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Disney & KUGALI Collaborate to produce Iwájú

Updated: Dec 23, 2020




Major news Announcement! In a never before collaboration Disney have announced that they will be teaming up with Pan-African Entertainment company Kugali. To create a long-form animated Sci-fi series based on a futuristic world set in Lagos Nigeria called Iwájú, with a scheduled release of 2022. In the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to interview the Co-funder of Kugali Ziki Nelson. We discuss the origins of Kugali and how they aim to tell a variety of stories based on African mythology. As well as the importance of diverse representation and storytelling in today's media.





Steven Adegboye: Welcome to the Colchour Shock podcast. My name is Steven Adegboye and today I’m with my special guest. Would you like to introduce yourself?


Ziki Nelson: Sure, my name is Ziki Nelson. I’m a comic book writer and entrepreneur. I’m one of the co-founders of Kugali. We're an entertainment company that use comics animation and augmented reality to showcase various aspects of African culture.


Steven Adegboye: That's amazing and you've already got these comic books here.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: I remember we spoke yesterday.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah, exactly.


Steven Adegboye: So, let me just actually provide a breakdown what happened. So, I had the opportunity to actually go to London, filming comic con with a friend. And I was like okay cool, let's go and then eventually I found out your Tweet and I was like oh you're there as well. So, I made it my mission to actually come and say hi to you and yeah, I’m very fortunate to purchase one of your comics and actually give it a read today. I’m a big fan already. I’m already sucked in, because I’m a 28-year-old man reading a comic book in a train and it's all packed and stuff. And it's just like wow, I’m enjoying the stories. I’m enjoying these of the darker elements of death and sacrifice and magic and space. There's so much you've got in there. I mean just as a fan right now, because I’m just new to this. How did you get the imagination to build all of this, this universe?


Ziki Nelson: So, I should mention that our comic anthologies are a collection of three stories. We've got like the regular edition for all ages and then we have the rocky edition, which has darker gory more explicit content. So, the one you picked up was the Iraqi edition.


Steven Adegboye: Okay.


Ziki Nelson: Which features the work of three different creators myself and two other guys. So, everyone has their own little plan for how they created their world. So, the first story called Oro which is a zombie thriller set in Nigeria.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah.


Ziki Nelson: It's based off of local urban legends about people coming back from the dead and demons and all of those things. So, what the writer just did is he borrowed from those stories and put them into comic format. The same way that Westerners have done with their myths and legends for a very long time.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah.


Ziki Nelson: And then the other Raki Edition is even more interesting, because all he did was, he was thinking there is actually a relationship between the aesthetics of technology and culture. So, in other words if you're trying to imagine an African society a thousand years into the future, it's going to be different from how a European society would look in terms of the architecture, the design. So, what he did was just create a futuristic universe where all of the technology weapons and gadgets are based off of African aesthetics. [And] I found that really fascinating from a world building point of view, because I think we have very fixed ideas of what science fiction is supposed to look like.


Steven Adegboye: Very true. I mean it's been projected by Hollywood and you know the western side of the media. And you know I think everyone's familiar with Black Panther and how they made Wakanda look like this beautiful place, just very scientific.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: But the culture was there. I mean I’m assuming this was all done prior to around that time. It was civil war and even then, Black Panther's was doing his own thing.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: I don't read many comics, I’m more of a TV guy. So, all the comics I used to watch just I don't know spider-man and everything else in between I was watching. And so, to read this and understand this is just the beginning of a larger universe coming to life. I’m excited about the prospects of where this can go and kind of want to dive into the industry as a whole, how can we make this come to life in terms of visual formats and videos and probably movies and stuff like that. Is that your vision?


Ziki Nelson: Sure, yes so, the reason why we decided to start with comics is because, I looked at the blueprint that we have in both the East and the West. So, in the US of course we have Hollywood, but the comics industry has always been huge you know back in the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. But even in the east as well you had the Manga culture and these two mediums it's essentially the same thing. Although they do it slightly differently lay the foundation. So, now in Japan you have the Anime industry which is probably the biggest animation industry in the world. So, a lot of moving image but you needed the foundation of Manga to then create the anime industry and same thing in the US. If you didn't have the work of the comic book creators in the first place, we wouldn't be seeing the Avengers and Captain America and all these things. So, we thought the same way. Comics are low barriers entry to create visual narratives to build an audience to create a group of fans and then we use that as a foundation to build on that with cartoons, with films and even new forms of media like Augmented Reality as well.


