Nick Wilson, co-creator of My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians
Nick Wilson, co-creator of My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians and managing director of the Car Toon (dot) tv. (Image: SmartMonkeyTV)

My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians is a boyish gross-out animation series that manages to make you laugh out loud despite yourself. It is an alternative cartoon universe of familiar South African characters that gives Nick Wilson and his animation company, the Car Toon (dot) tv, the chance to both satirize and celebrate the diversity of the South African experience.

"This is a show that will divide people," says Wilson, co-creator and producer of the series. "They love it or absolutely hate it. We understand that, but the audience we are reaching out to is younger. People like Trevor [Gumbi] and myself, who grew up with the promise of a new South Africa."

Successful satire depends on timing and being in sync with the news cycle. Animation, with its eight-month production schedule, makes the task of creating biting, effective satire that much more of a challenge. You can't write and mould and change to fit events. Wilson and his team have, as they say in boxing, found their range and still deliver jabs and knockout punches.

"Yes it's offensive content, but we think it's also cathartic," says Wilson. He speaks in fluid staccato sentences, ideas cascading over each other. "We look around at the politicians and celebrities. The people who make policy and art. So many of them did not have the integrated experience Trevor and I did.

"People like us are our audience. We want to show our peers that as divergent as we may be, we have shared experiences. We can draw together and remake the world in our image."

Scene from a My Child trailer
"It's wacky, it's hilarious, it's controversial, it's irreverent" - Nick Wilson (Image: www.youtube.com/user/MyChildTV)

Wilson will be taking My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians to MIPCOM, the largest global market for entertainment content across all platforms, in Cannes in October. He'll be making the trip with funding assistance from the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC), which seeks to help local producers market their creations to an international audience.

The GFC funded a pitching competition for animators at the DISCOP Africa market and exhibition in Johannesburg in November 2014. Wilson's creative team won, and the GFC took note of their work.

"They offered funding help to get us to MIPCOM; they saw the value of getting a South African production to the biggest market."

From friendship to partnership

There are two events that Wilson draws on when he recalls the inspiration behind the series. The more recent event was an evening in 2010 when he met Julius Malema, then at the height of his influence within the ANC, at a party at his Sandton home. Wilson was struck by the idea that the people he was surrounded by were just deep enough to wet their feet.

The first defining event was the arrival of Trevor Gumbi, now a well known stand-up comedian, at Parkview School in Durban. "The first black kid in the school," Wilson says of his writing partner. "He sat down next to me and we have been friends ever since. We have the same irreverent sense of humour."

Scene from a My Child trailer
The Car Toon (dot) tv's two three-minute teasers were watched 300 000 times in the space of three months on social media platforms. (Image: www.youtube.com/user/MyChildTV)

Wilson and Gumbi have been creating content for five years. It has been a self-financed passion that is starting to bear fruit for the pair, as well as their cast and crew. In 2010 they produced two three-minute teasers that ended up being watched 300 000 times in the space of three months on social media platforms.

It was these teasers that won them their award at DISCOP, and led to their receiving backing from the Gauteng Film Commission.

"That was phenomenal for a test, but we always wanted to work in long form. We want to tell stories with an arc."

A growing market for animated comedy (for grown-ups)

The eye-popping and irresistible sense of humour on display in My Child is coupled with an almost junky aesthetic. If you dismiss the series because of what seems blasé production values, then you'll miss the biting satire.

The look of the series and the sacred cows the show pokes fun at reminds you of the American cartoon series South Park - the show that, once upon a time, parents were warned not to let their children watch. Wilson was an early South Park fan, he says, and wanted to emulate it and build on the shows freewheeling take no prisoners tradition.

"South Africa, Africa even, is very conservative. But that mind-set is slowly changing. Urbanization and a growing middle class is creating an audience for what we're doing. Look at the popularity of Zapiro. The XYZ Show is Kenya's longest running satirical show, and the producers are doing something similar in Nigeria now."

Scene from a My Child trailer
"Urbanization and a growing middle class is creating an audience for what we're doing" (Image: www.youtube.com/user/MyChildTV)

Like South Africa's ZA News show, My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians is best seen online, free from the demands and expectations of a traditional broadcaster.

Wilson points out that sub-Saharan Africa is the both the world's fastest growing mobile and tablet market and the region with the youngest population. "So we have a continent where access to TV is problematic but people have smartphones and tablets, and a young audience comfortable with using technology."

Wilson finished his animation studies in the late 1990s, back when animator was not a viable career option. The industry has changed in the intervening years: today an animated film is the most successful South African produced film of all time.

"Adventures in Zambezia has overtaken The Gods Must Be Crazy, and that held the record for something like 30 years."

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission