Rewilding is the concept of taking a denuded or human-damaged landscape and reintroducing native plants and animals that used to occupy the land. The reintroduction of beavers to waterways across the UK has transformed the way that water is flowing across the island, and is allowing ecosystems that were previously imperilled to recover. In places like the UK and Europe, were the wildlife and ecosystems have been under attack for 1000 years, the reintroduction and nurturing of the more-than-human environment can be a way to improve ecosystem health. I am interested in finding ways of storytelling that are rewilding in nature. Rejecting the idea that you need to wander alone in pristine wilderness to feel attached and rooted to the places and beings around you, I hope to develop ways to tell stories that can allow people to integrate themselves as part of the web of life around them. This was the aim of my imaginary menagerie series.
The Imaginary Menagerie is an exercise in applying the idea that fantastic imagination can be used not as a solution – but as a way of easing and loosening ideas from a seemingly impossible situation. Imagination as a way of finding a path forward in an awful and traumatised present. This is borne from the battered landscape of my disabled body, and taken to places that are considered broken or neglected. In this sense, creating the Imaginary Menagerie is an act of rewilding in two ways: First, because I am introducing a more-than-human lifeforce within a broken landscape in a magic realist way. The stories I’m telling are about reintroducing the animal in my imagination, I’m trying not to romanticise or anthropomorphise the animals I’m inventing. They are not pets, nor are they all knowing, all powerful or mythical. Second, because I am actively resisting the idea that the way of engaging with these places requires me to be purely rational. A lot of the creatures that spring to mind are improvised, and I engage with the place and the story based on instinct. I make sure I am aware of my body and my surroundings as I move through the settings of my stories.
The other part of graphic narrative design is of course the visual element of storytelling. The materiality of crafting and designing is an integral part of if your narrative is going to be extractive or rewilding. An extractive narrative sees a place and a setting at face-value. The creator consumes what is necessary: They may import inks of a perfect colour, scout to find the perfect setting, use page after page of paper in order to make sure the hand-written work is just right. What I’m finding as I make these zines is that I’m consistently limiting myself to what resources are around me at the time. I use what’s there, not what I would like to be there, nor what I can import and use to perfectly mirror what’s there. In doing so, I find crafting an integral part of my practice: I’ve woven plastic bags, pressed flowers and leaves, crushed ochre, leaves, seeds and ash to make ink. These methods are a way of connecting to and accepting my role within the ecosystem that I’m storytelling within. The approaches that I’m taking are all about working creatively within the material limits of the place, in order to tell the story.
If you’ve ever watched a beaver build a dam, I’d say we’d have a few things in common.