“Excitement is building for this year’s Twammies and Clementine Darling is hotly tipped to win Best Female Singer and Political Spokesman!”

Hannah Berry’s new graphic novel Livestock is furious and funny, angry and amused by its own anger. It’s a future vision of a time when politics and celebrity are fused even more than they are today, when political spin is even more amoral and embedded than it is now. And that’s before we get to the dark secret at the heart of the novel.

Here we talk to Berry about her new book, the Britney Spears conspiracy theory and A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

So, Livestock. It feels like you are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore (to quote Peter Finch). True?

Are you basing that on the book’s furious undercurrent, or the fact that I am wearing a raincoat over my jimjams…?

The thing is, I realised at a very young age that I suffered from something called “basic human empathy”: a sometimes debilitating condition for which there is no easy cure, and as you can imagine these last few years have been hard work.

I mean, it goes without saying that as an author I am a member of The Liberal Elite, sworn to sabotage this country’s Hard Working Families at every step to preserve the incredible wealth I’ve made from making comic books, but it just so happens that I also care about the fates of vulnerable, marginalised people.

The book itself is not strictly political, though, because I didn’t want to deliberately alienate readers according to their values. After all, people like what they like, and the Conservative Party is only acting out their traditional ritualistic degradation of anybody who has the audacity to not own a wine fridge. In the same way, you can’t get angry at an elderly dog if it has a wee on the carpet: it can’t help itself, and you knew it would happen sooner or later.

What feels like a much bigger betrayal is the way certain political agendas are spurred on by the flapping, screeching self-righteousness of so many media outlets. Serious transgressions that are happily overlooked; policies drafted with absolute contempt for the needs of specific people that are craftily repackaged as somehow being for their benefit; the best interests of a handful of moguls carefully reframed as somehow being your best interests too.

The worst part, the most upsetting part, is the precise construction of a fantasy land in which you are right not to care about the suffering of others because they definitely deserve it. So much unbridled contempt, painstakingly justified. It disgusts me.

And all that bile came spewing out in 90-something pages of humorous, brightly coloured rage. Hope people like it!

Politics and celebrity. Was there one incident in real life that led you to the plot idea of the two streams merging (even though Ghostbusters warned us that would be a disaster)?

Nothing specific, but if you don’t mind me retconning a very recent discovery into my earlier life and pretending that was the inspiration, then, yes, it all fell into place when I stumbled across the Britney Spears conspiracy theory.

This glorious theory is that she was a tool of the Bush administration in the mid-2000s, because every time they faced a very public humiliation that should have been headline news she was right there doing something to steal the scene, like shaving her head or having a three-day marriage.

I’d urge you to look it up because it’s amazing, and it’s basically the premise of my book. I don’t know how I feel about that? Actually there’s a lot in Livestock that has turned out to be a little too timely, and I don’t know if I should feel vindicated or terrified.

HeraldScotland:

Is Clementine Darling based on anyone in particular, Hannah?

I’d love to say she’s based on one famously vapid celeb, but I don’t know enough celebrity gossip to think of anyone off the dome. In truth, she’s just an amalgamation of everything that annoys me in the fictional and non-fictional representations of women: she has no personality, she has no agency, and she absolutely does not pass the ‘sexy lamp test’ (if you can replace a character with a sexy lamp without it affecting the plot in any way, they have failed the test).

Technically she is the main character, but everything happens around her and/or to her while she smiles and looks pretty. It took a lot of effort to keep her this bland and to stop any real personality from creeping in.

I haven’t read any reviews of this book yet (this is hell. I am in hell. Is my book any good? Will people like it? Will people hate it? Do I even want to know?), so it remains to be seen if anyone will pick up on my use of this sorry puppet we’ve become so accustomed to seeing the like of in place of actual women.

And physically of course she is based on me: I am a stunning size 6, doll-eyed, leggy blonde.

Are you suggesting the natural state of the contemporary pop star is basically vacuous?

Ha ha, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. I used to have this Metro article pinned above my desk that was half a page on Rihanna’s night out where she sat on the back of a sofa and then slid backwards onto the seat. Then there were two big photos: one of her on the back of the sofa; one of her on the seat. As proof, I guess? For those who read it and thought “I cannot believe this madness until I see it with my own eyes”?

