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Malachi takes comic strip online

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Malachi Symonds in a banana grove in Costa Rica (Photograph supplied)

When Malachi Symonds launched Paddle Popped Popcorn in 2014, he included little comic strips in the bag to interest younger customers.

The technique worked. Children loved the comic entitled The Story of Paddle Popped.

But updates came too slowly, and something bothered Mr Symonds about the practice.

“Putting the comics into the bag was wasteful,” he said. “Often the paper would just get thrown away.”

He is passionate about the environment and studied agriculture and sustainability at Earth University in Limon, Costa Rica.

So he decided to change the process.

On January 1, he will launch an expanded version of the Story of Paddle Popped on his social media platforms.

“I will release one page per week,” he said.

In the beginning, the comics were drawn by local artist Cushi Ming. During the pandemic Mr Symonds found someone abroad to have them drawn, hoping to get them out a little faster.

In the future, he wants to hold a competition to get schoolchildren involved in drawing some of the comics.

“The kids are the creative ones,” he said.

A page from Malachi Symonds’ comic strip (Photograph supplied)

There are five chapters in total right now. The story follows a little boy who falls into the ocean and is washed up on an island. He is rescued by monks who live in a monastery.

The strip has an Asian aesthetic inspired by Mr Symonds’ early childhood passion for kung-fu movies.

But in the comic strip, the monks train his main character to become a popcorn master, rather than a kung-fu warrior, as would be typical in the old flicks.

“They teach him different ways of popping corn,” Mr Symonds said. “He has to go through all these trials to become a master.”

He too had to become a popcorn master when he started the business in 2014 to help fund his college studies. Like his main character, he had to go through trials and tribulations to get Paddle Popped Popcorn off the ground.

“There were no wise monks to show me the way,” he said. “I had to learn how to do everything on my own.”

It was all too easy to over season or under season the product.

“It definitely took awhile to get the flavours down to where I have them now,” he said.

Malachi Symonds with a print out of one of his comic book pages (Photograph supplied)

But he eventually got it right, so that clients were soon coming back to demand more. Now one of his catchphrases is “tastes like more”.

He currently offers three flavours, original, Sefu-Ami (yeast) and Rainbow Pop. He plans to roll out a few more in the next year, all on the saltier side.

But as much as he loves popcorn, he says the business is purely to sustain his passion for the environment.

“I am pushing towards making Bermuda a bit more sustainable, which is the end goal,” he said.

He has a two year old daughter, Nariah, in Costa Rica, and wants to make the world a better place for her.

“Having a child really changes your perspective,” he said.

After graduating from Earth University in 2019, he returned to Bermuda for a few months and then went to Arizona in early 2020. While there, the pandemic erupted and he found himself unable to return to Bermuda because of the airport closure.

“So I figured I would go back to Costa Rica,” he said.

He spent the first six months of the pandemic there.

“I ended up staying a bit longer than I intended,” Mr Symonds admitted.

It was challenging not being in Bermuda to keep Paddle Popped going.

“That pushed me to find a team,” he said. “I needed to get it to where it is functional with or without me. That has been my biggest issue. And then people were not buying popcorn as much because they were not shopping as much.”

Previously his popcorn had been available at places such as Mocha Cafe, Buzz, and Brown & Co. During the pandemic he was able to expand into the MarketPlace which raised his profile during the difficult early months of lockdown.

While in Costa Rica, Mr Symonds looked around for other business opportunities.

Taking into account the banana shortage that was going in Bermuda at the time, he arranged for a container of bananas to be sent from Costa Rica to Bermuda. His suppliers assured him they could get the shipment to Bermuda free of pests, no problem. But when the container arrived in Bermuda it was full of bugs and had to be destroyed.

“I’m not sure what happened,” he said. “Maybe the container was already dirty. Maybe there were bugs on the bags. It is all a learning curve.”

It was disappointing, but he has learnt to look at everything as positively as possible.

It was Earth University that inspired his interest in sustainability. The school has a strong focus on the environment and ecology.

One of his assignments for an economics class was to assess Bermuda’s sustainability.

“They were saying the way that you classify a first-world country and a third-world country is how many people are involved in agriculture,” he said. “In a third-world country you would have 70 per cent of people involved in agriculture. In a developing country you would have 50 per cent. The rest of them are in the production market, taking a fruit and turning into juice or canned fruit.”

Bermuda did not come out well under his scrutiny.

“Yes, Bermuda is a first-world country because we have less than five per cent of our population in agriculture,” he said. “We are mostly focused on services. We don’t have any real production chains. Because we are so far advanced there are huge holes in our ground level industries and due to that we are not advancing as a country. Most people would agree when I said Bermuda is moving backwards.”

He is seeing many friends move off the island to buy homes overseas.

“They say, I am going to live somewhere else, because the cost of living is too high,” Mr Symonds said. “It is a sad reality. I want to make Bermuda a place where people want to stay.”

He thinks that Bermuda could push for greater sustainability.

“We already catch water from our roofs,” he said. “That is something that many people in the world want to do, but can’t get to it.”

In the next year he plans to launch a new company called Sunnyside Sustainability.

“It is all built around how to make Bermuda more sustainable,” Mr Symonds said. “It is pushing agriculture. It is pushing sustainable practices on the island.”

One of the products he hopes to bring in is a machine that helps people turn kitchen scraps into methane to be used as cooking gas.

“It works on bacteria,” he said.

For more information about Paddle Popped Bermuda and its comic strip The Story of Paddle Popped, see their Facebook and Instagram pages under @PaddlePopped.

Malachi Symonds, front right, farming with classmates at Earth University in Limon, Costa Rica (Photograph supplied)

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Published December 17, 2021 at 8:02 am (Updated December 18, 2021 at 8:17 am)

Malachi takes comic strip online

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