Nina Paley

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Nina Paley
Nina Paley Chiaroscuro.jpg
Paley in 2006
BornNina Carolyn Paley
(1968-05-03) May 3, 1968 (age 53)
Urbana, Illinois, U.S.
Area(s)Writer, cartoonist, animator
Notable works

Nina Carolyn Paley[1] (born May 3, 1968) is an American cartoonist, animator, and free culture activist. She was the artist and often the writer of the comic strips Nina's Adventures and Fluff, after which she worked primarily in animation.[2] She is perhaps best known for creating the 2008 animated feature film Sita Sings the Blues, based on the Ramayana, with parallels to her personal life. In 2018, she completed her second animated feature, Seder-Masochism, a retelling of the Book of Exodus as patriarchy emerging from goddess worship.

Paley distributes much of her work, including Nina’s Adventures, Fluff, and all the original work in Sita Sings The Blues, under a copyleft license.

Early life[edit]

Paley was born in Urbana, Illinois,[3] the daughter of Jean (Passovoy) and Hiram Paley.[4] Her family was Jewish.[5][6] Her father was a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois and was mayor of Urbana for a term in the early 1970s.[7]

She attended local elementary and high schools, graduating from University High School in 1986.[8] She illustrated a "History of the North Pole" comic in collaboration with University High School history teacher Chris Butler, and attended the University of Illinois, studying art for two years before dropping out. While in college, her comic "Joyride" ran in The Daily Illini newspaper.[8]

Nina's Adventures and other work[edit]

The Hots strip

In 1988, Paley moved to Santa Cruz, California, and began to write and draw the strip Nina's Adventures. In 1991, she illustrated The Santa Cruz Haggadah[9] and moved to San Francisco.

In 2002, she wrote and directed Fetch!, a humorous short cartoon feature based on a variety of optical illusions, which has enjoyed popularity ever since.[10][11]

Beginning in 2002, Paley focused her work on the controversial subject of population growth. The most notable entry she produced on this subject was The Stork, in which the natural environment is bombed to destruction by storks dropping bundled babies. The film is a compact expression of the conflict between the increasing human population and the ecosystem in which it must live. The 3½ minute film was a considerable success at festivals and resulted in an invitation to the Sundance Film Festival.[11]

During this period of this time, Paley also contributed several comic strips for the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, of which she is a member and occasional spokesperson.[12] Her work for the group still remains on their official website.[13]

In 2012, Paley posted an animation to Vimeo titled This Land Is Mine depicting the Middle East conflicts over history; it was named a Staff Pick.[14]

Between projects, Paley has worked as a freelance director at Duck Studios in Los Angeles.[15] She has also taught in the Design and Technology section of Parsons, part of The New School.[16]

Feature films[edit]

As of 2018, Paley has created two animated feature films.

Sita Sings the Blues[edit]

Sita Sings the Blues (full film)

In 2002, Paley moved to Trivandrum, India, where her husband had taken a job. While she was visiting New York City on business concerning her third comic strip, The Hots, her husband terminated their marriage. Unable to return to either Trivandrum or San Francisco, she moved to Brooklyn, New York. Her personal crisis caused her to see more deeply into the Ramayana, the Indian epic, which she had encountered in India, and motivated her to produce a short animation which combines an episode from the Ramayana with a torch song recorded in 1929 by Annette Hanshaw, "Mean To Me".[17] Paley later added episodes and other material to the work, which is now called Sita Sings the Blues. Many of the episodes appeared in animation festivals. She expanded it into a feature-length treatment of the Ramayana focused on Rama's wife, Sita, using a variety of animation styles and techniques.

