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Return to Altamira in Simon Roy's REFUGIUM

Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin, is again joined by Simon Roy, now presenting his follow-up to Griz Grobus, which delves further into the far-flung world of Altamira in a deep-space future with a character all its own.

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Welcome back to the Yeti Cave, Simon! We last sat down to discuss the engrossing world of Griz Grobus, your 2022 graphic novel. This time you’re back with the sequel, Refugium, which has a Kickstarter campaign wrapping up on May 17th. I take it you’re happy with the support shown thus far?



SIMON ROY: Definitely - it’s been wonderful to see the response. One new aspect to this campaign has been engaging with the online speculative evolution community (aka enthusiast of drawing and designing imaginary biomes and animals), and seeing their response to the project has been inspiring. 



CBY: I'd be keen to learn more about how that community operates (as I've long been a fan of the genre since running into Dougal Dixon books as a kid). Griz Grobus, which followed Habitat - your inaugural graphic novel in the world of Altamira - left off shortly before Refugium starts. Despite more than a year passing since I last visited your work, it was wonderful to pick things up right back in stride. What should readers know about Altamira if this is their initial introduction to your work?



SR: Namely, that Altamira is a sleepy little colony world - a far outpost of a now-defunct intergalactic empire. Most of what we’ve seen of the planet so far is towering mountains, seemingly endless forests, and little hints of the empire that colonized it. But more relevant to Refugium, a thousand years before the events of our story, Altamira had its own unique native biome, that was largely destroyed by human colonists during terraforming and settlement. But that native biome is slowly creeping back in, at the margins…



CBY: It's a brilliant premise to explore. I see Sergey Nazarov has joined on colors again, and the visual consistency with Griz Grobus certainly helps the continuing reader pick right up where things left off. Can you tell us a bit about the other collaborators you brought into the mix for the supplement appendix material and other aspects of this publication? Anyone you’d like to credit for their contributions to the process?



SR: The biggest addition to Refugium has been Jordan K. Walker, who has worn a few hats for this project. He’s been the main driver behind the native life forms of Altamira, designing whole ecosystems for the project - it’s his words and drawings that form the core of the in-world guidebook that threads through the story.

Jordan and I met online a good fifteen years ago, on Deviantart, when he was in high school and I was in art school - i was enthralled by the intricate worlds he created there. But years later, we reconnected as Jordan was starting his current career as a naturalist oil painter. In 2018, we noodled around on a speculative biology project for fun, taking the strange, compelling body-plan of the sun spider (a very horrifying, real, arachnid here on Earth) and positing what sorts of ecological niches would come from that body plan on a planet entirely populated by these creatures.

This project stalled, but formed the backbone of what would become our Altamiran guidebook. From there, one of the most fun parts of this project has been expanding the guidebook to include alien designs created by our friends and acquaintances in the online spec-bio world. That section of the book swelled to around forty pages, packed to the gills with artwork from people like Linnea Sterte, Alex Ries, Callum Diggle, and many, many more. 

A huge boost to the project also came in the form of a Youtube documentary by a channel called Curious Archive, which did a stellar job of summarizing and exploring the planet of Altamira - and bringing a bunch of new eyeballs to the project. 



CBY: What a fantastic companion piece for the publication! It looks like the response has included over 219k views since releasing on April 20th. Part of the joy of crowdfunding campaigns is seeing what sort of perks or bonus material gets packaged alongside certain reward tiers. I see there are opportunities to pick up your complete collected work, as well as t-shirts, original art, and more. What does this campaign offer beyond Refugium that prospective backers might be keen to catch?



SR: I’m slowly growing a pretty fun storefront of special items, designed and provided by independent makers I’ve met online (and in person). For instance, Duncan Lynch, the man behind KORDWARES, designed a little wireless lamp based on the crystal brain of Father Stanley (the priest-bot antagonist of Griz Grobus) of his own accord - and we decided to offer it for sale! Similarly, PHIX Systems, who I met through some former video game employers, has been behind both the 3d modeling and print/packaging design for a lovely little model of Father Stanley (which you can buy as a little model kit). Most recently, one of my friends in Vancouver has started his own t-shirt company, Future Ink Traditions, who are handling the production of t-shirts for this kickstarter! 

Beyond those small-batch productions, we’ve got original art from Jordan and myself for sale, as well as HEAPS of my own books. 



CBY: Good to see your merch catalogue is getting some attention alongside all the world-building! Following Gris Grobus, I imagine you must’ve started cranking away on Refugium. I know you mentioned during our last conversation doing at least five pages a month, so I figured I’d check in - what sort of workflow have you had since we last spoke? Have you shifted up your process in any meaningful ways? What’s helped you move this graphic novel through to completion?



