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Nicholas Da Silva is a graphic designer best known around the world for his creation of the Dread & Alive series, a multimedia saga that meshes fantasy with Maroon history.
An American by nationality, Da Silva is of Brazilian, African, Indian and Dutch ancestry, while as a child he moved across the world due to his father’s engineering profession. Yet, his interest is with Jamaica. Inspired by the rich heritage of Jamaica’s former freedom fighters, Da Silva created a story line that, over time, came to include not only books, but also music CD’s, T-shirts, even skateboards, and more.
As the Dread & Alive phenomenon is evolving to new heights, with the release of a special comic book celebrating Jamaica’s 50th year of independence and its official endorsement by the Jamaican government, so is its readership. In the past two months alone, over 75.000 new fans confirmed their devotion to Drew MacIntosh, the main character in Dread & Alive, by liking Dread & Alive’s Facebook page, many of them hoping to one day see their own image appear as an extra in the series.
With so much ado about this unique series, it is high time for a conversation with the man who started it all.
Meet Nicholas Da Silva – graphic designer, flash media developer, illustrator, author, filmmaker, publisher, musician, producer and Maroon aficionado.
Nicholas, you have a great fascination with Jamaica. As an American with no direct ties to the Caribbean, how did your interest with the island develop?
Da Silva: I think my love for reggae music in general peaked my interest to learn more about Jamaica as a country and its history. As an artist, music is an important source of inspiration for me. I always begin my day with a pre-selected playlist of songs that stir my emotions to help me create my ideas and transform them to reality. I went through a period of listening to a lot of Bob Marley and bands like Steel Pulse, Third World and Black Uhuru. The more I listened to their music, the more I wanted to know about the history behind these artists and their music.
Some 20 years ago you set out to create an African-based superhero, an entity you felt was lacking in the comics genre. As such, Drew McIntosh was born – a Jamaican boy armed with a powerful amulet, who must do battle with an evil force to protect Cockpit Country, the habitat of the Jamaican Maroons. How did you come up with this character?
Da Silva: To come up with Drew’s character, I decided to look into the mirror and draw from my own childhood experiences. As a kid, we didn’t stay in one place too long. We would live in an area for 3-4 years and then my dad would take on an assignment half-way around the world which prompted us to move to a new location where we would then have to adjust to the new life. We got use to it. I wanted Drew to have the same experience. We also did a lot of traveling and living abroad so I wanted Drew to experience this as well. For Drew’s appearance, I wanted him to wear his hair in dreadlocks representing the head and mane of a lion, which just happens to be my favorite animal. For his personality traits, I knew that Drew had to be a person who fearlessly stood up against the bully or bad guy and defended those who couldn’t defend for themselves.
Once these characteristics were in place, it was time to create him visually. I have to admit that when I first began sketching Drew, I had him wearing green tights with a lion paw print emblazoned across his chest. I kid you not. I wasn’t happy with it though. I wanted Drew to be a superhero but without making him look like a superhero. Plus, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Rasta wearing tights. So I abandon the tights and decided to go with a more outdoor look for his attire. Drew had to look like a world traveller who has visited some of the roughest places on earth. Kind of like your Indiana Jones. For his powers, I wanted Drew to have superhuman strength and healing/self healing powers. I also wanted him to possess a amulet with untold powers. That amulet would feed off of Drew’s energy and vice versa.
Dread & Alive is primarily fantasy. Yet, it also includes facts, thus offering readers some insight to the ways of the Jamaican Maroons. Please tell us about your research. Being a non-Jamaican, were you already familiar with the history and culture of the Maroons?
Da Silva: I wasn’t at first. In fact, while in high school, I excelled in American Studies and World History. But for some strange reason, the Maroons were never a topic mentioned in the history books I read in class. I discover the Maroons on my own. I would spend any free time that I had at the library, descending into the stacks to research books that I could find on the Maroons, which at the time were few in number.
In other interviews, you claim to have taken some liberties with real history. What are the biggest liberties you took? Why did you make these decisions?
Da Silva: There are certain time periods within the Maroon history timeline that I find fascinating. One of those periods revolves around the Second Maroon War. The fact that the Leeward Maroons remained neutral during the Second Maroon war really struck an accord with me. I decided to use this as a catalyst for the story of Dread & Alive. In creating my stories, I always love to mesh fact with fiction. I think you when you do this, you blur the line between truth and fiction, which makes for a compelling story.
An important theme in Dread & Alive is the protection of the planet and the rights of its inhabitants, most specifically the protection of Cockpit Country and the preservation of Maroon culture. You seem driven to not only entertain, but also to educate. In this respect, what are you hoping readers will take away from the series?
