Welcome to the second FWG Awareness Week! This is a bi-monthly event, run by the moderators in the FWG Slack group (Searska GreyRaven, ritter_reiter, and George Squares) as a way to bring focus to minority culture and writers in furry literature. Through features such as interviews, reading lists, and author AMAs, we hope to provide ample material and a safe, respectful setting for inter-cultural dialogue within our diverse community.
This month, we wanted to highlight authors and creators from post-colonial nations. Here to kick off the March edition is Erkhyan! Erkhyan was born, grew up, and still lives in the central highlands of Madagascar. He has held jobs such as illustrator, translator, and various one-shot DIY projects, while his usual hobbies include reading, attempting to write, drawing, spending way too much time on Wikipedia, and video games. He goes around learning to be a fosa — please note the correct spelling! Erkhyan can be found on Twitter under the same handle (@Erkhyan).
Disclaimer: While the Awareness Week project seeks to amplify underrepresented voices and perspectives, please bear in mind that our interviewees comprise one opinion out of many, and do not represent everyone within their demographic.
Tell us briefly about yourself as a creative person – you’re both an author and an artist. How long have you been doing either of them? What are your favorite themes to cover?
I’ve dabbled in both writing and drawing since the mid-to-late 1990s. I got to the point of being able to show my drawings publicly in 2000, and my writing in 2005.
My favorite things to draw are natural landscapes and, unsurprisingly, furry characters. I mostly draw pinups of characters, but when I feel technically able to do so, I like drawing pictures of characters being affectionate with each other.
In writing, a theme I find myself often coming back to is finding your own place to belong in society when said society never made you feel like you had one.
You’ve been around the furry fandom for several years. When did you first enter the furry writing scene, and what drew you to it?
I’ve been aware of the furry writing scene since 2006 (in the days of Yiffstar), but didn’t quite join until 2010 through the late FurRag. At the time it was mostly just a combination of my love of reading and my interest in anthropomorphic animals, but the old urge to write my own stuff quickly resurfaced after that.
Who are your literary and artistic influences, both in furry and in general?
Writing-wise, my biggest non-furry influences are Timothy Zahn and Aaron Allston. On the furry side, there’s maybe too many to count so I’ll only mention a few. Kyell Gold and Kevin Frane were among my earliest influences. Rukis and Ryan Campbell are more recent ones. But the fact is, if I’ve read your writings in the last ten years, chances are I count you as one of my influences.
On the drawing side, Disney movies are obviously my earliest influence. Then came Claire Wendling and Juanjo Guarnido. Then, in no particular order: Chelsea Kenna, Rukis, Nesskain, Kenket, Teagan Gavet, and Kamui, to name a few…
In both cases, I admit I have far many more influences within the furry fandom that outside of it. I have no formal literary or artistic training, and it shows in my choice of inspirations.
You’ve lived in Madagascar practically all your life. Can you tell us some aspects of your culture that you think define Madagascar the most?
If I were to summarize contemporary Malagasy culture in a few words, it would be: heavy reliance oral traditions, the pervasive influence of the spiritual on daily life, a strong preference for DIY solutions and repairs over replacement, and a strong accent on respecting one’s place in both clan and tribe.
Madagascar used to be part of the vast colonial empire that France once boasted. Personally, how do you think the Malagasy culture and identity have developed since gaining independence? Does French influence still make itself felt in everyday life?
French influence is still very heavy on Malagasy everyday life. The French language is ever-present in commerce, education, and the media. People will often switch to French when Malagasy vocabulary fails them. Or when communicating with someone who speaks a dialect of Malagasy that sounds too different to be easily understood. Or, in general, when communicating with members of the various expatriate communities (mostly South Asians, Chinese, and French).
My personal take on the evolution of post-independence Malagasy culture is that a lot of it has had to be rebuilt from shaky foundations. Most of the Malagasy ethnic groups relied almost entirely on oral traditions before, and very little of that was committed to writing before the missionaries, then the colonial authorities either rewrote it to suit their purposes, or outright tried to suppress it. Malagasy literature barely had time to be born before it found itself bound to colonial rules.
Nowadays, very few traditions have survived intact. Most are more or less heavily bastardized, a few (like the fitampoha) had to be resurrected or even reinvented almost from scratch. Malagasy history as the common people know it is often fragmentary and heavily tinted by tribal tensions, and sometimes differs quite significantly from history as academic historians know it.
Much of your art and writing revolves around Madagascan species, as well as Malagasy history. Can you tell us more about these themes, and how you bring them out in your work?
My switch to using Madagascan species and Malagasy themes is actually relatively recent, coinciding with my personal struggles. Being the grandson of a Frenchman and raised as a French-speaker, I grew up severely at odds with the both the tribalism of Malagasy culture, and its painful history with France. It wasn’t until these last few years that I finally started to work on the fact that, regardless of my limited French heritage, I am still mostly Malagasy by blood and have lived almost all my life in Madagascar.
All of that leads to the themes I use the most: the pros and cons of Malagasy tribalism, and the fact that so much of our history beyond the last couple of centuries is throughly mixed with myth. I usually tackle these themes by having characters who are trying to find their place in society despite being (or having become) outcasts. Whenever supernatural elements exist in my settings, I now try to base them on elements that do exist in Malagasy folklore: nature spirits, lingering ghosts, and the taboos enforced by their presence.
Are there any stereotypes or misrepresentations that you’d like to draw attention to?
So many misconceptions about Madagascar wouldn’t exist if not for Pandemic 2 and the Dreamworks cartoon franchise… In particular, how many ports and airports we have and how easy it would be to lock down the coutnry’s borders, how many people actually live here, whether we actually like to “move it move it”, whther or not we’re safe from the plague (ironically, Madagascar is the world capital of plague cases) … Whether one reacts to these with humor or annoyance tends to depend on how often these misrepresentations come up.
If there are misrepresentations I’d like to address, it’s Madagascar as a small island (it’s actually the size of mainland France, one and a half the size of California), and our relationship with Africa. Madagascar is geographically and politically an African country, but our history and culture have been isolated from the mainland for so long that for most people there is just no feeling of sharing much with even our closest mainland neighbors.
As a speaker of Malagasy, French, and English, you’ve been in a unique position to make linguistic observations, such as of place-names and folk etymology common or individual to each language. Do you make use of this when writing stories about Malagasy characters? If so, how do you go about “translating” idioms or other figures of speech?
I tend to stay away from untranslatable idioms and concepts, but otherwise I like to play with language. For example, the etymology of Malagasy names is often much closer to everyday language than in Western cultures. Until the relatively recent adoption of the first-middle-last name system, many people used to have names that said a lot about them: their past achievements, their ambitions, etc. I often make use of that while naming my Malagasy characters, giving them meaningful names that might not always be obvious unless one speaks Malagasy.
In the end, I wouldn’t mind using local idioms if giving them context doesn’t come in the way of a story’s pacing.
Which of your works are you proudest of? Feel free to include any upcoming stories or pieces.
That’s a rather difficult question. I do not have enough finished written works for me to feel proud of them, but I admit I can’t wait to finish my first stories set in Madagascar.
Any parting words of advice for aspiring writers or artists in the fandom?
Honestly, I can’t think of any advice other than: just do it. The furry fandom is so centered on creative activities, it would be a shame not to contribute to it if you wish to. You can always learn on the way—exchanging ideas and tips with other artists and writers is a good way to do that. Keep in mind that, even though you will always have something to learn from others, there’s a chance that you will have something to teach others too. If not in your skills, then in the messages your art and writing send out.
Discuss this article in the Guild forums, or learn more about Erkhyan on his SoFurry page.