There’s a very interesting, and perhaps even dangerous, question behind the reasons why people join or form a cult, and the new American Cult anthology hopes to provide some answers. Cartoonist Robyn Chapman (current senior associate editor at First Second) has put together an impressive lineup of creators in the service of comics journalism to land on some of these answers.
It’s important we emphasize comics journalism here as the book’s Kickstarter page is insistent on the project being a facts-based endeavor that seeks to forego sensationalism to get at the heart of these type of groups.
American Cult sees individual creators and creative teams take on different religious cults (which are totalitarian in nature, according to the anthology’s Kickstarter page), dating from the 1600s all the way to the present with entries taken straight out of recent headlines, as is the case of the NXIVM sex cult which Box Brown (Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America) tackled for the anthology.
Among the anthology’s robust and diverse roster of creators are Emi Gennis, J.T. Yost, Andrew Greenstone, Jesse Lambert, Rosa Colón Guerra, Ellen Lindner, Steve Teare, Josh Kramer, Mike Dawson, and many others. Some of the cults explored in the anthology include The Branch Davidians, The Source Family, The Children of God, The Westboro Baptist Church, and the Oneida Colony. While similarities are shared among them, each cult is unique in its own right and is deserving of its own story, especially when some favor some forms of worship over others, be it by forced labor or even doomsday prepping.
The timing works perfectly for this anthology as cults have not only been a constant fascination in American culture due to their more bizarre and violent elements, but they also seem to be having their moment in film and television. Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood deals, in part, with the Charles Manson cult which was responsible for the deaths of actress Sharon Tate and her house guests on the night of August 8, 1969. Manson will also make an appearance in the new season of Netflix’s Mindhunter, where the same actor that played the infamous cult leader in Tarantino’s movie, Damon Herriman, reprises the role. Even American Horror Story has dipped its toes in cults with its seventh season.
On the comics side, Gail Simone‘s and Jon Davis-Hunt’s Clean Room is an interesting an intense take on cults, fusing cosmic horror with a mysterious self-help group that takes the form of a cult. This one comes highly recommended, though it’s not for the faint of heart. Sons of the Devil by Brian Buccellato and Toni Infante is another solid recommendation. It follows a man that discovers he has family ties with a deadly cult, focusing on how this revelation affects him and everyone involved throughout the decades.
In general, cults have never stopped being a part of America’s cultural landscape. To this day, the topic is still somewhat elusive as there is no blanket explanation that covers all groups. This is what makes American Cult such an important project. A lot of the nuance behind cults barely makes it to the mainstream and thus there’s little discussion as to its inner workings. American Cult looks to rectify that.
If you’re interested in getting into the minds of those involved in cults and how they came to have such a magnetic pull with people, then consider contributing to American Cult’s Kickstarter campaign to make this anthology become a reality. It already looks like one of the best reads of 2020.
Below, check out an exclusive preview of Box Brown’s NXIVM comic for American Cult, titled “Call Me Vanguard.”