Neomad is an Australian science fiction graphic novel set in the year 2076 in and around Murujuga in the Burrup Peninsula. The heroes of this story are a group of tech-savvy kids who call themselves The Love Punks, scrounging for satellite junk to build a craft to take them to the moon. In between idle bickering and trying to keep out of trouble with their Elders, they discover an ancient evil that threatens all life on Earth.
The Love Punks are also the creative team behind Neomad itself, an ever-growing collective of young people from the Roebourne (Ieramugadu) community. Under the direction of Tasmanian comic artist Stu Campbell aka Sutu (creator of innovative online series Nawlz), the boys and girls use Photoshop skills to illustrate their fictional adventures.
As well as an interactive digital comic, Neomad is also available in print from Gestalt Comics. The work is the result of a collaboration between not-for-profit organisation Big hArt and the local community.
Guided by the principle ‘It’s harder to hurt someone if you know their story,’ Big hArt gives a platform to marginalised communities across Australia by engaging them with the process of storytelling, either through a public performance, film or, in this case, a children’s comic.
Deb Myers, creative producer and editor of Neomad, describes how the book came about.
“Big hArt was invited to work with the community of Roebourne back in 2010. It was a partnership between Roebourne, Big hArt as a community cultural development and arts organisation, and Woodside Energy, one of the resource companies that works in that region.”
The corporate sponsorship is particularly interesting, as it is part of a strategy to help preserve the cultural heritage of the people of the Burrup Peninsula.
“Why Neomad is set 70 years in the future is because it’s interesting to look at Indigenous culture.
“The petroglyphs of Muradurga are thirty-five thousand years old. It’s a very ancient culture with ancient traditions and that’s something that non-Indigenous Australians tend to forget. Our history is only 200 years old which is a tiny blip.
“What we wanted to do was portray how once the mining is finished and you fellas have gone, these guys will still be here doing the same things that they have been doing for the last 35,000 years.”
The series portrays these themes of heritage and ritual by having the Love Punks introduced to the historical importance of ‘country’ in the second issue. Neomad therefore doubles as an adventure tale and educational resource on Indigenous Australian culture that Big hArt is looking to introduce to classrooms.
“That’s our biggest hope, that this gets picked up by more teachers and gets into suburban schools around the country,” says Myers.
“Places that don’t get to interact with indigenous kids that often.
“We are interested in creating a curriculum for schools which will include a study guide. It will encourage libraries to get the books in but then also let people know that there’s an interactive version where they can go deeper into the process.”
As to how the storytelling process came about:
“Stu would write a loose story arc and take it to the kids. Then they would start to fill that up with narrative details. All the dialogue comes from the kids themselves. Stu would ask ‘would you say this?’ and the kids would say ‘no I wouldn’t say that, that’s how you white fellas say that!’
“Once the kids had inputted all their stuff we had to get it checked by the Elders. Suggestions would be made and more language would get built into it and that would have to get checked and rechecked.”
Each issue of the comic also includes a glossary of terms used from the Yindjibarndi language.
Proposed plans for Neomad in the future include an ‘exchange’ where The Love Punks meet kids from other parts of Australia, and a possible animated show.
The project is expected to wrap up sometime in 2015. In the meantime the continuing adventures of The Love Punks can be experienced through the iTunes app or ordered from Gestalt Comics.