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A part of history in the making: Weruche Opia

‘I May Destroy You’ star tells Khadisha Thomas her acting journey, going against narrative grains, owning her blackness, and the issue of consent.

From a Toronto apartment with a specifically requested balcony, Weruche Opia is a beaming presence on Zoom. It is her last day in quarantine before she begins shooting for another acting role, yet we still can’t get over her performance as Terry on the BBC hit series ‘I May Destroy You‘. Now that the initial media heat has died down, Weruche reflects on her career prior to and post working in BAFTA award-winning Michaela Coel’s dramatic masterpiece.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to act, it was something I knew I enjoyed,” Weruche says.

At the tender age of five, Weruche realized she wanted to be an actress. Drama was her favourite subject and Weruche would be cast for so many leading roles that the headmistress had to strictly allow someone else to have a go.

As Weruche shares her earliest acting memory she expresses sheer excitement, synonymous with what she felt as a child.

“I forced my cousins to do a little performance of Humpty Dumpty for my mum. I remember that my mum was very encouraging, she clapped and said ‘that’s amazing, you’ve got a gift, go and get yourself some smarties.”

Growing up, Weruche wanted to be like Angela Bassett, after watching her in ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’.

“I remember I went to a fancy dress party, my brother went as Aladdin and I went as Tina Turner. After watching that film I even thought that Angela Bassett was Tina Turner in real life because I was so convinced by her performance…

“When my brain developed and I realized it wasn’t actually Tina Turner but someone playing her I was like that’s an incredible skill to have and I’d love to do that,” she says.

Not having an idea of how to get into the industry Weruche went to university and after graduating she randomly stumbled upon the Identity School of Acting.

After a considerably quick four months, Weruche got into an agency and landed her first-ever TV spot on ‘The Bill’.

Weruche bursts into laughter as she shares her nervousness when telling her family and church that she would be acting as a prostitute. Little did Weruche know that she would potentially have to do much heavier things in ‘I May Destroy You.’

She also starred in season two of ‘Top Boy‘, which she describes as a miracle because it came when she had faced a dry spell in her acting and was starting to lose hope.

“It’s such an important part of black culture in the UK… I think these are stories that need to be told not to say that these are the only stories that black people have but it was just quite incredible to see people speak the way black people speak, using the slang.”

With more castings under her belt, the Nigerian born actress found that the ‘sassy black girl’ character was prevalent, a stereotype that she no longer wanted to explore.

Weruche Opia: photographed by Aham Ibeleme

“I know that the sassy black girl role comes with the angry black woman narrative which I don’t like to perpetuate… I want to play other roles than what we’ve normally been given. It’s the whole expecting me to kiss my teeth… and I’m like yeah we do that but that’s not to say that’s a whole character. And there are black women who don’t talk like that but again it’s a stereotype that has been so played out. There’s more to be said about black women,” Weruche says.

Some may think that acting as Terry in ‘I May Destroy You’ was Weruche’s first time stepping away from that narrative grain, but she attributes her roles in Nollywood films.

“The first film I did in Nigeria my character was a wedding planner, so there wasn’t any of the sass, she was a professional woman doing her job, but that was filmed in Nigeria so it was a different perspective, not what we are pandered in the diaspora.”

Weruche migrated to England when she was 13. At first she thought living in England was an extended vacation, but once she went to school she began to see the cracks in her holiday destination.

“I felt like I had to pretend to be from the Caribbean because being African then wasn’t cool. In Nigeria, I went to multicultural schools and everyone got along but when I moved to the UK I noticed everyone tended to stay in their own communities. That’s when I started to realize that I’m black,” she says.

Weruche had legally changed her name to Reanne because nobody in school could pronounce her real name.

Right up until she acted in ‘Bad Education‘ this was the name she wanted to be identified by.

“I had a conversation with my aunt and she asked me to go to my next audition and say my name is Weruche, and I was like why am I gonna do that but then I prayed about it and I did it. When I decided to be Weruche I became grounded in who I was.”

The passion is voracious as she talks about the importance of names and her experience with people trying to shorten her name or give her a nickname.

“It’s a thing of respect, everyone can say Marinovich so why can’t you say Weruche? I’ll teach you how to say it and you’ll get it wrong a few times but you’re gonna get there. It took me getting to a point of where I was confident in who I was and embracing my heritage. It was the beginning of a new era and that’s when life kicked off for me,” she says.

