Our Stories • Volume One
What do you do?
I guess the good question is what don’t I do? I’m a comic book artist, gamer, illustrator, writer, video game maker, professional wrestler and currently story artist with Disney Animation Studios.
That's incredible! Where did it all start?
It started with the weird dream as a kid of just being a comic book artist. Comic books. That’s my life. That’s been my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve loved drawing since I was a little kid. I stumbled across my uncle’s comic book collection, and it just totally blew my mind. I was like, this is what I want to do. I want to draw comics. And so, I kind of had that as an anchoring point as I grew up. But I was also like, how do I make that happen? I had some kind of focus, I just didn’t know how to tell that focus to make it happen. So, I just kind of made comics and started putting them out there. I slowly built up my skill set, built up an audience and built up my body of work.
Making comics allowed me to navigate in all kinds of creative areas. So, I’m working for Disney at the moment. For [a lot of people], that’s a dream job. Not for me. I’m a comic guy. I was just doing my comics, not necessarily planning on being in animation. It’s not a dream job for me but it is a dream opportunity.
There’s so much more to learn about animation as a storytelling medium. In the age of where I grew up, it was analogue. And then digital tools came in a bit later. So I kind of honed my craft and sharpened my skills through the traditional skills of pencil and paper. Then, as I got older, I started using digital tools. My digital artwork wouldn’t be as good if I didn’t have that traditional foundation, and that’s why I think of the computer like a tool. The programme is a tool, but it’s still your experience, your hand, creating the artwork. The tools just enhance or improve the workflow.
That’s amazing! So, how did you move into tech?
Funnily enough, the first computer I ever bought was when I was 25. I was a late adopter of technology, but I fully embraced it in terms of how I could utilise it to create work. One of the things I love about digital technology is its communication purposes. As a storyteller, it’s all about communication. What’s the story you’re wanting to tell? How are you going to tell it? And so, for me, it was about how I can use these digital tools to enhance my storytelling. That’s how I used technology.
I’m always looking for tools to help me communicate better. And not necessarily within the digital space. Lots of people are trying to use digital tools just to make money. For me, I use digital tools for communication to tell stories and communicate your stories. There has to be a sense of integrity. That’s one thing I find key as an artist, as someone that’s telling a story, I use digital tools to tell stories, to share my story and to share my experiences to help inspire and uplift rather than sell a product.
It’s about stories. That’s inherent in our DNA. We are storytellers, first and foremost. Even now that I’m working at Disney, even before I’m an artist, I’m Samoan. So in those spaces, I have to acknowledge the culture, I have to uplift. I have to protect the culture, before I become an artist.
I think in navigating the space all on my own - like if you Google Samoan comic book artist, it’s just me. I never signed up for the responsibility that comes with being a trailblazer. But I understood when I was in that position. I didn’t have anyone to look up to or follow their footsteps in order to succeed in the fields, and so I realised that I kind of had to be that person for others. There’s that saying of trying to be a good ancestor, to try and honour your ancestors and be a good ancestor for those to follow. The responsibility is pretty heavy, but I also understand that it comes with the position that you’re in.
What carries you?
I think what carries me the most is I thrive on passion. Everything I do I absolutely love and often people are like, how do you do it? It’s like, I just did the things I loved, gave everything a go, gave it a shot. So passion really drives me, doing the things I love drives me and I always think about being the person I wished I had growing up that let me know if I can do this stuff. I’m a Duffy Books inhome role model and do a lot of school visits all around the country. I think I’ve visited over 27,000 kids across the country over the last few years, and it’s very much about sharing my story and inspiring the kids to chase the impossible dreams.
I know there’s a lot of kids who are thinking about doing something other than law. And I’m like, hey, I’m a Samoan kid from Mangere, South Auckland working for Disney. It’s possible to do this crazy stuff. I just set out to do what I love, and try and make a living out of it.
Amazing. What would be your words of wisdom to pass on to others to ignite that crazy wild passion they might have inside when society tells them to stay in the box?
The only time you stay stagnant is when you don’t take that step forward and take that risk. When it comes to a point in your career where you need to take a risk, that risk is no longer a small step. It’s a huge crevice. And then it becomes daunting and insurmountable. It’s almost like rungs on the ladder, right? So for me, it’s very much about “OK, let’s do this.”. Let’s go ahead. I’m very much a free flowing, take it as it comes guy. I kind of just ride the wave that comes my way, and I don’t create expectations. I find expectations create limitations.
I’ve found the more you create, the more you understand yourself. And because I’ve been creating for so long, I’ve gotten to understand my processes and experiences and how I view things. That’s when your voice comes through. There’s no shortcuts. You just have to create more, create more, explore your own mind more, understand yourself a little better. That’s when your voice shines through.