Steven Adegboye: That's really interesting and you know you've got a lot of creators coming in together. I’m assuming you know Nigeria is probably where some of the artists are, you've got some of the artists here as well in the UK?


Ziki Nelson: So, no I don't think so. I think I’m the only person on the team that's in the. Okay, not actually there are three of us in the UK but none of us are originally British. So, I’m from Nigeria. My co-founder Hamid who's a 3D artist is from Uganda and then I’ve got another artist as well Jason, as he's from Zimbabwe. And then the rest of the guys are just scattered across the globe.


Steven Adegboye: That's incredible. And so, what's the logistics like when you're trying to get everyone to come together and you do your story you do yours. But I got to make this magazine quickly. How does that work?


Ziki Nelson: Sure, it's a bit of a cliché, but the internet has made all of this possible. Because what it is, we have a group a Facebook group with all of the artists and writers. So, what we do is we post all the deadlines and then it's up to each team to do their own thing and then they post the work on the deadline on to a shared Google Drive. Then we send the files to our designer who puts out the whole thing together. Then we send that to the printer who's based in the UK. So, it's very straightforward actually. The real challenge was getting the team together in the first place, but now that that's been done. We're in a position where we can start to churn out content on a regular basis.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah, and it's amazing. I mean I've been saying it a lot with the whole networking of meeting new people and meet people with the same ethos as you. It's more accessible now than it was ever before.


Ziki Nelson: Yes.


Steven Adegboye: I mean the internet has broken those barriers and you can literally meet someone that has the same ideology as you. And you can come together and do something amazing like this. I guess it's never been that way when you're growing up and probably for myself as well. I guess parenting might be the thing where you're like you've got to read your book.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.



Steven Adegboye: Do you do, what's right and become a lawyer, a doctor or a banker. Did you ever face those questions before?


Ziki Nelson: Yeah, of course I studied economics and I was being primed for a career in banking and finance. But it just really wasn't for me, my heart was never really in it and I always got told that you know do the banking and finance thing for five years. Make your money and then do what you love. But life is too short in my opinion. I mean the thing is I’m in a privileged enough position where I can pursue my dreams now. So, why not do that. You know if I had children to feed if I had a family then I'd think about things differently. But when I embarked on this journey when I decided I was becoming a storyteller; I was about 23 years old and there was no huge risk.I mean I had to deal with a little bit less luxury in my life, but I felt like that was a fair price to pay yeah for pursuing my dreams.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah, and I think that's a really important lesson to learn is that the self-awareness that he had at that age. You could have gotten in one of two paths and it's interesting he said you know I’m going to go all in this. And this is where you are right now and you're really into this you've already got a Kickstarter and you've already produced two magazines. You've literally put your life into this. So, it's something that listeners can listen to and go you know what I’m in that crosswalks right now and I can make that decision. I think a lot of the problems that parenting has, children who have imagination and dreams and goals is this. They kind of think of what will happen when this happens, when you fail or what will happen when you want to start family? I mean these things can always get pushed back. You know failure is part of life so you're going to have to learn that anyways. It's how you handle the failures and so long as you're happy with the path you're taking, then you're going to be in a place where you're much happier and more content with who you are.


Ziki Nelson: Sure, I'll give you two anecdotes that I think are very relevant to this segment of the conversation. The first one is, when I was younger, I used to do a lot of parkour. And one of the biggest obstacles for me when I started doing it was that I would always think what would happen if I take this jump and I slip and fall. I was always thinking about what could go wrong, if I do a vault or a jump or a leap. And my instructor told me that if I’m thinking about what will go wrong, my body will just naturally get into those positions and I'll never be able to progress that I have to be able to make that leap and expect to land properly. I have to be able to do this vault and expect to do it. And once you actually visualize yourself vaulting over a fence uh or jumping about 10 meters from one building top to another, then it's actually a lot more plausible to do it actually.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah.


Ziki Nelson: So, I think that you can take that paradigm. I've tried to take that paradigm actually and apply it to other aspects of my life. And then with the parenting thing it's really interesting because my dad was probably one of the biggest obstacles to me doing this in the sense that he really tried to push me into staying in banking or at least doing something that was a little bit more stable. And funny enough, I was interviewed by CNN earlier this year.


