by Jarrod Jones. We Are Here Forever is a story about us without us. Set in the far-flung future, the planet Earth learns how to heal itself after a long, ruinous existence with that rather pesky human race, who have collectively… disappeared? Left for other worlds? Self-destructed? We Are Here Forever doesn’t say, nor does its adorable leads, the Puramus, and that’s perfectly fine. These purple future mushes are far more amenable than us scruffy, huffy people-folk anyway. Let the secrets of We Are Here Forever beguile you if that’s what you want; the day-to-day exploits of the Puramaus are reason enough to get lost in this wonderful book by Michelle Gish.
That’s not to say that the Puramus are above the trappings of the human condition. They’re actually a lot like us in many ways: They’re curious little things, for one, prone to the perils of endeavor, the frustrations of wanting, the need for warmth and love and safety. They’re the new stewards of our home, the keepers of all our stuff, but they seem to take on the responsibility of these things with far more grace and care than we ever did. They live with love. They’d probably love you if they could. We Are Here Forever makes you want to be better by virtue of having met these wee critters.
Beginning as a webcomic back in 2016 and soon collected in a magnificent edition from Quirk Books, We Are Here Forever is Michelle Gish’s statement on the human condition and our place in the universe. And like its main leads, the story is innocuous, unassuming, gentle with its words but assiduous in its deeds.
Ahead of its July 30 release, DoomRocket spoke with Michelle about the wonderful world of We Are Here Forever and how the Puramus’ struggle to understand everything is not so different from our own.
1. If you would, please share with our readers the basic premise—or, failing that, the basic structure—of ‘We Are Here Forever’.
Michelle Gish: We Are Here Forever is about small purple creatures called the Puramus. They live on a post-apocalyptic, human-less Earth and the book (as well as the webcomic) shows their lives as a species across hundreds of years. The Puramus don’t know what happened or how they got there, so you follow them through multiple different stories as they learn about themselves and the humans that used to live on Earth.
2. One thing I can’t help but notice is that the Puramus appear to be primordial goop people and yet they’re frightfully evolved intellectually—for the most part, they apply reason when faced with adversity and they laud science, not magic, as the galvanizing force behind things. I suppose then I must ask: Is ‘We Are Here Forever’ your idealized vision of society? That if we strip the vestiges of dogma and fear from our lives, life might be more bearable?
MG: That’s a great question! The Puramus learn about human behavior through randomly selected books, so they don’t necessarily get the full scope of who humans truly are. They are inherently nice creatures! They treat each other with respect while loosely referencing books they find. I’m not sure if I find it to be my idealized vision of society, but they certainly have a good attitude that we can all learn from! Although it would be a very different story if (in the webcomic) the book Box gives King is more magical or spiritual, not scientific.
3. There’s a bit where the Puramus come across an array of television screens, which somehow switch on and frighten them. They see the “mean lights” as aggressive, and decide to destroy them with a giant rock. Might this scenario serve as a window into an overall philosophy, not just for the Puramus, but for us stuff-havin’ humans, as well—that, for peace of mind, we must crush the rude things (re: electronic distractions) with rocks?
MG: The television screens hurt their eyes because they are very sensitive to it! Any screen, such as TVs, phones, computers, etc., are painful for them to look at. It’s true that we as humans have too many things and it can get overwhelming at times. Electronic distractions are not always the best, although I recommend that you discard your electronics in a safe, environmentally friendly way! Rocks are amazing for smashing but perhaps it’s not the best way for humans to dispose of stuff!
4. One thing I really appreciate about your work is your ability to capture the small, quiet moments. It’s a beat, one panel, perhaps two, always in service to what comes next: The execution of a plan, the internal conflict before resolve or acquiescence, a fleeting moment of tenderness, etc. When you write, do you make space for these smaller moments? Or do they arrive in the illustration phase?
MG: Thank you! I usually come up with a basic outline that covers what happens in each chapter, then I go right to thumbnails. My jokes and pacing happen as I go. I enjoy the short story format because it allows for simpler plot so the focus could be on the characters and what they’re feeling.
