Growing up in a small town can feel like there's no escape from the things you don't like about your life. Everywhere you go, you're surrounded by the mundane aspects of everyday existence or the very real traumas and dramas adolescents frequently endure. What if there was something wondrous and mysterious hidden in the depths of your town, though? What would it be like to uncover and experience that phenomenon? What dangers might you unleash by encountering this strange world and its inhabitants?

These are the questions that fuel writer Kelly Thompson and artist Mattia De Iulis' five-issue, creator-owned miniseries from Image Comics, The Cull. The series kicks off in August with a debut issue that follows five friends whose short film project plunges them into a world of mystery and monstrous beings. CBR spoke with Thompson about the joy of working with De Iulis, their teen protagonists, and the tone and pace of their new series.

The Beach in Kelly Thompson's The Cull #1

CBR: The Cull sprang from your desire to do more work with Mattia De Iulis. What's it been like building this story with Mattia?

Kelly Thompson: Mattia and I had such a good time working together on Jessica Jones. It was such a great, collaborative, positive experience, and we were so happy with the results -- which is, of course, everything. So when he asked what I'd think about doing some creator-owned [work] together, I could not believe my luck. I had a few creator-owned pitches on the back burner that I'd been itching to get to, and I cleaned them up and sent them to Mattia to see if there was anything interesting there for him. He liked all of them, but he was most excited about The Cull, and I was thrilled by that because I secretly was too.

He was still doing some work for Marvel, and I was just about to launch Black Cloak with Meredith McClaren, so while he wrapped up his other work, I started digging in on fleshing out the plot and characters. When I was still putting together the plot, I sent him a big world-building doc that he could get started with full of stuff on all the main characters, the location, and our creatures. The second he started sending stuff in, I knew we had something special.

I also wanted to touch on Mattia's skill with colors and lighting. How much direction do you give him when it comes to those things?

Oh. He doesn't need my direction. [laughs] I mean, I'll call out the time of day if it's important, and we'll discuss certain big world-building things (like the stuff on those double-page spreads in Issue #1), but for the most part, you write your script and get out of his way! But, as you may have noticed, the opening -- more than the first half of the book is very dark --as it takes place at like three in the morning. I worried so much about that at first -- not only that it would print dark and maybe be an issue (always a concern!) -- but just that we'd be wasting Mattia's incredible talent by not giving him more light to play with. I need not have worried. Even the darkest pages are spectacular. Every page is spectacular. It's like looking at a film -- an absolutely gorgeous film. Amazing.

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Monster in the Cull #1

The Cull starts in the town of Blackwater Beach. What do you want readers to know about this setting?

Honestly? Not much beyond what Mattia showed us! I think Black Water Beach is a stand-in for any number of small coastal towns. It's inspired, in part, by Cannon Beach, which has a very famous rock in the water just off the shore called Haystack Rock. It's incredible and one of my favorite places on earth. It's just a natural part of this world, but something about it feels so otherworldly and alien. I love it. When talking about it with Mattia, he mentioned that there's a similar rock on shores he knows, too. I loved that I was hugely inspired by this thing near me and [that] he could be inspired by a similar thing halfway around the world.

Your protagonists are a group of five teenage friends. What can you tell us about them? What are some of the things they're dealing with when this issue begins?

You can learn a lot about them from poring over Mattia's gorgeous pages because he has such a realistic and fully realized style. The art is filled with little details that I hope will inform people about each of their lives without all my clumsy words. You can tell from the houses they live in and their rooms that they're all from slightly different social classes with different but overlapping interests. Kaite's dad is currently sleeping on the couch for… Reasons; Lux's mom has a drinking problem and maybe an abusive partner; Wade and Will are twins living with their grandmother and uncle; and of course, Cleo's brother Jake has been missing for some time, and it's torn her whole family apart, as you'd expect.

Working with Mattia, you can do these things because his realism brings a richness, intensity, and clarity that you can lean on in powerful ways. I could never have pulled off a similarly detailed opening without narrative captions or more dialogue or something, but Mattia gives us that gift. I wanted to make the most of it.

Character drawing in the Cull #1

In The Cull #1, your cast comes together to shoot a short film, but they discover something the solicits describe as "life-changing." What can you tell us about what they find? And how does that propel the story forward?

I don't think I can tell you anything! [Laughs] Unfortunately, short of saying that they find something surprising, there's not much I can say here without spoiling some very big things. I will say -- and maybe this is a good enough tease -- to go back and look at the DPS reveal after they go into the cave. Do you see them?

I do see them in that double-page spread, and as a fan of fantasy and horror stories, what I see has me excited for what's coming next. What else can you tell us about the action in The Cull?

The Cull is a strange story where it feels like nothing is happening, and then suddenly, EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING. And then it just goes like that right up until the end. But it's primarily a story about trauma and grief, so you have to balance that just right to land those complex emotional beats while still being entertaining. We have some juicy mysteries and some crazy reveals and visuals that I think will help balance the heavier stuff. But we won't know HOW right we got it until the readers let us know.

Character sneaks out of the house in the cull #1

What kind of tone and feel are you aiming for with this book? Its title suggests an ominous story with high-stakes consequences.

Dark. [Laughs] Yeah, It's essentially a story about trauma and loss -- about processing grief and fighting back when it matters most. And the title is quite literal. It's not a metaphor. Well, I mean, it's also that, of course, but there is literal CULLING happening in the book.

Finally, The Cull is a five-issue miniseries, but if readers show up, do you and Mattia have ideas for more stories set in this world?

I think the end of Volume 1 is a killer -- a great devastating ending. You could end it there, and if we fail, I guess we will. But it's also the kind of ending that BEGS for a second volume. We have lots of plans in that regard, but in indie comics, I'm sorry to say, that second volume and beyond entirely depend on whether people show up for the book. But yeah, we have plans we'd love to expand if the readers show up for it.

The Cull #1 is due out on Aug. 16.