SEATTLE — A new graphic novel uses real locations in and around Seattle as the backdrop for a fantastical story about genetically-modified mutants.
The Cloven, published by Seattle-based Fantagraphics, was written by best-selling author Garth Stein and drawn by Matthew Southworth. He agreed to do the illustrations partly because of the locations.
"When I realized how localized I could make it, how much it could really be Seattle,” he said.
Their previous work also showcases the Pacific Northwest. Southworth’s comic book series Stumptown is now a network TV show, and Stein's New York Times bestselling book The Art of Racing in the Rain became a movie.
But The Cloven is a bit more fantastical: the main character is a cross between a human and a goat.
"It's the story of essentially these mutant experiments that have been abandoned and have gone on to propagate in the woods around Seattle, and in Seattle itself,” Stein said. “Where do you hide in Seattle if you're different, if you're a mutant? You hide in the margins, you hide where people just don't want to look."
That includes homeless encampments in The Jungle. The book has underlying themes about income inequality and marginalized groups.
But there's also a lot of inventive humor.
"A great example is what does a goat sound like? How do you write out a goat's bleat?" Southworth said.
They settled on “Mbehh,” a new word they hope will someday be as ubiquitous as “moo.”
The book also features Seattle locations like Freeway Park, Pioneer Square, Volunteer Park, Roosevelt High School, Einstein Middle School (where Stein went to school,) Mount Pilchuck and Vashon Island, where genetically-modified babies are born in a lab.
"Everything weird happens on Vashon Island, as we all know,” Stein joked.
If The Cloven is a love letter to Seattle, it's admittedly a complicated one.
"It's a couple's therapy session with the city,” Southworth said.
Their collaboration spanned two years, and Book Two is already in the works.
"There's a lot of depth to the story, I think,” Stein said. “But if you want to read it as a fun romp through Seattle, by all means, start there."
The Cloven is available at Fantagraphics book store and online.