The gorgeously illustrated book Salsa Invertebraxa, by Paul "Mozchops" Phippen, is like nothing you've ever seen before. Written in crazy, Dr. Seuss-style rhyme, it's the half-fantasy, half-hard science story of a jungle full of insects who will do anything to survive. Including go to war.
I stumbled across Phippen's work some time ago, and immediately fell in love with this book, which takes us on a dizzying tour of natural selection among some of the fiercest warriors on the planet: bugs. Though it can be read as a children's book, Salsa does not shy away from depicting the violence of insect life, full of egg-stealing, genocide, and mandible-to-mandible combat. The illustrations are astonishingly gorgeous, rippling with all the vivid colors of the tropical ecosystems near Phippen's Cambodian home.
The story itself is a fragmented tale of the jungle's ecosystem, the insects that prey on each other and the carnivorous plants that lurk below.
Here's how Phippen begins, as we watch a dragonfly fighting a spider:
A constant din
of witless nits, and
saps whose senses lapse
a host of jokers
of scrotes who
and croakers who collapse
All will pay their tax
Taxpayers emit a
that rolls around the photosynthescene
they take one
for the team.
It's pretty dark stuff, but also funny. I also love this rhyme, which goes along with a scene of war between beetles, seen above:
Flowing beneath is a river of teeth,
we mock and tease
they are eyeless and cantankerous,
marching to the beat of an unseen boss
No time to waste, no time to
slow, groomed and tuned to
headlong to where it happens,
the fodder towards the cannons.
Paul Phippen told io9:
I was inspired to do the book from a casual insect sketch I did years ago, and thought it made for a good subject for a graphic novel, I kept it to myself for 15 years, slowly incubating the story and doing a lot of research into insects. I discovered there was way more design innovation and color than I had imagined, they're like tiny robots, evolved/self-designed over the span of 400 million years. There's so many variations, and jaw dropping ideas, for example, they utilize extreme camouflage, they can resemble bird poops or snakes or dead leaves or more dangerous species than themselves. Invertebrates are a bottomless well of inspiration.
And then I thought, why just copy insects, why not twist them further in some way, so they're still credible, they can still function correctly, but they have small mannerisms, behavior quirks, they could float with lighter than air bubbles attached to their thoraxes, or they could co-operate with other species and steal eggs.
The art morphed towards a realistic style, I really wanted to give people a book that delivered on the promise of its cover art, that what you see on the cover is what you get in the book. To achieve that I had to spend 6 years putting digital paintbrush to digital paint. I think I gave myself a bout of cabin fever in the process. And not to mention raising my two girls too!
We've got more art from the book below, which despite its invertebrate-vs-invertebrate plot, has a happy ending.