Ordinary life, it seems, has all the potential to become an overwhelming apocalyptical story. Basing your story on it has its bonuses, says writer David Dhalia, who currently co-authors the script for the apocalyptical comic book arcs Genesis and From the Ashes.
“It’s not too far fetched,” Dhalia comments on the charms of reality in his work, “people can pick up School of Bitches and they can physically walk the paths that the characters take or they can go on Google and find the locations there. It’s happening now, timeline-wise, so people seem to relate a lot more with it.”
If by now you are wondering what “it” is, like the bewildered characters of Dhalia’s story, who wake up to the devastating aftermath of the “event”, let me introduce you to School of Bitches. They are a Cardiff-based creative team committed to wreaking artistic havoc on various locations across the globe. Their agenda: to bring you an enticing apocalyptical comic book story world without sci-fi embellishments where the survivors find themselves in a situation they are ill prepared for.
The group is driven and dedicated like you would imagine anyone who has settled for a lifelong project to be. Their Genesis may have humble beginnings in the two post-apocalyptic comics set in UK and America, but School of Bitches won’t stop there. They’ve decided to rival the Bible by producing 50 chapters of comic book material to coincide with the 50 chapters from the book of Genesis. And they’re casting their nets further afield, searching for artists and writers from other countries to join their arc. One such project has already been launched in Malta. There, Dhalia will collaborate with the local artist, Jasper Schellekens, to publish the Maltese anthology, From the Ashes.
Dhalia has been on board since 2012. Officially, he comes up with the text for the group’s comics, but is in reality tasked with a variety of chores. He is the letterer and does the occasional inking of the pages. He even advises the group’s artist, Alan Stealth and Schellekens on the drawn material.
“We work very closely together,” he says, describing the group’s dynamics. “We don’t use the Marvel method where someone will write a story and then they’ll send the story to an artist and he’ll do the art.” The Marvel method, Dhalia explains, leaves the writer, the artist and the inker stranded. “We don’t do it that way. That’s why it is so hard to come up with a formal job title for us because we work together on everything basically. It’s a more refined model I think. It works better and you cross-check each other constantly as well, so you’ll get a more solid product.”
Even as we met for the interview in the lower, partly abandoned part of the Argotti Gardens below Valletta (a scenic place, on David’s request), he is hard at work for the From the Ashes project. He snaps a few panoramic shots of Msida and the old fountain in the center of the gardens. Now that the story part of the Ashes is finished, he and Jasper Schellekens will begin to work on the storyboard and need to collect visual references from various locations around the island.
“As Malta is a small island much of it will be included in our story,” Dhalia comments on their pick. “The stories we’ve chosen so far are A Man and His Dog and Maria’s Song. A Man and His Dog all happens on Comino, so it’s all Comino and nowhere else, whereas Maria’s Song is set in a number of different areas like Gozo, Mdina, Marsaskala and Valleta.”
Understandably, no artist wants to give away too much about their upcoming projects. David, especially, is an ardent believer in the absorbing power of mystery and my request as to the content of the Maltese stories is met accordingly.
“For A Man and His Dog, when I first came here I got hold of the story of a man who lives on Comino all by himself and the idea came of my own fantasy, what is he doing there, why is he all by himself.” The man’s story is a meditation on the existentialist questions of isolation and survival.
Maria’s Song is a socially oriented story of the Maltese nation caught in the rapture of apocalypse. “There are a number of potential scenarios that could occur here and we felt that focusing on Malta's dependence on imports, from food stuffs to electricity, was the most effective direction to take,” says Dhalia. The apocalyptic Malta will see different groups rise from the ashes and struggle to survive in a situation they are ill prepared for. “Lost in the land they once called home,” he adds.
But why does the world inevitably have to end in destruction? Although we had to press our jackets firmly together to fend of the intrusive wind, the day was pleasant enough and seemed miles away from the School of Bitches fiery vision of the future. “That’s always the difficult question,” David answers after a while.
“I think people have forgotten what it is to live,” he continues cautiously, but becomes more assertive. “Just to live and not fall into this trap of, in the first world, decadence and fakery almost. People have forgotten all of these things, like being part of the community, being part of the family, being together.” Unwittingly betraying one of his story’s secret, he adds, “I think that’s almost what ‘the event’ is in the end, we’ve forgotten to care.”
The project he has helped to launch is a statement against this drifting apart. It aims to bring together artists from different social backgrounds and from all over the globe. “We’ve got something to say and that’s why it’s important to have all these different collaborators from all these different countries, areas, sexes and so on. They’ll be able to have a viewpoint I don’t.”
The rant in the end is inevitable, but also quite justifiable given the current situation. “We are not connected to life, animals, people, and the ones who have caused that have managed to turn everyone against each other,” emphasizes Dhalia. When we’re finished with the interview, he repeats stoutly the idea that permeates his works: “People will start coming together and start facing the challenges and the difficulties we do face in the world today.”
Hopefully, the ideas of School of Bitches are contagious, in an apocalyptic plague sort of way.
Sweet Animosity is the home for all projects and writings undertaken by Dhalia.