Life certainly did kick off, Weruche played Terry, the struggling young actor and best friend to Arabella, the main protagonist played by the show’s creator Michaela Coel.

‘I May Destroy You’ is a show that opened topics of racial microaggressions, off the back of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement. A show that showed the trauma of sexual assault regardless of sexuality and gender, based on Michaela’s own harrowing experience. A big smile spreads across Weruche’s face as soon as she talks about her relationship with Michaela. She only got a brief character description because the project was still under wraps but reading with Michaela, Weruche felt an instant chemistry which she describes as magical.

“I finally read the script and I was like yep, this is something that I need to be a part of because of the stories, because of the perspective… and for me more than anything that was my angle, to celebrate black women’s stories and reading it, of course, it was something I’ve never seen and I was like yeah this is gonna be history,” Weruche says.

In ‘I May Destroy You’, Terry is ridden with guilt when she realizes that Arabella was sexually assaulted after she told Simon to leave her alone in the club. As Weruche talks about the girl code on nights out, she is adamant that she would never leave her girls anywhere but understands why Michaela featured this.

Official trailer: ‘I May Destroy You’

“After a conversation with Michaela about it, it was kinda like stuff happens and if Terry knew what happened was going to happen she wouldn’t have given that advice. I think Terry shows that humanity and I think the character did try to redeem herself by helping her and she took responsibility for her part in that.”

Terry also engages in a threesome with two men who she believes to be strangers. However after seeing them walk home together she realizes that they were friends. Weruche felt that this perfectly highlighted the grey areas of consent. She found it interesting to play a character who on the one hand was expressing her sexual liberation but on the other hand was manipulated and leaving it up to the audience to make their own interpretation.

Some people felt that the character was still in control, but others thought she was taken advantage of, Weruche believes this is a grey area that needs further discussion.

“It was almost a power struggle where Terry felt she was in control of the situation because she made the decision to go off with these two men, but had she known they knew each other would she have had the same confidence.”

Weruche is proud of being part of a show that showed the authentic and relatable experience of sexual assault from a black woman’s perspective seldom seen in the media.

“The whole concept of the strong black woman, that we are these resilient creatures, feel no pain, we can just keep going even with the trauma… It’s nice but it also dehumanizes us and I’m not for it, because black women are always seen as these resilient creatures so there’s never time or empathy or care for black women to allow us to be vulnerable in spaces where other people are vulnerable,” she says.

‘I May Destroy You’ has broken down boundaries and has shown Weruche how to stand up for herself and for what she deserves but to also allow herself to feel all emotions.

“We bleed, we cry. I don’t think we have to be oxen.”

Going forward Weruche is grateful to the platform ‘I May Destroy’ has afforded her, and how far she has come on her acting journey.

Inspired by Michaela, who produced, directed and acted in the show and turned down a million-dollar Netflix deal, Weruche believes that anything she puts her mind to she can achieve.

“I mean what’s the worst that anyone can say to me? No?,” Weruche says.

We think they’d be crazy if they ever did.

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Madness, sweat and puppets: The online world of Nick Lutsko

The 31-year-old musician discusses exploring the strange side of songwriting and his sudden social media success with Samuel Hornsby.

On Twitter sits a sweaty man posting demented songs about gremlins, feline urination and Donald Trump’s arse. He froths at the mouth as he proclaims his appreciation for boat parades and proudly yells out about his grandmother’s warnings about the man who lives in his basement until he’s red in the face. This is Nick Lutsko, or rather it is his viral social media alter-ego.

The real Nick Lutsko is the complete opposite. He is calm, laid back and welcoming. However, even if his persona is all fantasy, his love for music is a concrete reality.

Though he has been a professional musician for years he suddenly hit new heights of popularity in August 2020 when he decided to post a joke song satirising the Republican National Convention.

Musical madness: ‘I wanna be at the RNC!’

“My online success was gradual and for years. Then I released ‘I wanna be at the RNC’ and it was massive,” he says.

“I had made three of those types of videos before this. The first one was about the model Chrissy Teigen unfollowing me, the second one was about my cats pissing on my bed and the third was about QAnon. Then I released this one which was just deranged. It was totally unhinged and repetitive and it was going on about Dan Bongino who I didn’t know if anyone knew about, it was just a fun name to sing.

