Far too often, the companies that own entertainment IPs aggressively crack down on fanworks. For example, Star Trek fanworks have been the targets of several legal actions; the most recent one being Axanar – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prelude_to_Axanar#Lawsuit
With Fuller’s approach to Hannibal’s fan community, Fannibal fanworks are not seen as competition but as another form of ‘engagement.’ After all, for a group of people to take the time to write, read, and share fan fiction [and] erotica, then they are going to take the time to watch a show and encourage others to watch it as well.
Is Fuller’s attitude a reflection of themes in the show itself, explicitly pushing boundaries of what is “okay” to depict even in fiction?
Yanes: The short answer, yes. The long answer, Fuller loved pushing boundaries (I want to make a Pushing Daisies pun, but couldn’t think of one) in Hannibal. Besides pushing Hannibal to the limits in regards to violence and sex, Hannibal thrived challenging the concepts of good and evil in the minds of viewers.
While I will touch upon the above in another question, it is important to note that Fuller has a history of pushing various elements until they bleed into one another. By this, I mean that nothing in a Fuller show exists in isolation, because everything is designed to connect to everything else. For instance, Hannibal’s characters are not just notable for their actions but because of their growth in context with the show’s cinematography, clothing, sound, and other aspects.
Moody: Everything in Hannibal connects back to Harris’s work, but shows that it has been updated for the 21st century. Another chapter in the book by Kirsty Worrow illustrates how the show took its fandom seriously because of the fact that the show text itself was an adaptation of existing material. The source material may not have belonged to him, but based on Nicholas’s answer, there is no doubt that when you’re watching Hannibal, you are watching a Bryan Fuller show. Repeating elements and quirky characters? Check!
Fun fact: The updates in Hannibal are so good, you could say that they are…Wonderfalls (Hey, you try working that pun into anything naturally).
The show seemed to deftly create a dark character who was nevertheless appealing – how did the writing/acting/production walk that line and how do fans resolve their affection for such a character (or do they say I’ll like what I want, damn it!)?
Yanes: The show, in my opinion, never wanted fans to resolve the problem of having affection towards such a dark character. If anything, I think Hannibal wanted viewers to be immersed in the feelings of being disgusted by but attracted to the cannibal.
Moody: The past twenty years of television have been influenced by Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Walter White – antiheroes that nonetheless inspire empathy from the audience by virtue of being so very appealing. Hannibal was a logical extension of these shows and characters. Our Dr. Lecter was driven by excellent taste in fashion and people (for food and companionship!), and thus he was so engaging to us because of his existing rules. The whole creative team made the world of the show so compelling that we began to root for Hannibal early into the run.
The show is also known for its beautiful cinematography, including its ‘food porn’. What sort of impact did this emphasis have on the cult popularity of the show and was it a deliberate focus from the start?
Yanes: The food porn element of this show that got me hooked was this scene from Hannbial. (Of note, this scene has since been done by “Binging with Babish,” but with less human-meat.” Most Fannibals will have their own favorite cooking scene, but the unifying connection is that we find ourselves respecting and admiring Hannibal for his craftsmanship in the kitchen all while knowing that a human has been sacrificed for Hannibal’s art.
The beauty in the presentations of these cooking montages and of the food itself allows us to forgive Hannibal’s actions in some small way.
Moody: Our book specifically deals with the food culture of Hannibal, in particular how the work of making the food appetizing to the viewer taught us empathy for Hannibal and also taught us more about the art of cooking. When Hannibal made food, he didn’t just make a meal – he made a work worth celebrating. Megan McAllister’s chapter examined this in detail and discussed how Chef José André’s consulting resulted in a unique combination of televisual and food culture elements. Hannibal was a true work of pastiche art, one that may have had a small audience throughout its run, but one that kept its audience engaged until the very bloody end.
The relationship between Hannibal and Will is a popular slash ship. Do you have thoughts on what fascinates fans about that complicated relationship and what it might allow in terms of projection of our less than accepted impulses?
Yanes: The relationship between Will and Hannibal is discussed in many of the chapters in Hannibal for Dinner. Moreover, I was able to specifically interview two writers and an executive producer of the show for the book, and talk to them about this topic.