Steven Adegboye: Oh congrats.


Ziki Nelson: And then the article, thank you and the article broke, my dad found out about it. And it's funny because my sister was saying that you know he was like, “wow I knew he was so brave for chasing his dream and he always knew he could do it. I'll let him have that, but it's interesting how actually by being able to achieve success, you're able to win people over really quickly.


Steven Adegboye: I know I've heard those examples before and I’m somewhat trying to live that proof as well.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: I mean I’m doing pretty much a nine to five and it's in a way where it's not certain at the moment. Because it's contracting freelancing, but at the same time I’m more content with understanding that. I’m only doing this for the same amount of time I’m hoping to build on Colchour what I’m doing and hopefully build a platform where I can live off that and be happy with what I've got. I’m lucky enough to say that I’m not living with any risk, I’m not starting a family anytime soon. It's just kind of this chance to really go after what I want to do. And you've done that for yourself and your literally proved that success can sort of override those problems that people had in the beginning.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: So, it's just a really cool coming of age story. I’m sure there'll be a documentary on that at some point.


Ziki Nelson: Hopefully, we'll see.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah, so I guess you know you've got the comments out. What's the next step? Are you going to do more issues?


Ziki Nelson: Yeah sure. So, we did the Kickstarter in February. So, I'll rewind a bit. So, we actually did this comic anthology a bit by accident in the sense that we started off blogging about African comic book culture. And then at some point, we were trying to get more exposure, so we applied to the Africa Writes. It's a literature festival in London.


Steven Adegboye: Okay.


Ziki Nelson: And they said you know why not apply for a stall. And then one of my co-founders was like well like if we're going to get a store we might as well have something to show for ourselves. So, we interviewed a few of the artists that we knew from what we were doing from blogging and YouTube and said would you guys be interested in doing an anthology. So, that was the main inception. And at first, we thought okay well let's try and bootstrap this whole thing. So, we brought out two issues one in October 2017 and then another one in November. But it was just incredibly difficult to do. There are so many things that sort of went against us firstly the stories were pretty short doing them on a monthly basis was quite gruelling. So, we kind of went back to the drawing board and we were like okay, first things first we need to build an audience and what's the best way for us to do that. Kickstarter made a lot of sense for us, not so much because of the money but because it's an opportunity for you to present an idea to a large platform and see how people respond to this.Because before we were kind of just doing the anthology and trying to you know shout out on social media. But Kickstarter was a real opportunity because that you know I studied economics and we have something called a revealed preference. Which is this idea that what people say they want and what they actually do is different. So, Kickstarter was an opportunity for us to say, well actually will people actually pay for this.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah.


Ziki Nelson: And then the Kickstarter went well so what we're doing now is we're going to do a quarterly anthology 200 pages every three months. And then we'll be laying the groundwork for moving image as you mentioned earlier.


Steven Adegboye: That was pretty amazing, that's really amazing. Just a quick question about how you're going to do this and the industry that you'll currently have in Hollywood is kind of you know very much the juggernaut. It's going to like tell you it'll dictate to you who your heroes are. And are you planning to join Hollywood are you planning to build Nollywood?


Ziki Nelson: Yeah, that's a very good question. And the answer is that we're not an entirely sure. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the Hollywood model, but what it does give you is it gives you distribution because then you can get into cinemas worldwide. But on the other hand, there are other options as well there are things like Netflix potentially Amazon and there are dozens of other streaming platforms that people may not have heard of but have good followings. And I think that seems like a better fit for us, because those platforms tend to give a bit more freedom to the creators. Because Hollywood is such a, it's very inefficient because there's so many different departments and chain of commands and so many middlemen that you have to negotiate with. Whereas we feel that if we can work directly with a digital distributor that might make a lot of sense. And then we're also looking at distribution options in the continent as well. So, we're talking to a few different people who have various channels and distribution platforms that have large audiences. So, at the moment we're exploring our options, but the ones that I’ve mentioned seem like the most likely possibilities for us at the moment.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah, I mean I think that's the interesting part now is that there isn't this one source isn't like Viacom or the BBC or whoever the big giants are. They are many other internet distributors available. You can even create your own network. Have you ever kind of I know this is a big plan? Have you ever thought about a network that might involve what you're doing?


