In 2012, thinking about what could be the future of his children in the era of the climate crisis, the cartoonist Pat Grant designed a world where the harvested algae are a commodity worth more than gold, t- campaign shirts Kevin 07 are archaeological treasures and a plague decimates the destitute of migrants.
This is the world of The Grot: a very entertaining transition to adulthood story exploring relationships between brothers and sisters in an Australian landscape close to the future marked by an environmental disaster.
This month, the third installment in Grant’s graphic novel, The Grot: The Story of the Swamp City Grifters, went live for free, after its physical release by US publisher Topshelf was postponed due to disruptions COVID-19 related industries.
For the first time, fans can access the three chapters online for free.
Grant’s saga opens with teenage brothers Lippy and Penn Wise traveling north on a capitalist pilgrimage to Falter City to make a fortune with their “yogurt-based” business.
For a story written between 2012 and 2013 and long before the COVID-19 pandemic, some of The Grot’s ideas seem strange at the moment.
The main character grows yogurt (not sourdough) and instead of COVID-19, the creeping plague in the book could be smallpox or typhus, which, according to Grant, was “the kind of breakouts that happened all the time.” time in the big cities of the 1800s. “
Plague-ravaged areas and buildings are marked and shipped, while the dead are piled in heaps by workers dressed in hazardous materials while the lucky ones look behind the barriers – echoing recent scenes from China and Italy.
With the collapse of manufacturing and global supply chains, the people of The Grot are turning to medical workers “who brew things like beer, kombucha and fermented products … but could also be of snake oil. ” A famous chef was fined $ 25,000 last month for misleading consumers about natural therapy using coronavirus.
It took Grant about a year to write and six years to draw (with Fionn McCabe in color service) to bring the story to life. Like his previous graphic novel Blue (based on his experience of the Cronulla riots) and his video of Toormina (a poignant and ruminative ode to his late father), The Grot is deeply personal.
After the death of his father, the once close relationship with Grant became a difficult job, so the cartoonist plunged the brothers Penn and Lippy into a dark anti-utopia and immersed them in a series of deeply trying situations, to test ” the strength of the fraternal relationship when the tokens are really down. “
The illustrator even immortalized his eldest son like a hungry sea urchin covered in mud in a panel of the novel.
“This picture is really horrible for me,” the Australian designer and author told ABC Arts.
“Using fiction and imagery to project some sort of everyday moment into the future – when your child starves – it’s bleak.”
A city sick of change
Sitting on top of a MacGyvered, a pedal-punk vehicle made from salvaged car bodywork, bicycle wheels and bamboo, propelled forward by people pedaling bikes and full of youthful ambition, Penn and Lippy are heading to Falter City – an anarchic dystopian metropolis living in the swamps with a “sweaty armpit”, teeming with prospectors, scammers, scammers, hawkers and scammers on the brand.
In the scene, Penn says to his idealistic younger brother Lippy, “This is the great migration of our time!”
As they approach the swamp surrounding Falter City, Penn and Lippy’s mother draws their attention to the stench: “Something disgusting. Something old … It’s the smell of sick people”, before informing his son straight away that whatever the illness “you will be perfectly placed to benefit from it”.
Describing the world of The Grot, Grant says, “It is extremely dysfunctional, there is no infrastructure, no groundwater. There is no real police, so organized crime is rampant and it there is also the plague. “
In Grant’s vision for the future, people go back to the ways of producing things in the 18th century.
“It is not this apocalypse of wasteland where there is no one,” he explains. Instead, he predicts that society will face “the gradual degradation of the human and non-human experience”.
“We’re going to lose technology rather than gain technology,” says Grant.
“The way we think of industrial progress is this exponential increase in technology, production, creation, energy, information and mobility. But what if it’s a parabola curve ? “
A good drama is imperfect people who do their best
Under the current pandemic, it is understandable that some readers avoid dystopian fiction, while others rush towards it. As Caroline Zielinski wrote in a recent op-ed: “There is, we must remember, to show us a way out.”
Kate Radio, host of The Bookshelf, ABC Radio National, says “an important part of dystopian fiction is that it is based on something [real] in the world… it looks at reality, expands and distorts it in really interesting ways “- citing Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments as examples.
“All the things people think she imagined – those dark moments – all were based on real things,” says Evans.
“It’s this anchoring to the world while exploring the imagination that makes it effective and makes good ideas work. I think it’s the secret of writing that resonates in a small dark corner of your soul when you read.
“In the current pandemic, dystopian fiction seems more prescient – especially because part of it is not very far from where we are today.”
Grant says the feeling of deja vu when science fiction, dystopian and speculative fiction seems prophetic is due to the fact that writers in this genre are “obsessed and fascinated by technology, history and the type of cycles and repeating patterns. “
When it comes to the many grungy, dark and horrible scenes from The Grot, Grant says “it all comes from something I saw with my own eyes”.
Scribbled on a sticky note over Grant’s desk is a quote from the west wing weekly podcast: “The good drama is that people do their best.”
“You can probably find enough horror in your daily life so that you don’t have to be too fantastic,” says the author. “It’s usually something that people ignore or don’t see, they change it.
He says that one of the abilities of storytelling creates a plausible future.
“And whatever the future is going on, you are just assured that there will be a storyteller who has already imagined it – and not only what will happen, but also what the granular texture of life will look like . “
“An expensive hoax”
Grant describes The Grot as “a book that really thinks about a future, a type of life ahead, a type of possible and achievable life experience that climate change could bring us.”
But since he started writing the series, he notes, climate change has “gone from an abstract idea to something that happens on the street”.
In 2020, Australia was ranked worst performing country in terms of climate change policy in the climate change performance index (out of 57); US President Donald Trump – who once called climate change “an expensive hoax” – overturned nearly 100 environmental regulations during his first term.
The Grot does not feel as far from reality as before. But Grant is especially happy to have his “climate change meditation” in the world right now.
“I like helping people understand the world we live in.”