The consensus, if there can truly be one, is that Hannibal and Will have developed a connection that has homoerotic elements, but is more of a deep intellectual connection instead of just a romantic/sexual relationship. While this ambiguity may seem like a cop out for people who want more clearly defined LGBTQ+ relationships in the media, I think this connection between Hannibal and Will is organic to the universe the show has built.
Why I think fans are fascinated by this relationship is that it allows them to authentically project their perspective onto the show. After all, there is enough evidence in the text to support a multitude of perspectives so no fan is ever really wrong.
Moody: Television is an empathy machine, so if we can fall in love with a mental health expert that eats people, we can also see how others can be drawn to him. The very complications of Will and Hannibal’s relationship are explored in how they care so deeply for each other, exploding with passion in a unique way that is perfectly expressed onscreen. We’ve all had those relationships with others that inspire and excite us, and this adaptation succeeds in capturing such a specific niche emotion within a particular set of characters.
Kyle and Nick’s answers have only made me more eager to read the whole book. I’ve also got my own reasons for having warm feelings for Bryan Fuller. Way back in 2008 or 2009, Kathy and I were at the Warner Bros. booth at Comic Con waiting for Eric Kripke to arrive for a chat. In addition to loving Supernatural, we were also big fans of the Bryan Fuller show Pushing Daisies and had briefly met him at some point in the hectic weekend. As we sat waiting for Kripke on the second level of the big WB booth, we heard a commotion at the foot of the stairs. Some impressively large security people were refusing to let someone ascend who didn’t have the requisite badge to prove who he was.
Kathy and me from up above: Um, isn’t that Bryan Fuller?
It was, and he was being unfailingly polite and admirably calm. Kathy and I were absolute nobodies but we were already admitted to the space that said we belonged there, so amazingly we vouched for Mr. Fuller and explained who he was, and they unlatched the velvet rope to let him in. He was extremely gracious while we stammered once again about how much we loved Pushing Daisies. That was one of the most awesome days of my life between chats with Eric Kripke and Sera Gamble and the surprise appearance of Jensen Ackles and Danneel Harris later that afternoon (and surprise hugs!) So I have a soft spot for Bryan Fuller.
If you do too, or you’re a Hannibal fan — or curious about the show and how it impacted television — you can find Hannibal For Dinner: Essays on America’s Favorite Cannibal on Television on amazon –
You can find all our books on Supernatural,
including the two with chapters by the show’s
actors, at the links on the home page or at
4 thoughts on ““Hannibal For Dinner” – A Chat With The Editors of A New Book on the Controversial TV Series”
I never watched Hannibal or read the book. I’d read the Red Dragon and its sequel Silence of the Lambs (and it bugs me that some people say that Red Dragon was the prequel, nope, Silence was the sequel to Dragon) and loved the books. I never got around to reading the Hannibal book. I was inspired to read Dragon after a movie crew parked itself outside of the laser room filming a scene for Michael Mann’s Manhunter way back when I worked that forensic lab. I saw that movie and wondered about the book it was based on. (wow, what a difference between the source and the resulting movie). I remember being disappointed that Will Graham was only mentioned briefly in Silence, I wanted to know how his story would turn out and how he would recover from the terrible events at the end of Dragon. I remember hearing about the Hannibal show coming out, I’d skipped the movie. I had no desire to see the glorification of Hannibal as a character as I found his character extremely disturbing in the books and on screen.
I’ve enjoyed Bryan Fuller’s shows for the most part, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, Discovery. I like the quirkiness he imbues his shows but the whole premise of Hannibal was not something that appealed to me. The same with the shipping. I’ve never been much of a shipper and after reading the books never saw any kind of relationship between Will and Lector beyond destruction. I’ll get my entertainment elsewhere. But then I’m also not someone that get overly enamored with villains in shows/movies. I like my heroes, they are the reason I’m watching a show/movie or reading a book, etc.
Everyone likes what they like, each to their own. Thanks for supporting your fellow authors.
Well said! I forgot that I also really enjoyed Dead Like Me and that was a Fuller show as well.