New comic book The Grot is a timely quarantine reading imagining Australian life in a climate-ravaged world

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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.

Grant began writing The Grot in “Julia Gillard and Obama days”.((Provided: Pat Grant)

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.

An illustration shows two figures from the chest up. One wears an apron, grabs money, smiles in a waistcoat
Kate Evans says dystopian stories are popular among young adults because by exploring serious and somber themes “it’s a way out of childhood into adulthood”.((Provided: Pat Grant)

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. “

An illustration shows a street scene, PLAGUE is scribbled on a graffiti building, people dressed in PPE carry someone on a stretcher
Grant has researched “plagues that liquefy the bowels of people,” such as Ebola, as well as Spanish flu and bubonic plague.((Provided: Pat Grant)

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.

Black and white sketches show the beginnings of a graphic novel
Grant spent a year working on a miniature manuscript to determine the visual structure of The Grot.((Provided: Pat Grant)

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 man stands in green marshy water, wearing a business tie and shirt
Grant says he has been fascinated and obsessed with climate change and its impact since he was a teenager.((Provided: Gabriel Clark)

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!”

Grant describes The Grot’s technology and aesthetics as “punk pedaling” and claims that people modernized 19th century machines to run on human energy.((Provided: Pat Grant)

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.

An illustration shows a medieval town, with a bridge connecting the streets with dilapidated buildings on either side
Grant’s stories share common themes, including gentrification, inequality, place politics, and how migration is changing urban places.((Provided: Pat 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.”

A panel of illustrations shows chefs and customers in a restaurant that says BBQ KING asking
The world of The Grot refers to the architecture of the city’s gold rush, the urban environment of Indonesia and local institutions such as the BBQ King of Sydney Chinatown.((Provided: Pat Grant)

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”.

A man in glasses with short strawberry blond curly hair wears a brown plaid shirt and poses indoors near the window.
Dr. Pat Grant is a designer, writer, graphic novelist based in Sydney, professor at UTS School of Design and holds a doctorate in animation from Macquarie University.((Provided: Gabriel Clark)

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”

An illustration shows a bird's eye view of a bicycle race, with a chicken running through the crowd
Grants claims that The Grot’s literary conventions originate from crime fiction and hardcore science fiction, and that the world is inspired by the era of the gold rush in Australia and America. era of borders.((Provided: Pat Grant)

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.”

The grot is now available as a free webcomic. A printed version will be published by Penguin Random House in August.

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