SR: Honestly, my workflow has been pretty consistent across books - 5-10 pages drawn a month, sent straight to Sergey, and posted for my patrons first. The combination of patron attention and my own schemes to get these books printed (aiming for at least one a year for the foreseeable future) has been great motivation. 



CBY: Living proof that consistency pays off, I'd say. I'm also overjoyed to see you’ve included what amounts to a wildlife guide for Altamira within this graphic novel. Your creature design and attention to the ecosystem of this planet was one of my favorite aspects when reviewing your work previously, and it’s good to see it get a bit more real estate in the pages of this release. Are there any species the rendition of which you were particularly satisfied with, and what sort of creatures has this process inspired you to include in subsequent work?



SR: My favorite part of this process came in drawing the epilogue chapter of the book, "Gods of Jurado." "Gods of Jurado" is set on the opposite side of the planet, in a ruined city now overgrown by native life - and populated nearly entirely by creatures Jordan designed! So that story basically made one of Jordan’s beasts, the KRAKISTO grappler (the T-rex of the altamiran ecosystem) the focal point of the story. It’s all about a cult-like group in this ruined city, who call themselves “the field department” and specialize in foraging for meat from carcasses slain by the Krakisto. Trying to bring Jordan’s drawings to life in comic format has been a joy!



CBY: Yes, I loved the shift in tone and setting for the close of the book. It revealed further diversity, and the way humans have responded to isolation in an increasingly hostile environment. On another world-building note, I’ve noticed you’ve added in an indigenous writing system that merits translation back into English. I’ve been trying to find appropriate ways to depict unknown/apocryphal languages on the page, and I think your approach was effective. Have you fully worked out the script/alphabet used on Altamira as well? For what you’ve depicted in Refugium, how did you devise the letter formation/equivalence with written English? 



SR: Hah my dirty little secret there is that the indigenous writing system on this planet is largely improvised! I try and keep the same sequences of shapes for specific items, when I can, but it was based on abstract shapes and motifs I found interesting - initially, I was looking at Mayan sculpture and some specific Peruvian raised crop bed patterns, but since then it has morphed into something that can be more comfortably improvised. I love consistent writing systems, and learning new languages (though I am terrible at it), but that was one task I spared myself. 



CBY: Yeah, I can see where Yucatan or Incan stone-working cuts would've been an influence, particularly considering the way you present it on surfaces in the setting on the page. Terraforming Altamira and the challenges faced by the denizens of your stories, what sort of parallels might be drawn to human treatment of our own biosphere? We’re in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and even if we’re able to curb our emissions and stabilize both atmospheric carbon and global mean temperatures, we cannot recover the biodiversity already lost in the growth of human civilization. What sort of insights into Earth-based conservation has your research into building your own nuanced planetary ecosystem provided you? What realizations have emerged from the epistemological approach you’ve taken towards building fiction that may have changed the way you relate to, or regard, the world around us?



SR: A lot of this story comes from growing up in the Canadian Pacific northwest, where a walk in the woods can often reveal the bones of the great old-growth forests that covered the region. Titanic stumps, sporting the distinctive slot-cuts the loggers would make to place the boards they would stand on to cut these trees down, are everywhere, serving as “nurse trees” to new life. This sort of bittersweet reminder of the old world, and the new life that comes from it, was in the back of my mind for this story. In this specific story, I wanted to touch on that directly - the humans on Altamira are relentlessly harvesting their own, invasive biome, clear-cutting the far northern slopes of the Altamiran continents. But by doing so, they’re allowing room for the native life that once ruled this world to re-colonize… perhaps endangering their own long-term survival, if the worm turns and the Terran biome that sustains them collapses. But, as in lots of my work, I wanted to keep these themes a little bit hidden behind the adventure. 

I don’t think I have a lot of revelations about conservation here on our planet, but I’ve always got a sort of nihilistic long-term rumination on that angle. Life will persist, even if we destroy the planet… and given a few tens of millions of years, something new will arise from the toxic ruins of earth…



CBY: I think it's fair to assume as life thrived prior to humans, it would evolve to thrive in new ways if we eradicated ourselves along the way. Now having discussed biology, language, and epistemology thus far, on the note of taxonomy, you’ve come up with a number of new species and groupings to your xenobiology. There’s clearly thought going into the species and the habitats, and I know I put a (sometimes absurd) amount of effort into rooting my proper nouns as firmly to place and purpose in my stories as possible. You beautifully re-center the narrative around the ecosystems of Altamira throughout. With some examples’ root words more easily discernible than others (like kadavromanĝanto - a carrion eater), can you unpack your taxonomical process for Refugium?