“I remember telling my wife ‘this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever written’ and was worried this would be the song that would make people go ‘okay, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing’. It turns out that was the song that changed everything and showed me the path forward. I learnt that irreverent and bizarre is more of a good artistic default for me.”

Nick’s first foray into comedy song writing came about accidentally with social media once again lending a hand.

“Back in 2007 I tweeted an unsolicited theme song at the comedy duo ‘Tim & Eric’ for this election special they were doing at the time for an online entertainment site called SuperDeluxe. They liked this little song I made and used it for the show’s theme which got the ball rolling.

“When SuperDeluxe ended I then did some stuff with College Humor and when they ended, I did some stuff with Netflix. They were meme songs where I would take somebody’s words and turn them into a parody of a popular artist.

“I’d always kind of done these things for money and my name were very much behind the scenes on all these projects. I was never really comfortable attaching my face to it because there was some imposter syndrome because I never really envisioned myself as a comedian,” Nick says.

Creative mashups: ‘Eminem as a Talking Heads song’

However, during the pandemic he experienced a sudden change of heart and decided to take a leap of faith by producing musical output that was spontaneous and funny with his face at the forefront. This newfound confidence allowed him to see how far he could take this unrestrained approach to content.

Over time these videos grew to feature a surreal storyline full of strange and mysterious recurring characters. They all followed the narrator who Nick describes as a “misguided 30-year-old man who lives with his grandma and has these paranormal creatures who may or may not exist that interact with him” and that he is either “a pathological liar or severely deluded.”

As the outlandish nature of the videos increased so did their popularity to the point where Nick decided to press this series of deluded viral anthems to vinyl. He started a Bandcamp campaign for the record which received $56,126.79 which was 1331% of the minimum target goal.

Collection of derangement: Nick’s advertisement for ‘Songs on the Computer’

“I was blown away with the success of the recent vinyl campaign and not anticipating that level of support.

“Bandcamp just sent me an email one day saying they were starting this crowdfunding campaign thing. It seemed easy because I just had to press a few buttons and type a few words, then it was live. It was a low-risk situation that didn’t require much work.

“The irony is, as a result of one of the campaign pledge benefits, I now have to shoot 350 videos dressed up as my alter-ego gremlin-human hybrid Desmond which is gonna take a lot of time,” he says with a chuckle.

Green alter-ego: The fan trailer trailer for ‘Gremlins 3’

On the campaign paged he expressed his disbelief that his first vinyl release was a collection of comedic Twitter songs but that it felt on-brand for the decade so far. This is because, despite his recent success arising from light-hearted short songs, music has always been a lifelong pursuit with much of his previous material being far more personal and serious.

Nick began taking guitar lessons in the fourth grade which continued throughout high school. After that he then went on to major in commercial songwriting at Middle Tennessee State University before graduating in 2012 when he moved back in with his parents so he could fully focus on his craft.

He says: “I just always struggled through being an amateur musician and any music that I made just went back into building what I was trying to do artistically.”

Now Nick is often accompanied on these more serious projects by his backing band ‘The Gimmix’ who boast the unique look of life-sized puppets with the costumes created by Nick himself.

“Essentially what happened is I started producing my own records and my album ‘Etc.’ had a full band sound even though it’s just one guy doing everything on it. When it came time to do a music video, since I didn’t have a band at the time, I had the idea of using these hand puppets that I had made for the backing musicians.

“I just really like that it accented this surreal kind of feeling that I was trying to get through with the music and I thought it would be cool to carry that through to the live show. By the time that I did form a band I decided to recreate that by having a human sized puppet band on stage with me. We’ve been running with that ever since.”

Puppet pals: The music video for ‘Predator’

The band rarely tours as a result of many of the members having prior responsibilities and primarily focuses on creating fresh engaging live shows for local crowds in their hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The spectacle of the live shows gradually grew bigger and more different with the band collecting good quality footage to show to new possible venues in the future.

However, COVID-19 thwarted any plans of the band branching out to new live spaces any time soon.

So, with live shows ruled out, Nick was constrained to creating music from his primitive home studio. There he found himself wanting to do something lighter as the world seemed more desolate than ever.

“My previous album ‘Swords’ was very much a direct response to the Trump campaign in 2016 and the administration that followed. You couldn’t help but be bummed out by it. After that I knew I wanted my next project to be more fun,” he says.

