Writing about the environment is a tricky subject. The concept is esoteric right out of the gate: the word “environment” just refers to your locale, where you live, but add the definitive article and suddenly “the environment” refers to all of it: Planet Earth, Terra Firma, home. Thing is, the underlying sentiment is never “the environment” as in “this place we share with millions of other living things in an attempt to negotiate something resembling ecological harmony”. The underlying sentiment, instead, is “our environment” as in “this place we were given by virtue of divine right or natural selection to rule as we see fit and more or less ruin for everybody.” I’m not going to hop on a soapbox and start dictating stentorian from the mount about this stuff because I think we can all agree that we’ve kind of bollocksed up “the/our environment” to the point where nobody can really argue the fact. However, it’s worth it to note how difficult environmental issues can be to tackle head on, which is what makes Earth Dream such a potentially interesting project.
In short: indie publisher 7 Robots puts out a big-ass anthology every year full of short stories dealing with environmental issues and the associated mandatory clarion call for social awareness. They pull together indie artists from all over the globe to contribute sci-fi/fantasy stories with this shared theme. There are eleven stories in this years’ effort, coming in at over 80 pages (which is pretty generous since the whole thing is available for free as a web download only). And since I’ve agreed not to harp on the environment stuff, I’m going to take a look at these stories like they’re just stories, rather than stories entertaining an agenda. And since there eleven of them, I’m just going to record my overall impressions or we’ll be here until our eco-friendly vegan chakra candles burn out.
Anthologies are always of interest to me because I’m the kind of guy who gravitates toward the sampler platter at pubs. It’s not that I don’t want to commit to a full plate of nachos (I LOVE nachos), it’s just that I like to eke out as much experience as possible from a limited time as I can, and if I can have nachos but also jalapeno poppers and onion rings and cheesy potato bites, why wouldn’t I want to maximize my flavour experience? Also, I’m now hungry. Earth Dream is a healthy vegan platter that offers the crisp marinated tofu of brevity (since the stories average out to about six pages apiece), the hearty, protein-rich hummus of visually entertaining panels with plenty of mood and/or colour depending on the tone of the vignette, and of course the somewhat haughty sense of self-satisfaction that comes from knowing the platter you’re enjoying is 100% organic and sourced from independent writers. This is, in short, a little slice of hippie heaven packaged digitally to save trees.
The only place this platter loses a star in the Yelp rating for me is the writing itself, but before you start sticking flowers in the end of my gun, hear me out. I said at the beginning of this little tome that writing about the environment is hard to do, and it is. Anybody who grew up in the same era I did will remember focusing fairly heavily on environmental issues in grade school since all that nonsense in the Persian Gulf was leaving us with more tarred sea life than we could shake a SCUD missile at. And it wasn’t as though we didn’t take that sort of thing seriously, despite being probably a little too young to fully grasp what was up. It’s just that… well, let’s face it: it’s tough to make environmental issues sexy. Sure, Alicia Silverstone doffing her duds to protest fur coats isn’t anything to snark at, but as a general rule, the overall face of the environmental movement calls to mind David Suzuki, and as much as I like that guy, sexy would be a stretch.
It’s the same thing with writing about these issues. It’s almost impossible not to fall into one of two camps: the Al Gore doom-and-gloom approach where we basically agree we’re all fucked and there’s not much to be done other than use up the remaining coal and wait for the acid rain to dig our graves for us, or the warm-and-fuzzy approach that urges all of us to hold hands and form a drum circle under the shelter of Father Oak while we macrame lean-to shelters and braid each other’s leg hair.
To its credit, Earth Dream tries mightily to avoid those tropes (except for where it doesn’t) and I think the comic medium is a smart choice for the messaging because the pretty indie art helps to balance the sometimes-preachy narratives. Ultimately I’m hardly going to pan a collaborative project put out into the world free of charge with an eye towards social conscience and progressive environmental conduct. In situations like this I say it’s the thought that counts, and the creators attached to this project have clearly put a lot of thought into what they’ve committed to the digital realm, and it’s clear they really believe in the agenda they’re trying to forward. It’s not high art, true, but it doesn’t need to be: its cultural aspirations are already pure as the driven snow. And seriously, who outside a Captain Planet villain would argue with a thing like that?