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OLIVER BLY
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DF Interview: Oliver Bly is making the future fungal with new graphic novel ‘The Mushroom Knight’

 

By Byron Brewer

 

A chivalrous faerie mushroom embarks on a quest to uncover a clandestine threat that has brought calamity to his magical woodland kingdom.

 

An adolescent girl from northwest Philadelphia desperately searches for her lost dog.

 

As their destinies coalesce, a whimsical friendship forms. But peril is nigh, and their respective journeys threaten to challenge the foundation of their realities… and reality itself.

 

David the Gnome meets David Lynch in The Mushroom Knight, a boundary-crossing ecological fantasy filled with humor, horror, depth and delight from artist/writer Oliver Bly. I spoke with Oliver about the coming graphic novel, his first true work for the comic book medium.

 

Byron Brewer: Oliver, like many I am fascinated about the fable you are spinning in your coming graphic novel, The Mushroom Knight. I know this is a debut of sorts for you, correct?

 

Oliver Bly: Correct. I am an animator by profession, and through that path I’ve worked on several narrative projects— short films, features, music videos, and so on, all the while working on little comic proposals in my spare time, practicing. So outside of a few pages here or there over the years, The Mushroom Knight is my first work in comics.

 

Byron: Is The Mushroom Knight a recent fancy or has it been brewing a while on the backburner? What was your inspiration for the book?

 

Oliver Bly: The Mushroom Knight made his public debut at the Keystone Comic Con back in 2018, when I was a part of their artist in residence spotlight, promoting Philly artists. Gowlitrot (the book’s main character) decorated my banner, and I sold prints of him, which all went very quickly. I also handed out postcards promoting it as a webcomic “coming soon.” Fortunately/unfortunately, I found myself saturated in animation work, and so developing the project was slow going while I leapt from job to job. So that “coming soon” took six years to answer!

 

Inspiration for the book came from a lot of angles, namely my fascination with ecology—that is, the study of relationships between different organisms and their physical environments, and psychology—the study of the goings ons inside the human mind. Those two schools are deeply interconnected. So at its heart, The Mushroom Knight is about relationships, the ecology of the mind and the ecology of the natural and spiritual world.

 

At the time, I was living next to The Wissahickon in Philadelphia, which is a sprawling woodland, where I’d hike often and commune with friends, human and otherwise. The juxtaposition, the tension, of that immersive biome pressed hard against the stone and concrete and callousness of the human city, was fuel for the imagination. The story grew there, its genesis is there, in the dirt and in the car horns.

 

Byron: Tell readers about the imaginative canvas on which you will be dropping them in March with the book’s on-sale. Tell us a little bit about this world you built for this fanciful tale.

 

Oliver Bly: Well, it’s a weird one, undoubtedly, especially at the start of the story. Which I should say, this volume is not just the start of the story, it’s the start of the start of the story.

 

The fantasy concept of the story is pretty simple. There’s an invisible world of gnomes, trolls, and other fae spirit creatures overlapping our world. They look like you’d sort of think they’d look in a fairytale, but there is something a little alien about some of them, a little spooky, and a little sacred, as if maybe they represent entities that are a bit more complex than their cartoony exteriors portray.

 

They are invisible because humans evolved not to see them, or they evolved so as to be hidden from us, depending on your perspective. A young girl on the verge of adulthood manages to break through, someway or another, and make contact. And so things start to happen.

 

Byron: Introduce us to your protagonists: a mushroom faerie and an adolescent girl from Philadelphia. What can you tell us about them, individually and their chemistry (from the perception of you, the creator) as they come together?

 

Oliver Bly: Gowlitrot is the mushroom faerie. He’s a very prim and proper sort of creature, eccentric and interested, very curious and eager, but also a bit naive, in spite of his intelligence. His work is to protect his woodland from invasive species of plants and animals, and he enjoys his work.

 

Lemuelle, or Lem, is the human girl. When we meet her, she’s at this precipice in life, where she’s trying to hold onto some of the fantasies of childhood, and scared about falling into reality as it is, to perceive life without the training wheels on, which is also a problem a lot of adults have. She’s musically talented, but particularly self-conscious, and particularly afraid.