Nick prides himself in the fact that he always tries to approach his creative projects from an alternative angle but for his new exploration into comedy music, he found himself having to develop a different method of songwriting.

“With my serious output I like to try and find the path less travelled and in contrast, there’s no concern as to whether the joke songs are derivative. I let the subconscious drive the bus and see where it ends up.

“For example, with the RNC song, I had no work to do that day and knew I wanted to create something. That year’s RNC had just started and so I sat down and wrote the song in maybe an hour then recorded it, shot the video and had it up by the end of that day.

“Then, realising that I could do something that day where there’s not much editing or prior though and getting a warm reception from it was very liberating and had made me able to trust my instincts a little bit more.”

He acknowledges his sudden social media spotlight is a strange chapter in his artistic journey, but it is one that has helped him grow an audience, develop new skills and given him the confidence to explore further into the world of comedic music.

Nick says: “Looking back, I’m glad that I’ve been able to make fun music even though a lot of it is about these dark times. It’s nice to be able to package it in these silly, danceable songs.”

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Anarchy & activism: The punk devoted to charity

Eagle Spits: photographed by Scott Bradley, Phukin Photos

Samuel Hornsby hears the story of Eagle Spits, the punk rocker who has dedicated himself to helping global street kids.

With tattooed knuckles, a brightly dyed mohawk and facial piercings, there is no doubt that 55-year-old Eagle Spits is a punk. However, he is unique in that he has found a way to blend his love of anarchic rock with charity work and created the Nottingham-based organisation Punk 4 the Homeless. The aim is to put on loud bands and in the process raise money for South American street kids.

“I first got into punk when I was fourteen. One day I walked into my parents living room and Top of the Pops was on and ‘The Stranglers’ were playing. I thought it was totally different from anything else that was happening, and I became a punk on the spot,” Eagle says.

“Punk to me is an attitude rather than a musical format. There have always been there slagging off the government, the state and the police and, for me, there’s no point doing all that if you’re not going to do anything about it. That’s how the slogan came about for the charity: ‘stopping cops killing kids is punk rock.’”

Eagle began working on the cause on his own in 2010 when he wrote to several homelessness charities to find affiliation. Compass Children’s Charity were the only ones to reply.

“There’s 100 million street children in the world. There’s 40 million in Latin America. ‘Compass’, who we work besides, look after kids in Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua. That can be anything from street outreach to getting kids reunited with families or into orphanages.

“For an example of what we’ve done with them, we sent a couple of thousand quid a few years ago because there were a group of girls whose only prospects were to go into prostitution. With that money we were able to fund a welding project because that was a valuable skill that would keep them from having to go down that path.”

“We try and capture a ‘solidarity, not charity’ ethos.”

It was a struggle to begin with, but now Eagle has managed to build a team of four other committed team members to help run the cause with additional help from occasional volunteers. Additionally, even though the team has grown over the last decade Eagle can still find difficulties.

“It’s fuckin’ hard work putting on events,” he says.

“There’s always lots and lots of bands that want to play for us but the organisation of it isn’t always easy. There’s always something that’ll go wrong. Also, we haven’t got the finances that a big place has so if something like the P.A. system goes wrong, we have to sort it out ourselves.”

Nonetheless, this grassroots approach is a part of Eagle’s philosophy of life, and there is a love of being involved in the different stages of organisation.

“I consider myself a Christian Anarchist and Anarchism involves a D.I.Y. approach. It gets away from the corporate organisational stuff and tries to escape being involved in any systems of oppression,” Eagle says.

“We try and capture a ‘solidarity, not charity’ ethos. A lot of people are rightfully suspicious of charity because they’ve got CEOs taking lots of money and people don’t know where their money actually goes to. Whereas, with what we do, I think people see exactly where all their money is going.”

As of 2019, in addition to their events supporting the efforts of Compass Children’s Charity, Eagle and Punk 4 the Homeless have also begun supporting a small, independent girls’ orphanage in Sierra Leone.

“When the Ebola crisis hit Sierra Leone a man and his mum and brother took in 73 orphaned girls and they’re living in a four bedroomed house. All the money we send there goes to feeding, clothing, education, and medical bills.

“The money that goes there is more direct because they haven’t got any other external support apart from us. We’ve been a lot more intense on that cause recently. Since we’ve got involved, they’ve even named themselves ‘Hope Orphanage’.”

