Let me tell you the story of a mild-mannered Scottish gal whose life came to revolve around a fictional serial killer.
It’s sometimes hard to remember what life was like before becoming a Fannibal (a member of the Hannibal fandom, to the uninitiated). When I first resigned myself to watching an episode, in the kitchen of my cramped Edinburgh apartment as I microwaved a frozen meal (Dr. Lecter wept), I could not have imagined that the series and its fans would take me on a journey spanning continents and sparking some of the most meaningful friendships of my life. In truth, I didn’t even expect to like it. As a horror fan, I was wary of long-dead franchises being revived, and it was only as the second season was ending that my faint curiosity and empty watch-list finally collided.
You could say fate and circumstance brought me to that moment. The difference between past and future became, in an instant, “before Hannibal” and “after Hannibal.”
Long before NBC announced that it would not be renewing the series—just three episodes into its lavish, erotically charged, blood-soaked third season—the fandom had emerged as a different breed. Despite the intensity and seriousness of Hannibal itself, which centers around protagonist Will Graham’s (Hugh Dancy) struggle to retain his sanity in a world of elaborate murder tableaux and dense philosophical discussions, the Fannibals are surprisingly warm and good-humored. We are mostly female, and many of us are in the LGBT+ community. Our ranks include lawyers, college lecturers and software engineers. With our penchant for cannibal puns, we elicit the same confused glances from other fandoms as we do from onlookers when we show up en masse at events in our signature flower crowns. Said flower crowns were already well-established by the time I fell into the fandom, but long-time Fannibal Rotem Rusak recollected their origins to me.
“I think it originated from the One Direction fandom,” she laughed. “They were photoshopping flower crowns onto band members, and other fandoms started doing it, including us. But the creator Bryan Fuller saw it and loved it. He got the whole cast wearing crowns, and after that it just became our thing. The juxtaposition of the dark subject matter with the cute flowers worked so well. So we kept doing it, and production kept doing it, and we kept doing it—a real feedback loop, just like everything else in this fandom! Before we knew it, it became integral to what we do.”
My first flower crown was black roses with plastic antlers, another staple of Fannibal culture due to the abundance of stag imagery in Hannibal. Fannibals have taken the art of flower crowns to a whole new level, with themed crowns displaying all manner of the series’ iconography, right down to the eel featured briefly (but memorably) in Season Three. Although an episode has not aired in almost two years, more crowns become necessary every day. Where most fandoms shrivel during indefinite hiatus, the Fannibal collective has adapted, evolved and become something much greater.
This is largely due to the fandom’s collaborative, generous and exceedingly mobile nature. Fannibals go out of their way to meet in person, with regional groups regularly gathering on every continent except Antarctica (we’re still working on that). Three conventions dedicated to the series have already been held in the U.K. (all after it ceased airing), and the first fan-run con, FannibalFest, kicks off this November in Toronto. Between cons, we’re quick to support any project involving Hannibal’s cast and crew.
Perhaps the clearest moment of my Fannibal experience came in April 2017. I was standing in the lobby of the Fisher Center at Bard College, New York. After moving to the state six months earlier, knowing no one, local Fannibals had embraced me with open arms. That day, a van carrying 13 of us set out from Manhattan blaring our road trip playlist, inspired by the relationship between Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” featured prominently. Kesha’s “Cannibal” also made an appearance. We are a dark and serious fandom.
On arrival, we were joined by a dozen more Fannibals who made the trip separately. All wore flower crowns. Later, we’d discover some of the other guests at our hotel thought we were a cult. Really, they were not far off.
We’d made the trip for one reason. Neil Gaiman was doing a talk about Starz’s then-forthcoming adaptation of his novel, American Gods. Joining him was one of the series’ two showrunners, the creator of Hannibal, Bryan Fuller. If Fannibalism is a cult, Fuller is our charismatic and extremely complicit leader.
So there I was in the lobby, surrounded by my fellow Fannibals, drawing strange looks in our colorful headgear. A member of the staff came out to tell us that Mr. Gaiman was not meeting fans. One of our number politely informed her that we were not waiting for Mr. Gaiman. She left confused, perhaps unsurprisingly. During the Q&A portion of the talk, someone in the audience had asked who Bryan Fuller was.
And then he came out.
An eccentric dresser, Fuller was on that occasion wearing a Tim Burton-esque pinstripe suit and bowtie paired with violently red socks. At 6’2”, he towered over us. Despite his broad smile and gentle, welcoming personality, for a moment we were all too awestruck to talk. As one Fannibal described it to me later, no matter how many times you meet the man, it’s always like being in the presence of God.
The unique relationship between the Fannibals and Fuller is the beating heart of the fandom. A delighted partner in crime in supporting the Fannibals’ favorite ship (“Hanningram”), Fuller is a self-proclaimed Fannibal himself and continues to echo the fans’ desire to see more of the story. At the most recent Hannibal convention, his entrance was met with an uproarious standing ovation, to which he screamed “I want to crowd surf!” and ran through the crowd slapping high-fives. Where most fandoms focus predominantly on the cast, the Fannibals have fostered an enthusiastic and reciprocal relationship with everyone involved in the show, from the producers to the boom mike operator. Through and through, we are a family.
Janice Poon, the show’s genius food stylist, is a fan favorite. Her blog Feeding Hannibal inspired many of us to dabble in the culinary arts.
“Crew like myself—who toil in the dark behind the scenes—expect anonymity and faint praise,” she told me recently. “So this unfiltered, joyful communication with fans is like a bright light in an otherwise opaque sky. It ignites the creative spirit and fires us to higher goals.”
Poon is appearing as part of a panel at Split Screens Festival’s Hannibal event tonight, following a screening of Season Three’s final two episodes. Among other panelists will be Fuller himself, via Skype. Fannibals sold out the first batch of tickets within days. Nearly two years after our beloved Hannigram plunged from a cliff, we’re still setting places at the dinner table.
We’re still hungry.
Samantha McLaren is a freelance writer and fulltime Fannibal and horror movie fanatic. To see what she’s writing about, or to let her induct you into the Cult of Fannibalism, follow her @themeatispeople.