Interview: Chelsea Cain Talks 'Man-Eaters' and All Things Girl Power

Man-Eaters #1 arrives today, giving fans a parable with a one-of-a-kind feminist bite.

The issue establishes a world that doesn't feel too terribly off from our own, despite being plagued by attacks from large cats. As it turns out, the cats are actually teenage girls, who turn into these beasts as a result of a bacteria exposure and their own menstrual cycle. Despite government intervention and a task force on the case, the cats still have an effect on the society -- and one young girl named Maude is at the center of it all.

Man-Eaters hails from Chelsea Cain, who comic readers probably know best from her delightfully feminist take on Mockingbird as well as the recently cancelled Vision series. sat down with Cain to talk about Man-Eaters' debut issue, where the series could go from here, and why she refuses to back down.

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(Photo: Image Comics) How exactly did the idea for Man-Eaters come about? This comic definitely feels like a very personal, emotionally driven story, and I was curious what in particular helped make the story come to life.

Chelsea Cain: I think we all sometimes feel like monsters. Women, especially. Middle school girls in particular.

What has the research process been like for Man-Eaters? Is there anything that has surprised you along the way?

I actually started thinking about the basic premise while reading an article in The Atlantic a few years ago titled "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy." It's about toxoplasmosis, a parasite that hangs out in cat poop. It's why they tell pregnant women not to change the litter box. That said, most of us are infected with it, because if we haven't come into contact with cat shit at some point we have come into contact with someone who has. It's always been considered harmless. Then researchers discovered that it had the power to alter the behavior of rats and mice. Toxoplasmosis has a weird life cycle -- it can infect any mammal, but it can only reproduce in the gut of a cat -- so its goal is to find a nice rodent to grow up in, and then ensure that rodent gets eaten by a cat so the parasite can reproduce, get pooped out, and begin the cycle again. THIS IS ALL TRUE, I'M NOT MAKING IT UP, SWEAR.

Here's where it gets wild. Researchers have found that mice and rats -- generally a pretty cat-phobic bunch -- who are infected with toxoplasmosis, lose their fear of cats, and are even attracted to cats. A shy mouse becomes a risk taker, all up in a cat's grill, so to speak. Thus raising the likelihood by a lot that said mouse will get eaten. So these researchers -- some of whom probably have cats at home -- started thinking: "If toxoplasmosis can control the minds of shy mice, maybe it can control other infected mammals, too, or am I only thinking that because it wants me to…?" Now there are all kinds of studies and theories about how humans infected with toxoplasmosis are more likely to be in car accidents, more likely to commit suicide, demonstrate slower reaction times, et cetera. There's a theory it may even play a role in schizophrenia. It's all in the Atlantic article. Is it solid science? Meh. But it's fascinating, right?

I was really taken with the idea that this tiny single-celled parasite might alter our sense of who we are. A mouse who isn't afraid anymore doesn't live long. But what about people? Clearly this parasite has an agenda. It's evolving. I imagined a world where it would take that evolutionary leap and its side effects would become more dramatic. It would transform women into killer panther monsters. The transformation would be triggered by hormones, and only last a few days a month. But obviously anyone experiencing symptoms would be highly unpredictable, easily provoked, and extremely dangerous.

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(Photo: Image Comics)

Did any of your previous work have any sort of influence on Man-Eaters? Obviously, the series carries over the feminist sentiment from Mockingbird, but I was curious if there were any influences outside of that.

I am mostly known for my thrillers, especially my Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series, which is basically a six-book twisted love story between a cop (Archie) and a serial killer (Gretchen). I was surprised, the first few years I was writing those books, at what a beloved character Gretchen became to people. So many women -- especially young women -- would corner me at events to tell me that they found her really "inspiring." Again, Gretchen is a serial killer. She murders for sport, and she's unapologetic about it. She tortures her victims. She is not a protagonist. So I never really knew how to respond to the fact that this serial killer I was writing was "inspiring" people. Then I realized what it was. She has power. She has agency. She doesn't second guess herself. She's good at her job. She's doesn't apologize for who she is. What does it say about our culture that we have so few options for strong female archetypes that a serial killer is embraced as a feminist icon? Kinda makes me think we need more of a selection.

There's a sense within issue #1 that the world of Man-Eaters doesn't feel incredibly far off from today's society. Does that add an extra sense of responsibility to how you craft the story?

Yeah, it's right now, in our world. It's kind of amazing this whole cat-transformationvepidemic hasn't gotten more play in the media. But there's a lot going on.

Do you think feminism -- both within the comic community and just overall -- has changed from when you wrote Mockingbird to writing Man-Eaters now? If so, how?

We are angrier and less likely to put up with bullshit.

Personally, the last few years have shaken me from complacency. It's not enough to be a feminist; we need to be doing everything we can to make change. I started a company called Ministry of Trouble. Four women: me, Lia Miternique, Jenn Ellis, Katie Lane. Man-Eaters is our first project. Girls grow up learning not to make trouble. Our goal is to publish and produce it. We want to make as much trouble as possible.

What are you most excited to see readers respond to with Man-Eaters?

It's chewy. There's a lot of story, a lot of girl power, horror, and humor. I'm excited for 13-year-old girls to read it, and for their parents to read it, and then for the following post-dinner discussion.

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(Photo: Image Comics)

What can you tease about where the story goes from issue #1?

Maude, like every sixth-grade girl ever, starts to think she might be turning into a monster. Her attempt to find out the truth intersects with her parent's investigation into a series of mauling murders, and brings Maude into the orbit of a sect of female cat shape-shifters very different than the creatures Maude has learned about at school.

Also, isn't "Maude" the best name ever?

You and Kelly Sue DeConnick are in the process of trying to bring Man-Eaters to television, which is super exciting. Is there anything you can tease about that process, or what your goal for a Man-Eaters television series will be?

I think the world needs a feminist horror-comedy TV show right now, don't you? I'd watch it.



Man-Eaters #1 is in stores now.

This interview was lightly edited for spelling and clarity.