Interviews

Drunk Duck Creator Interview: mina_lunga of Gnoph (and others)!
skoolmunkee at 4:34AM, March 17, 2008
(online)
posts: 7,058
joined: 1-2-2006
Username: Mina_Lunga
Comics/Projects: Gnoph, A'kni'att, Inchoatica, Cockroach Theater,
Age: 26 (edging towards “ol' lady” in Drunk Duck years)
In what part of the world do you live: Seattle, WA
Are you single/boyfriend/girlfriend/married: Married (one year in April!)
Day job: Research Technician II at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, Childhood Diseases and Prematurity Division

Tell us a little about your comic, and gnophs.

Originally, my comic “Gnoph” was meant to be a light-hearted tale about a girl and her sentient internal parasite, both of which are trying to get home to her family. I had just finished a black and white comic, “A'kni'att,” which involved the death, torture, or rape of just about every character in it and I needed something lighter in tone.

So I created Abigail Anne Smith and her little lung parasite Scut. Quite quickly Abbey (so-named because I didn't realize that I was misspelling the short form of “Abigail”) started coughing blood, her parasite started laying eggs in a feckless young noble, and the body count was rising.

So a gnoph is like a symbiotic parasite.

I originally meant for gnophs to be more mutualistic symbionts, but given all of the health problems associated with having one nestled into your lung, however, I'll grant that it's more of a parasite than a benefit. Unless you like coughing up blood.

If their hosts get enhanced abilities etc., what do the gnophs get out of the deal?

Gnophs, like many parasites, require a host to complete their life-cycle. It doesn't have to be a human, and in fact (although this doesn't appear in the comic) gnophs can infect a wide mammalian host range. During infection the gnophs get food, protection, and mobility. Also, it's in the host that they mature and reach their sexual stage.

In other words the host is larder, home, and nursery to the gnophs. It's really better for the gnoph than the host, since all of those abilities are primarily meant to sustain and protect the gnoph.

Aside from the fantasy elements, how does a gnoph differ from many parasites?

Actually, what entrances me is just how SIMILAR gnophs are to many real parasites! If I can, I'd like to quote from a book on parasites by Carl Zimmer when he's writing about the crab parasite Sacculinia:

do more: they control their hosts, becoming in effect their new brain, and turning them into new creatures. It is as if the host itself is simply a puppet, and the parasite is the hand inside.

I understand you have a bit of education under your belt when it comes to parasites? (Not a tapeworm joke.)

As far as I know I'm free of major parasites and have no desire to acquire any! In terms of study I've never taken a course on parasites per se, but I have a MS in mycology (fungi) where I specialized in medical mycology. That's fungi that eat animals, and if you ever thought I was exaggerating host damage on Abbey be glad you never saw what a few good fungi can do to a human!

Also, I worked for a year on a CDC and APHL (that's the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Association of Public Health Laboratories) Emerging Infectious Diseases fellowship, and hung out with a parasitologist for some of that time. Nothing is as disturbingly entrancing as poking around in baby feces looking for anything that wriggles! Right now I do medical research in a hospital with Streptoccocus agalactiae, which is a bacteria that makes for dead babies.

Were gnophs inspired by any creatures in particular?

Not a real creature, but I used to doodle this series of creatures that I called my “evil shrimp.” Gnophs grew out of them when I started the comic. That, and all of those beautifully nasty parasites already out in the world!

Does everyone in the gnoph-universe have a gnoph?

No, infection is actually pretty rare. There's a small endemic zone, but people are now immunized against wild type infections (much as people are trying to make an anti-malaria vaccine today). I suppose that doesn't come through in the comic, though, since so many of the main characters are hosts!

How have the gnophs affected the social, political, etc structure of the comic's worlds? Where did they come from, are they native to Abbey's reality?

Hoo-boy! I'm not sure how much of this I can answer without giving out spoilers. In short, human gnoph infections didn't occur until an expanding, industrialized population tried to put down plantations in the gnoph endemic zone. Infections ensued, lots of gross diseases and deaths took place, and then someone figured out that certain infections were actually beneficial. Sorta.

Zip ahead about one hundred years, and gnophs have been bred and are used in a variety of military, industrial, and research projects. “Wild” gnophs have been pretty well eliminated (think smallpox eradication, if you will), and genetic research now makes it possible to fine-tune gnoph strains. The deleterious side effects (early death, tissue destruction, etc.) are kept to a minimum by a constant drug regimen.

Until, of course, something goes tragically wrong, a sentient strain is created, and everyone infected with it goes crazy.

What happens when a host disagrees with their gnoph? Who wins out?

In “normal” infections the gnophs aren't sentient, so the gnoph can only do what the host wants it to do, and whatever unconscious effects the strain has bred into it. In those cases it's like having a mechanical implant. In the strain infecting William, however, the gnoph can win any time by simply destroying William's higher brain function and taking over his body entirely. But Lyss wouldn't do that, would she?

Are there any, you know, bad guy gnophs?

