Griz Grobus, A World of Intertwined Tales – An Interview with SIMON ROY
Comic Book Yeti contributor Andrew Irvin welcomes Simon Roy into the Yeti Cave for a fantastic interview about Griz Grobus and the hardcover graphic novel that is on Kickstarter until Thursday, November 3rd. There are only a few days left to get your copy of this fantasy epic about a war-god trapped in the body of a goose. Read on to find out more!
COMIC BOOK YETI: Welcome, Simon, and congratulations on the enthusiastic opening to the Kickstarter launch for the Griz Grobus hardcover graphic novel collection!
CBY: So I try to do as deep a dive as I can when learning about artists I’ve never read material from before, and I definitely benefited from your long-running webcomic presence (digging through The Cosmonaut, Homesickness, Jan’s Atomic Heart, etc.), which led me to wonder – how well have you found the periodic web releases work as both a pacing mechanism for your workflow, and for “building up steam” to release collected print publications?
SIMON ROY: My ancient webcomic history was pretty limited - DeviantArt and Flickr were where I called home, and it mainly was a place for me to explore worldbuilding, try different visual styles, and show off my schoolwork when I was in Art school. But that changed more recently.
Since 2017, I’ve been serializing all my personal work on Patreon with the simple premise of, “at least 5 pages a month”, a premise that has managed to keep a nice little cadre of Patrons satisfied (barring vacations where nobody is charged and no pages are revealed). This method has honestly worked incredibly for me - the combination of light expectational pressure, light monetary motivation, and complete editorial freedom has allowed me to make hundreds of pages with several collaborators (like Jess Pollard, who helped me write Griz Grobus, and Damon Gentry, with whom I wrote and drew GRIP OF THE KOMBINAT).
The big shift this year was in using webtoons to build up an audience - and build up steam - for the Griz Grobus crowdfunding campaign. I think in the future, I’ll be posting more work on webtoons, but the traditional webcomics approach - of having your own website to host everything on - is definitely next in my sights.
CBY: From Griz Grobus and your other work, you don’t seem to shy away from picking up a narrative mid-action and letting the reader follow along. How did that play into your role hopping onto the Prophet revival at Image, where you had to confront entering another creator’s space and playing within the bounds of the world they’d built?
"Griz Grobus has a wonderful conceit by having a story within the main story - two layers of fiction mean that we can kind of do whatever we want, as long as it serves the tone we’re going for AND matches the tone of the story world."
SR: Prophet was a unique opportunity, both because I had known Brandon Graham well beforehand (so we both had a good feel for the other’s aesthetic in story and art) and Rob Liefeld couldn’t have cared less what we did with his character. The combination of free reign AND a paycheque was an absolute blessing, and I’ve been coasting off of the work I did in that series ever since!
CBY: With Prophet, you’ve exhibited an ability to both spend time building elaborate castles in the sandboxes of others, but have also developed an incredible breadth of subject matter, dipping into shorts and covers for other existing characters and properties. When you’re not investing your energy in your own body of fiction, what draws you to other titles? Is it happenstance and timing, or do you identify a throughline in the publications or characters you gravitate towards when working in the space of others?
SR: Honestly, most of my work these days is for video games – and the biggest things that drive me towards a job are simply; A) Can I do the work to a reasonable standard?
B) What is the paycheque?
C) Will I enjoy spending months (or years) of my life working on it?
Very early on, my work on Prophet spoiled me for chasing more licensed work in comics - having distant producers checking continuity, and whether you’re staying on-model, is simply not appealing to me, unless the pay is better or the work is simpler than most comics offer. Comics are hard and too often pay terribly - which is why I keep them as something I do for myself, and for people who are into what I want to draw. It’s not a huge audience, but I couldn’t ask for one better.
CBY: Turning towards your worldbuilding model, I was excited to see your development of the concept of Euhumanists (and thank you, by proxy, for introducing me to SpeculativeIdentities.com), which you mention explicitly in the Griz Grobus notes, and transhumanist ideas around consciousness and identity not being bound to a fixed material point are a recurring theme. The Appendix following the stories in Griz Grobus included in the hardcover edition reveals the enormity of scope you’ve envisioned around the stories taking place on Altamira - is there a clear continuum with the universe you’ve built for Jan’s Atomic Heart and other work, or are they merely thematically linked?
SR: The continuum is definitely more thematic than actual, for most of my work. The boundaries of all my stories are loose enough that they could co-exist, but aside from Griz Grobus and Habitat, none are directly, explicitly connected. At least, for now.
CBY: Philip K. Dick and Dougal Dixon both come to mind in your exploration of what constitutes agency and humanity in a world with an array of different sentient beings. I also notice a few motifs, images, and actions that wouldn’t seem out of place in Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky or Square’s Chrono Trigger. Watching you also dip into the arcane and extra-planar with the summoning of gods - can you elaborate a bit on the boundaries you’re pushing in each direction, and what media and creators have inspired you to lean into certain concepts and narrative devices? Is anything out-of-bounds, or are there certain abiding rules you’d care to share from the universe of Altamira?
SR: Griz Grobus has a wonderful conceit by having a story within the main story - two layers of fiction mean that we can kind of do whatever we want, as long as it serves the tone we’re going for AND matches the tone of the story world. Throughout Griz Grobus, Jess Pollard (my co-writer) helped keep the tone focused in a special spot - somewhere between a Miyazaki movie and a 60s Soviet Comedy movie. Flipping between the post-utopian world of Altamira, people thriving peacefully at the edge of a destroyed empire, and the world of Azkon’s Heart, a pseudo-medieval sword and sorcery setting, gave us a lot of leeway, but each came with their own natural barriers. Currently, the idea of maintaining something of that tone, amorphous as it is, is usually my guiding principle.
