The natural world offers countless ways to make us suffer. Hostility, violence and cruelty exist even on a cellular level. From malaria to Ebola, from the botfly to the Tsetse fly, from the Gaboon viper to the lions and hyenas, the totality of this oozing, creeping, writhing, galloping, stinging, biting and devouring mass of biology is overwhelming. Death stalks the land and even the best prepared can fall victim to terror and violence in thousands of ways.
And those only account for the physical: the manner in which we can be bled or slashed, bitten or poisoned, exhausted and sickened. Imagine the impact on your psyche when suffering through the hellish heat, the close, stifling air, the filth, the smell of rotting leaves and mud, the evidence of death all around from the rotting carcasses of partially devoured animals to the bloody jaws of those doing the devouring. Imagine the feeling of watching a botfly larva burrow through the flesh of your arm, or the growing panic as you realize that the bite you suffered has been unwashed for days and is now the beginning of a raging infection that will shoot fever and pain through your body as you lay stricken, hundreds if not thousands of miles from help. What do those thoughts do to you? How do they change you, twist you, break you down in a million places and poison the wounds? How do you fight back? How do you live through those long, bright, murderously hot days? How do you sleep through the brutal blackness of a night so deep that every sound sends your mind rushing over the abyss into abject panic and terror? What happens to you? Do you give up, do you fight back, do you find something inside yourself even more terrifying than the jungle around you?
I had no idea that this illustration would eventually be used for the cover. I leave those decisions to the far wiser and more talented brains at Tin House. In retrospect though, I think it is eerily appropriate that this drawing of mine, this distillation of venom and terror and violence and hostility, this corrosive green presence that batters us and breaks us and peels back the tissue thin façade of our civilized world and shows us just how frail that is, was chosen for the cover image. We are, all of us, just one or two very bad days away from total madness, regression and violence. Maybe the paranoia of our forebears served them well. Maybe we do ourselves a disservice by thinking we are beyond it.
Matt Kish was born in 1969 and lives in the middle of Ohio. After stints as a cafeteria cook, a hospital registrar, a bookstore manager, and an English teacher, he ended up as a librarian. He draws as often as he can, often with whatever he can find. He has tried his hand at 35mm black-and-white photography (with real film and real chemicals), making comics and zines, a bit of collage, and lots of pen and ink.