When we think about human history, we often don’t go back more than a few thousand years. Empires have come and gone, but before there were monuments to the follies and fantasies of our species we had to struggle to survive in a world that dwarfed us. In “Clovis,” Miles Greb and Zak Hartong tell a very human story in the wide, fascinating and beautiful context of prehistoric America.
Miles was nice enough to spend a bit of time answering questions about how “Clovis” came to be last month. Dig in for some insight into our deep history, and some good recommendations for further reading at the end.
First off, thanks for your time, Miles! You talk a little bit about this at the end of “Clovis,” but what inspired you to tell this story in comic form?
There are two things that kept calling out to me. The first how bitter it is to think about amazing animals that took millions of years to evolve that have vanished forever from the lands of this Earth. I used to read illustrated books of prehistoric animals my mother would get for me from the library. Naturally, I was curious and impressed by these massive mammals that used to walk in my backyard just 12,000 years ago or more. Who doesn’t look at a Giant Sloth or a Mammoth and wish to see one?
Growing up in the ‘90s we had lots of environmentalism media, like Captain Planet or even Nick News. Endangered animals and extinction were common topics on those shows. So the idea of life struggling to come into form and persist was on my mind as well. So to be short about it – making comics about these awesome creatures is kind of a loving eulogy for creatures I wish we still had. Can’t save them, it’s not likely we can bring any of them back, but we can use comics to imagine them again.
The second reason is a humanist one. Our history is some 200,000 years old, but we mostly tell stories from only a handful of centuries back. Understandable, of course, for many reasons. Anthropologists work diligently to tell us more about these people, but we can only know so much – little was written down, if anything. However, we do know some things about the people of the Americas. It’s an amazing and important story in the history of humanity that deserves to be told, and even if it’s largely fictitious, the people of that time deserve our imagination and interest if nothing else. So that is why I made “Clovis.”
“Clovis” follows Mea as she searches for her lost son, Anzik. Along the way she meets Nobear, and adopts them as part of her tribe. I never thought a Giant Sloth could be a compelling lead character, but Nobear is heartwarming and relatable. How did you and Zak come up with them?”
I knew I wanted a Giant Sloth to be part of this story. I had seen a fossil of one in the Burke Museum in Seattle, and it seemed like such a loving creature. They likely had a tough side to them, being so large in an era of other large and nasty things. But I just keep thinking about how nice it would be to have a Giant Sloth pal.
As I learned about the real life dig site where we found Anzik – who is a real person, if anyone didn’t know – I knew I had to marry the two. Anzik is one of the best touchstones we had to the area in terms of a human element. I felt the Giant Sloth would be the most fresh and compelling way to give the megafauna of the era a new face. So I started the story from those two points.
Funny thing about Zak here. I had planned in the script for Nobear’s text bubbles to have little floating symbols to show what he was thinking. Once I got the inks back from Zak however, he made Nobear so expressive I just scrapped the whole idea. Zak brought the Giant Sloth back from extinction, even if just for 85 pages.
There’s a beautiful scene later in the book that shows the wolves at play and rest before they catch Mea’s and Nobear’s scents and resume their attack. It resonates particularly well within the theme of family in this book. Was this scripted, or was it something Zak drew that you ran with?
I didn’t want the wolves to be villains, they are simply antagonists. Mea does not think very highly of them, but they are social animals who kill and eat to survive. But they care for their young, and we have evidence they care for their injured as well. They are a family.
I was thinking how to start the third act of the story while Zak was working on the previous pages. I thought he did the wolves so well up to that point that it would be a great break in the pass to give them a moment to be among themselves. I love how it turned out.
The scale of many of the animals is wonderful, especially compared to how Zak draws Mea. Was this intentional, or did it emerge as the two of you worked on the book?
I have to give most of the credit to Zak. I mean, that and evolution for making them so massive to start with. Zak indeed did a wonderful job putting Mea in the era of the megafauna. You see things that look almost like the America we know, but it is land not yet dominated by man. Wild things grow there, high above our shoulders.
Will we see any other stories set in the “Clovis” universe? Any other comics about first peoples and creatures on the horizon for you?
I don’t suspect so. This story is finished. I think it’s ok for things to end. Although I do not have a degree in anthropology, I do my best to study it with rigor and enthusiasm. I am often finding new inspiration from that well – so I won’t say never.
When you work on comics, what media are you reading/watching/consuming? What’d you draw inspiration from when you made this book?
I put on records when I write. I like how they wind down, and when they stop I get a moment to get up and come back to the page after a short break. For “Clovis” I mostly listened to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and “The Last of Us” soundtrack.
Who are some of your favorite writers/artists out there right now that you’d like more people to know about?
My friend Richard Crowsong is also doing great work trying to create new stories for the people of the Americas. I would recommend checking out his work – there are not many people writing to represent Native American culture and heritage and futurism at the same time.
The series “Manifest Destiny” or “Proof” are also great comics to check out if you love the American Wilderness.
Any news you want to share? Any projects, appearances, conventions, etc. coming up for you?
How about this – people should tweet at Emerald City Comic Con and let them know you want to see @GoldRushcomic there. ‘Cause I didn’t get into Artist Alley this year, and I FINALLY have Clovis done! So it’s kind of a bummer.
Also, the long awaited collector’s edition of “After the Gold Rush” will be Kickstarting February 1st. So, look out for that!