Pat Grant’s graphic novel The Grot was published by Top Shelf Productions in 2020 and is a collaboration with the artist Fionn McCabe. It is the first of three books that together form the collection The Story of the Swamp City Grifters. Grant wanted to tell a story about con-artists but was facing the problem that in our modern time most of the scamming happens online. Since he thought a story that mainly takes place on the internet would not be interesting enough, he wanted to come up with a different, but still modern setting. Therefore, he created a dystopian Australia ‘ravaged by a plague, filled with con-artists swindling others in a world where people are scrambling for resources and constantly taking a crack at hitting big and becoming rich’. (Petras, 2020) A place called Falter City becomes a magnet for people who are looking to make a fortune, but instead, they are confronted with disease, greed, and foul play.
The reason for the downfall of the world as we know it is not mentioned in the visual narrative. Similarly, the reader does not get to know the details about why people can get so rich in Falter City. It becomes clear that there is a special type of algae that is very valuable. Ryan Carey suggests that the world in Pat Grant’s graphic novel has changed so drastically because of climate change, and that the algae might be some kind of energy source. (Carey, 2020) The world Grant creates may also remind the reader of the North American Gold Rush, during which people also left everything behind to travel across the country in the hope of becoming rich.
In Pat Grant’s graphic novel The Grot, the reader follows the two brothers Lipton and Penn, who make their way to Falter City with their mother and plan on becoming rich by selling medicinal yogurt. On their journey, it becomes clear very quickly that their hopes might be naïve and that life in the swam is very dangerous due to a plague, a lot of fraud, and horrific work conditions. Lipton and his family receive multiple warnings. For example, when they arrive in Falter City a lot of people are waiting at the harbor. A man tells them: ‘Most of them are trying to leave. Not everyone gets rich out here and if you can’t afford the ticket then the only way back is to work your way back… fight for a spot on the pedal deck.’ (Grant, 2020) But the family is blind to all the warning signs and so full of greed that they choose to ignore the misery that is surrounding them everywhere in this hostile environment.
The relationship between Lipton and Penn is full of tension and mistrust, and in an interview, Grant stated that he is very interested in sibling relationships. The two can be seen as dual protagonists. While Lipton is trying to make his mother proud and succeed, Penn is not really interested in setting up their business. They spent most of their time in Falter City separated from one another but are both outsmarted by con-artists in the end. (Carey, 2020)
Grant’s first graphic novel Blue, which was published in 2013, already made it clear that the artist is not afraid to present unsympathetic and disagreeable protagonists. While Lipton seems quite naïve but could still be seen as a sympathetic character, his brother Penn, his mother, and basically every other character are far from likable. For example, Lipton’s mother states that she wants her son to profit from the diseases that are killing many people in Falter City. (Grant, 2020)
Pat Grant’s art style is very unique and contributes a lot to the uneasy feeling that the reader is left with after finishing the story. The artist uses mainly brown, green, red, and yellow in his panels. These muddy and earthy tones create a discomforting and dense atmosphere. In addition, Grant is not afraid to show ugliness, which adds to the unpleasant feeling. The artist has been praised by critics for his drawings. For example, Carey wrote: ‘These pages don’t just look good, they look great – and while no art is “perfect” in and of itself, this art is perfectly and uniquely suited to tell this story.’ (Carey, 2020)
Other than the specific art style, another quality of the graphic novel lies in its very authentic dialogues. Grant manages to remind the reader of the Australians ‘characteristically blunt method of communication and inherently wry sense of humor […].’ (Carey, 2020)
In terms of the topic of migration, one could say that The Grot is very different from the other visual narratives that we discussed in our class – the main difference being the reasons and motivations behind migration. While we got to know a lot of comics and graphic novels where people are forced to relocate, the families in The Grot move because they want to make a fortune. Therefore, we also have a different social composition in Falter city than in the spaces where other visual narratives take place. In most of those, we have a small group of migrants that comes to a foreign place, where there is already an established community living. This often leads to tensions between the two groups. In Falter City on the other hand, it seems that almost everybody is a migrant. Still, with the following quote, it becomes clear that this place also has a history of repression of other cultures: “Here they are…the five islands. Each island used to have an indigenous name but no-one remembers those.” (Grant, 2020) This quote, among other, shows that Grant is also subtly criticizing society.
Grant, Pat. The Grot. Top Shelf, 2020.
Belinda, Yohana. “The Grot“, A Telltale of Con Artists during Pandemic by Pat Grant. thedisplay.net, 2020. (https://thedisplay.net/2020/06/15/the-grot-pat-grant/)
Carey, Ryan. Swamp Thing: Ryan Carey Reviews The Grot By Pat Grant. solrad.com, 2020. (https://solrad.co/swamp-thing-ryan-carey-reviews-the-grot-by-pat-grant)
Petras, Matt. Pat Grant, ‘The Grot,’ and the difficult, demanding task of creating a graphic novel. sequentialstories.com, 2020. (https://sequentialstories.com/2020/07/29/pat-grant-the-grot-and-the-difficult-demanding-task-of-creating-a-graphic-novel/)