You’ve heard the phrase “wear your heart on your sleeve,” but what about wearing a parasitic slug on your chest everywhere you go, even on dates? In Bonding: A Love Story About People & Their Parasites, a new sci-fi love story from Vault, humans live in a world where they’ve been conquered by said slugs and now must keep them attached no matter what. 

Written by Matthew Erman, the graphic novel is illustrated by Emily Pearson, colored by Kaylee Davis, and lettered by Justin Birch. Tim Daniel is on designs. The tale is described as “a funny, quirky, and honest look at love, in a world where everyone wears their anxiety, not on their sleeves, but on their chest like big ol’ leeches.” 

Erman and Pearson chatted with The Beat ahead of the release and shared some pages of art.

Deanna Destito: What inspired this very different yet delightfully quirky sci-fi tale of dating and love?

Matthew Erman: There were so many things that inspired Bonding, but at the top of the list was a desire to tell a story that didn’t fit into the mold of sci-fi or romance but was still very much those things. It’s a story about love but it’s also a story about suicide and mental health and having a family, and working through a relationship. It doesn’t really follow a traditional act structure for a book and eschews a lot of the touchstones that make romance stories or sci-fi stories. There isn’t really a meet-cute, and you don’t get easy answers for the aliens at the heart of the story. Sometimes stories just happen, and this one did for me — I remember driving home from work and writing the first twenty or so pages in one sitting and sending that to Vault along with a pitch and they picked it up immediately. 

Emily Pearson: Romance and weird fun visuals are my favorite things to draw, so I was really interested when Matt asked me if I was interested. 

Destito: The dialogue reads so real even though they talk a lot about parasitic slugs. How do you find the voices of your characters? 

Erman: It’s a lot of trial and error, finding which moments and quirks work in any given scene. Bonding was in production for over four years and over that time the characters changed, and the book changed a lot and it’s great to hear that the work we did made our characters feel real. The book is very realistic I hope, in how it portrays the characters despite the strange circumstances. Ira is one of my favorite characters to have written and it’s because he felt so real and complex and shitty. 

Destito: Why is a tale like this good for right now in our current world?

Erman: Everyone needs a distraction, and sometimes that distraction can be about the thing you’re trying to be distracted from. Bonding is about a lot of things, and some of them are probably touchy subjects for people. I think that’s okay though because we try and keep it about the characters and the circumstances. The book weirdly has a lot of similarities with a post-Covid world even though I finished the script in early 2019. Adrian [Wassel], our editor, was saying it had a timelessness because of that — it’s very strange how it all happened and how this book parallels what happened in the real world. The middle of the book changes the story substantially, and a lot of what happens after that was very strange to read after everything that happened in 2020. 

Pearson: I personally think there are a lot of very human issues this book tackles on a personal level. There’s a lot of theming of anxiety, family conflict, and setting realistic expectations and boundaries for your relationships. 

In where we are currently with the state of the world, the relationship that the humans have with the slugs and the aliens is strangely relatable. For me, it feels like taking the world at face value and coping with the constant trauma and stress of day-to-day events that are a result of participating in this world.

Destito: How did you come up with the character designs (including the slugs)?

Pearson: Matt and I went back and forth a few times trying out styles and designs for the characters. Laura, we hit immediately, but we went back and forth with Marcus a bit more to try to find the right tone to match his personality to his face. I’m really into fashion, so a lot of the clothes in the book are inspired by semi-casual streetwear similar to a lot of the modern clothing you see in South Korea. 

The slugs were fairly easy and super fun. We referenced a lot of deep-sea ocean slugs. 


Destito: How has it been working with Vault and this creative team?

Erman: Adrian Wassel is maybe the most well-read editor I’ve had the pleasure of working with; he knows stories and he knows when things can be twisted and changed. He really elevated this story and deserves a lot of credit for it being the book it is today. Getting to work with Emily Pearson was incredible. She was the second artist I’d ever worked with after my first published book, Long Lost. So it was this great opportunity to work with someone who was coming up at the same time as me but had already done really awesome things with Vita Ayala. Kay Davis, the colorist, is actually a long-time friend of mine and a super-talented artist, and getting to bring them onto Bonding was just so cool. Their colors really make the book special. Without the team we had, this book wouldn’t be the same, really — so proud of everyone who worked on this. 

Pearson: Working with everyone was great. Matt’s a very talented writer, and I had such a good time working off his scripts. Kay is wonderful as well and is an excellent line artist in addition to being great at colors. I feel like both of them really elevated my art and made everything I did look and feel better.

Destito: Could you see yourself creating in this universe again?

Erman: This is it and I’d be lying if I said I was going to return to this story. Sometimes stories can be made, and they can be finished and that’s it — I got everything out that I wanted to. Sure there are maybe some things about the parasites that could be interesting to write, but at the same time, it’s best to let things be mysterious and unanswered and to have questions. This book has a lot of that. I wrote it with that intention to have this world, where the history is only talked about, sometimes remembered. So yeah, I think this is it for Bonding. I’d need a really, really, really good idea or story to return to all of this. 

Pearson: I’d love to if we ever find ourselves there again. It depends on our schedules. We’re both pretty busy and comics take a long time to make. I think unfortunately you’d have to see the book change styles for a third time, though.


Bonding: A Love Story About People & Their Parasites will be available on February 1, 2023. Check out a preview below!