Ziki Nelson: Like a platform?


Steven Adegboye: Yeah, exactly.



Ziki Nelson: Yeah, we have thought about that. We're actually planning on releasing an app in towards the end of the year. Because I mentioned we're doing some work in Augmented reality and the idea is to try and enhance the reading experience using augmented reality. So, you might be reading for a comic book spread and then next thing you know a character's bio will pop out. You know like how it if you're watching a film like a spy film and they're giving you the brief on maybe one of the villains you're supposed to infiltrate. And it'll be like this person born in 99 likes and dislikes. So, we're toying around with a few different ideas like that and that'll be done through an app. So, that way we have our own platform, where we can share our content. But we don't necessarily want to put all eggs in one basket. So, we will have the app and it will have exclusive perks for people who utilise the app. But certainly, in terms of if we want to do a film particularly if it's a feature length, if we do short films, we could also do that through the app as well. But if we want to do a feature length, we think that it makes a lot of sense to utilise another platform because we're interested in making good content.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah.


Ziki Nelson: And there's a slight difference between making content and distributing content. So, if we want to focus on distribution, then have to shy away from the creative end of things. So, there's a bit of a trade-off and as a storyteller you know I went back to university to do screenwriting. I’m far more interested in telling stories.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah. I mean I love storytelling. I kind of want to do that with what I’m doing here.


Ziki Nelson: Sure.


Steven Adegboye: I think it's interesting how you kind of mentioned the quality of the content you're producing versus the distribution just getting things out there. I think that's what Hollywood kind of misses about. When you've got DC and you've got Marvel, DC is just like one of other things to make them you know the films. So, they can make the money and the whole thing kind of it's a business. And then Marvel's like even though they're using some of a similar formula the characters come first. There's an anthology which they stick by and they don't mess around with it too much. I've been before about okay if someone was to come in how you had that creative control you wanted to be somewhat of a balance where you want to give them enough to play around with, but you have what you earn.


Ziki Nelson: Sure, ultimately you have to balance commercial considerations with the creative process. But I think that it's a top-down approach in the sense that the story comes first and then the economics, the finances come afterwards. And they don't have to be mutually exclusive, I'll give you an example. So, there's a studio there's an animation studio in japan called Studio Ghibli. I don't know if you've ever seen any of this stuff, but they've done films like Spirited Away, House Moving Castle.


Steven Adegboye: Oh yeah.


Ziki Nelson: And the creator or the founder of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyawaki is one of my idols in the sense that he's all about the content. He's very meticulous in putting out the highest quality things. You know he only makes a film; I think he's retired now. But you know when he was in his prime, you'd only do a film maybe every three years every four years. Whereas if he was in Hollywood, they'd be pushing him to do something like two times every year.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah.


Ziki Nelson: and despite that Studio Ghibli has been very successful. Now maybe they could have made more money if they sacrificed on certain things. But they're still successful, right. They're still a multi-million-dollar animation studio. So, they've managed to strike a good balance in my opinion and that's what we want to try and emulate.


Steven Adegboye: It's very cool. So, you have your idols in that way, and I guess, have you ever thought about yourself becoming some of the pioneer. Because it's funny, no you got to think about it in the most realistic way. I’ve never heard anyone come out with this from where you're from our background and actively putting people together to build African anthology. And it's not necessarily someone who's like corporate. Saying this is something we need to push has an agenda to corner this market, this is out of your own backgrounds and have your own passions. Someone could be reading this right now being like you know what I’ve never read these comic books before. Do you feel like you can be that person?


