Last year, we reviewed a rather strange title from the good folk at SelfMadeHero entitled The Motherless Oven, our review of which you can read here. We recently managed to have a chat with the book’s author – Rob Davis, where we discussed kitchen sink dramas, being on the verge of freedom, and potential trilogies…
AP2HYC: Hi Rob! To kick things off, can you give our readers a brief overview as to what The Motherless Oven is about?
Rob Davis: The Motherless Oven is the story of Scarper Lee, a teenager who knows he has just three weeks left to live, this is because in Scarper’s world everyone knows their Death Day. We follow Scarper through his last days alive and discover more about his upsidedown world, where it rains knives, where parents are made by children and can take any form, from abstract beasts to walking hairdryers, and where the streets are policed by pensioners in jalopies. Scarper is swept off his feet by the new girl at school, the mysterious Vera Pike, and takes off on an adventure with her and the oddball Castro Smith in search of Scarper’s brass sailing father who blew away in a storm.
AP2HYC: The Motherless Oven strikes me has having a lot of dry, sarcastic wit and fuses that with an immensely odd set-up of children creating their parents – not to mention the actual plot. How exactly did something as idiosyncratic as The Motherless Oven come about?
Davis: I wanted to do something new, create some new metaphors. I thought this was the best way to take a fresh look at something that has been written about many times – growing up. I also wanted to free the story from the familiar and from nostalgia. The book is about how it feels to be that age rather than how it seems when we look back at it through rose-tinted glasses. This meant I had to defamiliarise the reader and make things as shocking and strange as they are when we first encountered them.
AP2HYC: Did you always have it in your mind that you would both write and draw the novel?
Davis: It’s always been my intention to write and draw, so I can have absolute control over my vision. Writing a script for someone else to draw or drawing someone else’s script loses the organic growth of an idea that I believe is important to comics if you want a true blend of words and pictures. It works for some types of comic, and very well, I don’t think it would produce the kind of work I want to do.
AP2HYC: The black-and-white, sketch-like artwork of the book compliments its mood well, how did you decide what kind of artwork would suit the story, and vice-versa?
Davies: I felt colour would be too seductive and would let the fantastical elements take over. I’m a big fan of British black and white kitchen sink movies of the early sixties and old black and white book illustration and comics. I felt that a black and white world would bind the ordinary and the fantastical together and give it a stark reality.
AP2HYC: One element that struck me about The Motherless Oven was that Scarper, Vera and Castro all present themselves as rather normal young adults who inhabit a very strange world, perhaps best embodied by the book’s cover. How did you go about mixing the ordinary with the fantastic?
Davis: The book treats the fantastical as ordinary and the ordinary as fantastical. The characters are on the verge of freedom which is where angst is born. It’s as depressing as it is liberating. Their environment reflects that. I wanted to create a sense of infinite potential and crushing realisation. We all reach that threshold in our teenage years and I didn’t want to let readers off the hook by just giving them a fantasy. I use fantasy to get closer to reality.
AP2HYC: The Motherless Oven ends with what appears to be a rather open-ended climax. Can we expect to see more of Scarper and co. or you any other projects you’re working on at the moment?
Davis: Yes. There is more to come, but this book is Scarper’s story and its ending is in keeping with Scarper’s world view. It can be read as a self contained story with its own ending even though it was conceived as the first part of a trilogy.