The finished work premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 11, 2008[18][19] and had its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25, 2008.[16] The film was screened at more than 150 film festivals globally[20] and was broadcast on PBS in New York City.[21] For her work on Sita Sings the Blues, Paley was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award[22] and garnered more than 35 international awards,[20] including the top award at Annecy in 2008.[23] The New York Times review of Sita described it as "ambitious and visually loaded" and the film was named a NYT Critic's Pick.[24]


The musical number "This Land Is Mine" from Seder-Masochism

In 2011 she began work on a project called Seder-Masochism,[6] an animated film about The Exodus, showing the rise of patriarchy and the fall of goddess worship. Early support was obtained for the project through a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.[25] In June 2018, after she had worked sporadically on the film for six years, Seder-Masochism premiered at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France.[26][27][28] Reviewers compared Paley's style to Monty Python, and praised the film's irreverent humor.[29][30] In Poland, the film was screened at the ANIMATOR film festival where it was chosen by the audience as the festival's best feature-length animated film.[31]

Prior to the theatrical release of the film, Paley uploaded selected scenes for viewing on YouTube and Vimeo. The scene "This Land Is Mine" was first posted in 2012, and by 2014 had received 10 million views.[32]

Free culture activism[edit]

'Copying is Not Theft' by Paley
"Copying is not theft!" badge by Paley

Because of obstacles in clearing the rights to Hanshaw's recordings for the Sita Sings the Blues, Paley took active part in the free culture movement.[21][33]

Since 2009 she is an artist-in-residence at the non-profit organization,[20] which includes running the projects "Minute Memes" and the "Sita Distribution Project".[34] "Minute Memes"[35] is a series of short ("one-minute") video "memes" made by Paley about copyright restrictions and artistic freedom. She wrote and performed the song "Copying Isn't Theft" meant to be freely remixed by other people,[36] with the animated clip issued as Minute Meme #1.[37] Subsequent animations in this series are "All Creative Work Is Derivative",[38] EFF Tribute[39] and "Credit is Due: The Attribution Song".[40] She also wrote "Understanding Free Content", an illustrated guide to the idea of free content.[41]

In 2010 she started a new comic strip Mimi & Eunice, highlighting intellectual property problems and paradoxes.[2]

She has published much of her work, including Nina’s Adventures, Fluff, and all original work in Sita Sings The Blues, under a copyleft licence.[42] The website for Sita Sings the Blues includes a wiki where its fans contributed translated subtitles for the DVD of the film.[43]

Paley won a Public Knowledge IP3 award in 2010 "for her work in intellectual property".[44]

Personal life[edit]

Though of Jewish ancestry, Paley is an atheist as was her father.[20][45]

Paley identifies as childfree.[45]

Paley describes herself as gender critical and writes often about the topic on her blog and social media.[46][47] A showing of Seder-Masochism was protested by trans rights activists in Champaign, Illinois due to her online comments.[48] She was a signatory to an open letter published by The Sunday Times defending J. K. Rowling against criticism for alleged transphobia.[49][50] In an interview with Feminist Current, she stated that when referencing transgender people, she does not necessarily use the pronouns that the person uses. She said, "If a man uses 'she' pronouns... I'm adamant that he is free to identify as he wants. But we’re also all free to identify things how we perceive them."[51]

In 2011, she began making art quilts. The first public exhibition of her quilts was held in June 2013 in central Illinois.[52]


Still image from the feature film Sita Sings the Blues

Comic strips[edit]



  • Cancer (1998. Drawing directly on film. 2 minutes. Color. 35mm.)
  • Luv Is... (1998. Clay animation. 3.5 minutes. Beta SP / Super-8. Color.)
  • I (heart) My Cat (1998. Clay animation. 3 minutes. 16mm. Color.)
  • Pandorama (2000. Drawing directly on film. 3 minutes. color. 15perf/70mm - also known as "IMAX")
  • Fetch![53] (2001. 2-D computer animation. 4.5 minutes. 35mm. Color.)
  • Thank You for Not Breeding[54] (2002. Documentary. 36 minutes. Video. Color.)
  • The Stork[55] (2002. 2-D computer animation (Flash/Photoshop/Final Cut Pro). 3 minutes. Video. Color.)
  • Goddess of Fertility (2002. 2-D digital animation. 2 minutes. Clay animated on a glass. Color. 35mm.)
  • Fertco (2002. 2-D digital animation. 3 minutes. Color. Video.)
  • The Wit and Wisdom of Cancer[56] (2002. 2-D digital animation. 4.5 minutes. Color. Dialog. Video.)
  • This Land Is Mine - A brief history of the land called Israel/Palestine/Canaan/the Levant[57] (3.32 min, 2012, 2-D digital animation. Color.)
  • On Children, a segment in Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (2015. 2-D digital animation. Color.)[58]


