Creative Nestlings: Please introduce yourself, tell us who you are and tell us about the type of a work you do.
Nas Hoosen: I’m a writer, based in Joburg. I’m all kinds of writer: I’m currently working as a screenwriter; I just started working in TV as well. I’ve also got a film in development, an animated feature film with Triggerfish Animation Studios that is part of their StoryLab program with Disney. And I work as a copywriter. I’m a freelancer but I currently work at Native VML.
I’m here primarily because I write comics. I co-founded SECTOR with a group of South African comic creators. It’s an anthology series with three stories in every issue. I write a series in it called Red Air, illustrated by Ben Rausch. In addition to that, I also do some work as a journalist occasionally: I’ve written for BBC Online Radio, The Guardian and Huck Magazine.
CN: Wow, you’ve done so much work especially as a writer. Can you please explain the difference between screenwriter, copywriter and author?
NH: I guess it’s just the approach. It’s always ultimately a form of storytelling: how you tell that story depends on the medium you’re working with and on the kind of work you’re doing. In advertising, the work is about bringing your creativity to something which ultimately has to be condensed into a brand’s message. It’s about getting the messages across as concisely as possible.
But then you learn to use that skill of making things concise and clear in a lot of other work. I’ve become more concise in a lot of my fiction and journalism, and so I’ve learned to let go and allow the work to speak for itself. The article I wrote for Huck recently is, I think, a good example of that.
CN: Many writers and artists tend to say ‘I haven’t found my voice’; I myself share the same sentiments. What exactly is it to ‘find one’s voice’ and when was the moment when you knew you had found yours and thought; this is what I write, this is the kind of things I like to write and this is how I want to express my writing?
It’s an ever-changing moment. There’s never going to be one clear moment. You have to realise that the authorial voice that you’re looking for is the voice in your head. You have to come to terms with the fact that it’s your voice, the one you hear every day. The reason we struggle to come to terms with that is the fact that we’re usually terrified of sounding like all the bad and dumb things we say and think, terrified to find ourselves tumbling and fumbling with our words, the way I’m doing right now in this interview. We want it to come out of us perfectly.
When we read Hemingway’s work, we feel like it just came out of him like that. That it’s perfection. But in comparing yourself with an author you love, you really start doubting your voice, like: “I don’t sound like Hemingway when I write, does it mean that I’m bad? That I’m not there? That I don’t have my voice?” No, it means you don’t have his voice. The more you try to sound like him and ape that style, the less you’ll find what you’re looking for.
It’s coming to terms with that voice in your head. It’s accepting that what you write must ultimately sound like you and it only happens when you come to terms with who you are. Remember: you have a unique perspective on things and your voice comes from this. It’s going to be that voice you hear in your head. It’s going to be… the way I sound right now looking for my words. That’s writing.
CN: Now you’re a writer, you’ve discovered your voice – what you want to do. You’re working in TV but you also fell into comic books: how did you find this passion?
NH: I didn’t fall into comics, they’re my first love. If comics was something that paid well, with an industry around it, that’s what I’d do – I’m speaking about locally, obviously, because there is an industry in the US and elsewhere. But yeah, this is my favourite medium.
I love novels. I’ve always wanted to make films, but comics is where it starts really. The idea for the comics I work on now has been sitting on the shelf in my mind for a very long time. Even the comic that I write for SECTOR is a very old idea. Not quite what you read in SECTOR but the original nugget of the idea is probably 10 years old.
The opportunity to do it just came from discussing comics with local guys like Moray Rhoda. We talked about how there should be an anthology where lots of different creators could show off their work. As soon as he said he was on the same page, we got all those guys together and started making comics: that’s how I got to doing this.
CN: Would you please break down the team one would need to put together a graphic novel and get it ready to be sold in bookstores.
At the most professional level, there is usually a writer, an artist, a colorist, a letterer and an editor. Sometimes they’re the same person because some people are very talented and obviously we should hate them all.
Of course, I’m simplifying the roles because there’s so much planning put into that. The writer writes a script page by page and panel by panel. The illustrator has to make all of that work fit on a page: the writer might have wanted 9 panels when the illustrator has to reduce it to 5 panels. Then, how do you make the whole story fit? The penciler is somewhat like a cinematographer. They work on how things need to flow. They’re in control of the narrative.
The colorist creates the mood of the story. If the scene is set in a dingy nightclub the colorist won’t be working with bright colours. The letterer doesn’t have a simple job either. Their work is all about finding balance and flow in the dialogue, It’s a lot, but that’s also just a typical way of doing it. There are guys like Craig Thompson who work all alone, It’s ultimately all in their hands.
CN: What would it take for me as a young illustrator, penciler, writer to get a job at Marvel?
NH: The minute you can tell me how you get into fucking Marvel Comics tell me because I’ll do it before you. I’ll get right in front of you. I don’t think you need to study comics, not formally, but you have to read them. If you want to work in any media you have to consume it. I really think the bottom line is that you need to keep making work. No one at Marvel is going to call me and say, “We saw that campaign you did for Nike and we really like that. We think you’ll do well on Spider-Man”.
