My eyes just about fell out of my head when this oh-so-cool comics project popped up on the site. The series takes a hardcore leading lady called Ms. Pussyfooter and puts her in post-Katrina New Orleans in the style of a classic Western and to the tune of Afrobeat, with some Kurosawa-style samurai action mixed in and eye-popping artwork inspired by Fela Kuti's iconic Afrobeat album covers. The illustrations, done by James Velasquez, stem from live-action film and photography, and then Lennie Hsiao, the other half of Revofooter, adds in her script. I wanted to talk to somebody — anybody! — with a hand in this mixed-media, mixed-ethnicity super creation. Thankfully, Lennie was willing to take to the stand!
How on earth did you come up with this mashup of Afrobeat + Western + New Orleans + samurai? How does each element communicate what's on your mind?
I have always been a major fan of classic movies, and my favorite director of all time is Akira Kurosawa. After Katrina, I underwent a lot of chaos and drama in my life, most of them having to do with the external world — New Orleans — and the internal — my disenchantment with the social world. I saw Seven Samurai and felt so connected with the film and in particular the main character. After watching samurai films, I found a logical connection in Western films, particularly Sergio Leone's, who remade these films or borrowed cinematic techniques, themes, and character archetypes from Kurosawa. Examples of this are Leone's remakes of Yojimbo as Fistful of Dollars or Seven Samurai as Magnificent Seven.
So, after being disillusioned from my time post-Katrina, I wanted to find a source of inspiration that was positive. Music in New Orleans has always been part of my life; so has Afrobeat. New Orleans music has maintained a connection to African music through its earliest roots in Congo Square to the Black Indians tradition, which carries on to the present day. Throughout its evolution, New Orleans music has always responded to its sociopolitical climate, providing a sense of community, voice, and identity for those marginalized in a chaotic place. Afrobeat was a movement coined by Fela Kuti, in which artists spoke out against violent tyranny and similar political climates to those found in New Orleans. Afrobeat music could be used, as Fela once described, as "the weapon of the future." The sounds and vibrations of Afrobeat and New Orleans jazz and funk have the same effect, uplifting me into a believable dimension, one in which I can believe that though racial, political, and social injustice issues are a hard-hitting reality in this city, it can still be overcome.
To sum that up, I wanted to use a Western genre format to describe my sense of being a strolling stranger in a corrupt town and also come in riding on a wave of funk.
What other work has Revofooter created?
In the fall, we created a mini-comic titled Yellow Eyes. It was made in the same style, technique, and vision as Ms. Pussyfooter.
The story is actually an excerpt from some short stories I've written in the past. Once we posted it on the internet, we got quite an international response. An Italian iPhone blog featured us for an article for a Colombian International Comic E-zine.
I see you do a lot of on-site photography and even have actors involved in the creation of this comic. Can you tell us more about the process and how it all pieces together?
Our graphic novel process is a modified version of a simple film production. I write a script, break it down into shots, the illustrator creates a storyboard, and we break down each shot involving cast, location, wardrobe, and materials.
We chose to use the iPhone and on-site digital photography for its portability and accessibility. We found that by using the iPhone, we were able to capture an organic process starting with the actors. During the process, the actors feel more comfortable acting or posing in front of a cell phone camera. The iPhone has become so common in social settings that it feels less intrusive to people when I've asked if they could be part of my production.
For example, we had a scene to shoot at a bar, one that actually involved a fight breaking out. I was nervous at first about even being able to get so many people involved. But when we kindly asked the owner/bartender and his customers to participate in it, the overall response was positive. We had the most amazing time shooting the scene because people felt comfortable in their own setting and were allowed to express themselves freely in front of a camera. Because it was such a stress-free environment, I could get instant feedback from actors.
After the pictures are taken, I send them directly to the illustrator and he sends it through iPhone photoediting applications. Then we get together at local coffee shops and work on the process together, constantly editing and having open communication for ever panel, layout, and design. As a team, we work synergistically; having this technology allows us the flexibility to constantly edit and revise our work. To me, because of the portability of the technology, it is a fun process because it is so organic.
Where do you source your artistic inspiration?
I come from a unique background. I studied to be an ecologist, spent a lot of time overseas being a researcher for neuroscience and environmental science. By diploma and resume, it seems that I have a dichotomy of interests: one part in natural science and one part the arts. It has always frustrated me that they are on opposite sides of the spectrum career wise. But I've always pushed to see my life melding the two together. I think my source of inspiration lies within this quote by Einstein: "All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom."
How long has everyone on your team lived in New Orleans? What do you hope to communicate about post-Katrina New Orleans through Ms. Pussyfooter's character?
I have lived in New Orleans off and on for a total of six years. James was born and raised as a New Orleansian. Both of us come from a unique ethnic background. I am Taiwanese and James is Nicaraguan. In this city, we are a very underrepresented minority. To me, post-Katrina media has been very black and white, figuratively and literally. I wanted to make the main character Sri Lankan because I think that we, as a minority group, witnessed Katrina, but our side of the story was never told. We were able to see racism at a different angle than what was presented in the media.
I also wanted to show that New Orleans is a very real city with real people. I find that the media has painted us as a tourist spot and a place to get trashed. People get scared when they hear about our murder rates and are turned off by how dysfunctional it can be. But after living here, leaving, and finding myself returning, I have come to realize that I am forever in love with this city. Almost in a love-hate relationship. I can't say that about a lot of other places.
How did you get the brilliant idea of bringing this project to Kickstarter? What other projects have you found on Kickstarter that excite you?
On Facebook, I had seen a film made by friends about marching bands in New Orleans. I saw that it was funded by Kickstarter and I quickly familiarized myself with the site. I thought it was a great business model for artists who want to be able to do their work. I also think that because the artists can ask for their own price, they get the flexibility to create their work in the way they want. Kickstarter is the perfect solution for creating a comic that is so different from mainstream media.
Where will Ms. Pussyfooter go where no comic has gone before?
I think this work can be inspiring to people who enjoy film, photography, and comics. The finished project is a combination of classic cinema storytelling in comic book format. It's like watching film on paper. I want to prove that you can make beautiful and professional work but not have to sacrifice your vision because there's no budget.
With my story, I also want to bring a greater understanding to the social and political issues that we as New Orleansians and even as citizens of the US still need to confront. I only write what I know, even though some characters are fictional and hyperbolic. Most of these situations are things that I have lived through and stories that I have witnessed and heard. They are not that far from the truth. I want to use this medium to transport readers to a time and place when the post-apocalypse felt very real in a city that I thought I had lost forever.