SR: AH this one is also rather simple - seeing as the colonists of Altamira come from a sort of utopian future civilization, I settled on Esperanto, a utopian constructed language designed in 1887, as the language for these common names. Most of the names are pretty straightforward variations - sometimes literally just an animal name in Esperanto, but some constructions are two-part or a little abstract. This also gives a hint to the canny reader that perhaps the lingua franca of this fallen intergalactic empire comes from a constructed, Esperanto-like source - which I’ve tried to muddle by including lots of names from the Basque region, Spain, and Portugal, to get a varied but unified feel for the underlying culture. 


CBY: Oh, that's a tidy route to take towards a root etymology. I see how much your world-building exercise has evolved between Griz Grobus and Refugium, and it leads me to wonder - if you had the opportunity to step into another narrative world and tell a story of your choosing, what would you most want to tackle, and who might you want to work with in the future?



SR: That’s a good one. Well, I have another gigantic guidebook story idea (which actually inspired the guidebook of this story) that I’ve been chipping away at since 2018 or so, called “Men of Earth”. It began as a speculative biology/evolution project for fun, designing a “dying earth” biome like the kind encountered in Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth” or Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun” - with the center conceit being that this biome would be that of a far future earth, entirely populated by creatures descended from various isolated human populations. Trolls, giants, goblins, mermen, etc, all derived from natural and unnatural variations on Homo Sapiens. The overall project is called “Men of Earth”, and is formatted as a giant guidebook interspersed with short stories starring the artist/adventurer exploring this new Earth, a lonesome divorcee from an isolated planet who has spent his whole life’s saving to come to earth, and document the strange man-things of the world. I’ve, got two stories from this setting hidden away on the Patreon, and god willing I’ll be able to put out a big fancy book of it all sometime in the next five years. 


But I’ve made enough room in the universe of Griz Grobus to explore different parts of it, so currently my short-term goal/dream is to do more short books, drawn by friends of mine. I already had the joy of writing a book for my friend Stefan Tosheff to draw (Miramar, which had a successful Kickstarter last year and shipped last month), and I’m in the middle of working on another 60 page book with my old friend Oliver Hine, a storyboarding master who makes his living in the animation trenches of Vancouver. I’ve also done a short story with the great Linnea Sterte, and one of my greatest dreams is to convince her to draw another story or two that we could then package as a gorgeous little hardcover - you’ll be the first to know if we manage to pull it off! 



CBY: That all sounds wonderful, and I have to say, Jack Vance is great. I should certainly read some Gene Wolfe now that you've mentioned him in the same breath. On that note, while I’m sure you’ve been engrossed in getting this latest title together and pushing the campaign across the line, what other creative endeavors unrelated to the world of Altamira have you been enjoying throughout? You mentioned the book, Petit, some Leonid Gaidai films, and delicious Georgian dishes; Khinkali and Katchapuri. Can you share any comics or other art you think our readers shouldn’t miss out upon?



SR: My most recent soviet film experience, actually, has been the tremendously inspiring satire, Blue Mountains, a movie from Georgia when it was part of the Soviet Empire. It’s a biting little piece, spent across several visits to the State Publishing authority in Tblisi - an author trying his damndest to get the editors to actually READ his manuscript and get it published. But his efforts are naught, compared to the glacial pace of the state employees, and we follow our hero’s fruitless efforts across the seasons, trying desperately to get the attention of the uncaring bureaucrats who control his fate. As an indie comic artist it was perversely reflective of my own experience working with publishers… But, like lots of the other best soviet films of the era, you can find it on Youtube for free (albeit at a cruddy resolution). And, like lots of these films, this mildly dystopian vision of negligence and decay still feels like a place I’d trade my left arm to live in, compared to our ruthless high-competition modern world. PLUS - you can even see, from the head editor’s office, an arena where a local sports team are playing my favorite soviet sport - MOTOBOL! It’s soccer, using a giant ball, on motorbikes, which is still played in post-soviet redneck enclaves here and there…



CBY: Simon, thanks for sharing more of your perspective while stopping by the Yeti Cave again! Please drop any and all links to portfolio, publication, and social media below for our readers to explore further!



SR: My pleasure! You can find me on X at @simonroyart, on instagram at @simonamroy, and the current campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/grizgrobus/refugium-a-hardcover-graphic-novel

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