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Interview: Nyla Ahmad on Full Colour, a new comic-making mentorship programme for young POC/BAME creators

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Nyla Ahmad works for BHP Comics and is Co-Lead on Full Colour, a new mentoring programme for young people from POC/BAME communities aiming to help them get involved in creating comics.

The programme is part of The Year of Young People 2018 in Scotland and recently released its first graphic anthology. Nyla Ahmad sat down with The National Student to discuss Full Colour, mentoring the next generation of comic creators and how the industry must and can involve POC/BAME individuals at all levels of the comic-making process. 

Image: Full Colour 

Can you introduce yourself for our readers?

I’m Nyla Ahmad. I work for BHP comics and I’m the co-lead on Full Colour, a mentoring programme for young (14 – 26 year olds) from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. The works thus far have been collected into a publication which was released at Glasgow Comic Con. 

The original date of the 26th that the CCA for the accompanying art exhibition was interrupted by the GSA fire that made that impossible. We were looking forward to showing the kids next to their art ,but had no access to the CCA or our BHP offices. I think its important it was at Comic Con, I wanted them to feel submerged in the comic scene. 

 

What is Full Colour and who made it?

 Full Colour was started by Sha Nazir, who founded Glasgow Comic Con, the Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance Awards (or SICBAs for short) and BHP comics. He is also art director of BHP. Both Sha Nazir and I noticed at comic and even publishing/arts events that we’re often the only people of colour in the room. It was born out of a need for true inclusive representation all the way through. We wanted to use our positions as professionals in industry to help uplift others.

 

Was mentorship and teaching people something you had thought of doing or did it just happen? 

Mentorship was always something I wanted to do. Before publishing, I wanted to be a lecturer, but I found academia difficult to navigate. I really enjoyed being a graduate teaching assistant though. I wanted to teach and to talk to people and get them enthusiastic about the things I really care about. I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to take my love of teaching and use it to encourage people who don’t normally see themselves represented in the arts. When being a GTA, you’re normally already talking to people who are engaged and interested, who have been accepted into a uni. I’d talk to loads of people who never went to uni and didn’t feel engaged in the arts or culture but so many of them were wicked intelligent with really interesting takes – the only thing that seperated them from the people in my classes was opportunity, circumstance and encouragement, so doing mentorship that uplifted people was my absolute dream job.  

 

Is BHP doing something new that is lacking in other publishers, big and small?

BHP really does important work and I’m not just saying that because I work there. BHP are really focused on being socially responsible. We recently co-published ‘We Shall Fight Until We Win’ with 404 Ink, which charts 100 years of pioneering political women. Full Colour is part of this ethos.  A person on a panel saying diversity is a problem, acknowledging it, is not the same as tackling it. People of Colour are needed in this industry. BHP recognises that. We support innovation and social change and we’re happy to be a people of colour led organisation that will take steps to help others. 

 

Were there any particularly inspiring moments that came from the participants?

My favourite moments were when participants realised they could do it and said “Wait a minute…I just made a comic!”. I felt like a lot of the participants were hesitant or didn’t feel like they were good enough to make comics. It was ludicrous to me as they were all amazing. When I showed Nicole, whose work features on the back of the book, the published work she had a great reaction. It’s those moments that really made it for me.

 

Any ideas that stick out?

Oh gosh, all of the comics were awesome. 

One of my favourite ideas? They were all fantastic. Laeticia Eve Danica’s With Great Power had amazing Indonesian cultural references. She has a wicked sense of humour and did a story about a super hero getting diarrhoea after every fight. Another was Brown Privilege about the first time you realise your parents are just human beings and you accept your own culture. It made me really emotional when I read it. In the office both of us were working on it reading. We both sat in the office and went “Omg…”. Ny Ali did a graphic story based on the Brother Grimm stories called 7 Ravens. All of it though was outstanding. 

 

 Do you think it’s doing something for POC/BAME representation in Scottish art?

I really do hope so! Being serious though, yes definitely. We’re the first UK-based comics anthology led completely by people of colour. There has been Elements:Fire in the US, but we don’t get a huge representation over here. I think there’s still this sense, sometimes, that there just aren’t people of colour who want to make art? That’s ridiculous. You just aren’t engaging them well. To steal a sentiment I have fully adopted from Glasgow Women’s Library, people aren’t hard to reach, your organisation is. 

 

Who inspires you?

I know I’ve just mentioned them so you can probably see this coming! I’ve been hugely inspired by Glasgow Women’s Library. They have such strong morals and dedication to inclusion. They get people involved and they put the work in to make sure people feel included and represented. They have always respected and supported my work and really nurtured my equalities based practice. They had a huge influence in how I conduct myself professionally and how I work to uplift others. As an intersectional feminist, they taught me so much good practice.

 

Why is it so important that the storytellers of POC/BAME stories are from these communities themselves?

When these stories come from those communities you know it’s going to be authentic and representational – that’s not to say you can only write what you know, but there is a responsibility to make sure the representation is genuine and considered. When making work, ask yourself ‘who pays for this, if I get it wrong? If I contribute to stereotypes?’. Sometimes it’s just not your risk to take. I know representation is a bit of a hot topic issue at the moment, but it shouldn’t be a tokenistic gesture. It should be treated with respect as there are so many nuances to each individual representation. Make sure the communities you are representing are being heard, not being ‘viewed’. 

What do you want people to take away from the book and project?

I want people to have fun! Sometimes I feel people treat representation as an exercise, but this book isn’t hard reading at all. It’s just great stories by creators completely brimming with potential. We read to connect to others, to see new and fresh perspectives, and this book will hopefully open a few minds and hearts. 

 What are BHP's and your own plans for the future?

The mentorship is still running to the end of the year and giving people experience in industry. Get in touch of you want to be involved at: nyla at bhp comics.com. As for phase two of the project, we’re hoping we’ll secure funding to keep it running. 

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