Saurav Mohapatra - comic book writer

author, artist and bona fide geek

Tag: Devi (page 1 of 2)

Blast from the past and other updates :)

I got my first big break writing comics when I cold pitched Gotham Chopra, EiC of Virgin Comics in 2006 after reading a news article on his foray into India themed comics. Luckily, he liked my spec script (what’d later become INDIA AUTHENTIC #2 – KALI) and signed me up to write a series of Indian mythological stories with forewords by Deepak Chopra. Somewhere down the line, I was offered DEVI and THE SADHU and then onward to some stories based on characters and storylines I cooked up (e.g. MUMBAI MACGUFFIN and JIMMY ZHINGCHAK – AGENT OF D.I.S.C.O.. It was a work for hire gig (meaning I don’t own the rights to any of the stuff I created), but it was great fun while it lasted. I got to work with industry legends like Ron Marz, built up a decent sized portfolio and got to work with some awesome artists like Sid Kotian, Saumin Patel, Dean Hyrapiet, Abhishek Singh and Shounak Jog etc. I also became friends with other writers/artists working on the Virgin titles like Samit Basu, Mukesh Singh and Vivek Shinde. The Virgin editorial staff consisted of seasoned industry hands like MacKenzie Cadenhead (WOLVERINE: SNINKT) and Mariah Huehner (LUCIFER), movie industry veterans like Seth Jaret and a bunch of young energetic first timers like Sana Amanat, Michelle Gomes and Gaurav Sikka.

Then came the event that we, the Virgin Comics alumni, jokingly refer to as “The Great Deflowering” and just like that, Virgin was no more. The founders of Virgin Comics, namely Sharad Devrajan, Suresh Seetharaman and Gotham, effected a management buyout of the Virgin portfolio sometime later and came back as Liquid Comics. I did a few more work for hire gigs for them and also branched out to doing one off gigs for Moonstone (PHANTOM), Top Cow (WITCHBLADE). Vivek and I went on to create our creator owned project MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL and I had some hijinks/misadventures with some other Indian publishers on work for hire projects.

All in all, I look back very fondly of my time spent with Virgin Comics and I greatly appreciate Sharad, Suresh and Gotham giving me the chance to write comics (I mean write freakin’ comic books and get paid doing it! :) ). My dayjob (as a co-founder of the web conferencing startup Dimdim) started taking more of my time as did my two kids – Ayan and Adya. So I dialed down the writerly activities a lot in 2010 – 2011 and regrouped. MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL started gaining traction (in no small measure because of Vivek’s fantastic art) and I also started working with Siddharth Panwar on DHURANDHAR – a modern day magic realism tale set in small town India.

So, I was pleasantly surprised recently when Liquid Comics launched Graphic India – a digital comics platform aimed at India. Featured were two of my books – MUMBAI MACGUFFIN (an action-adventure-comedy caper which was co-created with Saumin and inspired in no small measure by Guy Ritchie’s movies SNATCH and LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS) and MYTHS OF INDIA (a repackaged INDIA AUTHENTIC). I always considered the old Virgin Comics gang kindred spirits who wished to bring kick-ass comics to India and Graphic India is a great reinforcement of that belief. So I wish them the best of luck. (Do check out Samit and Jeevan Kang’s UNHOLI – an original serialized digital comic book exclusively created for the site).

To top off the week’s great news, Times of India posted their list of notable Indian comics and turns out two of my books – DEVI and MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL made it to the list. So that was just delicious icing on the cake. :)

[CRAFT] 22 Pages of Doom – on pacing a comic book issue (a NINE PANEL GRID column)

22 Pages, mark this number down my friend, the bane of every writer who has a monthly gig – the industry standard story page count of a monthly issue of a comic book.

Filling up the said 22 pages is the subject of much head scratching, heartache and frustration – especially when the mind goes blank and the deadline comes a-knocking at the writer’s door.

My first gig was writing a series of one-shots for Virgin Comics called INDIA AUTHENTIC. IA told the myths and legends of the Indian pantheon and since there was no continuity from one story to the next, it was not the hardest thing in the world to write. Sure, given the number of versions of each myth and the fact that I wanted the stories to be a bit more than dry biographies, I put in a significant amount of work into treating the stories as sort of a secret origins kinda gig – every story tried to capture the theme that defines the dramatis personae for the world at large. So once I locked down the story, I’d just sit down and hammer out 22 pages.