5. What put you on this path? What made you a cartoonist?
MG: I have always loved drawing! Ever since I was a wee child I would always pick up a pencil and make something. Then as I grew older, I was more fascinated by comics as a medium of storytelling.
6. Coming back to the happenings of ‘We Are Here Forever’, in Chapter Three, “Mama Bird, Teach Me How to Fly”, a wee Pura finds a bird’s nest and settles in with the feathered hatchlings and becomes, well, one of the family. But when the birds learn to take flight, the Pura is met with profound hardship: They can’t fly. Yet by the end, this Pura rejoins society, far from the soaring heights to which they once aspired. What is it about failure that informs contentment, do you think? When does realizing we can’t fly become an acceptable part of our day-to-day reality?
MG: In this chapter I wanted to show the feeling of not belonging, even when trying your best to be a part of something. All of us have goals that we want to achieve that are maybe impossible. We can stress out over what we can’t do rather than finding a different way around it. Something like learning how to fly can become finding a place that we truly belong. It’s always about asking yourself the right questions and being kind to yourself, especially if you’re trying your best!
7. In Chapter Seven, “What is Art?”, we meet a Pura named Jingle who has succumbed to a feeling which I think most of us can relate to: creative anxiety. More than that, impostor syndrome. She asks herself a litany of questions—what is the meaning of art, does her own creative outlet (poetry) even qualify as art, etc.—and ultimately a teacher provides an interesting answer to what art is. “All of the humans are dead. Thus, their arguments [about art] are invalid… Art is anything you want it to be! Simple as that!” If I may ask, have you ever felt your creativity was inadequate, or even invalid? If so, what have you done to power through those kind of thoughts?
MG: Oh, all the time! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel this way sometimes. If you struggle with these feelings, remember that you are creating something, whether it’s big or small, and if it’s meaningful to you it’s worth it. If you’re overwhelmed about things it’s a good idea to take a step back and be kind to yourself. Sometimes I am hard on myself about the things I’m working on, but at least I’m making something!
8. Does “The Discourse” of art matter?
MG: Nope! Everyone has their own opinions about art, especially people that make art. Yes, art has a giant history behind it, as well as different styles and meanings, but to me it gets jumbled up and makes me tired. Enjoy the art you enjoy!
9. ‘We Are Here Forever’ has some hefty ideas about how our needs and wants come to define how we live, and ultimately, who we are. Natural resources, random stuff, we come to depend on them to keep us warm, fed, happy. And, occasionally, we need the resources and stuff that belongs to other people, because we used up our own resources and stuff. We venture through the future with the Puramus, see them evolve as a society and grow, and while they have a rather evolved sensibility imbued with empathy and happiness they’re susceptible to needs and wants, as well. When I read this book, I put this question to myself and I wanted to share it with you: Do you ever wish you could unload all your things, be free from needing/wanting stuff? What do you think life would be like, for you, for people?
MG: There are times when I want to live a minimalist lifestyle in a tiny house in the middle of the woods, especially being in a capitalist society. I want to break free from this back and forth of wanting and needing things! But then, after I have these extremely deep thoughts, I immediately think “I want to buy a book! I also want new clothes and there might be a few square inches left on my desk for more knick-knacks!” Then I get really existential and think, “But what would happen if I didn’t have things? Would I fill the void with something else?” I think other people are similar. Humans will always want to fill their souls with something that makes life interesting or meaningful.
10. What are you reading these days? Which creators do you admire?
MG: I can give a few comic recommendations!
A book coming out in July (like mine!) is Teen Titans: Raven written by Kami Garcia and illustrated by Gabriel Picolo. I’m excited to read it! A webcomic I have been enjoying is Heck If I Know by Charlie Higson. It’s funny and clever!
Michelle Gish’s ‘We Are Here Forever’ hits stores July 30.
Enjoy this 6-page preview of ‘We Are Here Forever’, courtesy of Quirk Books!
Pages from ‘We Are Here Forever’ by Michelle Gish, shared with permission from Quirk Books.
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…