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Simon Roy welcomes us to the universe of 'Griz Grobus'

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Simon Roy welcomes us to the universe of ‘Griz Grobus’

A brand-new TPB presents two tails from this weird, wild, and wonderful sci-fi/fantasy realm.

You may know writer-artist Simon Roy from great books like First Knife and Habitat. But more recently, Roy’s been busy with an even more involved and audacious project, Griz Grobus. And don’t let that slightly silly name fool you: it’s some grade-A sci-fi/fantasy from the mind of a truly forward-thinking creators.

Griz Grobus, which actually began life via Patreon and Webtoon, sees Roy joined by Jess Pollard (on story duties) and colorist Sergey Nazarov. Together, they’ve offered up “another tale of life after the collapse of interstellar empire,” with the overarching story apparently “set in the same sci-fi universe as Habitat.” Griz Grobus, though, is actually two “intertwined tales.” The first takes place on a snow-covered planet, where “a prying scribe, a sentimental constable, and a mayor resurrect…Father Stanley, a “long-defunct priest-bot” that may not be so saintly (or helpful) after all. As for the second tale, all you need to know is the following: “a hungry wizard accidentally conjures a war-god into the body of a chicken.”

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If you’re a fan of the aforementioned First Knife and Habitat, then Griz Grobus will scratch that same itch. However, it’s also something different, and Roy and company have injected a warmth and added layers of insanity that make Griz Grobus all the more joyous, playful, undeniably kooky, and oddly prescient. It’s no wonder, then, that Image Comics recently released the TPB. And it’s with that very release in mind that we recently touched base with Roy to discuss all things Griz Grobus. That includes the story’s development process, how the two tales connect and relate, using influences and inspirations with efficiency, and even some future plans in the “Griz Grobus-verse.”

AIPT: Where did the idea for Griz Grobus come from? Were you purposefully trying to do something massive and interconnected?

Simon Roy: The very first seed of Griz Grobus came back around 2012 or so when I got contacted about contributing to a comic/art anthology for the game Hyper Light Drifter. If I remember correctly, they had gone way over their funding goals and were excitedly thinking about other cool stuff they could make for the world. Hyper Light Drifter’s world was one full of the wreckage of an ancient hi-tech war, so I cobbled together a story idea — a researcher, from a civilized part of the planet, finds the crystal brain of an ancient war-robot. However, the locals have been revering the dead robot as a god for generations, and against the wishes of the researcher, reconnect the brain… and all get killed! A classic (if juvenile) sci-fi twist, all cargo cult and murder misadventure.

Simon Roy welcomes us to the universe of 'Griz Grobus'

Courtesy of Simon Roy.

In the years that followed, I retooled the story to fit into the Prophet reboot, but aside from changing the set dressing, the story was much the same. It didn’t make it into the series.

It wasn’t until 2017, when I decided to start serializing comics on Patreon, and working with Jess Pollard, that the story got reworked into a new form, which took elements from the brutalist cannibal dystopia of Habitat but put them into a more pastoral setting.

Since a lot of the art direction from Habitat came from Soviet sources, making a story set in a more rural soviet-esquesetting felt quite natural.

When I started, I hadn’t initially thought of it as something massive and interconnected, but once this cute, cozy corner of a collapsed interstellar empire started to coalesce, I found that more and more ideas could be folded in, and the setting began to get larger…

AIPT: Just how connected are the “two” tales here? Or how much should we connect them?

SR: In this book, we travel between the “real” world of the planet Altamira, where the Griz Grobus storyline takes place, and the “fictional” world of “Azkon’s Heart,” a fantasy story being read by various Altamiran characters. While there aren’t necessarily direct feedback loops between the two, I feel like there are still deep connections, thematically and culturally.

From the writing perspective, the tales are meant to have soft reflections in one another. The broader themes of mind-body duality, pacifism, food’s place in conflict and conflict resolution — [they] can be found in both tales, and specifically echo each other at the conclusion of the book.

