News and Interviews

Neal Shannacappo Explores a Dystopian Future in His New Graphic Novel


Set in the year 2242, author and artist Neal Shannacappo's upcoming graphic novel, The Krillian Key: Salamander Run (Kegedonce Press, publishing in September), follows the immortal being Kyrill (a.k.a. Salamander) through the burning, charred remnants of Neo-New York. Existing as the only key to a prison controlled by the seven gods of creation, Kyrill is chased through a post-apocalyptic hellscape by warring factions of alien/human hybrids: one group who wants to shield him from danger, and the other who would use him to open the prison doors.

An action-packed, futuristic thriller, The Krillian Key: Salamander Run provides non-stop, page-turning thrills thanks to Shannacappo's imaginative world-building and vivid artwork. 

We're very excited to have Neal at Open Book today, where he discusses how he initially conceived the idea for The Krillian Key, its long transformation over multiple drafts, and why dreams can sometimes cure a case of writer's block.


Open Book:

Do you remember how your first started this novel or the very first bit of writing you did for it? 

Neal Shannacappo:

I was 15 and wrote a poem about the man in black. It was very dark and had nothing to do with the graphic novel as it looks today, but that was when I first created the character of “The Father”. After that, it took several years before I found the look I wanted for him. Salamander showed up around that time. He was also very different, but what both characters have retained is their tone: Salamander is light and The Father is dark.


How did you choose the setting of your novel? What connection, if any, did you have to the setting when you began writing?


Originally, The Krillian Key was set in the future because I wanted the freedom to show backgrounds and cities without needing to have them look like real places. So Neo-New York didn't have to look anything like the New York of today. Eventually, when I changed part of the setting to places in Ontario, I drew upon my lived experiences there. I also wanted the protagonist to be distinctly Canadian, and more importantly Indigenous from a people based in Canada. In this case he's of the Nakewe (Saulteaux) people and from Rolling River First Nation because I am, too.


Did the ending of your novel change at all through your drafts? If so, how?


It's entirely different now then it was when I wrote the first draft. In the first draft, Salamander was a surfer in Florida. He was part of a gang that didn't really do anything except hang out, rob rich tourists, and smoke/sell weed. In that version, The Father was an intergalactic cop named Stile that was following a gang of alien drug dealers. Salamander ended up being Stile's partner in order to take out the rival gang. So, things have very much changed from that draft to this one.

This draft is, I think, six or seven drafts later. Salamander isn't a gang member, nor is Stile an intergalactic cop. Salamander is a far more complex character and he's still exploring his Indigenous culture. Those spiritual beliefs are challenged in this draft, and in some ways validated. Stile is also a more interesting, if mysterious, character. He too faces his own inner demons. As a result, the ending is much different then the previous draft.


If you had to describe your book in one sentence, what would you say?


The Krillian Key is about an Indigenous immortal who is hunted down by super-powered alien/human hybrids. Salamander, the protagonist, discovers he's a cosmic key while on the run through a dystopian future where Indigenous people are the one percent.


What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?


On an earlier draft, I was writing and illustrating a hero that was made of metal named Axel the Krill, wondering how a metal man or creature didn't rust. In this draft, I was stuck on describing an action sequence with the metal man. For weeks I kept coming back to this character, and then one night I had a very vivid dream, like I was there in the middle of the action.

Lowercity, on an alien planet, was shaking with the force of this titanic battle between Axel the Krill (the metal man) and the Hero from Blackstone, rubble strewn everywhere. The streets were ruined, and there they were, both sweaty and bruised. A building was crumbling down around them.

In the dream, I was close enough to see Axel was sweating oil of some kind. His blood was also some kind of oil. It was then that I saw a reflection of myself in a nearly shattered window and realized that Salamander, who I was in the dream, was going to travel to that city and witness the battles in Lowercity. I had and still have no idea how I'll get him there, but I know that he will be there at some point in the future of his story.

So sometimes when I'm stuck on a character or story point, the answers come to me in a dream and that's pretty cool.


Did you celebrate finishing your final draft or any other milestones during the writing process? If so, how?


I will celebrate the final draft being completed by going on a week's vacation to live in a tree house, entirely unplugged from the net and cell phones. Hiking through the hills, swimming in a lake, and forgetting about the rest of the world. It will be bliss.


Neal Shannacappo is a Nakawe graphic novelist and poet from Rolling River FN in Manitoba. He's Eagle clan and currently living, working and playing in Ottawa. You can find his stories in the Indigenous anthologies called Sovereign Traces vol. 1 - Not (Just) (An)other and Vol. 2 - Relational Constellation both available at Chapters. Mashkiikii Miikana (Medicine Road) is online on the National Campus and Community Radio Stations website. The graphic novel Mashkawide'e (Has a strong heart) was published by Senator Kim Pate and copies can be found by contacting her office. At the moment he has 3 projects on the go, The Krillian Key which is his own creation, and If I Go Missing which is being published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd., and Niikaniganaw (All My Relations) commissioned by a group of healthcare researchers.