However, like so many other things, Eagle and his charity were thrown into a state of uncertainty last year when Covid-19 broke and forced closures of indoor events, including the Punk 4 the Homeless gigs that brought in much of the money he would raise.

“During lockdown I thought ‘oh shit, we’re screwed’. I had to think about how the hell we could go forward. We tried the online stuff and luckily that kind of flourished,” he says with bewilderment.

“When we started, we did 55 days straight of events to say ‘look, we’re here still’. It turned out to be very advantageous much to my surprise. In fact, we’ve ended up making more money through the online events than we would from the normal gigs we’d be putting on.”

Though nothing can truly replace the atmosphere and feeling Eagle gets from the live in-person events he would usually be holding, he has embraced the digital platform with two all-day livestream events each month.

“It’s been different doing online events, but a valid experience in itself,” he says as he takes a drag from his cigarette and smiles.

“I don’t know what will happen in the future but I’m not going anywhere.”

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‘How many black people are speaking Japanese? Not many’

TikTok star and musical artist, Richard Tomic loves Japanese culture with plans to move there. Despite it not being a popular route for people of colour he follows his dreams nonetheless. Savannah Duncan hears his story.

Richard Tomic, a Black British TikTok star with over 208 thousand followers, wants to leave the UK to live in Japan. He first started creating TikTok videos in June of last year during the UK’s first lockdown.

He says: “I made my account during the first lockdown because I saw my friends who I knew online getting popularity on TikTok.”

Although he was born and raised in London, Richard wants to move to Japan. He has previously been to Japan three times and had the opportunity to live there for a year in 2017. His grandfather was working at the Japanese Embassy for six years, so he was able to stay with him during his time.

“It was the best experience of my life.”

Whilst living in the UK he wasn’t able to do much because his mother was a little strict and very religious, however, once he moved to Japan his Grandfather gave him a bit more freedom.

“I guess you could call it a self-discovery journey, I just did everything I wanted to do that my mom wouldn’t allow me to do because of her religious views,” he says.

Despite his mother’s strict views, Richard believes he had a great upbringing and understands the hard work his mother put in for him.

“I appreciate the fact that she did that for the both of us, mainly for me.”

Currently, Richard is studying Law and Japanese at university because he wanted to gain a degree in any field, he could get his foot into.

“If you want to live in Japan you need to have a degree, that’s why I couldn’t stay there for more than a year because my visa ran out.

“If I don’t graduate, I won’t be able to go back and live, and get a work visa.”

After Richard had lived his year in Japan, once he had returned to the UK, he was forced to take a foundation year.

“They had a few courses that were available to me after the foundation year and Law was the only one that seemed to have substance,” Richard says.

“The other courses I just don’t see how I’d be able to get any kind of reliable employment from them, so I was just like law looks good let me just go for it.”

Anime inspired: Richard’s past fashion.

Richard has a great love for Japan and their culture, to the point where he used to dress similar to Japanese anime characters. His previous fashion sense was the inspiration for his first viral TikTok video called ‘Watch me get out of my I want to be Japanese phase’ which features images of how he used to dress in the past.

His main focus within his videos is his use of Japanese which he mixes with English from time to time.

“The reason why I started Japanese is just I wanted to be different, I was just like how many black people are there speaking Japanese. That’s already a selling point.”

Surprisingly, Richard is no longer a fan of anime like he used to be.

“I had a little anime phase when I first got into Japanese but that’s not the reason why I started learning Japanese. I started watching it as a result of learning Japanese.”

His Japanese phase only lasted a year, and he believes it was his obsessive personality that got him into anime in the first place. I watched one anime and then I relaxed my hair and I tried to dye it white.

“I watch anime every now and again but I’m definitely not an anime fan.”

At first Richard started making English skits on TikTok, but then took a short break after gaining a few hundred followers.

“I was just like, you know what I’ve seen people being really successful in this app let me just try again,” he says.

Richard then began creating English skits again until he posted his glow up video and it went viral. This was when he gave Japanese content a shot just to try it out.

Additionally he also creates his own music and posts it on TikTok. Although he has never pursued music within education, Richard has been making beats for around two years until he started taking music seriously. Since he knows how to speak both Japanese and English, his music also contains a mix of both languages in most of his songs.

“A lot of my ideas are quite out there and quite quirky because I’m a quirky person”

Most of his music found on his page was produced by himself, it was his friends who inspired him to make music.