Da Silva: I hope that readers will take an interest learning about the Maroons and their contribution to our history. I also hope that the readers will find a bond with Drew McIntosh and do their part, whatever they can, to help protect the rights of others and to preserve our planet.
About Rastafarian and Maroon culture. Drew is dreadlocked; and his amulet turns him into a roaring ‘lionman’ – which reminds us of the Lion of Judah in Rastafarian theory. What was the philosophy, if any, behind mixing Rastafarian and Maroon themes?
Da Silva: Drew McIntosh is a headstrong individual who lives in harmony with the earth which is one of the important qualities of the Rastas. He does try to live an Ital life but struggles from time to time. I think this quality in Drew makes him human and helps the reader to connect with Drew.Drew does wears dreadlocks that resemble a lion’s mane. To the Rasta’s, this is not only a sign of strength, but a tribute to the Conquering Lion of Judah. Drew is also a fighter, someone who fights for the rights of all living things including the right to freedom. The Maroons refused to live in slavery and would fight to protect that freedom. I think giving Drew the mix of the two groups makes for a very interesting character.
How long did it take for the first edition of the series to go from draft board to publication?
Da Silva: It took about 2 years to get the first issue to the public. Writing the script was easy. The first chapter of Dread & Alive fit perfectly for comic book issue #1. Putting a team together (penciller, inker, colorists and letterer) took some time to do. You want a team of artists who skills compliment each other. I think in the end, we hit a home run with the inaugural release. It was so well received that we sold out of the first print run!
The series now spans not only comic books, but also a graphic novel, a paperback novel, and several soundtracks. In addition to this, you have ventured out into the world of merchandise, offering fans all sorts of products, from T-shirts to skateboard decks, imprinted with Dread & Alive images. At start out, did you already plan these different media and their supporting merchandise?
Da Silva: I knew I would offer merchandising with the series. It was just a matter of what type of merchandise that I would go with. I am a big believer in thinking differently so launching the skateboard decks was definitely something I looked forward to doing. I’m constantly looking for something different that I can brand with Dread & Alive.
The comic book, the graphic novel and the paperback novel are different genres. How do these different formats affect the storytelling?
Da Silva: The comic book definitely affects the storytelling because of the need to separate the story to make a series of issue. Each issue doesn’t always equal one chapter. Sometimes, I need to stop in between a chapter to leave the reader hanging until the next issue is available. With the graphic novel and paperback, they basically mirror each other in storytelling. The only difference is that the paperback is text only while the graphic novel is visual with text.
Da Silva: The paperback novel is probably the easiest to produce. It’s just you, your thoughts and your iPad. I think the comic book production presents the biggest challenge. When producing a comic book series, you need to be consistent in publishing one issue after another and in a timely manner. Most mainstream comics (Marvel and DC) have 5-10 artists working on one issue at a time which makes it easy for them to release an issue once a month. When I started producing the comic version of Dread & Alive, I found that releasing 4 issues a year kept me sane. Anything more than 4 issue a year had me seeing a therapist. I don’t want to see a therapist. So I’ve decided to focus on the graphic novel format because I can take one novel and create a graphic novel from it that can be cross-purposed for a film project.
Da Silva: When I published Dread & Alive: Book One in paperback, my targeted audience was 9 years and up. I soon discovered that the boys in my daughter’s first grade class loved Dread & Alive. And whenever I ask who their favorite character was, it was 50/50. Half of the boys wanted to be Drew McIntosh, the other half, Shadowcatcher.
Da Silva: People want to know where they can buy the series in their language. Others want to know when the movie is coming out. Some even ask if they can appear in the movie. I do receive a vast amount of emails from fans who have just discovered the series and are so excited about it that they want to help spread the word about Dread & Alive.
You are currently getting ready for Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence on August 6th 2012, for which you plan a special comic book release of Dread & Alive. From a storytelling perspective, what is special about this edition?
Da Silva: This special August 6, 2012 release features the first 28 pages from Dread & Alive: Volume 1, the first of three graphic novels that make up the Dread & Alive saga. The pages represent the back story to Dread & Alive, taking the reader back in time to experience Maroon life when Cudjoe and Quaco (Shadowcatcher) ruled the Cockpit Country together in peace. I don’t want to give to much of the storyline away so I will leave it at that. I can tell you this. I’m also working on an audio track to release with this special issue. The song is entitled “Where there’s smoke, there’s fyah” and it is a tribute to the legacy of the Maroons. There will be a single version and a dub version of the track which I will release in digital format and vinyl 45… yes… vinyl 45!
Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Da Silva: I would like to thank all the fans who have embraced Dread & Alive and its hero, Drew McIntosh. I’m excited about the future of Dread & Alive and look forward to being a part of the Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence!
Thanks for your time, Nicholas!
Da Silva: Thank you for this opportunity! Take care, my friend!