For Nas Hoosen, the bug bit when he was five. From that day on he loved reading comics. But, because they were so scarce, he started making up his own.
Who would have thought these first drawings would be the start of a journey that would take Hoosen to writing his own feature film, The Wild Waste, for Cape Town’s Triggerfish Animation Studios, at the age of 29?
“I’d get part three of a story and it would end on a cliff-hanger, so I used to draw my own Spider-Man comics just so I could see the stories continue,” says Hoosen.
On any given day you will find the energetic Hoosen in Ansteys, one of the oldest art deco buildings in Johannesburg. Movie deals are as uncommon in this African city as comic book stores.
Hoosen was lucky to land it; his story was one in 1,400 submissions from 30 countries in a competition run by Triggerfish in 2015. Triggerfish was looking for four feature films and four TV series for development.
The cherry on top was the final eight would get a foot in the door with a mentorship at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Hollywood. Called Story Lab, the competition is also supported by the South African Department of Trade and Industry.
“We toured every skull of the multi-headed hydra that is Disney, from the Lucasfilm offices to the Imagineering workshop. It’s everything you think it is, a bunch of stuff you can’t imagine, and then sometimes you’re just sitting in a Mexican restaurant with the screenwriter of The Lion King.”
Hoosen says it’s too early to tell what The Wild Waste will look like on screen; he describes it as a big shapeless thing constantly on the move.
“The gist is that it’s a big, exciting romp through a version of South Africa that I think we haven’t seen before. It’s an urban fantasy adventure film with robots and monsters and an epic quest at the heart of it. And it’s going to be fun,” says Hoosen.
“I don’t think most people – me included – realize just how much goes into the production of a film, particularly when you don’t have the resources to make screenwriting your full-time job. But it continues in earnest, with tons of planning and plotting and writing and rewriting and note-taking.”
Hoosen’s journey into the realm of fantasy started with Action Comics #532. He remembers the story vividly. Hoosen grew up a big reader. His older brother bought his first comic books and on Saturdays he shared bowls of cereal watching cartoons.
Hoosen didn’t get to where he is now by just sitting on the couch. He had some battles.
“My mother didn’t want me to study film because she was afraid I wouldn’t find work, so I studied journalism instead. And there are always going to be huge barriers for young people wanting to do what they’re passionate about, particularly if they come from households where money is a big concern. Our parents want the best for us but they also want us to have stable, healthy and successful lives more than anything, so they set up barriers rooted in expectation that for a long while really confuse us,” says Hoosen.
In addition to his movie, Hoosen co-founded the South African comic SECTOR, for which he writes the psychedelic horror series Red Air. The anthology releases an issue every two months and showcases Africa’s rising talent.
“Red Air is about a small group of astronauts who have been shipped off to build a civilization in the red deserts of Mars. But they’re losing it; disassociating. They have to listen to the same pop music day in and day out, over and over. And then one of them goes insane and starts murdering the others. It’s a comic about murder, music and madness. It’s a John Carpenter homage. It’s a psychedelic exploration of our subconscious relationship with pop culture. It’s also a lot of fun to write,” says Hoosen.
One of SECTOR’s co-founders is Moray Rhoda, often called the godfather of South African comics.
“The comic book industry is a huge money sink. Most people aren’t getting paid. Some are like [renowned illustrator] Jason Masters and some others who work with international publishers. For the rest of us who are selling locally, one issue will pay for the next issue at best. There is little incentive to carry on, unless you manage to build a fan base and have people interested in seeing where your stories follow on,” says Rhoda.
This is why SECTOR, which is one of the few independent comics produced in Africa, plays an important role in providing a platform to local artists to develop their work.
“SECTOR came out of a much larger conversation that was happening in the South African comics scene… We felt like the scene needed a lot of work – quality control, editorial guidance, and a shared financial interest to motivate people to make work on time and (mostly) hit their deadlines. Moray brought this up in the larger comics community and found enough interested parties that we could band together and make this book happen,” says Hoosen.
South Africans are playing an important role in the $1-billion comic book industry. Hoosen says Africa has produced successful professionals like Sean Izaakse, Joe Daily, Masters, Lauren Beukes and Dale Halverson.
“They all make fantastic work that is available through publishers like Marvel, Dynamite, Vertigo and Fantagraphics. And that’s not to mention guys like Loyiso Mkize, who make work like Kwezi locally, which is now being distributed through Exclusive Books.”
“One thing I do want to see more of is marginalized voices rising to the top. I mentioned five major creators and they’re all incredibly talented, but they’re also all incredibly white. I want to see black creators, I want to see more than one woman in the mix. This is South Africa after all.”
“We have the talent and the capability, but we need to be making the work. Creative people are by nature, I think, hesitant and trepidatious about making work and showing it to people. But f*** that. No one else can draw like you or write like you or think like you, so you need to be out there making work and showing it to people and getting feedback and working to improve.”
The popcorn must taste sweeter every time Hoosen sits in a movie theater watching an African story.