Founded in London, mayamada learnt from failure. There were five engineers and computer science grads, to begin with, but they battled to build a brand and a company. Over time those initial founders left.
The two left, the Determined Duo, started to make creativity work for them. They went to London Comic Con, ran successful Kickstarters, built a community, worked with charities and ran workshops for young people.
Then the lockdown hit. It was tough, and it disrupted the Kickstarter and weighed heavily against the tight budgets, schedules, mental health and lives of those involved.
Co-founder Nigel Twumasi, one of the Determined Duo, author of Serious: Through the Fog, was kind enough to talk to Geek Native about his experience. How did he keep going?
What is Serious: Through the Fog, and how does it connect to the lockdown?
Like the last couple years, this is a story that wasn’t in the plan! When the first lockdown came into effect, I was struggling both personally and business wise as the pandemic put an end to everything I had planned for the brand in 2020.
But creativity can be a great outlet. Serious is a story that started with volume 1 in 2016. It’s a story about a group of young creative entrepreneurs who come together to build their own brand and take on the world.
So I decided to write about what I was feeling and seeing in the world as a creative entrepreneur. While not a full volume 2 (that’s still to come), Through the Fog is a follow up story to Volume 1 where Blake and his team have to deal with a pandemic that unexpectedly hits their world.
Rather than get too bogged down with much of the negativity that has been part of our pandemic experience, I wanted a story that would ultimately highlight the positive lessons and outcomes that can be found even in times like these.
As well as being a new chapter in the mayamada universe, it became a way for me to process some of the things I was going through. The challenge was then writing an unplanned story that would still fit in with what will eventually be a full volume 2!
Who’s the intended audience?
We create stories for all ages so the audience for our manga tends to be younger. With this story in particular I was mindful of school aged children who have had a turbulent time with shutdowns. So my hope is that this can be something that helps frame and communicate those positive lessons in an interesting way.
But I believe creative professionals of any age who have also had a tough couple of years will get a lot from this story and hopefully being able to recognise the situations these characters go through in your own life.
mayamada runs workshops with young people about building confidence. Could you walk readers through that?
We’ve been doing the workshops since 2016. The idea came from wanting to bring the creative process to young people who don’t always have the space to flex their imaginations through creative activities at school or at home.
In the sessions I take them through the process of creating comic stories. So we start by brainstorming ideas for character and narrative development, then design pages of the comic. There’s drawing involved, but as not everyone is confident with drawing I focus on storytelling as a whole.
The idea is that by the end those young people have good story ideas they can showcase or continue with the principles they’ve learned in the sessions. It’s great because I get to talk about stories across pop culture and it means the kids in sessions are generally really passionate and engaged. I’ve done over 200 sessions so far and love hearing the stories that kids come up with when they let their imaginations go!
And since we started our gaming event GamePad, I’ve also been doing more video game workshops to talk about game design, storytelling and the industry in general. Gaming is a massive and still growing industry so being able to let the next generation know they can be part of making games is really important.
Have you been able to keep anything like those workshops going during the lockdown?
We had a period of school being shut down with the first lockdown, before opening and then being shut down again! So it’s been a challenge to keep things going. I’ve been able to do online sessions which are better than no sessions…but I’m definitely glad to have been able to return to physical workshop sessions this year!
The last in person session I did was in the Comic Museum here in London which was a great location with a really creative group. Things are looking more stable now so fingers crossed they’ll be more to come.
Serious: Through the Fog is not your first Kickstarter. Had previous campaigns helped provide any helpful lessons, tricks or techniques?
So many…and most of the lessons have come from failures! I would definitely urge anyone doing a Kickstarter to think of it as a long term thing and not just focus on the money from a 30 day campaign.
It’s difficult to do (especially when you genuinely need money to make anything happen) but what you ideally want is to run successive Kickstarter campaigns and build an audience around your work over the long term. This is a mistake we made early on, viewing the platform only as a way to fund a specific comic. But looking at this latest campaign, we’ve had people who have backed our previous campaigns, as well as people who have become fans of the brand over the years through conventions.
If people enjoy and get value from your work they will want to be part of your journey, and Kickstarter is a great way to let them in. So think about ways you can build a community of supporters around your work. Especially ways that don’t depend on the Kickstarter platform itself…your mailing list being the most important, but social media and in-person events too (as it becomes safe to do so again).