CBY: Looking at your broader body of work, I note both a transnational and transplanetary comfort in your characters - can you tell us a bit about how you gather your own experience, research, and reference points for your writing and illustration? Are you an avid traveler yourself? Where does your cross-cultural fascination and acumen amongst your characters to explore other languages and societal spaces arise?
SR: I like traveling, and I’ve done a bit of it, but somehow most of my traveling tends to be internal. For some reason, I’ve always had a fascination with the USSR and the tumultuous new world that was born from its collapse, a fascination that has been tainted with the rise of revanchist fascism in Russia proper. But the juxtaposition of Utopian imagery and architecture with a banal, cynical, fallen reality has always drawn me in.
Fiction has often been a sort of safe space to explore the knowledge I’ve picked up from years of casual reading, light travel, and international friendships. It’s a way to explore the past and the present a little, ideally without stepping on the toes of people who have already (or are currently) experiencing great trauma from the great movements of history.
Also when I was a kid, I loved Asterix and Tintin, both of which usually involve international adventure and culture clash, albeit in a mid-century French sort of manner, and I know that really formed my current tastes
CBY: We’ve talked a bit about the root of your narrative approach, but I notice Griz Grobus is a full-color outing after a number of black & white titles. Can you tell us a bit about your artistic technique and how it’s developed over the years? What do you wish you knew at the start that you do differently now, and what have you carried through in your process as your body of work has evolved?
SR: When I started Griz Grobus, I colored the first 36 pages by myself, but found replicating the generally positive results (a sort of flat faux-Tintin style of coloring) across the following chapters extremely difficult. Then fate connected me with Sergey Nazarov, a colorist originally from Voronezh, Russia, and I’ve come to deeply rely on his skills to bring my work to life. In many ways, I’ve become a lazier artist, knowing I can rely on him - all of Griz Grobus was drawn in black and white with little regard for the future colors, but Sergey’s skills are such that for most of the book, he worked free of my potential neurotic intervention.
CBY: Also, your Kickstarter features a really cool animated rendition of the Griz Grobus world. I’m sure the Comic Book Yeti readers are curious as to what sort of software application and process you undertook to deliver such a distinct continuation of your panel style in animated form. What did the Kickstarter video entail and what level of time commitment did it require?
SR: I can’t speak to the software, because my involvement with the process was limited to initially directorial (helping choose the scenes to be animated) and in expanding the background art. I hired Drew Shields, a skilled animator and comicker, to take the helm, and Drew did the lion’s share of the labor - animating, syncing the animation to the music, etc. Sergey and I covered the backgrounds - taking sections of backgrounds from the comic proper, drawing them out so they would look good in the context of moving animation, and then coloring them to the same level of finish as the comic. My childhood friend Peter Henrich, who writes music and performs under the band name Terriblething, provided us with a stellar cover of an old Soviet movie theme song, and between all our labours, a marvelous bit of animation came to life!
CBY: So now that we’ve spoken about your influences and processes, what other media (comics, films, albums, books, etc.) are inspiring you these days? What should every Comic Book Yeti reader check out (beyond the new Griz Grobus graphic novel)?
"Fiction has often been a sort of safe space to explore the knowledge I’ve picked up from years of casual reading, light travel, and international friendships. It’s a way to explore the past and the present a little, ideally without stepping on the toes of people who have already (or are currently) experiencing great trauma from the great movements of history."
SR: I have a few perennial favorites to recommend, as I don’t get out to the comic shop often enough to have a ton of current recommendations. My favorite book of the past five-ish years has been Petit, the first volume of “The Ogre Gods,” if I remember correctly. That first volume has the perfect balance of story, art, and obsessive worldbuilding that really makes a work of genre fiction sing.
A big inspiration for Griz Grobus has been the mid-'60s comedy movies of the Soviet director Leonid Gaidai - The Diamond Arm and The Caucasian Prisoner in particular (referencing the classic “The Prisoner of the Caucasus” poem by Pushkin). For a while, I was doing little write-ups of all the Soviet movies Jess and I were watching, back in the day – for some recommendations and links to the movies themselves, check out my Patreon here.
CBY: Usually, I end an interview asking for recommendations, but given the role of the Grobus root in the story, I have to ask, what food would you give legendary status (for better or for worse)?
SR: Two dishes, beyond compare, both from the mountainous republic of Georgia (formerly Soviet, recently inundated by waves of Russians fleeing mobilization and sanctions) that I will always recommend, and which I seek out wherever I travel. I’ve eaten them in Kiev, St. Petersburg, London, and Vancouver, and frankly, you should too, if you get the chance.
First, Khinkali, the Georgian version of the soup dumpling. The unholy offspring of pierogi, meatball, and xiaolongbao, purportedly an indirect descendant of the Mongol invasion, and not too hard to make at home if you’ve got the time.
Secondly, Khatchapuri, the Georgians’ eye-shaped cheese bread-boat, complete with a raw egg dropped straight into the middle of the boiling hot cheese as it travels to the table. If you live anywhere near a Georgian or Armenian restaurant or bakery, you’ve gotta carb up!
CBY: Simon, thanks for joining us today. Please let us know how we can get in touch and share any links to social media or titles you’d like our readers to check out. Enjoy the rest of the campaign!