Minis Monday: Unpopular Species

Posted by on October 25th, 2010 at 1:00 PM


Unpopular Species #1: Northeastern US
Unpopular Species #2: Southeastern US
Rick Silva and Gynn Stella
Black and white; 12 pp. each
Self-published; $1 each

Oddly enough, the Dalai Llama gets an assist as consumer advocate for my picking up this title. He once, in passing but effectively, spoke of the sanctity of all life, no matter how lowly, pestilential or step-on-able. He specifically chose to extol the humble if abundant creatures closest at hand: the ant with its unwavering devotion to selfless labor, the spider with its ability to create webs of surpassing beauty, etc.

So when I read this in the indicia of Unpopular Species: “And remember, just think of that big, hairy spider as a kitten with more legs,” I felt I had stumbled upon a kindred spirit to His Holiness on the indy spinner rack.

Actually, Unpopular Species is not a comic but an illustrated pamphlet. There are no sequential pictures and what lineal narration there is, lifecycles and the like, are carried in short essays which themselves are really little more than friendly composites of selected and intriguing facts.

These are not, exclusively anyhow, the icky bits of business that 12-year-old boys would find neat, like how long gray garden slugs can grow or just how many babies a momma wolf spider can carry around on her abdomen while hunting. Nor, at the other end of the spectrum, are they facts that an ecologist would marshal in order to demonstrate the place for the under-loved in the greater environmental Circle of Life. Rather, these are things worth knowing. (A snapping turtle can extend its head around to stretch halfway across its back to defend itself.) At worst, these nuggets would carry a degree of cachet within certain crowds. (I can’t wait to spring on my foodie friends the fact that an early edition of The Joy of Cooking had a recipe for opossum.)

Author Rick Silva’s prose is congenial and, on appropriate occasions, downright chummy. There’s no doctrinal axe being ground, although it is inescapable that humans by all rights really deserve to be the most unpopular species of all by dint of lunkheadedness alone. Without humans, the Burmese python and poison ivy probably wouldn’t rate a mention here, save for the former being dumped by uncaring owners in the Florida wilds and the latter for flourishing in the breaks and deprivations caused by overforestation.


©2009 Dandelion Studios.


Also inescapable, if more understated and unavoidably fundamental, is the conclusion that each unpopular species is worthy, with the proper lens, of begrudging regard if not outright wonder. However off-putting themselves, house centipedes live on greater nuisances such as bedbugs, termites, cockroaches and ants. My inner 12-year-old goes internally slack-jawed hearing the role of garter snake “she-males” and the news of such a procedure as apophallation and its consequences.

Choices are those of an equal opportunity naturalist, playing no favorites, spanning flora and fauna from molds to plants to insects to fish to reptiles and mammals (no birds in the series as yet). Entries get a single page each, except for, sensibly enough, rampaging kudzu.

The art by Gynn Stella is quite nice and even lovely but I’m at a loss as to exactly what I’m looking at in terms of process (my lack of clarity stems from Dave Sim’s Glamourpuss). On some pages, line-work can be exceedingly finely detailed and extremely realistic while on others it can be broken and jittery, as if pixilated through size alteration or mechanical reproduction of some sort. It is never less than serviceable and, as I say, tends toward the striking. I’d just like to know how much commendation I should be rendering.

I suppose I’d prefer to think that at the bottom it’s all the result of close observation and diligent handcraft because, as everybody who has done figure-drawing exercises knows, there’s nothing like that experience for focusing the attention and training the mind. From such attention and training may well arise the enhanced and intensified appreciation that elevates species of every stripe. I probably picked that notion up from the Dalai Lama as well.


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