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The Lost Gardens (review and interview)

Writer : James Babineau

Artist : Caius Schereiner, Debora Lancianese

Colorist : Michael Woods

Letterer : Rob Jones

Rabbit Hole Studios, 2020-2022

A few hints, a lot left unanswered, questions that pile up over other questions, and the innocence of not knowing nor really understanding what is going on… although, truth be said, we can see that there is a structure under all this fog.

The tease. A necessary staple of many a tale, mystery is, per se, a tool that builds up on the assumption that we are not given enough information, while the little we have is not sufficient to dispel the magic of it all. On the contrary, the scarcity of that kind of “right information” is such that we are left wanting more, trying to untangle something that seems unable to conform to logic. The writer knows the truth. We are simply denied access, or else there would be no fun in discovering what is really going on. Mystery, then, is more than just a simple trope, a narrative gimmick that is used to entice the readers and enthral them. It is, sometimes, a necessity, an element that is part and parcel of the story we are being told.

Writer James Babineau’s story The Lost Garden is set in a world that is like ours (or, is it actually our future one?). It revolves around the idea that some things are not what they appear to be. No spoiler, here, as this topic is presented right from the start, a first issue that begs us to delve into a futurist environment where people are divided into classes depending on their credits. Status is a by-product of how much we can spend. There is for this reason a strong dichotomy as we are transported into another environment. A forest serves as a counterbalance to the hypertechnogical city our main character is supposed to be living in. How we move from one place to the other and how they are connected is, of course, part of the mystery.

The structure of the tale, then, has readers question more than once what is real and what is not. In what is actually an interplay between reality and unreality, there arises a plethora of sub-topics that concur to the development as much, of course, of the story as of the feeling of uncertainty that pervades the pages. There is no reason to doubt that our minds are being bent and sent into different directions. But it is also true that the maze is first and foremost a means towards appreciating a story whose narration, be it words or panels, does not shy away from making us feel uncomfortable regarding what is, after all, the straightforward nature of reality. Reality, as philosophers and scientists can attest, less obvious than we’d like to believe.

An unsettling read in what it presents the reader, The Lost Gardens is also a mixture of sci-fi, horror (both psychological and physical), adventure, and of how dreams and memories are interwoven into our present reality. It leaves us asking questions, which is perhaps one of the many desiderata a good story teller wants for their audience. By eschewing a safer path that might detract from originality, it keep us wondering how it all is going to unfold, and what kind of unexpected developments are going to take place.

Interview with creator James Babineau

WCBR : Let’s start with a question concerning the structure of your story. How important is, in your opinion, the “mystery” factor? By not giving the reader a clear picture of what is going on, we are left experiencing the same sense of chaos as the main character. We are not just reading a story, we are immersed in it.

James : Mystery is a big part of it, I want the readers to be searching for the answers alongside Shawn Myers, our protagonist. There are world and story details deliberately set up in a way that will make the reader have those moments where they sit back and wonder exactly what they read. The reward for readers is going to be eventually piecing together the puzzle. Details referred to early on that may seem to have no real significance or bearing on the plot may come back and reward the reader’s curiosity or investigation. The ultimate goal of this series is to immerse readers in a mysterious journey that takes you to different places and ideas that would regularly seem quite obtuse and possibly not fit. For example, elements of the science fiction variety mingle with elements of fantasy. Two genres are often kept in two very different and separate relations.

WCBR : There seems to be a bit of P. K. Dick in the story. The paranoia, the futuristic look, the loss of identity, all of them make us feel lost. What are your main inspirations? Is Dick’s vast production one of them?

James : Especially in the brainstorming and world building phase of the project, there is a bit of P.K. Dick material that seeps into my creative membrane. His short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and the theatrical adaptation of his work in the form of “Blade Runner” definitely have a creative foundation. I’ve been reading comics since I was in junior high, and that’s when I discovered Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” and I was blown away. I haven’t left the world of comics since, and I still frequent my local shop weekly getting all the new goodies. George Orwell’s “1984” was a definitive novel I read growing up and will always be a top favorite of mine. Dystopian fiction has definitely been a core influencer in shaping my creative drives as a whole.

WCBR : By playing with our sense of reality, the series delves into what is the meaning of being real and being fake. Would you say this topic has all to do with fiction and the creation of imaginary worlds, or can it also be linked to our reality, to the way we perceive it? Are we back to Descartes’ dilemma as to whether we can prove the world to be real or not?

James : Descartes’ had a lot on his mind, and I’m sure we all wrestled with that very question he pondered. Who hasn’t after a late night sat down and wondered “am I just a brain floating in a jar”, and hopefully it’s not just me. In many ways perception is reality. If enough people believe one thing, it can in some ways become true. For example, money is just paper we as a society have deemed to have monetary value. Someone who has never seen money or the concept would see it as a useless slip of paper, possibly good for wallpaper. It’s the same as gold. On a societal level many cultures place shiny metal as the most valuable object in the world. If enough people believe it, it becomes true. Why do you think governments use propaganda? It can be good or bad, but it’s largely effective at getting large masses of people to believe. “I think, therefore I exist.” That’s something anyone can accept widely, but everything else is malleable and can be changed. In “The Lost Gardens” readers are dealing with that very idea: Is anything real? Shawn is looking for something real, but will he ever find it? That’s a question only time will tell.

WCBR : Memories seem to play an important role. We see our main character, for instance, recall part of his past. What is the role of such flashbacks? Apart from giving the character a rounder shape, if we take into account the theme of reality vs unreality, what is the role of remembering? The images we see in our mind refer to a past that is no more, don’t they? How real are memories, then?

James : Memories are as real as we make them to be. There’s an amazing line from “Westworld”, it’s likely not the birthplace of such a phrase, but I heard it there and it goes: “You live as long as the last person who remembers you.” The past gives us a glimpse into someone’s life, and not only can it round out a character, but the very memories you are seeing are deliberately placed. Is this because character’s such as, Shawn, are thinking about such memories after being inspired, or are there malevolent forces also influencing the very memoires individual’s cherish and hold sacred. It ties back to the question of, what is real? If your memories can be fraudulent, then doesn’t that make you fraudulent. We are what the past makes us in the present and that’s why flashbacks serve a literary function. They tell us important details of a character’s past, but they can be deliberately placed to manipulate the readers themselves.

WCBR : The difference between the two main settings, the hypertechnological city and the village in the forest, is stark. Do you think we are bound to have such contrast in our near future? A divide between Nature and Technology leading, perhaps, to a dystopia? 

James : That’s a very interesting hypothetical. I think there are people who would resist a world changing for the hypertechnical. Those people will fight against the tide of change until they drown. We see that today in simple ideas and beliefs that can split a world into defined camps. If you believe that the world is zero-sum, there must always be a winner and a loser, and even a utopia is built on the backs of those who lost to it. Dystopias in some ways feel outlandish and unrealistic to many, but what the genre highlights is the reality that it may not be so outlandish and unrealistic as it appears to be on the surface. In “The Lost Gardens” we see a world that has delved deep into cybernetic enhancements and have basically surrendered their individual rights to a technocratic corporate nightmare. Is that idea outlandish? Based on the increased use of technology in our daily lives and the power monopolistic corporations hold today, I don’t necessarily think so. There will be people who fight against that. If our world played out such as “The Lost Gardens”, I think there would be two defined camps.