“They were just like, bro you’ve come so far you’re actually a solid musical artist and it’s only taken you a year,” Richard says.

His one and only inspiration for everything he wants to achieve in the entertainment world is an actor, screenwriter, stand-up comedian and much more: Donald Glover.

“He’s a well all-round performer. Donald was my main inspiration at the start of lockdown when I decided to start doing music and then I started incorporating the comedy.”

Although Richard is inspired by Donald Glover, his content is still 100% original with some being real-life experiences.

“A lot of my ideas are quite out there and quite quirky because I’m a quirky person,” he says.

“I take inspiration from others, but I never seem to copy.”

Despite Richard’s career being newly found he is still incredibly grateful for how far he’s come and wishes he’d started sooner because he doesn’t think things could be better than they already are.

“My most memorable moment would be my first Instagram live. They were just so interested in me… it was just nice we all had a conversation.”

Richard Tomic found his passion for the Japanese culture and decided to pursue it, despite knowing that people of colour do not normally take an interest in topics like these. He is still working towards setting up shop within the country itself. Hopefully bringing along his music and videos with him.

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Art in isolation from New York neurotic, Jeffrey Lewis

The cult singer-songwriter discusses loneliness, luck and his love of comic books with Samuel Hornsby.

It’s the end of January but Jeffrey Lewis still has his Christmas tree up. On the wall hangs a homemade collage of ‘The Terminator’ with the head of ‘Lou Reed’. The off-kilter appearance of the living interior matches the appearance of its occupant whose bucked teeth and balding hair may leave passers-by to judge him as an oddball. Such things do not bother him though.

As he potters about his cramped New York apartment on video call, there is a sense of self awareness about his eccentricities which he has often embraced and elaborated on in his art.

“Just because something isn’t in the charting Top 100 doesn’t mean that it’s a failure or that it has no great quality or spirit,” Jeffrey says.

“I don’t think there could be a world in which artist like Kevin Coyne, Daniel Johnston and Jeffrey Lewis are at the top of the charts. We don’t make music that makes sense for most people. It isn’t what they’re looking for. When you’re making stuff yourself you just do what feels exciting to you. I don’t make a song or a comic book with the intention of having a sales target or popularity.”

Introspective songwriting: Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage’s ‘Take It For Granted’

The music of Jeffrey Lewis has often been labelled anti-folk. The artist himself describes his style as “New York City rock ‘n’ roll with a lot of attention to the lyrics” and draws song-writing influences from the likes of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman, Bob Dylan and, in particular, Daniel Johnston.

“Hearing the work of Daniel Johnston showed me a way to make music in the vein that I was making comic books. Daniel showed a way that just your own personality, humour and emotions could translate into making great songs. That was really a revelation to me.

“I graduated from school and suddenly I was out in the real world without much of a social scene. I was just living a very typical starving artist life. I was home most of the time and working jobs, but I had no money,” he says.

“At that point making comic books wasn’t enough to fill all my loneliness and boredom so I started writing songs. Then I found myself going to      open-mic nights and performing them. My musical career came out of a big personal void and the pain of being alone. Humans are tribal creatures and if we’re severed from a social scene you almost feel this physical pain from the isolation.

“All of that emotion went into the music which were like lullabies that I would sing to myself, along with a bit of humour.”

“I feel lucky about the songs I write, not proud.”

Though Jeffrey found a cathartic release through music his first love was comic books, a passion he has had since childhood and has persisted ever since.

“It’s funny. I was just stumbling on a batch of old comics from when I was a little kid from six or seven years old. Just look at those comics I remembered how much they meant to me and how many of them I read. It was just my whole world. Music was just not part of my life as a kid. It was just comic books enveloping 100 percent of my brain.

“Comic books are something I feel I was born to do. It’s also something I feel I’m still on the path of learning how to do. I’m aware each one I make is just a further step towards the better comic that I’ll make next time after that.”

Though Jeffrey puts a great deal of time and effort into both of his two primary creative outlets, his approach to making and evaluating them is a contrast. On the one hand, he views drawing as a challenge and a craft that requires constant improvement, whereas coming up with good lyrics and melodies is something he puts more down to luck than his own intentional decisions.

“An album feels like a product of luck and a comic book feels like a product of skill. It’s very hard to feel proud of your luck. I feel lucky about the songs I write, not proud. I don’t know if you can say you’re going to be more inspired next time,” he says.