Media appearances[edit]

  • The Tom and Doug Show - Paley has been a regular guest on the nationally syndicated Tom and Doug radio show, a weekly comedy music show on the Pacifica Radio Network.[59] She "showed" her film The Wit and Wisdom of Cancer on show 304, discussed her "Christmas Resistance movement" on show 336, discussed Tom and Doug's songs "Gangsta Knitter" and "Sooner or Later" on show 232, discussed Sita Sings the Blues on show 361, and Tom and Doug rewrote her song "Copying is Not Theft" and played it for her on show 377.[60]


  1. ^ PechaKuchaNightCU (March 29, 2016). "Nina Paley: My Car-Free Life". 0:23. Retrieved August 29, 2020 – via YouTube.
  2. ^ a b "Nina Paley". Lambiek Comiclopedia. October 11, 2017. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  3. ^ "Nina Paley". 2018. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  4. ^ "Obituaries: Hiram Paley". January 2012. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  5. ^ Paley, Nina (September 8, 2011). "Seder Masochism: Phase I". Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Merli, Melissa (October 21, 2012). "Studio Visit: Nina Paley". The News-Gazette. Champaign, IL. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  7. ^ Wade, Patrick (January 10, 2012). "Life Remembered: Hiram Paley was a leading progressive for Urbana". The News-Gazette. Champaign, IL. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Merli, Melissa (May 18, 2008). "First movie 'a full-time job' for Uni High grad, illustrator". The News-Gazette. Champaign, IL. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  9. ^ Roekard, Karen G.R. (1991). The Santa Cruz Haggadah : a Passover Haggadah, coloring book, and journal for the evolving consciousness. illustrations by Nina Paley (private ed.). Capitola, CA: Hineni Consciousness Press. ISBN 9780962891380. OCLC 52729227.
  10. ^ "Fetch! (2002)". 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  11. ^ a b "An Animated Discussion: Speaking of the Future with Nina Paley". October 16, 2003. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  12. ^ "Nina Paley and Mike Treder". The Nonzero Foundation. September 11, 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  13. ^ "VHEMT-related cartoons". Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  14. ^ Paley, Nina (October 1, 2012). "This Land is Mine". Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  15. ^ "Tiny Inventions Takes to DUCK Studios". Animation Insider. September 29, 2010. Archived from the original on October 25, 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Discovery: Sita Sings the Blues". Tribeca Film Festival. April 2008. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  17. ^ "Featured artist - Nina Paley: Sita Sings the Blues". October 2005. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  18. ^ "Sita Sings the Blues (2008) Release Info". October 2, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (2009). "Sita Sings the Blues". Roger Ebert's Film Festival. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  20. ^ a b c d Merli, Melissa (August 10, 2014). "Paley's 'This Land Is Mine' a viral hit". The News-Gazette. Champaign, IL. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  21. ^ a b Merli, Melissa (April 20, 2009). "Urbana native's film part of her push for free culture". The News-Gazette. Champaign, IL. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  22. ^ Moody, Annemarie (December 2, 2008). "Sita Sings Blues Creator Nominated For Indie Spirit Award". Animation World Network. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  23. ^ Ramanathan, Lavanya (September 25, 2008). "An Ancient Tale, Newly Animated". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  24. ^ Scott, A.O. (December 24, 2009). "Legendary Breakups: Good (Animated) Women Done Wrong in India". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  25. ^ Paley, Nina (September 8, 2011). "Seder Masochism: Phase I". Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  26. ^ Amid Amidi (April 23, 2018). "Annecy 2018: 23 Animated Feature Films In Official Selection". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  27. ^ "Seder-Masochism (2018) Release Info". June 2018. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  28. ^ Croll, Ben (June 10, 2018). "Annency: 'Seder-Masochism' Director Nina Paley: 'I Have No Idea How This Movie Will Go Into the World'". Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  29. ^ Luis Martinez (June 14, 2018). "El patriarcado desacralizado y otros milagros de la animación radical en Annecy". El Mundo (in Spanish). Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  30. ^ Matthieu Ruard (June 2018). "Annecy 2018 | Wall / Seder-Masochism". Courte-Focale (in French). Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  31. ^ "Here Are the Winners". ANIMATOR festival. July 12, 2018. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  32. ^ Roz Warren (August 13, 2014). "How Nina Paley Made 'This Land Is Mine' Viral". The Schmooze. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  33. ^ Bell, Melissa (April 6, 2012). "Online leaders look to create offline experiences". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  34. ^ "About". 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  35. ^ "Minute Memes". November 25, 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  36. ^ "Copying Isn't Theft" -- Your Versions". April 3, 2009. Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  37. ^ Paley, Nina (December 14, 2009). "Copying Is Not Theft (Minute Meme #1)". Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  38. ^ Paley, Nina (February 9, 2010). "All Creative Work Is Derivative (Minute Meme #2)". Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  39. ^ "Electronic Frontier Foundation celebrates 20 years with new animation from Nina Paley". July 10, 2010. Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  40. ^ Paley, Nina (June 27, 2011). "Credit is Due (The Attribution Song)". Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  41. ^ Paley, Nina (April 2, 2009). "Understanding Free Content". Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  42. ^ Paley, Nina (November 2010). "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved August 19, 2018. The whole struggle with our broken copyright system turned me into a Free Culture activist. I’m actually going to release all my old “Nina’s Adventures” and “Fluff” comics under a Share Alike (copyleft) license too.
  43. ^ See its lists of subtitles Archived May 30, 2009, at the Wayback Machine and screenings Archived December 22, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  44. ^ Brodsky, Art (August 3, 2010). "Public Knowledge Presents Seventh IP3 Awards to Samuelson, Crawford, Geist and Paley". Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  45. ^ a b Dolle, Pauline (April 3, 2018). "Moses make-over by animator Nina Paley will have you grooving". A Journey Through NYC Religions. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  46. ^ "TERFy Archives".
  47. ^ Baron, Reuben (July 30, 2018). "Cartoon Controversies: 10 Times Fans Were Wrong (And 10 Times Creators Were Wrong)". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  48. ^ Dey, Jim (May 7, 2019). "Furor over gender issues puts Urbana artist's film in crosshairs". The News-Gazette. Retrieved September 27, 2020.
  49. ^ Hellen, Nicholas (September 27, 2020). "Literati rally to JK Rowling's defence in row over Cormoran Strike book". The Sunday Times. Retrieved September 27, 2020.
  50. ^ O'Connor, Roisin (September 28, 2020). "JK Rowling: Ian McEwan and Graham Linehan among literary figures to support author amid transphobia row". The Independent. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  51. ^ Acosta, Katherine M. (May 8, 2019). "INTERVIEW: Nina Paley on 'Seder-Masochism,' censorship, and her fight for a free culture". Feminist Current. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  52. ^ Merli, Melissa (June 13, 2013). "Urbana artist Paley putting quilt art on display". The News-Gazette. Champaign, IL. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  53. ^ DuckStudiosLA (June 12, 2008). "DUCK Studios: Nina Paley: "Fetch"". Retrieved September 19, 2018 – via YouTube.
  54. ^ "Thank You For Not Breeding - a short film by Nina Paley". Vimeo. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  55. ^ anthropik (July 15, 2006). "The Stork". Retrieved September 19, 2018 – via YouTube.
  56. ^ anthropik (July 15, 2006). "The Wit & Wisdom of Cancer". Retrieved September 19, 2018 – via YouTube.
  57. ^ Paley, Nina (October 1, 2012). "This Land Is Mine". Retrieved September 19, 2018 – via Vimeo.
  58. ^ Murphy, Mekado (August 5, 2015). "Bill Plympton Lends His Animation Skills to 'Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet'". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  59. ^ Doug, Tom and. "Radio Show". Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  60. ^ "AudioPort.Org -". Retrieved September 19, 2018.

External links[edit]