TRUE SWAMP by Jon Lewis

Field Guide

LENNY THE FROG once wished for a little free time just to think and be. Soon, he was wishing he could stop thinking, or be someone else. His job as Hale’s assistant was the only thing that ever helped his anxious mind. Then Nikolas showed up. Now all Hale’s time is taken up with Nikolas on some mystery experiment, with Lenny left out to dry. Years ago, Lenny was taken to the City (a place most swampfolk only dream of seeing,) There he killed a human being. He’s pretty sure it was self-defense, but he tries hard not to think about it, and he’s never told anyone.

HALE MARMOT is the Swamp’s leading (possibly only) inventor. His lab is a tree cavity with adjoining coffee can and tortoise shell workspaces. Once, he painted Lenny like a colorful poison frog to get predators off his back. But it got Lenny netted by an amateur biologist who thought he was a novel species. Hale felt awful about that, and was happy to offer the troubled frog a job at his lab—Lenny is very dear to him and a hard worker, too. So why does Hale now spend all his lab time with Nikolas, leaving Lenny dangling in the breeze?

NIKOLAS sprouted up out of the soil one night, just like that. Lenny found him and brought him to Hale. He had no memories, no instincts, no species, but he soon displayed an astounding ability to talk to all types of fungus. Hale has capitalized fiercely on this talent; ‘Project Blue’ is now the lab’s prime focus. Lenny ought to hate Nikolas for usurping his assistant’s position, but you just can’t dislike this amiable, guileless grotesque. In fact, it was Lenny who dubbed him ‘Nikolas’-- Hale calls him ‘The Unknown Cocksucker’.

ZUCHENBERG, Hale’s notebook, is a storehouse of data, designs, dead ends and half-baked notions, all the things Hale’s forgotten and a few he’d swear he never knew in the first place. He’s a good scout, too—lately Hale’s been sending him to keep tabs on the increasingly neurotic Lenny.

MILN is another book: a non-fictional study of swampfolk’s differing beliefs and legends regarding death and the afterlife. Best estimate, she’s around two-thirds finished. Recently, she met a frog named Lenny who alluded to having been to the City. This could’ve been bullshit, but if true, it’s of the highest scholarly interest. She’s gonna follow up next time she runs into him. In the meantime, she’s staking out the den of Preggers and Sheen, a pair of rogues who have also been heard to boast of first-hand City experience. Miln’s specially cultivated ‘camofoliage’ allows for excellent hiding and eavesdropping.

MINSTER SUCREMONT knows all he needs to know about the City—it’s the crown of Creation, the holy goal atop the ladder of reincarnation. Sucremont is the current custodian of the Book of Science, originally dictated to a group of animals by the Biologist as he lay dying in the Swamp, and passed down orally from Minster to Minster over many generations. Anyone can pay the Minster a visit, and he’ll recite them their species’ entry from the Book-- every pious animal strives to embody the traits which Science assigns their species. Yes, there’s also a physical Book, stored under the Minster’s hill, a stack of sheets scratched upon by the Biologist as he spoke. But no animal can read human proses…

…except CARTUCCI. Or so Cartucci insists. Something happens when he stares at proses, anyway. Those spindly little shapes dance for him, take him places, show him things. Unsurprisingly, Cartucci is the Swamp’s biggest collector of bottle-caps, wrappers, scraps of newspaper, anything and everything with proses on it. The other day, he learned of the existence of the physical Book of Science under the hill, and now he can’t stop thinking about it. But how’s he gonna get these religious freaks to let him see it?

CHOPSTOCK is another mammal with a hobby that verges on a calling. Sound is his bag—the songs, grunts, screeches, rustles and squelches of the Swamp are every one of them won-derful and suggestive, just yearning to be commanded. There have been multispecies party bands in the swamp, vocal contests, storysingers… but nothing like what Chopstock dreams of.

Wizardry is surely more a calling than a hobby, but you wouldn’t think so to watch WALLACE in action. Don’t let his whimsies and caprices fool you, though-- he’s a sorcerer of tremendous skill and learning. His WALKING STICK is his constant companion; like Hale’s notebook Zuchenberg, Stick contains in his memory his master’s vast repertoire of incantations.

Every Eastern Newt starts life as an aquatic tadpole and grows up to be an aquatic adult, but in between they spend a crucial time on land as a bright red LITTLE EFT. It can take years of terrestrial wandering to find the right pond to call home, with no parents to advise you and no directions known. Yet many a grown newt afloat looks back on their efthood as the most exciting time of their life…

In the center of a dense thorn bush lies the club-house of THE DEADBERRY GANG. Aardtop the Kiwi, Esquisse the Smooth Snake, Trittence the Mouse, Boullier the Gray Tree Frog, Henka the Burrowing Owl, and D.G. the Banana Slug violate the conventions of the Swamp just by being friends; on top of that, they violate the convention of friend-ship itself by kind of hating each other half the time.

The FAIRIES’ magical abilities and close resemblance to human beings automatically earned them great respect from the animals, a status they abused by conspiring with the Anthill in a mutual power-grab. The scheme fell apart when Lenny the Frog ruined the Ants’ ultimate weapon, spurring them to savagely double-cross the Fairies. Now decimated and disgraced, the Fairies live simply by a brook, disciplining themselves in remembrance of and repentance for their folly.

The Anthill itself hasn’t been looked upon by any sane animal in many years. But the ANTS turn up in the damnedest places—sometimes in swarms, in which case you run, dig, fly or swim as fast as you can; sometimes singly, in which case you’d better wonder what they’re up to. An efficient and analytical collective consciousness which squanders no empathy on any other life form, the Anthill isn’t always violent in its initiatives, but is always motivated by sheer gain.

FUNGI are everywhere, seen and unseen, from the great fleshy shingles on the moist side of a tree to the delicate ruff of spores on a dead rodent’s tongue. They can think, and speak (at least to Nikolas,) but do they have desires? Are they one, like the Ants, or many like the beasts? Do they fear Death like everyone else, or are they its herald?

7 Comments »

  1. I loved your book back when it was around. I’m glad to see you’re back – I’ll try to spread the word!

    Comment by Patrick McEvoy — April 22, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

  2. Awesome!! One of the truly unique indy comics is back!

    Comment by John Dominguez — April 22, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

  3. indeed awesome!

    Comment by Scott Brown — April 23, 2010 @ 7:34 am

  4. so happy this is up!

    Comment by greeninquisitive — April 23, 2010 @ 9:56 am

  5. I’m psyched that you’re putting stuff online, Jon!

    Comment by Isaac — April 23, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

  6. I stumbled upon True Swamp in a comic book store when I was 16 and they blew my mind. I reread them when I was 28 and probably enjoyed them even more. Those 5 issues stand along side the run of Eightball as my favorite comics of all time. I didn’t even know about these two issues published in 2000 & 2001. I can’t wait to buy them from you on paypal. Cheers!

    Comment by jim — May 9, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  7. Jim, that’s so kind of you to say. Thank you.

    I think I might already be able to take paypal payments already– I just don’t have the buttons set up on the site. My address associated with my paypal is jonpatlew AT yahoo DOT com if you want to try it!

    Comment by joncroaker — May 12, 2010 @ 12:05 pm


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