Now the very next gig I got was an ongoing monthly – DEVI. Herein, o reader, my troubles began. A monthly comic book title (especially an ongoing one) is like a TV series. Each issue has to be reasonably enjoyable on a stand alone basis (at least that’s how my editor Ron Marz, quite astutely, wished it to be) and also forward the greater arc narrative. We also decided off the bat that we should not be too steeped in continuity to ward off new readers irrespective of the index of the issue they picked up as their first.

Oy Vey! It was very exhausting, but I like to think we (Ron and I) did manage to pull that off in the run we had on DEVI. Right off the bat we were so far behind deadlines (due to factors out of our control – I was moving back stateside after a year long sabbatical in India, Ron was taking over as Editor from Mackenzie Cadenhead etc. etc.). We had a couple of weeks to go from story to pencils and we didn’t have the plot. So during brainstorming session at Ron’s house, I floated the idea of starting off with a collection of three short stories about the main characters in the series – sort of explain their motivations and background. Ron, who taught me a lot during my run on DEVI and SADHU, instantly caught on to the idea and also suggested that we use framing pages at the beginning and end of the issue and in between the stories to sort of provide a narrative. Being a veteran of comic books, he understood the 22 page structure and how to navigate through them. So 3 stories, six pages each and 4 framing splash images. We had our 22 pages. We did some back and forth on the plot of the short stories and needless to say made our deadline.

Later as I started writing full 22 page stories, I had issues (pun not intended) with how much can fit into that. Again here Ron’s experience saved me from a lot of blunders. My first treatment for DEVI #12 had seven scene changes, so on an average every third page the narrative would shift to a different scene. I knew the story I wanted to tell from #12-#15 and was setting up a lot of the stuff here. But going over Ron’s redline I realized that, when read as a standalone issue, it was pretty confusing. So we talked and later came up with sort of a format for telling a 22 page story.

But before I get to that, I must touch upon another mistake most first timers are likely to make. When I submitted the second draft of the treatment, it was too decompressed. Ron’s note said something to the effect – “Now it’s dragging, every single item is getting a visual. The pacing was too much like Manga.” So as in everything else in life, the answer is in the Golden Mean.

So coming back to the format – a safe format for the 22 pages (Your mileage may vary, but this worked for me).

ACT I (Pages 1-4)
First 4 pages are ACT I. I usually either began with a splash or had 2-3 as a two page spread. This was setup. It was something I came back to later in the issue. For an arc beginning, I would use this page for a sequence that would serve as a springboard for the entire plot. For middle issues, this was where the dramatic kaboom sequence would go in to start things off with a bang.

ACT II (Pages 5-16)
ACT II was the next dozen or so pages or so (up to page 16-17). Page 5 cut from the opening action to the thick of the story and for 3-4 pages we set up the first obstacle of the story. So most probably on page 9 or 10 we’ll get the first glimpse of what really will our protagonist(s) be up against (we might’ve hinted at this in ACT I). Then on Page 9/10, I used to cut to something that was a continuation of the opening pages and for the next three pages use that to move the story forward. That takes us to Page #14. Page 15,16,17 then serve as the setup pages which bring the thread started in act I and the sequence that introduced ACT II together and positions everyone and everything for the finale / ACT III. If I planned on ending with a big fight scene, it usually would’ve started by page 15, so that the 16-17 double spread would be used up to show a great widescreen shot.

ACT III (Pages 17-22)
For ACT III, Page 18 and 19 usually were used to show the protagonist bouncing back and kicking some righteous ass. For more story driven issues 20 and 21 introduced / foreshadowed the next issues story and 22 splash was used as a cliffhanger.

It’s a simple structure, but I felt comfortable working with it. It meant I didn’t have to worry about pacing so much, since I knew where my act braks and plot points would be. Of course it is not a rigid formula nor is it a paint by numbers kind of thing. I used this as a rough guide and hope something like this helps you write a better 22 page story.

Till next time.

Toodles,

mohaps

This is a repost from my “Nine Panel Grid” column at Comics Waiting Room. You can find other Nine Panel Grid columns here

Stick and Twisted – why writers should thumbnail or at least try to

When i started writing comics, I’d make short photo collages to help visualize the page/panel layout and caption spaces etc. these were rough visual guidelines, which I’d then translate to a script.

