Full interview with Sutu, creator of NEOMAD
By Anthony N. Castle
The NEOMAD comic series was created with the community of Roebourne, Western Australia as a part of Big hART’s Yijala Yala Project. This project works to highlight Aboriginal heritage as living and present, rather than of the past. As such it works with community members to create content that communicates their culture to wider audiences. While multimedia artist Sutu (Stu Campbell) worked with 40 local Aboriginal kids to turn their lives into a narrative, a fantastic science fiction adventure emerged. The result was NEOMAD, a futuristic fantasy based on real places, real people and adding a chapter to the story of the world’s oldest continuing culture. Earlier we caught up with creator Sutu to talk about the project and here is the full interview…
The Yijala Yala project is a long term cultural heritage project that’s being created in collaboration with the indigenous community of Roebourne. Before NEOMAD I was invited on to the project to help out on a short zombie film. People always ask what does a zombie film have to do with maintaining cultural heritage? The point of the zombie film was to create something fun that all the kids would want to be involved in. It was also a fun way for me to meet and get to know everyone. The kids helped out with the story, costumes, make up, filming and sound recording. All these skills were later applied to more meaningful cultural heritage projects.
In the process of making the film, the kids created a gang called the Love Punks and they formulated the idea that instead of being zombies they would play pranks on the zombies. It was a lot of fun and after making the film, all the kids wanted to do more Love Punks stuff, which, after more consultation, eventually lead to the creation of NEOMAD.
NEOMAD is the world’s first Aboriginal interactive comic book, first an app produced by eleven year-old artists from the Pilbara Desert. The kids have been involved in scripting the story too and the protagonists in the books are based on their own personalities. How has the creative process and the final work affected and influenced the kids personally?
I’d say over 50 kids in total have been involved in the project over the years. As it became more popular in the community more people wanted to be involved. The comic also stars some mums and dads, elders and some local rangers. Yijala Yala established a studio space right in the heart of the community and everyday we had a set time where the kids could come to help out on different tasks. Sometimes we’d make music for the comic and other times we’d work on a new film. The kids seem to like it, well, they kept coming back and they were really getting into their characters and always making new suggestions for what their characters could do and what their friends’ characters could do. This was a regular discussion over toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. Having themselves in the comic, really motivated their involvement. It kept them happy, busy and learning skills.
The Burrup Peninsula is renowned for its countless petroglyphs, a visual art form that’s over thirty thousand years old and this is where the NEOMAD story takes place. Was that juxtaposition intentional at all, the stone and digital canvasses? It’s quite a contrast: culture expressed through visual art-forms, immutable and ancient on one hand and interactive and new on the other…
Often remote communities throughout Australia get left behind when it comes to having access to the latest technologies. So in one sense we wanted to make a statement ‘look what these wonderful kids can do when given the opportunity’. Also, I create interactive comics for living, so to make my own job a bit easier, I felt the need to play to my strengths, so it was the obvious choice for me to teach the kids about something I love and enjoy. But during the process of making the comic interactive – for example if you touch the speech bubbles you hear the characters voices – one of the elders pointed out that having that aural component kept in the traditional of their storytelling, aurally passing the story along.
The Burrup is the largest outdoor gallery in the world with over a million petroglyphs that all tell stories about Aboriginal culture and land. In one sense it is a bit like sequential art where narrative is distributed over rock faces instead of panels. If you check out Ngurrara, another interactive story we created with the kids, we added an extra rock art feature. It allows the user to carve on a virtual rock. This process of digital carving carries an important message ‘carve here, not on the real rocks’ which are threatened by vandalism and other forms destruction.
How did NEOMAD come to be a print book published by Gestalt Comics?
Not everyone in the community owns an iPad (mind you, a lot of people in the community went and bought one after NEOMAD came out – which was a lovely surprise – including the school that bought 20 iPads!), so a printed version was always on my mind. We put so much work in to the stories we wanted to ensure everyone could read them. I proposed the story to Wolfgang (the founder and editor of Gestalt), who was also a consultant at Magabala books. I thought Magabala might be interested, but Wolfgang saw that NEOMAD had some mainstream potential, being foremost a futuristic adventure story, and wanted to take the project on through Gestalt. So that was exciting and since that’s happened NEOMAD books have been included in the Schools National book club list and is being considered as a must read as apart of the Australian Curriculum.
The finale of NEOMAD Book 3 launched at Oz Comic-Con last year with some of the kids themselves present to represent their work. How did the kids respond to being superheroes at a comic convention?
Well, the kids were so excited about being at the con we could barely keep them at our booth. But once a few people asked them for autographs they were happy to hang around. It was pretty funny watching them invent and then practise their autographs and then discuss with each other if it looked cool or not.
Finally, what’s in store for NEOMAD in the future? We will see the Love Punks again?
I recently put together a pitch to adapt the story in to an animated series. Viskatoons from Melbourne is representing the project and has taken it over seas to hopefully procure International investment. Fingers crossed!