5 minutes with Selina Tusitala Marsh

ComicFest 2021 website

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is the former Commonwealth Poet, New Zealand Poet Laureate and acclaimed performer and author.  In 2019 she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to poetry, literature and the Pacific community.  In 2020 Selina was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand earlier this year.  An Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Auckland, Selina teaches Maori and Pacific Literature and Creative Writing. Selina has performed poetry for primary schoolers and presidents (Obama), for queers and Queens (HRH Elizabeth II), for Gucci and graffiti artists (see Avondale Community Centre).  She has published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI, Dark Sparring, Tightrope.  Her graphic memoir, Mophead, won the Margaret Mahy Supreme Book in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and won the PANZ Best Book Design for 2020, its sequel, Mophead TU: The Queen’s Poem has been shortlisted for the NZ Book Awards 2021.

Facebook: Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh
Instagram: @selinatusitalamarsh

Q: What first got you interested in comics?

Luka, my older brother, brought home DC comics all the time when I was growing up. I loved these kind of freeze-frame movies where unlike a blockbuster, I could pause, stop, linger, imagine, play and day-dream about what I’d do in the unfolding scene on the page.

Q: What is your average day like?

Pretty nuts to be honest. Full on. When you’re a Pasifika woman poet-scholar at a university where there aren’t many who look, talk, walk, think, and create like you do, you’re either going to shrivel up and die, or thrive and be in so much demand you can’t see the coconuts for the trees. I’m always working on 3 or 4 major projects at once. This is why I run. I haven’t been able to in the past 2 months because I sprained my ankle while running my staff cross in Waiheke bush. The effects are beginning to show.

Q: Can you tell us about a current or recent project you’ve worked on?

I’ve had 2 successful graphic memoir books for all-ages: Mophead and Mophead TU: The Queen’s Poem, shortlisted for this year’s Children and Young Adults Book Awards. I’m working on Mophead: KNOT Book 3. Because it’s not. Not like the other two and so strangely different. The process, it’s storying, the making of it, it’s so collaborative. I’m working with about 2000 students on it. Watch this space!

Q: Do you have any traditions or rituals that help you when you get to work?

Movement. Running. Yoga. Anything that makes me want to be still with pencil and ipad and begin moving on the page.

Q: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration?

For the last year, it’s been Charlie Mackesy’s brilliant book ‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse.’ He draws the pictures and writes a story for all-ages. I can meditate on one page, one drawing for days. It’s what I want for my books – for both kids and adults to feed from.

Q: What or who are your favourite NZ comics or creators?

Sarah Laing’s lilting and lyrically sensitive drawings are it for me. Mansfield and Me is just sublime. As is Let’s Be Frank. I mean, all of her stuff is just so…so…raw, real, tender, exquisitely executed, and she’s just being herself. She is a pastel inky goddess and I love her. And her work. Another hard to put down to me is Ant Sang’s Dharma Punks. His drawings are just so alive and bold and his skill with gaps and space to imagine myself in between those frames and his sparse dialogue, well, that’s pure talent.

Q: What is your dream comic project?

I’m working on it now. Mophead: KNOT Book 3 is choosing me. It’s evolving before my eyes. And all I have to do is be myself, with others, and the stories will come.

Q: What are you excited to share with ComicFest attendees? Just a taster!

An interactive activity that forms the foundation of Mophead: KNOT Book 3. I’ve done it with 2000 primary school kids, and 370 Royal Society Early Career Researchers. I’m sure it’ll be just as fab with ComicFest attendees!!

Q: If you were to enter our cosplay contest, who/what would you dress up as?

I’ve already got the Wonder Woman costume, so may as well use it. Otherwise, I’d dress up as Sarah Laing.