Saurav Mohapatra - comic book writer

author, artist and bona fide geek

Month: May 2010

Three Songs, Four Years

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl is not even aware of boy’s existence. Linkin Park songs make sense to boy. 4 years pass, boy finishes college, gets a job and finally grows up. Linkin Park songs stop making sense.

For those of you who haven’t spent 4 years in an Indian engineering college hostel, it might be beneficial if I clarify certain terms, actually one term in particular. It’s an acronym – F.O.S.L.A. (most commonly pronounced as pho-ss-laa). It stands for Frustrated One Sided Lovers’ Association. It’s not a “real” organization in the sense say, The Rotary Club or the Freemasons or even Automobile Association of America, but for all intents and purposes it is the single greatest demographic in Indian college life. The criteria for participation are simple –

  • You have to be an adolescent male (preferably staying in a college dorm)
  • You have to have a completely unrequited “thing”/”crush” on (preferably) a fellow female member of the student body. Extra credits if the said object of your affections is either completely unaware of your existence or more importantly, has been made aware of it and chose to violently demonstrate to you that you’re not in her league.

There was no recruitment drive, secret handshake or rite of passage. You kind of just moped around alone with that sad look in your eyes and other card carrying members found you. And then each of you went your separate ways, to mope some more.

So that bit of technicality aside, let’s now come down to the topic of this blog post – music. When I went to college in the last millennium, as a card carrying member of FOSLA, I naturally gravitated towards songs ( nay, not songs! Anthems!) that spoke to this particular facet of my life. These were the days before CDs, MP3s and iPods and thankfully, much later than vinyl LPs. I spent the 4 years of college (as my dormmates would attest readily) listening to the same 3 songs pretty much on a loop on my rickety yet trusty Cassette player.

November Rain by Guns and Roses
The first song was of course the grandest of all FOSLA anthems (with a kickass video that showed Slash doing his thing with an epic helicopter shot) – “November Rain” by “Guns and Roses”. This song “spoke” not only to me, but thousands of others in the same boat as me. It catered to the narcissistic tragic in every jilted lover. The basic lesson seemed to be “dump the broad and her memories, run on out to the prairie, straight into a bitchin’ guitar solo”. Hey, stop snickering! I even took guitar lessons after hearing this one – all four of them.



Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
The second one was not quite in the FOSLA anthem league (in fact the appropriate one to like would’ve been Fat Bottomed Girls or I want to break freeor Crazy Little Thing called Love), but somehow “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen stayed with me. There was just something about it, that reached out from beyond the haze of tragic teenage angst. I know nothing about music, notes or tempo, but ever since the first time I heard it, I knew this song was unique. There’s just something about the way it ebbs and flows and twists and turns. The musical/vocal equivalent of watching a ballet performed by mixed martial artists in a last man standing melee.

Coming Back To Life by Pink Floyd
The last one is special. My memories of this one are kind of hazy (if you know what I mean ;-) ). I remember vaguely sitting on the ledge of the third floor balcony — looking out at the starry night, legs dangling into space, cigarette in hand and the cassette player blaring out “Coming Back To Life” by “Pink Floyd” at full volume from the room. This one spoke to me at a much more surreal level (granted that I was in a “susceptible” state of mind, but still…). This one I played over and over again, till the tape on my Division Bell cassette wore out. Then I got another one and another… finally I managed to find a CD after I had come over to USA in 2001 and now it resides proudly in my mp3 player’s most frequently played list.

I revisit these songs often. The FOSLA part maybe not so much, but they do remind me of a time in my life – when nothing made sense, yet it didn’t bother me. Scientists say that the neural pathways take some time to form and with age these pathways become permanent. So, till one goes senile, one’s state of being is kind of set in stone. These songs still remind me of a time, when .. ah, screw it. These were the songs that got me through college and these are the ones I still listen to after a really bad day.

THE WITCH & THE WARRIOR – a Frank Frazetta homage

A few days back, my friend and artist/collaborator Saumin Patel (DEVI, MUMBAI MACGUFFIN) sent me a mail. Saumin is a big fan of Frank Frazetta and upon seeing Ron Marz‘s tribute to Frazetta, he too was inspired to do something.

Thus was born “The Witch & The Warrior“.

Now, Saumin’s visual storytelling (having worked with him on a bunch of projects) is perhaps amongst the best I have seen. So for a change, rather than working from a “Script”, he free-styled some sketeches/roughs with a basic story idea in mind. Our goal was to use some iconic Frazetta imagery, in a story reminiscent of those that he provided covers for. I then took a crack at tightening the story and the images into a 11 page script with dialogue and Saumin came back with astounding pencils for it. The pieces are now lettered and ready. Once Saumin finishes inking and coloring them, we’ll post it on the web.

But while we wait for that, pictured above is a rough lettered version of the cover for your to drool over. :) Hope you like it (as much as we did creating it).

“Old Jungle Saying” – PHANTOM CHRONICLES (Vol 2) HARDCOVER


I grew up with the Phantom — the Ghost Who Walks, Guardian of the Eastern Dark. My first exposure to comic books were the collected editions of Lee Falk’s newspaper strips reprinted by the now defunct Indrajal Comics. Like many of my generation from India, I am a rabid “phan”.

