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?