I suppose this depends strongly on your definition of a “bad guy.” There's Abbey's father, who went insane along with the rest of his strain and slaughtered an entire army and half of a country. Then there's Brad, who assassinates people to perpetuate fear and reliance upon a foreign government (his) in a rebellious population (and cheats on his girlfriends). And Abbey is a petty thief and murderess herself. William is a decent sort, but he did just kill and eat a woman. I think it would be better to ask if there are any “good guys”!

Okay, are there any good guy gnophs?

Leopold Tolstoy, for all that he's a governmental tool of repression.

I kind of get the impression that you really love your gnophs.

Yes, yes I do. Even Lyss, the spoiled little brat.

OK, enough about gross lung monsters. Let's talk about fantasy. How much did you plan out about the comic's worlds before you started?

To be honest, I had only planned out Gramercy (that's William's world). Abbey's world crept out of the woodwork and became an integral part of the plot only after I'd killed off William's family and started dealing more seriously with Abbey's near-death condition.

What interesting contrasts (besides psychic parasites) are there between their worlds and ours, or other traditional fantasy worlds?

Many fantasy worlds work off of a European and vaguely medieval base, and that's very much akin to William's world. Abbey's world, or at least the part of it in which the story is set, is dominated by dark-skinned people. I wanted to put William in a situation where he lost all of his accustomed power, so not only did I make it a country without nobles (he's a Duke) but he's now in the despised ethnic minority. Also, Abbey's world is somewhere in the 1970s middle east, and I don't think many stories try to use that setting. I've tried to avoid the more “traditional” fantasy elements, so there aren't any dragons or evil mad scientists on any of my planets.

And before you point out that I DO have evil mad scientists, I'd like to say that I don't think of any of them as “evil.” Misguided, morally ambiguous. . . but not about to craft a death-ray or anything like it. The worst of atrocities are started with the best of intentions (look up the Tuskegee syphilis study sometime if you want to be morally outraged).

Many fantasy world-builders focus on social concepts, but do you go into ethical, political or economic factors in your worlds?

Personally I'd say that all of those elements ARE social concepts! (laughs) I think I know what you mean, though. When I build a society I start with their history, and that usually means which cultures have been attacking each other and which are primarily agrarian, scientific, etc. When it comes to the story, though, I prefer to focus on the individual characters created by their social surroundings, since no culture is truly homogeneous.

One of the things I like about Gnoph is how quickly things move along. How is it you're able to ‘cram in’ so much without making the pages seem overloaded?

By overloading some pages and dropping important plot points and character development, of course! Actually, this question sort of surprised me, since I tend to feel as though the story is moving too slowly. It's probably an artefact of how I plan the story, which is where I have certain things that I want to have happen, and then free-style how the characters are going to get there.

Are there things you planned (or at least really like) that Gnoph's readers are probably never going to know unless you tell them yourself?

William was called a “coward” by everyone in his homeland because in his first battle he panicked and ran away. And that's similar to what happened when he is introduced into the story, only this time he managed to get shot twice before making it off the field.

Also, all of the gnophs are named after their key attributes. “Scut” means “shield” (think “escutcheon” ) and “Lyss” means “madness or dissolution” (think “lysis” ). The last name “Klag” came about because I had accidentally misspelled the sound effect “klang” in an early battle scene and didn't want to re-draw the page.

Any scrapped ideas?

(Smiles) PLENTY! For example, in the very first chapter the boy who became William Klag stumbles up to Abbey and after a moment falls face-down in a river. He was originally DEAD on that panel due to the arrow wounds, and didn't have any part in the story. The poor fool refused to die, however, despite the number of times I've tried to kill/write him out of the story since then. Oh, and Abbey's father was originally a Caucasian. And Brad (another now-important character) was originally a walk-on walk-off bit of ambience. The list goes on, mostly of characters who were never part of the story but have written themselves into the plot. Cheeky twerps.

Too much exposition is the bane of comic writers - how do you get across fantasy concepts without using it much?

I cheat, and use tricks such as when I have gnoph genetics explained by a geneticist on a blackboard to the other characters (chapter 13). I usually find exposition unnecessary, though, since I rely upon my readers being psychically skilled at reading my mind and understanding what madness is unfolding on the pages.

What's your favourite part about working with your fantasy worlds?

I love transcribing my dreams as stories, and my dreams rarely take place in a sensible universe.

Of the various worlds you've created (in Gnoph or others), in which one would you most want to live, and why?

Cockroach Theater. It may be insane, but at least it has talking cockroaches and romantically impossible pirates!

I don't think that I could survive in any of my other worlds.
  IT'S OLD BATMAN
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:41PM
anonymousposterchild at 12:10PM, March 18, 2008
(offline)
posts: 444
joined: 1-2-2006
In an attempt to blow all your minds, I have one thing to say about Gnoph:

It is one of the best comics on this site, why the hell aren't you reading it?
Official DrunkDuck curmudgeon
last edited on July 14, 2011 10:53AM
Exzachly at 3:59PM, April 2, 2008
(online)
posts: 565
joined: 4-21-2007
<3 for Gnoph
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:25PM

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