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Buy one of the following Kid Koala items from amazon.com:

'Nufonia Must Fall' (2003 graphic novel)

'Carpal Tunnel Syndrome' (2000 album)

'Deltron 3030' (2000 collaboration with Dan the Automator and Del tha Funkee Homosapien)

'Bullfrog' (Koala's backing band's self-titled 2001 debut)

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When Worlds Collide: Girl meets robot in Kid Koala's 'Nufonia Must Fall.'

Robot Power

DJ Kid Koala adds 'published author' to his list of accomplishments

By Todd Inoue

DJ KID KOALA makes other turntable technicians look like lazy, one-dimensional, crab-fingered caricatures. He has released albums solo and with his funk band, Bullfrog; recorded numerous times with Dan the Automator; and opened for Radiohead.

For the past two years, the DJ cramped his digits another way. An accomplished illustrator, Koala releases his first full-length graphic novel, Nufonia Must Fall, this month. He tells the story of a lonely office girl and a smitten robot through stark storyboards that flow like a Billy Wilder flick.

The project began two years ago when ECW Press head Robert Lecker saw a Canadian TV documentary about Koala. Lecker picked up Koala's album Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which includes a self-published minicomic. Impressed by the package and looking to expand the press's pop-culture output, Lecker approached Koala about doing a book, and they struck a deal. Koala was given vague 100-page, 10,000-word minimums. Filling the white space with 10,000 words was difficult for someone trained to speak with his hands.

"At first, I was like, 'What am I really going to write about for 10,000 words?'" Koala recalls. "It might not be scary to you since you're a writer, but to me it sounded like a lot."

The word "nufonia" came from a Carpal Tunnel Syndrome song called "A Night at Nufonia," about a place where people don't have fun or dance. The idea grew out of this foreign land, dramatically sketched out in the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome minicomic, and morphed into something else entirely for Nufonia Must Fall.

A robot goes about his days, headphones permanently attached, lugging around a portable turntable and records for every occasion (during one sad moment he pulls out a copy of Music to Console Yourself). He can't find work because he's outsourced by bigger and faster robots. Beyond music, his only light is an overworked office toiler named Malorie. He tries to attract her affections, even laying down a love song at a recording booth, but crazy things happen. Koala's hand-drawn pages express an arresting sweetness that runs from touching to hilarious.

"It's a romantic story," he says. "It's got action, sweet moments. There might even be some self-help philosophy."

After the book deal came together in 2001, Koala went on tour. In his downtime backstage and on planes and trains, he started sketching out ideas, plot lines and characters. Pretty soon, he had 328 pages.

"I was playing around with a bunch of little ideas and started centering around one robot character and a girl. By the time I was penciling the story, I had [it] from beginning to end. It took months creating random scenes and trying to link them together. [It's like] making music from a turntable perspective; you take pieces that you enjoy and try to fit them together. It's very similar to writing a storyboard for a little film that we don't have the budget for."

Koala is taking the show on the road, melding his two skills. The tour required some rethinking. First on the agenda was setting a romantic mood to complement the love story, and that means moving his venues away from smoky clubs to more peaceful, cosmopolitan places.

"We're doing a supper-clubbish tour," Koala explains. "We want to put it in the right context. The environment needs to be quiet, so we went with a more coffeehouse-style tour. I'm bringing DJ P-Love out with me, so there'll be two pianos, four turntables and a slide projector showing different pieces of the book. We'll do some storytelling and have people seated at little tables with candles. We're trying to make it the perfect first date for people. We want to be in heckle range of everybody."

Koala last visited the Bay Area in the winter of 2002. The tour wasn't to publicize any new album--his next Ninjatune release, tentatively titled Some of My Best Friends Are DJs, will arrive in fall 2003. Instead, he was on a strict fundraising mission, mainly to pay off his friend Louisa Schabas, who shaded each page.

"Louisa was working at a bar and copy center," Koala says. "The publishing company had a deadline, and I had to ask her to color these 328 pages. I went out on tour to pay for Louisa to stop pouring beer and to burn her retinas out on the computer instead."

The book comes with a CD of original music that Koala composed on piano and turntables. The 10 tracks are primarily piano-based, with other sounds provided by turntable. The songs are very quiet, almost solemn, evoking the transitional music found in silent films. The songs correspond to chapters, but Koala stops short of having a bell ring before a page is turned.

"It would be too irritating; after 100 pages you'd be pissed off," Koala says. "You can read the book at whatever pace you want. You can put the soundtrack on a low volume and vibe to it."

The live presentation of Nufonia Must Fall is something entirely new. The show opens with one of Koala's favorite DJs, DJ Jester, spinning mood music ("for when you're actually having your date," says Koala). Then Koala and DJ P-Love perform songs and narrate while excerpts from the book flash on a backdrop.

As an homage to his early days as a special-education teacher, there are interactive elements--like bingo--to keep people's attention. Koala acknowledges that these attention-grabbing devices seem offbeat, but he believes that they are necessary in these days of ADD-addled crowds. "Sometimes you got to try something else," he says. "If you're asking me if this is normal progression, it's regression. Bingo and the whole style of show are activities I used when I was learning to teach elementary school. You want to talk about the book, but you want to make it fun for the kids.

"I think people's attention spans are still the same as when they're in first grade for the most part, at least for this evening like this, where's its completely out of context for most people. So it should be fun and entertaining."

Definitely. And such attention to detail should add to Koala's list of firsts: First DJ to write a graphic novel, first DJ to tour supper clubs and coffeehouses, first DJ to incorporate bingo, first DJ to adapt graphic novel to live concert setting. The legend continues. Cue credits.


The Nufonia Must Fall Book Tour with Kid Koala, P-Love and DJ Jester rolls into Butterfly (1710 Mission St., San Francisco) on March 28. There will be two sets a night. For information and reservations, call 415.864.8999.


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From the March 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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