Meet the superfan who paints stunningly horrific scenes from Hannibal

Madeleine Chapman chats to Sara Larner, a New York artist who specialises in oil paintings inspired by extravagantly gory scenes from Hannibal

I have never watched Hannibal. My fear of anything scary is strong enough that I will read the summary section of a horror movie’s Wikipedia page so as to know what people are referencing without having to watch the film. I read The Silence of the Lambs and it remains the only time I have ever jumped in fright while reading a book. 

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So naturally, when I got on Skype to talk to the artist and Hannibal superfan Sara Larner, we were not entering the conversation on equal footing. Larner is a novelist and painter based in New York City, who found herself becoming more engrossed in the show than she ever could have imagined. Some of Larner’s paintings – as well as the original screenshot – are included within the interview.

When did you first start painting scenes from Hannibal?

The first time I painted a Hannibal thing was during my art final  – which was 10 paintings due at the end of the semester. It was due in three days and I only had two paintings. It was not a great position to be in. I was thinking I needed to paint something really easy. At that point I was fairly obsessed with Hannibal. I took a bunch of screengrabs, painted them, and finished eight in three days.

At what point during the show did you realise you wanted to start painting the show?

I kind of just wanted to respond to the show in every possible artistic way available to me, and painting was one of those. The show is so beautiful that I felt it needed to be done in oil paint.

Which is known to be a very difficult medium to paint with.

It’s a very finicky, moody sort of medium. I steered clear of it for my first six years of painting. There is so much gorgeous fan art of Hannibal, I didn’t want to be doing just a poor representation of what I’ve seen. I wanted to really contribute something that was unusual or abstract.

Hannibal Knife

Hannibal Knife 2

Pulling the Knife Out. Courtesy of Sara Larner

From looking at your paintings I would say that it is sort of fan art but it looks completely original. If you weren’t aware that it was from the show you would think that it was an entirely original collection.

I tried to think of it in the way that I think Brian Fuller [the creator of the show] thinks of the Hannibal franchise in that you look at inspiration as a springboard rather than something you’re trying to mimic. I look at everything I do as storytelling – you don’t want to just be telling the same story that’s been told before. You have to put your own signature on it.

It isn’t clear immediately what your paintings are depicting, which works for me and my nerves.

The problem with the show is it’s so stunningly beautiful. These are absolutely horrific actions and intentions, but they’re just rendered so stunningly beautiful. The way the viewers are made to feel about the murders – that they are this horrific art – is exactly how the protagonist Will Graham feels. Lucky for us, we have fellow Fannibals to talk to, but Will has no one to turn but Hannibal to say “look how beautiful this is!”

Have you made friends with fellow Fannibals?

Yeah, I would say so. I’ve never been involved in fandom culture before. For this project, I was reading analysis of the show – gorgeous, in-depth, scholarly talks about it. I slowly got dragged into the world of Tumblr and now I’m so happy that I’m there. These people, they’re brilliant, talented and incredibly kind too. We’re going to meet up at some point, and go to a fancy restaurant that I think is actually called The Cannibal.

I’ve always thought that fandom would be mostly screaming teenage girls gushing over the pretty male eye candy that is so incredibly pervasive in this show. It’s actually mostly people who are either involved in some way – in producing or commenting on art.

The other fans are people in academia, those who appreciate when Hannibal decides to go and recite all of Dante’s La Vita Nuova in the original Italian without providing a translation, which they do in season three. And I’m just like ‘you guys – this is why you got cancelled’.

I have never been a part of a show’s fandom before. I always viewed any show’s superfans as being quite young, for some reason.

It’s like a safe crush, almost. The Hannibal fandom is very, very aware of how stunningly beautiful Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson are. Hannibal Lecter’s whole existence is promotion of the beautiful and destruction of the banal. And with Will being so aesthetically pleasing, we look at him and we see what Hannibal sees and we empathise with him. It’s a very uncomfortable moment. 

Hannibal Nail

Hannibal Nail 2

Processing. Courtesy of Sara Larner

Have you had much feedback from fellow Fannibals about your work?

I was kind of floored by how much people liked it. On the internet, especially fan art, they want to see the beautiful faces of the beautiful people. In Hannibal fandom that’s not quite so much a thing. I actually had someone commission a piece that was a specific screenshot that they wanted painted, which was nice. I’ve sold a couple to various people, some international which is cool. 

I will say it is definitely the most impressive fan art that I’ve seen.

Thank you. I’m happy to call it fan art. I love the show. Brian Fuller calls Hannibal fan fiction itself. I think that it’s a fully justified term. My dream of dreams is that, if the show ever comes back, I might be able to help promote it by giving some away or selling them at material cost.

To finish off, I’ll give you 20 seconds to sell the show to those who have never heard of it before.

There is nothing on television that looks anything like Hannibal. It has changed my career and my life and I love it. Brian Fuller is a genius.


You can view and purchase Sara’s work here. Want to take a bite out of the “stunningly beautiful” Hannibal? Click below to watch the full series on Lightbox:

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