“Each album feels like some miraculous thing that I might not ever be able to repeat. Just because I wrote ten songs that I feel excited about for one album, doesn’t mean I’ll write ten more great songs for the next album. It’s almost the opposite. It’s more like ‘man, I can’t believe I came up with this album’ and then I think that I’ll never be able to come up with one again.”

Both Jeffrey’s comic books and music have a very hands-on and homemade approach. He provides all of the writing and artwork for the comics and album art as well as writing and performing the songs. His latest lo-fi release ‘2020 Tapes (Shelter​-​at​-​Homerecordings & Pandemos)’  was recorded at his home during the New York lockdown. Although, as he explains, this is not just a stylistic choice but also a necessity.

Pandemic performance: A homemade recording from ‘2020 Tapes’

“I don’t have the technical know-how or even the recording gear to make anything high quality.

“The song is the important bit and if I can just record the song in whatever way is available, which can be in the studio or at home,” Jeffrey says.

“However, I don’t apply that mindset when I make my own album artwork. Though it is a do-it-yourself project because I am literally doing it by myself, that does not equate to being a lesser product than it would be if I were to hire somebody else. I feel like nobody is going to do a better job of the illustrations and the packaging design than I can because I think I’m quite good at it. It’s kind of D.I.Y. from the opposite perspective than the music.”

A usual staple of a Jeffrey Lewis live performance, whether in the flesh or screened digitally, are documentary style history songs accompanied by his own illustrations, combining his two artistic venture. This unique audio-visual display is one that had early roots in his musical career but has been expanded over time.

Mixing music and art: Jeffrey on stage with his comic book projections

He says: “Around 1998 I started to be offered to play little shows around New York City. When you’re only playing one gig every five weeks you really have a chance to make every performance a special thing. Each show was a new chance to experiment.”

One idea to come out of that period of experimentation was illustrated songs. After a few years he ventured into non-fictional topics for them for the 25th anniversary of Rough Trade Records and soon after created one depicting the history of ‘The Fall’ when he opened for the band. Eventually though he ambitions for the format grew.

“I thought ‘what would be the most gigantic historical topic with a huge story that has nothing to do with music?’. The crazy idea I came up with was to try and tell the history of communism. I’ve been adding installations in that particular series ever since.”

Illustrated history: Jeffrey presents ‘The Story of Chile’

His illustrated songs are emblematic of his enthusiasm for both comic books and music as well as his unique creative vision which has allowed him to persist as a cult figure for over two decades. Sure, as he admits, an artist like himself will likely never hit the charts but his passion and originality will make sure he will always stand out and be remembered.

2

Where comedy meets creepy: inside the mind of David Firth

The online animator discusses his approaches to creativity, humour and the success of Salad Fingers. Samuel Hornsby hears his story.

The works of David Firth polarise audiences. Some will laugh whilst others will be horrified and disturbed. That is because he is the British animator behind some of the internet’s strangest and darkest cartoons.

The 38-year-old Leeds-based artist shot into internet notoriety through his series ‘Salad Fingers’ which revolves around a strange green man with freakishly long fingers and a love for rusty objects. Throughout the episodes the character struggles with loneliness and insanity in a barren landscape with only his finger puppets and other deranged individuals for company.

It may seem an unlikely hit, but the series has racked up more than 130 million views on YouTube. However, when David first started, he wasn’t thinking about fame, but rather to make funny videos for him and his friends to watch.

“The success of Salad Fingers was a surprise. I never expected I’d make something worth watching. It was always just for fun,” he says.

“I always went under the idea that I was never going to be an animator and I was not good enough to be an animator. So, anything I made was just as a joke or to see what was possible and what I could do.”

Suddenly things changed in 2004 when David found himself featured on the front page of the flash entertainment site Newgrounds which placed him in the limelight with thousands of eyes watching and eager for more.

Internet icon: Salad Fingers

“It was weird to suddenly have an audience because I had to really consider what I was putting out after that. Before then, I could put out any old crap and there was no expectation,” he says.

“The main thought was ‘I need to make more Salad Fingers’ because there was nothing else that I’d made in that dark style. It was new for me at the time.

“All these new people had to watch was crappy, very Northern in-joke cartoons that me and my friends came up with. I wanted to stay relevant and not be a fad.”

The popularity of Firth and the Salad Fingers series did not die down and instead the titular green humanoid has become one the most recognisable online cartoons. The series has spawned fan games, parodies, hundreds of reaction videos and the latest episode has amassed almost four million views to date.

