Imagine a universe where South Africa is under siege from the Swazis and Sothos and the only people standing in their way is a character named Zulu Boy and his friend Rudolph, an alien who sounds suspiciously white and suburban. There’s Jesus of the ANC who visits Zulu Boy in his sleep and tells him that the lord wants him to transfer money on the computer. A world where Shaka Zulu battles with the legendary samurai Hattori Hanzo and kicks his ass alongside Bonang the Camel Toe and the shaky hand of Madala at the Manhood School. This the wicked world of the Izikhokho Show.
Mdu’s Comics have been going viral all over the interweb for some time now with a slew of handmade animation classics like Jesus of the ANC, Shaka Zulu vs Hattori Hanzo and the Izikhokho Show. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about click here and take the next hour to get yourself up to speed. We thought it was high time we touched base with comic artist Mdu Ntuli, the man behind Mdu Comics.
Where are you from, where’d you go to school? How’d you get into comic animation? What do your parents, friends, ex-girlfriends think of your chosen career?
I’m from Witbank Emalahleni Mpumalanga, I did my schooling there and my tertiary at Wits. Drawing cartoons was just a hobby at first. But that changed after working for Rico (the Madam and Eve cartoonist) years ago as an intern. I don’t even think my mom understands what I do til today. Sometimes I think she wants me to be a policeman. My ex-girlfriends liked it at first until they realize that it doesn’t make any money, then…
Eish… So how did Mdu Comics come about?
I remember re-drawing Ninja Turtles from magazines in my childhood. I also remember getting the first copy of Spawn from a friend which inspired me to do my own comic book. But the one event that made decide to take it seriously was when I drew a cartoon for the Wits University newspaper that everybody liked. The cartoon was so good that one of my lecturers had it pasted on the wall of his office while he was grilling me about my poor academic performance.
What’s the backstory to Zulu Boy?
After doing a few animated cartoons for Red Pepper & Urban Brew it was time to attempt it on my own. Zuluboy & Rudolph was my first no-budget creation where everybody volunteered to do it. After we came from the studio we were so convinced it was going to flop with the number of errors we made in the recording. But when we mixed everything up those errors made these characters lovable.
What’s your day job?
I am graphic designer, programmer and illustrator that is what pays the bills.
What’s the plan with Zulu Boy – where’s it going from here?
For now it’s just to produce more web content when we can, unfortunately. But the master plan is a full length movie.
What’s the story arc?
Mnaka and Gogo Moloi want to take over South Africa because their countries (Swaziland and LeSotho) are surrounded by South Africa. Zuluboy and his alien friend Rudolph help us by fight these two.
How come Rudolph is an alien but he speaks like a whitey? Hang on! What are you trying to say…
Rudolph is supposed to be a super intelligent alien. He is supposed to represent someone who has no background or experience of what it’s like living in South Africa. When we went to the studio everybody volunteered, there wer no auditions and Mike Scott (another brilliant local animator) stepped up and agreed to do Rudolph’s voice and walla!
How does the animation industry in South Africa differ from that overseas?
There’s only one thing; the budget. Budget dictates how much time you have to create the product which in turn affects the quality. In South Africa we just don’t have that luxury.
How difficult is it to make a show like Zulu Boy? How much does it cost? Who funds it? What do you need to get it going big time?
It all boils down to how difficult is it to draw. For me, it’s easy I suppose. It’s just a question of time. I do not know how much it costs officially, but my estimate is anything between R3000 to R15000 per minute, depending on the complexity of the animation. Given those numbers you can see how much we need to go big.
Izikhokho episodes like “Jesus of the ANC” are pretty politically provocative. How much feedback have you got on that. What does your family say?
The “Jesus of the ANC” cartoon was a hit. I even know some ANC people who have it on their phones. I think people understand that it’s just a cartoon. What does my famiIy say? Hands down, the funniest thing they have ever seen.
Is there a lot of pressure on you? You’re one of the only black animators in the country… and you’re pretty outspoken towards the ANC and the ruling elite. Is there some fall out from that?
Nobody has called and threatened to sue me, so there’s no pressure. The only pressure I have is to create more content while I have to deliver the paying jobs.
I’m certainly not the only black animator, maybe the only independent one. Many more will emerge, I’m sure of it.
I like the ANC and its policies it’s just that it is surrounded by parasites (People who don’t want to earn their wealth they just want shortcuts).
What would you like to communicate through animated cartoons?
First I want to show the people (my people mostly) that it is possible to make animated cartoons that tell our own stories. I want to communicate everything: comedy, action, drama, education.
What can we expect in the future from Mdu Comics?
I have a strong passion for what I do. And I want expand the skills, the team and genres until one day when we have dedicated channel to broadcast Africa’s animated cartoons. But for now expect some more web clips and a movie sometime soon.