Dread and Alive | ZOOLOOK

“Music is the soundtrack of life for me. It drives me with everything I do. In telling the story of Dread & Alive, music is one of the important components that help me edutain (educate and entertain) my fans about the characters and the story arcs. I am one of the biggest fans of movie soundtracks and scores.”


Dread and Alive
words: B.Getz – Upful LIFE

Nicholas “Nico” Da Silva is founder and creative director/producer of ZOOLOOK, an independent mixed-media agency, publishing house, and record label based in San Francisco, CA. Through ZOOLOOK, he develops entertainment properties that promote a multicultural experience. Nico is also a musician and producer who goes by the artist name ZOOLOOK. Da Silva also is founder and editor-in-chief of IRIE Mag, a respected worldwide leader in reggae music culture coverage.

Growing up in the U.S., Nico was a diehard comic book fan and avid reader of fiction/sci-fi novels. Over time, he became disappointed in the lack of black heroic characters in American culture and literature. Coming from a diverse background, Nico made a promise to change that by meshing cultural facts with fiction. The result was the publication of two comic book series; Dread & Alive and HITLESS.

Dread & Alive, brainstormed during his early teen years, is a Jamaican-inspired mixed-media series spanning comic books, novels and music. All created and written by Da Silva, and published through ZOOLOOK. Nico joins Herb An’ Music to introduce Dread & Alive, discuss his inspirations and influences, the role of reggae music in his works, and some of the contextual history that inspires his unique multi-media series. 

With regard to the connection between comic books and cannabis, Jon McKenzie at Civilized.Life opined:

Once upon a time, it was taboo to feature marijuana in the comic book medium. Censors and critics forbade the depiction of such substances, let alone any horror, sexual or violent images. In fact, the Comics Code Authority was established in 1954 to enforce such rules. Back then, they controlled what was allowed in comic books and magazines, and the list of banned elements was pretty long. Nowadays, things have changed considerably, and the Code has been long since abolished.”

Check out the comic book artists featured in the October issue of IRIE mag and continue below for our conversation with Dread & Alive’s Nico Da Silva (ZOOLOOK).

When/how did you conceive the vision for Dread & Alive? Take us back to the very beginning of the idea and concept.

NICO: The idea for Dread & Alive first came to me as a teenager. Growing up in the U.S., I was a big comic book blerd, and an avid reader of fiction/sci-fi novels. I would buy The Hulk, Lone Wolf and Cub, Green Lantern, Iron Man and Black Panther. The lack of positive multicultural heroes and fictional characters in American literature encouraged me to write, draw, and publish my own comics.

In 1988, my father passed away, which hit me very hard. He was – and still is – everything to me. Everything I do is in his memory. Not only did he show me the world, but he also raised me to be headstrong. I found myself seeking solace by listening to reggae music. They say reggae is the healing of the nations… well, I needed healing.  I started listening to reggae legends like Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Third World, and Burning Spear. It was Third World’s ’96 degrees in the Shade‘ that opened my mind to taking Dread & Alive from a basic comic book idea to a serious storytelling experience.

Talk about your characters. How did you develop them, and what personal influence do you have on their characteristics, personalities, & experiences? Do you look outward to others for inspiration for your characters? Is there more “based on a true story” content or primarily fantasy-based storytelling?

NICO: Some of the characters are based on people that have played an important role in my life. Drew’s parents are the embodiment of my parents. The events that Drew McIntosh goes through in the series are inspired by my personal experiences. In writing Dread & Alive, I elected to explore humankind and how good and evil influences us. 

I am a big fan of horror films. Dread & Alive was written and developed as a supernatural horror series because Zombies are rooted in black culture. In reggae, we sing about duppies, vampires, and zombies. I feel that the African contribution to zombies has been erased by popular culture. The three core characters, Cudjoe, Drew McIntosh, and Quaco represent Ashanti history and beliefs.  I want to give our history and beliefs the respect it deserves. Dread & Alive fulfills that destiny.

 Drew, your main protagonist, is a person of color, a supernatural, and he uses cannabis.  What’s the significance/symbolism of these attributes? Do you think that the cannabis factor will affect your younger viewers/fans in a negative way?