You also have to give people time. So it’s much better to let people know you have a project coming and build towards that, rather than spring something on them that’s starting next week for example. So it’s important you plan, both for yourself and your audience.
That’s where I’m putting my focus on future campaigns: plan in advance, so you can be clear on what you are creating and work on building our audience over the long term.
I imagine the lockdown has impacted the Kickstarter production and delivery too. How did you cope?
Massively! This project has come much, much later than I had anticipated, which is tough for me because I like to have things come out according to schedule. To be fair, some of that is unrelated to the pandemic. When I began writing the story after the campaign reached its goal, it became clear that there was more story to tell than the 24 pages promoted in the campaign. The story ended up being twice the number of pages which obviously took much more time to produce.
There was also the ongoing personal toll of the pandemic and still needing to be creative during that time to get that project done. It was tougher than I initially gave credit for…which is ironic given the subject matter of the book!
It got to a point where I had to accept that things would take longer than planned. Seeing multiple large video game companies announce delays to their games made me feel better about our tiny team taking longer to make this story.
On a typical day, what do you do to keep your mind fresh and creative?
I like to think I get out and go for walks more than I actually do! But whenever I do manage to take time away from a screen to get some fresh air I see it as a moment to recharge creatively.
It gives my brain time to wind down and work through problems without obsessing over them. There have been so many times where I’ve wrestled with a problem only to go for a walk and come back with ideas and potential solutions to try. Other simple things like having an exercise routine that can be done in my own home or even taking time to cook mindfully have all had positive effects for me and in each case, music is a big part of the process.
But at the risk of completely contradicting myself, video games are also a great way to unwind and let off steam. So it’s a different kind of screen experience…assuming you’ve got the right game!
How did that change during the lockdown?
Like most of us, the time I spent staring at a screen went up during lockdowns as I obviously wasn’t always able to get out as much as I’d like. Screen can be very distracting in ways we don’t always realise. For example, the time taken to scroll through twitter is one thing, but a lot of the time what we’re viewing on social media can negatively impact our wellbeing long after you’ve switched to another task.
It also became harder to separate work time from downtime…something I’ve never been great at even in non pandemic times anyway! When you run your own business it can be hard to draw that line, so when you need to work extra hard just to keep the business alive during such uncertain times…goodbye lines.
I’ve been able to give more thought to a better balance now things are relatively more settled. Hopefully, I’m working towards a better routine that’s a bit more resilient to the effects of a lockdown.
Does being an indie manga writer make this any easier or harder?
Working from home wasn’t too different to what I had been doing before. But as an entrepreneur, I was also faced with the very real prospect of having no business! So while I was still working from home, the circumstances had changed dramatically and I found it extremely difficult to relax, switch off or be creative under that kind of burden.
If anyone reading this is struggling with their creativity, do you have any tips for them?
The first thing I’d really recommend is getting some kind of exercise routine going. It doesn’t need to be overly complex either… I’m not saying you need to start lifting Olympic level weights or anything! But in whatever way works for you, find some way to move consistently.
Secondly, do your best to remove distractions and reduce time spent reacting to things…especially things outside of your control. So limiting time scrolling through social media or reacting to phone messages that can be detrimental to your well being and creativity.
A trick I’ve found helpful is switching off my phone data the night before so I don’t wake up to notifications in the morning. This helps prevent me from reacting to things before I’ve set out my own intentions for the day…then I can let the world in, so to speak! If it’s something you are able to do I highly recommend it.
Thank you, but before we go, what’s next for Serious: Through the Fog and your launch plans for it?
Because of the themes of the book and the ongoing situation around the pandemic and lockdowns, I think there is still a very relevant conversation to be had around resilience from a business and personal perspective.
So we’d like to have a launch event that brings together a panel of creative professionals to talk about how they have made it “through the fog” of the past two years. If things go to plan that’ll be in the spring when *fingers crossed* there will be more distance between us and the worst of the pandemic.
That aside, I’m also marking my calendar with possible 2022 convention appearances where I’ll be able to showcase the story to new audiences as well as fans who have supported us for years now!
What are your thoughts? Strike up a discussion and leave a comment below.