So I mentioned this fact in the passing to Ron Marz, who recommended me to Joe Gentile of Moonstone Books. Joe was putting together the second volume of the anthology of new Phantom stories and as the stars aligned, I got the chance to contribute. My story “The Plague” is exclusive to the hardcover edition (by the time I spoke with Joe, the deadline for the book was already past). Joe was extremely accommodating (once he realized how big a “phan” I was :) ) and by the time he received my story, it was almost time for the book to go to print. Due to some other engagements, I was unavailable for the edits within the extremely crunched timeframe. So CJ Henderson kindly stepped in and did the required edits as per Joe’s directions.

Today I received my author’s copies in mail and truth be told, it’s a dream come true for me. Not only did I become (as far as I know) the first Indian to write a licensed/commissioned Phantom story, but it is definitely so very cool to see my name in an author list that includes (among others) Harlan Ellison and Tom DeFalco. :)

[CARTOON] THE YUVRAJ SINGH CHRONICLES

As an Indian Cricket face I was disappointed as any other at the team’s early exit from World Cup T20 Championships. Read an article about Gary Kirsten, the Indian coach talking about how unfit most of the players are. Yuvraj Singh, one of my favorite cricketers and power hitter extraordinaire has been singled out in the article.

Crouching Cliche, (Not so) Hidden Trope

The hard-ass drill sergeant walks the barracks during an evening inspecting his cadets (currently undergoing commando training) indulge in a rare day off. Two cadets are playing chess. The drill sergeant takes one look and says “checkmate in one move” and when the cadets’ looks say no way it can be done, he gives them five minutes to think about it and walks over to another cadet (the hero) who is playing a mournful tune on his harmonica.

The sergeant asks the hero “Do you play chess?”. To which the hero says “Chess is your thing, I have mine” and points to the harmonica. The drill sergeant grunts an acknowledgment, walks over to the two chess players. He says “Bishop to Queen Three” and almost immediately comes over to the hero’s bunk. He grabs (almost snatches) the harmonica out of the hero’s hands, wipes it on his shirt sleeves and blasts a short sharp ditty of a tune before returning it a dumbstruck hero.

Now this could be a scene you can visualize yourself seeing in say the next “Officer and a Gentleman” inspired movie very easily. A scene like this is built on what is generally referred to as Tropes. A trope is technically defined as fairly standard recognizable device that serves as a building block for any kind of narrative. A Cliche is just a trope done to death. A trope is inevitable if you write long enough, but cliche is the kiss of death.

In the scene I described above the “Bishop to Queen Three” and playing of the harmonica by the Hard Ass drill sergeant are very clichéd representations of the trope “A Man’s Renaissance Man“. In fact the term “Bishop to Queen Three” and all that it implies(especially that the cadets are moronic enough to miss out on just running all possible moves of the remaining chess pieces by the time the sergeant comes back) is pure weapons grade cliché. However the Hard-Ass with a hidden side is a trope and can be done well.

The best weapon a writer has with regards to Tropes or clichés is subversion. The Simpsons subverted the cliché of “Bishop to Queen Three” in the episode where Home takes out the Crayon lodged in his brain and becomes super smart. He runs by two geezers in a park playing chess (A Trope that is perhaps almost a cliché’ in itself :P ) and says “Bishop to Queen Three”. The humor and subversion comes from the fact that the geezers are playing Scrabble and mention the fact to Homer. Further subversion occurs when Homer uses his trademark fist shake and forces them to do “Bishop to Queen Three” after emphatically repeating his earlier statement (a Trope in itself).

The line between tropes and clichés is getting especially blurred in this high output world of creativity and mega-events. As writers, we must be wary of this trend and try to find new ways to subvert these “oh so familiar” / “ain’t cool if every other book does it” kind of pitfall situations, so as to keep the readers from yawing the “been there, done that, Bendis did it better” mega yawns.

Before we part ways, here is a homework exercise. Pop in that DVD of “Star Trek 2 : Wrath of the Khan” and watch Shatner go “KHANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!”. Pay special attention to how the camera moves away from him and try to remember all such instances where this has been copied. Otherwise spend some time browsing TVtropes.org , a wiki dedicated to cataloging the Tropes in TV/Movies and Comics.



The scene described in first paragraph is from the Hindi movie PRAHAR (The Strike), starring and directed by my favorite actor Nana Patekar.

This is a repost from my column NINE PANEL GRID on Comics Waiting Room.

[Doodle] Nana Patekar (Ab Tak Chhappan) homage

One of my favorite crime movies (and a major inspiration for Mumbai Confidential) has been “Ab Tak Chhappan” (Translation: 56 Till now) .

So this doodle is a homage to Encounter specialist Sadhu Agashe played by Nana Patekar. (Done from a photo ref, from the publicity stills for the movie).

About Mumbai Confidential

Mumbai Confidential is a crime noir comic book series created by writer Saurav Mohapatra (DEVI, SADHU, MUMBAI MACGUFFIN, INDIA AUTHENTIC, JIMMY ZHINGCHAK) and artist Vivek Shinde (PROJECT: KALKI, SNAKEWOMAN) set in (of course!) the Indian city of Mumbai.