“It started out as a coping mechanism during late-night car journeys where I’d see a lot of dead animals around” Claire Spiller on the inspiration for Raze from Good Comics
With it’s haunting image of a stag on the cover, and the strange and wonderful creatures inside, Claire Spiller’s Raze is a wonderfully thoughtful look at man’s impact on nature. With a lot to consider and taken in after our review of it last week, we contacted Claire to find out more about it’s inspiration and what she hopes the book can achieve in terms of changing people’s attitude towards animals on the road.
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for Raze? It feels like a mix of classic folklore/myth and contemporary environmental allegory. Which part of the story came first and how did it evolve? And are there any parts of the story which were key to its development?
CS: Raze started out as a sort of coping mechanism during late-night car journeys where I’d see a LOT of dead animals around. Just seeing a fox on the roadside would have my brain spinning – did that fox have cubs? Did it have a mate? How old was it and where had life taken it to end up unceremoniously ignored on the side of the motorway? Eventually, I channelled that into making a story where a glowing white deer curled around each animal and told their stories as a way of acknowledging that they existed and suffered.
The folklore elements of the story were something that I developed separately but eventually combined with other bits of ideas to form Raze. When the pieces started to fit, the emphasis became more on the way that humans see themselves as wholly different to animals when we’re just big apes in costumes. It’s that superiority that means we choose not to see roadkill unless it’s a human body. Once I realized that this was the heart of the story, everything else fell into place and it sort of wrote itself.
Both this, and Lost Light, are built around a strong environmental theme, (light pollution and animals killed on the roads) why is it important for your work to have such a message to it? And why do you think comics works so well for getting this message across?
CS: When I think about the sort of stories I could tell I’m always drawn to ones that tie in with real ongoing issues, ones that could not just entertain people but make them aware of something that they might not have thought about before. There’s a whole range of dramatic, tragic and uplifting stories when it comes to humans clashing with nature – light pollution and roads are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s something that I’ve definitely seen growing in the indie scene, but it still feels like such an untapped source of storytelling. The societal awareness of our impact on nature has encouraged people to feel more empathy for wildlife and the natural world than ever before, so I think people are more willing to engage with stories outside of the human experience. And the wonderful thing with portraying that in comics is that you can be experimental with the way you use language and how you incorporate it into the story. Showing the relationship between man and the wild is so much more visually compelling than anything else. There’s so much potential to play with the format.
The book is built around a very iconic image of a yellow stag. Was this always part of the concept or did it evolve over time? Did you always plan for it to be black and white as well?
CS: Raze was originally going to be a riso printed zine. But I pitched it to Good Comics, they liked it, and we decided to expand it. I decided then that I wanted to get back to basics and challenge myself to really focus on sharpening my skills with values. The stag was originally going to be white, but when I started reducing everything to black and white it became hard to make him look both ethereal and eye-catching. In early designs he looked like a washed out but otherwise very normal deer, which didn’t work. Going with the yellowy-gold was an effort to make him appear ostentatious and really highlight how lost ‘man’ is that he still can’t see him.
The landscapes and animals are really striking and so detailed, did you need to do much research and find much source material to make it accurate?
CS: Yep! A lot of Raze took me outside of my comfort zones of plants and trees, so I relied quite a lot on reference for the roads and cars. I also had a few harrowing days of researching reference for the dead animals as I didn’t want them to look too gnarly, but at the same time, everything I drew without reference looked like it was just sleeping. As horrible as it was, it definitely fired me up and reinforced why I was making the book.
We love the surreal, mythological animals and creatures at the beginning. They must have been really fun to create and come up with? Which are your favourite and how did you come up with the various weird and wonderful creatures?
CS: I had a great time designing them. I wanted to keep them as vague and unknowable as possible, but I still had my own little ideas about what each one’s personality and function would be. I originally drew inspiration from Bobo masks and combined them with different shapes and animals to make creatures that were sort of recognizable but also quite alien. I came at it from the direction of designing something that reflected elements of aboriginal art from around the world. You could believe that ancient humans from around the world encountered these things and tried to reflect them in their art. My favourite is the little guy with the ‘8’ shaped head and six legs, he feels like the sweetest, most playful of them to me.
What do you hope people get out of reading a book like Raze? Do you think it will change people’s attitudes towards nature, or is it just about making them think about their actions?
CS: I always worry that tackling these kinds of subjects can come across as preachy, so I try to deliver my comics in a way that presents you with a journey and then some facts that anchor that journey in the real world. What the reader does with those facts is up to them. I like to think Raze will make people think about how we as a society view ourselves as superior to animals, something that is at the root of most of our conflicts with the natural world. Challenging that can be pretty hard, but once you get people thinking about it, they’re able to go on their own journeys.
And finally what are you working on next? Is the current enforced shutdown firing your creativity or stifling it?
CS: I’m very much someone who thrives on planning and stability, so the situation now is making it hard for me to concentrate on starting anything new. Just doodling things within my comfort zone is really as much as my brain is capable of until we get a bit of normality going again. I do have a few projects lined up, including a 6-page comic for Wine & Zine Anthology Vol. 2 and some non-fiction wildlife stuff, but I’m taking it day by day and putting the health and well-being of myself and my family before everything.
You can purchase Raze for £5 from the Good Comic online store here. And to find out more about Claire and her work visit www.clairespiller.co.uk or follow her on twitter @claireaspiller and instagram @theclairespiller