Thursday, April 2, 2015

KIWA launches Ngā Atua Māori Graphic Novellas

Above: Artwork from KIWA's Ngā Atua Māori Graphic Novella series, by Munro Te Whata. Copyright Kiwa Digital 2015.

Earlier this year I was privileged to attend the launch of KIWA's Ngā Atua Māori Graphic Novellas - digital e-books re-tellings of traditional Māori myths and stories, accompanied by Te Reo Māori and English text and audio narration, with easy to use language learning features - created to be read on tablets, phones and other digital devices. The series of e-books are designed to share these stories in an innovative and contemporary format, and to promote reading engagement in youth and the use of Te Reo Māori in New Zealand.

KIWA Digital was originally formed in 2003 as a post-production company by award-winning film and television producer Rhonda Kite. Initially the company focused on creating innovative software for foreign-language dubbing for film, before moving into digital e-books and applying some of those same skills - language translation, along with interactive features and animation to enhance the reading experience.

Above: The cover of book #1: Te Orokotīmatanga o te Ao, by Munro Te Whata. Copyright Kiwa Digital 2015.

There are currently four books in the Ngā Atua Māori Graphic Novella series:

Book #1: Te Orokotīmatanga o te Ao: This story is about the creation of the universe. It begins with Io (The Acme or Supreme Being) and the infinite state of nothingness before you are transported through the ages and aeons to the time of Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (Earth Mother).

Book #2: Te Wehenga o Ranginui rāua ko Papatūānuku: which tells the story of the separation of Sky Father (Ranginui) and Earth Mother (Papatūānuku).

Book #3: Te Pakanga i Te Paerangi: The battle between Tūmatauenga and Whiro, sons of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, that stemmed from long-held grudges between the two brothers and each of their factions.

Book #4: Tāne me ngā Kete o Te Wānanga: The story of Tāne and his journey to Tikitiki-o-Rangi to fetch the Three Baskets of Knowledge and the Two Sacred Stones, Rehutai and Hukatai.

All four novellas are illustrated by artist & animator Munro Te Whata, and are available now on the iTunes App Store and Google Play, with the first book in the series available for FREE (search for: Ngā Atua Māori on the app stores).

Above: Artwork from Book #2: Te Wehenga o Ranginui rāua ko Papatūānuku, by Munro Te Whata. Copyright Kiwa Digital 2015.

To find out more I talked to Jill Tattersall - chair and CEO of KIWA Digital, about the creation of the Ngā Atua Māori series and their future plans for more Te Reo Māori graphic novellas.

AK: After working in film, was it a natural progression for Kiwa to move into children's e-books and bring something new to that market?

Jill Tattersall: The move into digital publishing was to grab an opportunity as content consumption shifted to digital with the arrival of the iPAD.  We realized that the same technology that synchronized audio with text for film (our proprietary software VoiceQ®) could also be used in digital books. We digitized content, synchronized narration, added language options and interactivity … and experiential digital books were born. Some of our earliest titles created 5 years ago, like Barnaby Bennett, still lead the world in their functionality.

AK: With KIWA's understanding on how to integrate language translation into the e-book reading experience, the Ngā Atua Māori graphic novellas are an ideal application for this technology to teach te reo Māori and entertain. How important has this project been to Kiwa, and how long did it take to develop?

JT: The project has taken more than a year, it was commissioned by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) and has been a catalyst for KIWA having much closer relationships with iwi and other Māori organisations in Aotearoa I New Zealand.

Above: A presentation video of KIWA's Ngā Atua Māori Graphic Novellas.

AK: Unlike some of Kiwa's previous children's e-books which have been presented in a more traditional picture book style, the Ngā Atua Māori series are graphic novellas, illustrated by Munro Te Whata. What was the appeal of using the language of comics to bring these particular stories to life, as opposed to a more traditional approach?

JT: The graphic novella style was used to engage with the targeted youth audience. Ant Sang expresses it well: “Vibrant, evocative artwork combined with sound and animation bring these traditional Māori stories to vivid life for today's youth. This is an exciting development for the comic book medium, and an innovative way to bring these important stories into the modern age.”

AK: Were there particular challenges in the process of adapting the stories into the e-book form - staying true to the stories and mythology while presenting them in a way that would be accessible to a contemporary audience?

JT: There was a great temptation to begin the graphic novella series with stories about Māui and his ilk. But, it was important to talk about the origins of such characters first, for the sake of those who did not already have an understanding of the Māori worldview. Now, having provided that missing piece of the jigsaw, we hope that readers will have a better insight of Māori and their connection to things natural and for some, things supernatural.

Rereata Mākiha and Waihoroi Shortland have done a wonderful job of unraveling some of the mysticism around our stories, by retelling them in simple, but engaging language. With Munro’s stunning imagery and animations, the Māori cultural storytelling experience becomes accessible to young and old audiences alike.

Above: A photo from the crowded launch for KIWA's Ngā Atua Māori Graphic Novellas. 

AK: What has the public response and feedback been like for these titles over at iTunes and Google Play?

JT: We have had a tremendous response to the series from politicians, community leaders, educational organizations, teachers and readers. You can read some of our testimonials HERE  and HERE.

There have been downloads from as far away as USA, Japan, and France in this initial phase, and we are about to launch strategies to deliver directly into schools that will significantly increase this response.

Above: At the Ngā Atua Māori Graphic Novellas launch, KIWA previewed animation from an upcoming adaptation of the graphic novella - Ngārimu: Te Tohu Toa.

AK: With the success of these titles, I understand there are more Te Reo Māori titles in development, including adaptations of Huia Publishing's historical World War II graphic novels illustrated by Andrew Burdan?

JT: Kiwa Digital in collaboration with Huia Publishers and supported by a number of interested parties will produce a new graphic novella - Ngārimu: Te Tohu Toa. This graphic novel was originally published by Huia in 2012. It tells the outstanding story of the first Māori Victoria Cross won in Tunisia, in March 1943 by 2nd Lieutenant Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu, C Company, 28 Māori Battalion. The publication was unique in that the script was published in English and in the dialect of Ngāti Porou from the East Coast.

A growing concern for many iwi in their engagement with males aged between 15-25 years old. Ngāti Porou’s tribal representatives in Auckland believe that publishing this story as an app or graphic novella will provide an innovative digital approach to engagement with this demographic. 

This is an exciting new project leveraging Kiwa’s knowledge, skill and experience developed in the Ngā Atua Māori series. The [e-book] release of the graphic novella Ngārimu: Te Tohu Toa will be announced later in the year.

Many thanks to Jill Tattersall for taking the time to discuss KIWA's great work on these stories, which I urge you to check out for yourself by downloading them from the iTunes App Store and Google Play - the first book is FREE! (search for: Ngā Atua Māori on the app stores).

And stay tuned, as my KIWA coverage continues with an upcoming interview with artist Munro Te Whata!

Above: KIWA's Ngā Atua Māori Graphic Novellas featured on a segment of Te Karere.

- AK!

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