“I think what has kept people interested in the Salad Fingers series after all this time is the fact that I don’t make episodes for the sake of it,” David says.

“It’s just about waiting until I’ve got a decent idea before I make one which can end up being a few years between episodes.

“Each episode has to innovate somehow to keep me interested, but I think that also keeps the audience interested. I don’t like the idea of repeating myself.”

It is not only with the Salad Fingers series where David keeps ideas fresh. Over the years his other animated projects have varied from the dark and twisted tales of the dystopian beetle-ran nightmare ‘Spoilsbury Toast Boy’ and the unnerving stop motion ‘Crooked Rot’ to light and silly series such as the low budget hijinks of fictional animator ‘Jerry Jackson’ and the ‘Burnt Face Man’ series which sees the plights of a superhero whose only power is, as the name suggests, having a burnt face.

Variations of strangeness: David Firth’s Youtube Channel Trailer

Though these projects may get less views and attention, David sees this as a positive as he feels he can then experiment more with there being less of an expectation to please a wide fanbase.

“I’ve got more freedom on smaller projects because there’s no pressure to make something that’s crowd-pleasing. In fact, sometimes I do the absolute opposite and do something I don’t think could please anyone. Sometimes I’m surprised and it gets a warm reception.”

Occasionally the reception can be unexpected for different reasons though. As a result of the darker world of ‘Salad Fingers’ earning the most recognition, new fans are often surprised to find the more comedic side to his catalogue of work.

“Now when people watch something lighter that I do, say for example a new episode of ‘Burnt Face Man’, there’s always people who say ‘oh, he’s trying comedy now’ as if that wasn’t part of the work before.

“There are people in the comments of quite a lot of my videos arguing about whether they’re meant to be funny or not, but they’re always supposed to be funny. I don’t think I could make something dark without comedy being in there. It would be too serious, and I try not to take anything that seriously.

“When people act offended or upset by my work it only makes it funnier,” he says with a chuckle.

Comedy shows such as Chris Morris’ ‘Brass Eye’, ‘South Park’ and the work of ‘Reeves & Mortimer’ used to be a key inspiration for David’s work, but he now says he prefers to try and make videos that fill the gap he thinks is missing in entertainment.

Additionally, when approaching stories with a more fluid narrative David chooses to try and emulate the atmosphere of dreams. This is particularly illustrated with the anthology ‘Sock’ series which he writes by tapping into his stream of conscious.

The latest episode in the series sees a man named Nigel journey through a Kafkaesque surreal landscape engaging in nonsensical interactions and gets into a bizarre love affair with a talking cow called Craig.

Stream of conciousness storytelling: The trailer for Sock Six

“I like to take inspiration from the unpredictability of dreams,” David says.

“The whole point of making stuff is to make people feel things and to me, there’s no other feeling like being in a dream and it’s a feeling I think goes well with my style of animation.”

Though a dreamlike, unpredictable style is something present throughout David’s work, he explains that the process of animating itself is the opposite.

“There’s no spontaneity with animation because it takes so long to get them done. The benefit is that I feel there is something more timeless about animations. At least people might revisit them in the future.

“I just make what I feel like really. Sometimes I get halfway through a project and move onto a different one because it’s not the right one to do yet,” he says.

“I’ve got an episode of ‘Burnt Face Man’ that I’m going back to which I started back in 2019. I’ve also got another episode of ‘Not Stanley’ in the works. The dialogue in that was completely improvised about 10 years ago and I’ve just got around to putting visuals to it.

New life to old projects: Burnt Face Man 10 trailer

 “I think I’m going to put out some more episodes of one of my earliest series, ‘Panathinaikos Bear’, out as well but not tell anyone. I’ll stick them on a second channel.”

As well as revisiting old series, he is always seeking new fresh ideas that might arise which allow him to experiment in new formats and styles.

“There’s a new abstract animation that I’m making that’s under the working title ‘Erosion’ because the images I’m using are quite eroded,” David says.

“That’s because I’m animating it first and then projecting the pictures onto dirty paper, but it won’t be called that when it’s done.”

David explains that he thinks he’ll always have more ideas for cartoons than time to animate, and they don’t show signs of stopping. So, whether filled with humour or horror, he will keep pursuing the strange and surreal in the world of online animation.