Ali Graham – 99 Problems


Ali Graham is a freelance illustrator, animator and all-round top creative. Together with Nina Cosford, Ali founded HiFest in 2014 (Hastings’ first illustration festival). It was a resounding success with visitors and contributors piling in from London, Paris and all over the place. Besides working on commissioned projects for the likes of  Tesco, National Rail, The Who and Isko Denim, he also works on self-initiated projects. One of these (and my personal favourite) is his book ’99 Problems’ which takes a humorous, illustrated peek into the frustrating life of megastar rapper, Jay-Z.

I recently quizzed Ali about this book, Gordon Brown, ghosts and much more.

So, Jay-Z has 99 problems, how many do you have?

I have very few complaints in life. I guess my one constant problem would be a lack of time.

For this interview I wanted to ask you 99 questions but am struggling to think of enough, did you struggle to invent 99 problems for Jay-Z?

The 99 problems turned out to come quite easily – having a large back catalogue of lyrics to refer to really helped bulk out the standard, more mundane problems. If it didn’t feel so much like flogging a dead horse, I’d love to do a 99 Problems “At The Movies” as film parody has always been something I enjoy drawing.

What made you decide to do a project based on a rapper’s crappy life?

I was looking to start an independent illustration project, that had a finite length that allowed for a simple, minimal style with a large output. 99 Problems popped up on my mp3 player and the idea formed.

You also did an animation about Gordon Brown being all sad, who is next on your list of disappointed celebs?

I love pop-culture. I don’t always focus on sad celebrities. I’ve done a fierce Beyonce Vs Zombies  project and a cute Lil’ Ye & The Hip Hop Hoorays. But I’ve always enjoyed the idea that people in supreme positions of power and wealth aren’t having the best of times.

Were you popular in secondary school?

I definitely wasn’t one of the cool kids. I think I flew comfortably just below the radar with a solid group of good chums.

What are you rubbish at?

I think anything’s possible with enough practice, but my short attention span often makes me rubbish at sticking with things.

If you could swap places with someone for a day, who would it be?

Bill Murray

Who/what inspires you creatively?

I love living by the sea – I feel very uninspired and boxed in, when I’m in big cities.

Sweet or savoury?

Unfortunately sweet.

What was your best holiday?

We went to Mexico a couple of months ago which was absolutely incredible. Beautiful weather, amazing scenery, great food lovely people.

I also visited New York by myself one time, which was really enjoyable in a totally different way – sort of like going to the cinema by yourself.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Nope. The fact they’re all from Victorian times totally debunks it for me – when I see a ghost with parachute pants, Vanilla Ice crop top and a mobile phone the size of a small house, then I might be convinced.

Did you ever have a pager?

Nope. I got a mobile phone competitively late compared to my peers, up until then classic phone box and sticking to plans.

What’s your party trick?

I’m not very into showing off – I spent a lot of time in my back garden doing kick ups, so maybe that.

Favourite Disney film?


What’s the last book you read?

I’m not a big reader. I guess it would have probably been some sort of picture book – Scott C or something from Nobrow.

Do you have any scars?

I have a scar on my forehead from when I cracked my head open, dancing to Top of the Pops, as a kid, and a scar just above my eye when my sister kicked me in the face for refusing to change the channel (also as a kid)

Who would play you in a film?

Some extra off Game of Thrones.

What are you currently working on?

I’m continuing a couple of illustration projects, I’ve just shot a short film and I’m working on some live music visuals, preparing for this years HiFest (Hastings Illustration Festival) … and I’m renovating a building.

What’s the worst bit about your job?

I’m really bad at switching off at the end of the day.

Biggest claim to fame?

Getting to personally show Quentin Blake around HiFest last year was a pretty special moment.

Where are you from and what brought you here?

I grew up in Little Common (near Bexhill), coming to Hastings most weekends. I studied Computer Animation at Bournemouth, and really didn’t want to go into industry in London, so I moved back to Hastings to carve something out for myself.

Which is your favourite Jay-Z problem from the book?

I really like “Its Your Buoy” – just the visual of the character inexplicably holding a sea buoy that doesn’t belong to him makes me happy.



Along with Nina Cosford you set up HIFEST, what great things will be happening at this year’s event?

Since last year’s HiFest went so well, we’re trying not to mess too much with the format – we’re adding more workshops, more talks, more guests and there will be loads more beautiful illustrative gifts to grab just ahead of Christmas!

What is your super power?


Ali Graham – 99 Problems can be purchased here

HiFest 2015 will take place on 5th December in the Atrium, Station Plaza

Please watch Nina Cosford and Ali Graham’s Hastings Sustainable Fishing Fleet animation