Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Kiwi web show Hook Ups renamed to Aroha Bridge over porn concerns

Some of the key characters in Aroha Bridge, a comic book that's now become a webseries.
Some of the key characters in Aroha Bridge, a comic book that's now become a webseries.

Animated webseries Aroha Bridge started life as a weekly comic strip, created by Jessica Hansell, better known as local rapper Coco Solid.

It was originally called Hook Ups, and followed siblings Kowhai and Monty, who form a band to escape their amusing, chaotic, multicultural family.

The comic strip gained a following, and with the help of some NZ On Air funding, Hansell formed a team to turn it into an animated webseries.

That sharp yet lighthearted series was launched in 2013, and followed Kowhai and Monty as they attempted to break into the music industry, while also skewering various stereotypes and poking fun at local issues.

Now it's back for a second series, launching to coincide with Maori Language Week, and rebranded with a new name - Aroha Bridge - because of problems when fans googled "hook ups".

"People would come up to me and say 'I really wanted to watch your cartoon, but I just ended up with lots of porn on my computer', so, yeah, we blatantly realised we needed to change the name," Hansell explains.

"We decided on Aroha Bridge, just because it's a big part of the show, in terms of geography, their suburb, their whanau. But it's the same characters, same cast, and same comic as the first series."

The casual, naturalistic inclusion of Maori words is part of Hansell's ethos for the whole show, which makes Aroha Bridge a nice fit.

"We want to make Maoridom a natural, braided thing, that isn't a big deal, but is just part of life. I want to just have that kind of cultural stuff there as something that the audience can familiarise themselves with, without it being overbearing. And I think the title worked out really well in that it means 'love', and that's the first word people are presented with."

The title also has some personal significance for Hansell: Aroha Bridge is based on Mangere Bridge, where she grew up.

"There are lots of locations and signs for people who grew up in Mangere in the 80s. For example, the dairy is directly traced from Mojo's Dairy in Mangere Bridge. I had two people spot it, which was really cool."

The series draws on Hansell's own life in a multi-cultural family, with a Maori mother and German Samoan father, as well as having ties to her experiences as an underground artist, trying to figure out how to best get out of her suburb, and separate herself from her family.

But it's not strictly autobiographical - Hansell also wanted to create a broad representation of Auckland.

"Obviously there are shards of my family in there, but I think everybody kind of has some of these people in their family - the staunch separatist uncle, or a really sports-obsessed aunty, the assimilation-friendly relative, and then there's the try-hard cousin. I feel like everyone will see someone they know in one shape or other.

"Also, I think we often get sold a commodified version of the New Zealand family that actually does us a bit of a disservice, because the typical New Zealand family is a hot mess. It is a real melting pot, a really eclectic ensemble, and I wanted to hold up a mirror for those people."

The team behind the project include Taika Waititi, Jamaine Ross, Simon Ward, Luke Rowell, Don Brooker, and Morgan Waru, and the voice cast includes Madeleine Sami, Scotty Cotter, TV presenter Matai Smith, rapper and actor Rizvan Tu'itahi, and showbiz guy Frankie Stevens.

Hansell writes the scripts but enjoys the different directions in which her collaborators can take things.

"You give Madeleine anything, and she just totally makes it. We went to Manukau Intermediate together, and she's always been a real comical muse of mine. And Frankie is unbelievable. I don't think people have any idea what he's capable of. He can pull accents out of nowhere, and he's a dangerous comic talent.

"I think also our cross-section of cultures and cross-section of creative disciplines create a lot of comic energy. It's a pretty crazy day in the booth with those guys, but it's heaps of fun."

One may think with all that talent involved, they could make a real-life series but animation remains Hansell's favourite medium. Aside from the fact that she loves cartoons, it gives them more room to play with the comic aspects of the show.

"It means anything is possible, quite literally. You're able to illustrate anything into existence, there's no barrier and there are no budget constraints. I think satire is the key to the show as well.

"Half the time we're visually harpooning stuff that New Zealanders take for granted - you know, news graphics and archetypes that are really familiar. So that's the fun aspect to me, the visual satire we can play on with animation."

It also allows her to present some of her more serious cultural observations, and tricky issues in a fun, accessible way.

"It's easier to laugh at ourselves than to interrogate our demons. And sometimes if you crack up, you're more inclined to look at yourself a bit closer if you have a smile on your face."

Lowdown

Who: Jessica Hansell, writer/creator
What: Aroha Bridge webseries
Where and when: You can watch all six new episodes from Monday, July 4, at arohabridge.com

- TimeOut

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