I took it down after a while because it depressed me.

I think certain celebrities are represented in a deliberate context vacuum, since the less you know about a person the more you can interpret their personalities in whatever way pleases you and the more you can buy into their ‘brand’.

Look at how betrayed people are when their favourite celebrities finally come out and state genuine opinions and reveal that they are sentient beings after all! As a joke the other day I told my friend that her hero Dick Van Dyke voted Trump and it nearly ended our friendship.

We’re social creatures, and being drawn to the most important-seeming members within a society is hard-wired into our monkey-brains. The only thing I find really disturbing is the use of celebrities as a tool to engage with the rest of us, other than that I don’t have a problem with celebrity culture generally.

Except for Made In Chelsea: those idiots can all go straight to hell.

According to Livestock in the future spin is still very much in. Will we ever be able to get rid of it from modern politics?

Well I’m not an expert, but since we’ve all decided we don’t need experts any more, here’s my hot take: nope! What party would ever agree to stop using it? It’s such an integral part of politics. And if you have news outlets trotting along by your side then you barely need to worry about being accountable to voters ever again. It’s the perfect crime.

Cloning, GM crops, etc. Yes or no?

Controversially, I’m actually quite open to a lot of these technological advancements so long as there are some decent boundaries in place, though I’d need to watch a few more TED lectures before I settle on a final opinion. We can’t avoid the fact that the human population is growing exponentially and there’s certainly a limit to the amount of food we can physically produce, so if genetically modified crops can help stop our pitiful species from winking out of existence then I’m all for it.

Having said that, the ethical stance of some of the companies working in these areas is pretty questionable.

Marjorie Industrial Concern, the ‘morally absent’ scientific research group allegedly involved in cloning humans in Livestock, was inspired by a heady mix of Aperture Science from the Portal games, Veridian Dynamics from a series called Better off Ted, and Monsanto from real life and approximately 100,000 38 Degrees petitions.

Why comics?

Comics are without question the best storytelling medium! The real question is why does anyone tell stories in any other format?

What do they allow to do in this story that another form couldn’t?

I think there’s a level of world-building that exists in Livestock that I wouldn’t have been able to do as easily in, say, prose format. Comics are great at getting across a wealth of information in a very short space of time, while also being grounded in the power of suggestion (subtext being my absolute favourite thing as a writer, a reader and a viewer).

The book is peppered with pages of trending news items that give a glimpse into the public mood at certain points in the narrative, with headlines that relate to events in the story and other things taking place in the background. There’s a visual shorthand and a tone of writing that is immediately familiar, and I can’t think of any other medium where you can get this across so succinctly without it becoming clumsy.

Also, I’ll never get enough of having visuals that readers can explore at their own pace, because one of my favourite things is dropping hidden details and clues and Easter eggs in the artwork. There’s something really personal about it - it’s like having a cheeky joke with each reader.

HeraldScotland:

Armando Iannucci or Chris Morris?

Tricky. I love the cracking dialogue of The Thick Of It and I love the barely contained anger of Brass Eye. And I loved The Armando Iannucci Show, and I loved Jam. Four Lions and In The Loop are two of my favourite films. I’ve only just started watching Veep but I’m enjoying that thoroughly too. Why are you making me choose? This is too difficult. I need more time. I’m not a decision machine.

Fess up. Who is your own celebrity obsession? And what form does that obsession take?

I’m glad you asked: Hugh Laurie has been my pretend dad since I was 11 years old, and I am so pleased to finally have the chance to be open about this. The aforementioned ‘Marjorie’ is a set-up to a bit of a Bit of Fry & Laurie nod in the book, but if you want to know my ultimate shame: he played a gig here in Brighton a couple of years ago and I waited outside the stage door with a bunch of other similarly awkward weirdos to get his signature.

I don’t think I’ve ever humiliated myself so willingly. Plus, I realised too late that the only thing I had for him to sign was a sympathy card I’d bought earlier that day. (He chuckled as he signed it, which made it all worthwhile.)

From this close encounter I can report that he has nice skin and huge hands and is very tall.

In case Hugh Laurie is reading this I’d like to add that I would make a GREAT daughter and can provide references on request.

Livestock, by Hannah Berry, is published on by Jonathan Cape, priced £16.99.