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Candle Wasters wax lyrical with new web series – plus comic

Four young Wellington women (and a “token dude”), who make funny, feminist web series that have so far amassed over five million views worldwide, released their new series this week.

Illustration by Sally Bollinger

The Candle Wasters are breaking new ground in digital media with Tragicomic, a ten-part webseries and twenty-part webcomic created to be read and viewed together.

Part one of the series, which has six video episodes and 16 comics, is now online on YouTube and at RNZ.

You can experience it here:

Part Two is coming shortly.

Like the Candle Wasters previous work, Tragicomic is inspired by the work of William Shakespeare, in this case his most famous play, Hamlet. It was filmed over two weeks in January.

The series follows aspiring cartoonist Hannah Moore (played by Nova Moala-Knox), a world-weary 15-year-old, who is searching for the truth about her missing dad.

The Candle Wasters are Claris Jacobs, Elsie Bollinger, Minnie Grace, Sally Bollinger and Robbie Nicol.

They won the award for SPADA New Filmmakers of the Year 2017, Best Drama at the Hollyweb Festival 2017, and the Young Jury Award at the Carballo Interplay Festival 2018.

Claris, Elsie, Minnie, and Sally met at Western Springs College in Auckland. They created their first webseries in 2014, Nothing Much To Do (based on Much Ado About Nothing), when the youngest of the group was just 17. Robbie Nicol, creator of the popular political online satire White Man Behind a Desk, joined the writing team in 2016.

The Candle Wasters believe in creating content for the community they are a part of. This community is young, mostly female, it’s feminist, it’s queer, it’s anxious about the state of the world, and it’s excited to be making art that connects with individuals across the globe.

They have had over five million views worldwide of their various series, which also include Lovely Little Losers, Bright Summer Night and Happy Playland.

Their work has developed a strong and engaged fanbase who create fanart, perform covers of songs from the series, funded two $25,000 Kickstarter campaigns, written over 900 pieces of fanfiction, and conducted fan meet-ups across the globe in New Zealand, Australia, Britain, and the USA.

Tragicomic breaks new ground for the Candle Wasters by inviting the audience to scroll through both film and cartoon components of the story.

Nova Moala-Knox as Hannah in Tragicomic

The protagonist, Hannah, uploads her comics to the internet during the webseries, and these are available to scroll through as part of the story.

Like Hamlet’s soliloquies, each comic gives the audience an insight into the hero’s mind. The webcomics grow increasingly dark as the fairytale characters grow to represent Hannah’s increasingly paranoid view of the people in her life.

The majority of comics are drawn by Sally Bollinger, who says she was inspired by Jillian  Tamaki’s SuperMutant Magic Academy, a series of short funny webcomics that were developed into a graphic novel.

The writing for the series took place over four months, and focused on the key themes of mental health, relationships between women, and queer representation.

“The decision to make Hamlet a teenage girl came about for a variety of reasons,” says co-creator and co-producer Minnie Grace.

“Maybe the most important one was the need for accurate representation of the teenage female experience. Our series was written and directed by young women who really felt a lack of depictions of their experiences on screen growing up.”

Hannah has a crush on a young woman, who viewers may recognise as Ophelia, but Claris Jacobs, co-creator and art director of the series, says Hannah is not defined by her sexuality: “The stories of the queer community need to be about more than their coming out stories. Hannah has hopes, dreams, and struggles beyond her sexuality, which is just one facet of a complex character.”

The Candle Wasters have touched on queer themes numerous times before, with their series Happy Playland described as a “lesbian rom-com musical set in a children’s indoor playground.”

In Tragicomic, the protagonist Hannah struggles with her mental wellbeing, in part inspired by numerous theories regarding Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Academics have suggested that Hamlet had Bipolar Affective Disorder, a condition characterized by periods of deep depression that alternate with periods of extreme exhilaration or irritability known as mania. The writing team worked hard to consult with multiple people who have the disorder to help them portray the condition accurately.

When creating Tragicomic, the Candle Wasters were also conscious of the lack of representation for women in filmmaking on screen and behind the scenes, and of the issues that have come to the fore with the rise of the #metoo movement.

The team made a conscious effort to employ as many women as possible behind the scenes – especially in Head of Department (HOD) positions.

The directors Sally Bollinger (25) and Elsie Bollinger (21), are sisters who directed the series together.

Over 80% of the HODs in the crew were women or non-binary people. They created a more emotions-focused set with emotional check-ins each morning, and a mental health first aid available on set.

And why Candle Wasters?

The name comes from Much Ado About Nothing, in which Shakespeare wrote:

If such a one will smile and stroke his beard,
Bid sorrow wag, cry “hem” when he should groan,
Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk
With candle-wasters, bring him yet to me
And I of him will gather patience.