 

And both Gowlitrot and Lemuelle are alone, and in grief over recent circumstances, and very, very confused. It’s in confusion that they meet, and they are united in a shared broken heart. To me, Gowlitrot is Lemuelle’s Holy Guardian Angel, in an Abramelin the Mage kind of way. And Lemuelle is Gowlitrot’s.

 

Byron: What other imaginative characters dominate this sphere? Can you spotlight a few of them here?

 

Oliver Bly: Yes, the woodlands of the Wissahickon are primarily inhabited by small blue gnomish creatures that I call Gödels. They have hidden towns, governments, and infrastructures, and a few of them become main characters in the book, alongside Gowli and Lem.

 

There’s The Chief, who is the Chieftain of Green Central Command, a sort of gnome municipal parks department, that employs Tridipids like Gowlitrot to keep the ecosystem in tip top shape.

 

I should also say that Gowlitrot is not a Gödel, but a Tridipid, a species of sentient bipedal fungal creatures created by the Gödels, similar to how we might create sentient androids someday. There is some tension between the Gödels and Tridipids, and maybe a little distrust of each other.

 

So in this first part of the story, we will primarily meet Gödels and Tridipids. But we will hear mention of another species… Trolls. The story begins many decades after a great war, where Trolls were banished from the woodlands. But there are growing rumors of shaggy sinister shadows, feasting in the dark.

 

Byron: Behind the fantasy trappings, I perceive real messages. Not a usual question, but is there any “message” you hope readers take away from your graphic novel.

 

Oliver Bly: Less a message, maybe, than an invitation. This is a very “follow me” kind of story. It’s surreal. The magical systems used by the fantasy characters have their genesis in concepts of memory and consciousness, and so the narrative, especially at the jump, is impressionistic, on purpose. Kind of a collection of tone poems that together, I think, have some magic for the unconscious in them, a way of speaking, through the back door.  It is a spell.

 

I tend to divide us humans into three parts—the intellectual center, the emotional center, and the spiritual/intuitive center. This story befuddles the intellectual center, a bit, in this first book, because befuddlement and confusion are the first steps on the path to wisdom. They are also the initiative states of perception, and they are the states we find our main characters in—overwhelmed, unsure, and unable to make sense of all the pieces. Where is the logic of the illogical world? Or will it make sense, if we could see the whole thing? I think this is actually the way most of us feel, often, but we don’t spend too much time here in fiction because there’s nothing a brain hates more than a knot it feels it’s entitled to untie, but can’t. But we are more than just our brains— so there’s a message for you! We mustn't let intellect be the sole guardian of our gates, its biases are just too severe.

 

Ultimately I think we will not be able to fix the outside ecosystems of our natural world and global governing systems until we reckon with the inside ecosystems of human consciousness and personality, individually, and collectively as a species. When it’s all said and done, The Mushroom Knight, if I get to finish this story, will lead us in, around, and through this process, through the macrocosm and into the micro, from the soil into the stars above.

 

Byron: Talk about working as both artist and writer on The Mushroom Knight.

 

Oliver Bly: It’s a holistic act, and satisfying, but also lonely. I like collaboration, and the things we make as a team can sometimes be far better than our individual efforts. But it is also really really lovely to dream, and to think, and then to draw, because I really get to work out those three aspects of being that I mentioned above, in different ways, and experience a real intimacy of creation that’s reserved for solo artists.

 

I’ve always liked the idea of the cartoonist, the newspaper strip artist. Philosophers with hedonistic cats and trickster dogs as ambassadors of their ruminations. I’m enjoying that role, and what it looks like in our current time and place.

 

Byron: Oliver, do you have any other upcoming projects you can tell readers about? 

 

Oliver Bly: I am hard at work drawing the next installment of The Mushroom Knight. This first release does a lot of planting. The next one does a lot of growing.

 

I’m excited for the fruit to come.

 

Dynamic Forces would like to thank Oliver Bly for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Mushroom Knight OGN from Mad Cave Studios is slated to be on sale March 5, 2024!

  



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