The Power of Resilience and Teamwork
By Huang Han-Yau ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver
Jan 16, 2024

When Wang Ling-Hsuan and I were students in the forestry department, our teacher asked the class to do a report on wildlife, and we decided to study the gray-black spiny ants near our department building. The gray-black spiny ants we drew in the book are similar to the ones we studied back then which lived on a wire mesh fence and worked on some small saplings nearby where they farmed aphids. The saplings had sprouted beside the fence because there were some big trees nearby whose fruits had been eaten by small birds which had excreted the seeds. There were five or six different kinds of vines and bushes on the fence which made it look messy but actually meant there were lots of structures that animals could use to hide in. We also found another eight species of ant and lots of other small creatures near the fence. When we first came up with the concept for the book, we wanted to include all these creatures but later we worried that it would distract from the gray-black spiny ants so we either didn’t show them in the pictures or we let them hide in the corners.

There were five different versions of this book from start to finish, most of which Ling-Hsuan and I both liked because we tried out various different styles. Even though some of the illustrations weren’t used in the final version of the book, we tried to change them a bit and incorporate them into the end product. Sometimes, readers might suddenly find themselves wondering “why’s that in here?” and it might be because it’s a variation of another scene in one of the previous versions.

It took us so long to finish the book because we were writing and illustrating it while we were still studying, but by the time it was done there weren’t any ants on the fence, probably because the area had been cleared and without the saplings or aphids the ants were forced to move on. However, gray-black spiny ants are resilient creatures, and I found another city of them in a different part of campus where people had thrown away all sorts of things and the ants were living in old umbrellas, broken flowerpots, door frames, and fractured water pipes, as well as dried out plant pots where they’d formed a thriving colony. Who knows, maybe they were the same ants and they’d found an even better place to build a whole new little city!