But there’s an internal logic to it, as well — “Azkon’s Heart” is the most popular book on Altamira, both a product of Altamiran cultural values and a reflection of those same values. Why wouldn’t it also be effecting how Altamiran society saw itself?

Simon Roy welcomes us to the universe of 'Griz Grobus'

Courtesy of Simon Roy.

AIPT: The story started out digitally before eventually being collected. What about the Webtoon approach made sense as the way to develop this story?

SR: Originally, this story was produced in five- to 15-page chunks every month, in black and white, for my Patreon. This pace of production is ideal, truly! But Webtoon came onto the scene once I decided to run a Kickstarter to print the first hardcover edition. I needed a way to both promote the upcoming book and give a wider audience access to more of the story in general — so for this book, and for subsequent Kickstarter graphic novels set in the same universe, I’ve got a sort of clunky system in place. The book is produced for the patrons, and visible only behind the paywall, for a good long time. But once I have a timeline in place, I begin to serialize the story on Webtoon, so that I have a good few months, at least, posting about the book, promoting the story itself, that eventually ends with a crowdfunding campaign.

Simon Roy welcomes us to the universe of 'Griz Grobus'

Courtesy of Simon Roy.

AIPT: You’re handling both art and story here. Is that especially challenging, or do you prefer that level of control?

SR: Generally, I prefer that level of control. I don’t mind working off of other people’s scripts, but there’s something very gratifying about only having to listen to yourself. But I’ve been branching out into writing for other people lately and there’s something magical about that too!

AIPT: You did have a big assist from Jess Pollard. What did they add or help achieve in developing Griz Grobus?

SR: Jess was integral to the writing process! She was working in storyboard revisions at the time, so her skills at refining stories were rapidly compounding. Usually, I’d show her a rough outline of what I was thinking for a chapter or story, and she’d give me extensive notes. From there, I’d work up a script, and she’d beat it up and cut it down and hand it back, heavily revised – and most of the time, I would just start drawing from that! Before this, we had worked on a variety of short stories for some local Cloudscape Comics anthologies (alternating who wrote and who drew), but for this book it became a rather streamlined process.

AIPT: The story rides that line between Hayao Miyazaki stuff and Asterix. What about those two influences spoke to you the most in crafting Griz Grobus?

SR: Miyazaki is probably the strongest influence, and most obvious, I would say, both in terms of story and art. He has a sort of perfect way of distilling his interests and references into unified aesthetics, which is something I am absolutely obsessed with too. The influence of Asterix is more foundational, I’d say. I’ve been an Asterix fan since I was a little kid, and the balance of perfectly accurate environmental rendering and super-expressive character work that Uderzo excels at sits deep in my subconscious, as something to aspire to.

AIPT: Speaking of influences, I also got a real strong Fallout vibe for the way you blend sci-fi, history, and worldbuilding. Can you see the connection?

SR: Oh, definitely! Griz Grobus shares lots of that Fallout DNA. From the rediscovered ancient technologies to the misinterpretation and mythologizing of fragments of the past, this book pokes around some of the same dusty corners. But we’ve got a lot less irradiated horror in this world!

AIPT: I love the way you approach sci-fi — it’s very grounded and real but still quite playful and fantastical. How do you balance those when crafting a story and its world?

SR: A huge part of it is my own roots as a very skeptical and picky reader of hard sci-fi, as a younger man. I’ve opened up a lot, in terms of what I’ll allow as “plausible” in my own stories, but I try to be pretty rigorous in terms of the internal logic of the world. The whole thing needs to make sense on its own terms! More importantly, I get stuck on having the characters behaving in roughly psychologically realistic ways, and being largely rational actors. Rarely does someone think that they’re the villain of their own story, so everyone’s got to have relatable, if not 100% rational, motivations. And all of that, of course, must be balanced against the most important factor – is it fun to draw?

