Terrouge E-zine Archives
Roz Gibson’s Genesis Project
Now that Anthrocon 2008 is behind me, I thought this month would be a good time to examine an intriguing online project by one of that convention’s regular attendees, Roz Gibson.
Gibson is most famous in the anthropomorphic community for her violent comics and stories about the sable serial killer Jack Salem, who inhabits a future society where humans and genetically-engineered intelligent animals exist side by side. However, a recent trip to her website revealed an interesting endeavor whose roots predate her Salem stories, and shows a more innocuous side of her creativity while also spotlighting her early predilection for animal-based artistry.
A fan of progressive rock music and the band Genesis in particular, Gibson set out to illustrate a number of their songs through the medium of short comics, each only half a dozen to a dozen pages long. While several of these songs clearly relate to human affairs and are rendered as such, others actually do feature animal characters and naturally lend themselves to a "furry" interpretation. And, in at least one case, Gibson takes a lyric which tells a story set in the human world and effectively adapts it to an anthropomorphic setting.
That latter approach is most evident in "The Return of the Giant Hogweed," a song which, in its original form, could best be described as a tongue-in-cheek hybrid between an apocalyptic gothic horror tale and an allergy sufferer’s worst nightmare. Gibson takes a set of already bizarre lyrics, with their invocation of vengeful royal botanical specimens seeking the ruin of civilization, then spins it further into the realm of the surreal by illustrating it with anthropomorphic rabbits standing in for the humans of the original version. It should be noted that this is the only lyric in her Genesis Project where Gibson alters the words to suit her vision, changing two instances of the term "human" to "lepine." The artwork here is top-notch, from the stylish title page to the action-filled battle scenes, with the expertly-rendered rabbit characters evoking great empathy and the sentient hogweed army radiating palpable menace. In this short comic we are seeing a professional artist in the making.
Two other Genesis songs needed no alteration to supply fodder for Gibson’s anthropomorphic artistry. "White Mountain" tells a Richard Adams-style fable of a power struggle within a wolf pack, with the outcast Fang being pursued by the tribe’s leader One-Eye for violating their laws. As with the original lyric, the extent to which these wolves are meant to be humanized remains vague, as do the precise details of Fang’s crime or the logistics of the fight; in one panel Gibson actually shows a double image of One-Eye, with a naturalistic four-legged beast superimposed against a ghostly wolf’s head wearing a crown as an ethereal forepaw grips a scepter like a club.
"All in a Mouse’s Night," co-drawn by Tracy Horton, tells a much lighter and cartoonish story of a housebound rodent venturing out from his hole for a meal, and all the human and feline obstacles he must overcome in the course of his odyssey. Rendered in black and white with effective use of grays, this comic evokes the animated shorts that studios like Warner Brothers and MGM produced in the 40s and 50s, right down to the final panel and its classic comedic twist. Gibson also adds a final one-liner of her own that was not part of the original lyric, bringing the 7-page story to a perfect close.
In "Squonk," Genesis gives us an original folk tale of their own, about a creature so pathetic and homely that it cries constantly, leaving a trail of tears that makes it very easy to track by even the most inept of hunters. The Squonk’s primary natural defense seems to be the ability to self-destruct by dissolving itself into tears whenever cornered or captured - which might make no sense whatsoever in an evolutionary sense, but since when did allegorical fables have to conform to Darwinian logic? The song is as much about crybabies who won’t stand up for themselves as it is about any mythical beastie. Gibson even includes the short compendium of "facts" about the Squonk that followed the lyrics in the album’s liner notes, ending with a playful, "True of false?" Again, Gibson uses a fairly stark black and white style for this comic, although in places she seems to emulate the style of album art that adorned "A Trick of the Tail," the LP on which "Squonk" originally appeared. That said, her actual design of the critter is entirely her own, and works very well in this context.
Gibson also shows familiarity with the work of guitarist Anthony Phillips, a founding member of Genesis who left the band after two albums to pursue a solo career. She illustrates two of his songs, "Greenhouse" and "Pulling Faces," with one of her anthropomorphic characters acting out the lyrics in a fairly literal manner - which, in the case of "Greenhouse," leads to some absurd imagery as Gibson visualizes the whimsically surreal wordplay contained in the song. "Pulling Faces" also includes a fair amount of abstract imagery, as well as an appearance by one of Gibson’s human characters, although the context seems muddled without a more intimate knowledge of her other work. The central figure in these two song comics appears, at various times, to display traits of squirrel, feline and vulpine nature, and may be any of these, or none.
Those same characters also appear in a comic Gibson drew to illustrate a solo album by the second Genesis guitarist, Steve Hackett. For "Defector," Gibson does something a little different from the other comics, rendering the entire album in a single page, with one illustration representing each of the ten song titles. At the bottom of the page, she includes a note explaining that these characters are borrowed from her independently-published "City of Ice" comic. She also states that Hackett’s album "is a fairly straightforward concept album about a cold war era Soviet defector," whereas this listener (a longtime fan of this particular album) never tied all the songs together that tightly, and would maintain that the entire "Defector" concept could just as easily apply to Hackett himself, who had only left Genesis three years earlier. It should also be noted that Gibson’s work in this specific song comic does include a modicum of nudity, so sensitive viewers are warned.
For her final two anthropomorphic song comics, Gibson departs from the world of Genesis altogether to visualize the works of two other rock artists. Billy Joel’s "Allentown," about the economic woes of a depressed Pennsylvania steel town, is given the same treatment as "Return of the Giant Hogweed," with various canine characters standing in for humans as they act out this lyrical drama of the American Dream gone wrong. This technique of substituting animals for humans attains the pinnacle of effectiveness and poignancy in "The Ballad of Bill Hubbard," a spoken word piece from Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters’ solo album "Amused to Death." Not a song lyric in the traditional sense, the words Gibson illustrates here are actually from an interview with an old World War I vet, Alf Razzell, as he reminisces about an incident on the battlefields of France when he was forced to leave behind a mortally wounded comrade. Especially effective in this strip is the way Gibson draws Razzell as both a young fox during the war and as a much older vulpine in his rest home. As with "All in a Mouse’s Night," Gibson gets a little help with the art in this comic, this time from Scott Ruggles. Here, perhaps more than in any of Gibson’s other song comics, we see how empathy for characters in dire situations can be heightened by replacing human protagonists with furry and fuzzy representations.
Taken together, the various comics that comprise Roz Gibson’s Genesis Project stand as an interesting interpretation by one artist of a body of recorded music. And those comics spotlighted in this article are well worth a look by fans of this music, as well as fans of anthropomorphic art and entertainment.
Roz Gibson’s Genesis Project can be found here: