Lauren Beukes and Joey Hi-Fi: A creative collaboration

If this writer-and-illustrator duo were a character in one of their comics, they’d be a two-bodied monster feeding off the same brain.

There’s a special game of creative ping pong that happens between wordsmiths and image-makers whose influences and interests are perfectly aligned. Such is the synergy between illustrator Dale Halvorsen, aka Joey Hi-Fi, and novelist Lauren Beukes, who share a fascination with the dark, gritty worlds of pulp fiction, comics and sci-fi.

The duo’s collaborative relationship dates back to 2005, when Halvorsen created his first cover design for Beukes’ first book, Maverick, Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past. In a sense their careers took off in tandem, with Halvorsen providing the illustrations for Beukes’ multiple award-winning novels Moxyland, Zoo City and The Shining Girls.

They have also created comics for US-based Vertigo, a subsidiary of DC Comics – most recently for the Strange Sports Stories anthology, which Vertigo describes as “strange, scary, sexy and sensational sports stories”.

Beukes and Halvorsen have an unusual creative process: “Dale comes to my house and we sit for, like, six hours and drink whiskey and he watches me type,” says Beukes.

“We’re constantly throwing out ideas and talking. I’ll write a line of dialogue and I’ll be like ‘What do you think about that?’”

“We work so well together,” she says. While they share the same deliciously dark vision, Beukes says their different crafts result in rich individual contributions. “Dale listens to podcasts and watches really terrible horror movies and all of this feeds into the work. He brings so much knowledge. The crazy stuff he finds – it’s amazing!”

The local comic scene has “opened up a lot” post-District 9, says Halverson as interest in South African genre stories has grown.

Local comic creators gaining prominence and publishing across both digital and print include Loyiso Mkhize, author of a superhero comic about a young man born and raised in a city that resembles Johannesburg, and Danelle Malan and Ben Geldenhuys, partners on a comic about a pirate ship off of the coast of Muizenburg in post-apocalyptic South Africa. There’s a growing consensus that South African creators are producing world-class work.

“People see others doing it and it gives them the confidence to try out new ideas no matter how crazy they are,” Halverson says. “Every year the standard of work is getting better and better.”