As a bit of an aside, “Azkon’s Heart,” the fantasy tale within Griz Grobus, was partially inspired by watching ’80s Hong Kong horror comedy movies — where all sorts of elements of fictionalized Chinese folk religion gets presented very matter-of-factly and never explained. An example: in Encounters of the Spooky Kind, Sammo Hung’s character has to spend a night fighting a corpse being magically remote-operated by an evil sorcerer. But Sammo’s ally, a good sorceror, instructs him to bring duck eggs and dog blood to throw on the corpse, to break the connection to the evil sorcerer. The mechanisms of this system, and even sometimes the specifics of the effects, are never explored, because they’re secondary to the primary entertaining fight scenes, and the effect on me as a viewer was enthralling. Presenting strange cultural or magical elements in a story, and just demanding that the reader take it in stride, is much more entertaining to me than having a detailed magic system — and funner for me to write, too.

Simon Roy welcomes us to the universe of 'Griz Grobus'

Courtesy of Simon Roy.

AIPT: I kept thinking about this idea of community when I was reading, and how we’re getting to the point (with the web being a graveyard and social media being a hellscape) that we have to lean into these connections. Is there any truth to that in this larger story?

SR: I think so. Throughout the Griz Grobus storyline, we see self-sufficiency backfiring a few times, mainly through the actions of the scribe. But when people come together, as a community (to expel Father Stanley) or simply to work together (in “The Head of Anton Gabriel”), they can accomplish a lot more.

Griz Grobus

Courtesy of Simon Roy.

And in the real world, just thinking of the comic book world I entered as a young buck, back in 2011 (conventions galore, a robust and aggressive and argumentative Twitter world, a direct market that was much healthier than we thought it was) and comparing it to the current state of things is a sobering exercise. Since Covid, especially, my own business practices have begun shifting to a more intimate relationship with my audience, through Patreon and Kickstarter. Betting on smaller, more robust, and more real communities seems wiser than trying to eke out a living in these hollowed-out corporate spaces. But by god, we’re all stuck trying both!

AIPT: Do you have a favorite page or moment in the story? One that speaks to the story’s scope and ideas and power?

SR: Well, I think that the final chapter of Azkon’s Heart — which I won’t spoil here — has my favorite imagery, as it takes everything the entire fantasy story has been building to and pays it off in one epic final scene. But the small moments, especially between the constable and the scribe, are the moments I think of most fondly. Little bits of romantic tension, or familial embarrassment – what can be more human than those?

Griz Grobus

Courtesy of Simon Roy.

AIPT: There’s a lot of dynamic characters here. Do you have a favorite? Maybe someone you just don’t like?

SR: I’m a sucker for everyone in this book, honestly. I think that was part of the fun of working on it, too. The headstrong, reckless Scribe, the preachy, controlling robot priest Father Stanley, the uptight, principled cook Yannis, to the swaggering masked Bandit Chief — I love ‘em all. I think that comes back to the Miyazaki influence, especially movies like Porco Rosso. In Griz Grobus, everyone is the hero of their own story, or thinks they are. And I can relate.

AIPT: Is there a future for Griz Grobus — more stories or releases down the line?

There is indeed! I’ve already crowdfunded two more tales from this same universe! One is called “Miramar,” written by myself and drawn by my friend Stefan Tosheff. This one is set on a new planet, a water-world called Miramar, and is about the trials and tribulations of a small island town after their baker (and her sourdough starter) is kidnapped by pirates from a neighboring island.

The other is a direct sequel to Griz Grobus, called “Refugium,” starring the Scribe character. She wakes up hungover on a riverboat, going north towards the planetary ice sheet, having talked her way into going on an adventure with a trapper. This trapper has been hired to deal with an unknown, dangerous animal stalking the timberlands of the north — which may or may not be a relict example of the alien megafauna that once stalked the planet…

Both of these books will be available again soon, in their hardcover forms, but I’m working on securing a mass market release for these [like] Griz Grobus is currently enjoying from Image Comics!
And, of course, I’ve got more schemes and plans in motion…

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