Interview with Graphic Novelist Andrew Sztehlo on his Upcoming Graphic Novel 'Ruins'

Alix Villanueva What made you choose the garden as one of the key settings for your upcoming graphic novel Ruins?

Andrew Sztehlo The garden came about as a setting in which the two lead characters are given time and space to accept and interrogate their own respective traumas. The world that this story takes place in is a post-apocalyptic world that has suffered ecological catastrophe, pandemics, and a political upheaval that has lead to a racist / fascist government reigning over Britain, which has resulted in ethnic cleansing. So our two main characters (one of whom experienced “the turn” as an adult, and one who has grown up in the shadow of it) have been brutalised and condemned by the world they live in on the basis of their respective ethnicities.

I think many people who have had to deal with trauma seek some sort of space, one that is away from the reality they are confronted with every day. That space often never comes, but my fiction has allowed for that slow breath, the steady moment of sustained peace, on which we can now reflect on what has happened to us. I’ve created that space in the garden. Nature has always been a soothing place for me, I am not unique in that sentiment, and especially since so many of the worries that have befallen this country have come from modern places of existence as opposed to an apolitical inhuman countryside*, it felt necessary to create a space that was somewhere between.

Alix Villanueva What is the role of myth and myth-making in Ruins? Can you expand on the idea of the garden as a representation of a mythic future?

Andrew Sztehlo
Gardens I think represent a strange intersection between the natural and the man-made. There is no such thing as a natural garden – it is sod and soil that has been reshaped to our imaginings. And in this space in the book, the question of British nationality is reshaped into new imaginings. The garden is one of two central images in the book, the other being the dolmen of Lanyon Quoit, in Cornwall. One, the dolmen, represents Britain’s mythic past. The garden represents our mythic future, our quest for rejuvenation, a future Britain defined not be the words of the few who would exclude the vulnerable and the different, but defined by the beauty that we find in diversity and the cross-pollination of different cultures, working together, living side by side.    

Every major creation myth in any country has an apocalyptic ending. Whether it be the Book of Revelations or the mighty battle of Ragnarok, the earth and its people are destroyed. But every major mythology is cyclical; like gardens, it asks us to cultivate the land and create something new, create a rebirth. The world we find ourselves in in Ruins is one that has ended, and unbeknownst to the characters, the events of the story constitute a mythic and folkloric rebirth – a new imagined space for Britain.

Alix Villanueva Where will we be able to read Ruins when it comes out? 

Andrew Sztehlo No print edition is planned at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic, but once finished (I am in the middle of illustrating the first chapter now) I will be releasing each chapter for sale digitally on my Gumroad shop. Once the lockdown is over, I plan on releasing print editions too. 

*Note from the editor: We, at The Garden Zine, don't understand the countryside as apolitical or inhuman. The countryside in the UK is largely shaped by political events such as land clearances, loss of the commons, enclosure and the extinction of key species. Furthermore, global events such as man-made climate change are radically altering what we would understand to be ‘natural’.