Ziki Nelson: 100%. So yeah, it's funny you mentioned comic con, because there's someone who came up to my store, I think it was from somewhere in East Africa. I can't remember exactly where. But he came with his kids and he was telling me that when he was growing up, he was embarrassed to say he was from Africa to his friends. In fact, you know sometimes he'd lie he was from the Caribbean, because for some reason that was a little bit more exotic than being from Africa. I think people with that mindset or people who grew up with that complex, really appreciate what they're doing. Because for me African culture is a spectrum. There's the good there's the bad. And the problem is that the bad side of our culture has been what has been proliferated particularly Western media. And all we're trying to do is show people that there's a whole spectrum. There are things that are also cool about African culture, they're reasons to be proud. For those people, I think that what we're doing will be inspirational and also give them the courage of the impetuous to re-examine their culture and see things that they can do with it. Whether it's with music, whether it's with tech, whether it's with fashion.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah absolutely. I think it's cool now. I think this is like it's been happening in bubbling for a bit. But it's been more popularised.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: Like the music's more afro beats, the culture's being livened up, the food has been exposed a bit more. People are owning their heritage. It's just this proudness that's coming out. And I think like now this is the time, maybe this is something where with all this happening. This is where it needs to be like this beautiful comic and the stories that come out of it. And it's this wave that I think a lot of people are now proud to own it. Because I’ll put my personal spin on it. It was hard as a British Nigerian to grow up in a white area and kind of say my first name is Steven your last name Adegboye.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: And everyone would bash the name. It was just horrible right and then it's like cool. So, I’m always pushing for Steven then surname. And then it's like actually this is who I am. I come home and I live with my Nigerian family. Literally that is not you know a white family. So, it's my culture that I carry with me. I think it's becoming more acceptable to show you in the individual reality.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: And you're showing that through your work you're showing it through what you look like and who you are, and you express yourself in that way. I mean it's just beautiful to see someone who comes from where you are to come here and bring those people together and do something like this and celebrate the culture. I just want to say thanks for you know having that exposed to everyone and on the podcast as well.


Ziki Nelson: No, like yeah, I appreciate that sentiment. I mean for me; it's almost become an itch that I just have to scratch. It's not something that I can really hold back. So, I tell stories because it's easier for me to tell them than to not tell them. The fact that some good is coming off from what I’m doing, like is only adding fuel to the fire.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah.


Ziki Nelson: So, it's very early days I’m really keen to see how this is going. But this has been a privilege the best professional experience I've ever had in my life. I’m loving every minute of it.


Steven Adegboye: I know, and I can tell, and enthusiasm is there. Well, where can we support you in in any fashion? Like can we follow you on, do you have social media presence?


Ziki Nelson: Yeah, sure 100%. So, we're on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. It's just @KugaliMedia. That's If you want to pick up a copy of anthology just go to kugali.com. So, that's literally just a store.kugali.com. Like I said, we've got the Raki Edition and the regular edition. The new anthology that we funded via Kickstarter is actually coming out in about a couple of weeks. So, you'll be able to get your hands on that as well. If you're interested in checking out the world of African storytelling.


Steven Adegboye: That's amazing. And just one final question in terms of heroes’ superheroes comics and magna and all that stuff.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah.


Steven Adegboye: What's your favourite?


Ziki Nelson: You're opening another comic.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah, I don't know.


Ziki Nelson: So, okay. So, I think I started off as a huge spider-man fan, because he was very relatable character. Because he was a young boy growing up in high school and you know like who can't relate with that. But the moment I saw Dragon Ball Z.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah, everyone. I swear every black person knows that they watch Dragon Ball Z, and they were raised by this cartoon.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah, it's weird because I remember seeing it and I wasn't sure what it was. But I was like this is amazing. I have to find this again, I was like seven years old and I remember just like scanning through like the TV, you know the TV guy. And then it opened my mind to the world of Anime. That was really what like, for me that was like breathtaking storytelling. Because I feel like a lot of western storytelling is moulded into like a specific paradigm or like model. Whereas the Japanese, like they tell stories about everything and it's so explicit they don't care. So, some of the stories that really inspired me are Berserk by Kantara Mura.

It's a dark fantasy that actually inspires the comic that I’m making, Eku. And then there's a Steins Gate as well and Full Metal Alchemist.


Steven Adegboye: Yeah.


Ziki Nelson: Those are like three of my favourite Mangas and Animes.


Steven Adegboye: That's awesome, and it's good to see that. It's funny, well from the US to Japan and now it's embodied in your work. These stories these heroes and the storytelling is kind of where it is now, if you turn it in Kugali. So, I’m really excited to see the next chapter and hopefully you know I’m going to purchase your next comic. So, if I need to join the Kickstarter to do more, than I would. Just let us know whenever there's something new you post it on Colchour.com. I’ll share the knowledge to everyone else.


Ziki Nelson: Yeah, 100%.


Steven Adegboye: All right. So, thank you everyone for listening and take care.


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