NICO: Positive, well-thought-out Black heroes were very hard to find in popular media when I was growing up. Whether it was in television or books, I was always frustrated because I wanted to read or watch a hero that looked like me! I then saw George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Wow! A black man taking the center stage in a horror film opened my eyes and my imagination. Other films that give me hope for my work included

I hope that the cannabis factor doesn’t affect young viewers negatively. Drew’s use of the sacred herb is for reasoning and consciousness. In writing the series and developing Drew’s character, I didn’t want to candy-coat his character and make him this perfect soul. He has his demons to deal with; his temper against evil – he doesn’t tolerate Babylon in any form. He also struggles with his Rasta faith in living an iTal life.

 Do you have an underlying message or consciousness that runs throughout the Dread & Alive series?

NICO: There is an underlying message with Dread & Alive. That message is the same as what I do with IRIE Magazine… RESPECT! With the launch of social media, I feel that RESPECT has gone out of the window. RESPECT also means giving homage to those who came before us and paved the way for our continued existence. The other message – which is equally the same – is FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT! We can never give up until everyone has equal rights and justice.

Take us behind the scenes as a graphic designer.  What is your process and/or methodology? When did you realize you had this kind of skill set? 

NICO: My artist name is ZOOLOOK, which is inspired by the seventh studio album by French electronic musician and composer Jean-Michel Jarre. Through ZOOLOOK, I develop my ideas into reality. I’m a mixed-media artist who can write, draw, animate, arrange, and produce music. I’m also a publisher. I’ve been drawing since I was 2 years old. I love to daydream and I am an artist who lives his dreams.

When I first started drawing, I would start an idea and when I felt like I had reached the halfway point, I would walk away from it. I’d either work on a song on my keyboards (Yamaha DX7) or sit down and write a story idea. I’d then return and finish the drawing. This became my method of madness. It just worked for me.

 The major comic series often have a substantial team to produce their comic books. As an independent, how do you make it happen? What is your process for writing and producing the Dread & Alive series, and who makes up your creative team?

NICO: You need a good team to produce comics on a regular basis. When I first release Dread & Alive, issue #1 back in 2010, it was with penciler/inker Rodney Buchemi and colorist, Mike Kelleher. I love these guys. They are special because of their talents and persona. No egos! We understand each other and it’s such a great blessing to work with them.

We have teamed up again to do the 12 graphic novels that make up the Nine Night series. For this series, I write the story first followed by a comic script with panel layouts. Rodney pencils and inks the pages with Mike laying down the colors to bring the series to life! I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 In addition to the visual art & storytelling, you’re a talented music producer.  How are you incorporating your musical passion & ideas into the Dread & Alive project? What role, if any, does IRIE Mag play?

NICO: Music is the soundtrack of life for me. It drives me with everything I do. In telling the story of Dread & Alive, music is one of the important components that help me edutain (educate and entertain) my fans about the characters and the story arcs. I am one of the biggest fans of movie soundtracks and scores. My way of storytelling with music is inspired by artists like the film director and producer, Michael Mann, the composer, Ennio Morricone, and the Japanese recording artist, composer, record producer, and arranger, Kitarō. 

My first attempt in mixing comics with music was back in 2006 with my digital release of HITLESS, a spy thriller comic series that included an EP soundtrack and animated comic using After-Effects.

I strongly believe that applying music to the comic book series heightens the reader’s senses as they take in the story of Dread & Alive. You feel the character’s vibe through sound.

For Dread & Alive: Nine Night, each graphic novel will include an original soundtrack that flows with the storyline.

IRIE is the media side of what I do with ZOOLOOK. In 2019, I started sharing the Dread & Alive storyline and characters in the ROOTS section of IRIE. We will continue this in 2021 with the actual story

 What are the future plans for Dread & Alive?  Animated feature film? Television series?

In 2019, I penned a tv pilot script for Dread & Alive: Nine Night which included 3 seasons, with each season 12 episodes long. I prefer live-action but if I were to do an animated feature, I would love to produce it in Fukuoka, Japan, and work with some of the amazing animators there.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the Herb an’ Music audience?

Dread & Alive: Nine Night is the story arc where Drew McIntosh not only discovers his powers but realizes the plan that Jah has for him. That Drew must always fight the good fight. That is the Soul Rebel, Drew McIntosh. He sees what is the right thing to do, and does it, even if it’s hard to do. I hope that first-time readers and fans who read Dread & Alive: Nine Night will see that we all can tap into that soul rebel inside us to make this world a better place.