If you want to make comics professionally, you have to make comics and get your work out there. Get into the hands of the right people but also, just people in general. It’s nice to have a goal like, “I want to work at DC or Marvel” but it’s even better to aim at just starting something and getting it done. Make stuff regularly, don’t stop.
CN: When people think graphic novels they think Spider-Man, Avengers, etc. But here in South Africa, we have people like Loyiso Mkize who illustrating for Supastrikers and then went on to create his own graphic novel – Kwezi. Tell us how you make money out of your work?
NH: Loyiso should be the one answering since he’s doing well! I have no idea, honestly. Sector is still self-published, self-funded and hand-sold at events. There’s no distribution because a lot of comic stores either don’t care about local comic or they feel like local comics just come and go. However there is a comic store that stocks us regularly; Nexus Outer Limits in Randburg, they’re a huge support for us. We also stock by Readers Den in Cape Town. Hopefully, distribution will work out and we will get more stores to stock Sector. We still mainly sell ourselves at events like FanCon or Open Book Festival, and it does well but we’re funding trips ourselves. Again, call me when you figure out how to make money out of comics! By the way, we just got into digital distribution: Sector will be available soon at Comixology.
CN: You are collaborating with the British Council and Creative Nestlings to host the Creative Hustles on Graphic Novels. What other collaborations have you done in your artistic career and how important is collaboration for you?
NH: Collaboration is the most important tool in our society – hands down. Not just in art. Collaboration is how we survive and that’s how we’ve come so far as a species. Even this interview is a collaboration, you’re getting better at your craft and I’m getting better at explaining mine.
These days I’m seeing fewer people trying to work in silos, and more collaborations between the musicians that I know, the artists that I know, the writers. That’s how we’ll all survive and progress. That’s how we’ll make good and bad work. And you have to make bad work to figure out what your good work looks like.
I want to make more comics, I started finding more and more illustrators and writing comics for them. These opportunities are out there, but somebody has to be the one to reach out a hand and say, “hey let’s do this” and it helps to be that person.
Phumlani Pikoli self-published The Fatuous State of Severity which features his short stories and he asked if he could include some of my illustrations in his book: that happens, Mail&Guardian publishes an article about the book and now my illustrations are in the Mail&Guardian. If I had refused to share, that wouldn’t have happened.
When it comes to comics, I feel like all this collaboration is changing the face of the medium internationally, because, like everything else, it’s pretty heavily male-dominated and white. I want to see more women working and more people who look like me, working in comics. It diversifies the talent pool and so the stories we can tell.
CN: Many people don’t collaborate because they are afraid of people stealing their work. In collaborations, how would things work in a way that I don’t feel threatened by you stealing my ideas?
NH: You know this, I know this. There are motherfuckers out there. Some people will steal your shit, people do it all the fucking time. Here’s the thing; if you think too much about these people you won’t be doing much. Protecting yourself isn’t about not exposing yourself to danger, it’s about staying strong in spite of all those things happening.
Think about it, if you have an original idea and I stole it, who’s the one that’s afraid? It’s me! I’m the fucking asshole! Don’t let people who are terrified rule your life and create more fear in you. If you want to make something, make it!
Let’s say that you came up with the next Spider-Man and I copied you: you’ll just have to stick to your guns, expose me, and give the audience a chance to decide who came up with the best Spider-Man. Don’t let these people ruin your day. The essence of the artistic process is being vulnerable and these no-talent hacks aren’t vulnerable.
But hey, be smart about the way you share ideas. Don’t go around telling everyone about it or it becomes something you talk about and not something you do. All in all, protect yourself but always be vulnerable.
CN: What is creativity to you?
NH: It’s bravery to me. It’s the willingness to throw myself open to myself, like standing naked in front of a mirror and coming to terms with what you see. And then it’s about toning and shaping and putting your work out in front of people and being open to people’s opinions about it.
Creativity for me is about being vulnerable enough to share what’s inside of you, the youness of you, with other people. It’s performance. We stop ourselves from doing it when we’re afraid of what people are going to think. But the reason people don’t understand each other is because we don’t fully share ourselves. It’s a weird cycle we’re stuck in societally.
Creativity creates a sense of intimacy between people. I want to make work for myself and to share it with people for them to see that it is okay to do it because I want to know what they think too. I want to see what’s beneath their masks. And where does creativity come from if not from a deep sensitivity to the people around you?
CN: That was deep! We’re approaching Saturday: what should participants expect when walking into the Hive on the day of the event?
I want to give people the basics, Comics 101: panelists will show us how they lay out a page and talk about their personal process. Then there will be a workshop. I want people to jam together, to pair up and tell a story visually. Even if you can’t draw, just do it with stick figures. People usually think they can’t do it, but they end up doing it.
CN: How do you feel about the event?
NH: I can’t wait. I really love talking, as you can probably tell. I can’t wait to talk crap with Sean who is my friend (we never get to see each other). This guy draws Spider-Man for a living now and he’s fucking busy! I also can’t wait to meet Karrie and Loyiso. I love Kwezi. So yeah, it’s gonna be fun.