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicShare photos on twitter with Twitpic
click on the images for larger versions

Shown here are pages from DEVI #11 (W: Saurav Mohapatra / A: Edison George / E: Ron Marz). I never send these roughs to the artist. But Edison George’s final pages came pretty close to what I had visualized. With experience I have learned to keep the visualization phase completely in mental space, though from time to time, I do try to draw either stick figure layouts or do a photo collage before scripting the page.

It is my belief that a comic book writer should never enforce their view of what goes in a page to the artist. That is simply a very stifling experience for the artist and not a true collaboration. But sometimes if enough thought and TLC is put into the page design by the writer, most probably the artist would come up with the same or very similar solutions to the layout. After all it takes two (both writer and artist) to make a comic book :)

A Heaven for Trishanku

The website for my new graphic novel project “A Heaven for Trishanku” (drawn by R. Manikandan) is live at AHeavenForTrishanku.com. Mani and I did Sadhu volume 2 : The Silent Ones together and it is a real kicker to be working with him again.

As a story AHFT is very different from anything I’ve done so far. It’s the story of Anwesh Bannerjee, a student activist in the ’70s who along with his “comrades” tried to blow up a bridge to protest against the “Bourgeoisie”-controlled government and ended up accidentally killing an Indian Railways worker who was on duty. Haunted by this guilt, Anwesh surrendered and the court sentenced him to Life imprisonment. Now after more than four decades he is set free and sets about finding the last surviving kin of his victim to apologize.

The story is set against the backdrop of Modern India well on its way to becoming America Light and is represented in the story by Anwesh’s nephew Manu, a 16 year old living in an ideological void populated only by the materialistic swarm of cell phones and iPod’s.

This is the story of Anwesh’s quest for redemption. This is the story of Manu’s unwitting search for an ideological anchor. This too is the story of an unusual friendship between a sixty year old and a sixteen year old, both adrift in the churning ocean that is India today, itself searching for an identity.

About A Heaven for Trishanku

A Heaven for Trishanku (AHFT) is written by Saurav Mohapatra (DEVI, SADHU, MUMBAI MACGUFFIN, INDIA AUTHENTIC, JIMMY ZHINGCHAK, PHANTOM CHRONICLES) and drawn by R. Manikandan (SADHU, KSHATRIYA : BLADE FO THE WARRIOR).

Mukesh Singh interview

Comics Waiting Room (vol. 3 / issue 19)

Comics Waiting Room (vol. 3 / issue 19)

I recently did an interview with Mukesh Singh (DEVI, Gamekeeper, Shadow Hunter) for Comics Waiting Room.

Mukesh was the artist for issues 1-5 of DEVI for Virgin comics and then moved on to Gamekeeper and Shadow Hunter. He was a Russ Manning award nominee for promising newcomer artist at San Diego Comic-Con 2008.

Currently he is working on the concept art for the MBX webisodes scripted by Grant Morisson.

On a personal note, even though I never directly worked with him, I’m a big fan of his work and believe that the comics world will be hearing more of his name in the near future.

The interview is online now and can be read here.

Mumbai Macguffin behind the scenes :)

KRATHA by Saumin Patel
KRATHA by Saumin Patel

Saumin Patel, my collaborator on Mumbai Macguffin and Devi has posted a lot of the behind the scenes type artwork showing the evolution of the concept visually. Do check it out at his blog/portfolio site –  http://pictorialcinema.blogspot.com/

He also has the art of one of my favorite DEVI stories (the KRATHA short from DEVI #11). Scroll down to see it.

DEVI vol 4 (#16-20) TPB out

DEVI TPB vol 4[digg-reddit-me]I received my comp copy of DEVI vol 4 TPB collecting issues 16-20 of Virgin Comics’ DEVI (created by Shekhar Kapur and your truly as writer) in the mail yesterday. It feature a cover by Luke Ross (SAMURAI : HEAVEN and EARTH). G. Willow Wilson (CAIRO, AIR) was kind enough to write a warm foreword. (Thanks, Willow!).

It should be available in comic book stores and shall be available for purchase at Amazon.com and other retailers soon. In the meanwhile it can be purchased from the Virgin Comics Store

Sequential Tart Interview

I was recently interviewed by Rebecca Buchanan of Sequential Tart. Here is the link to the interview.

NYCC documentary

While attending NYCC ’08, I was approached by Luis Medina, a filmmaker who was making a documentary about [sic] “People of color in comics”. While I made my views clear on that “classification” (the only part that made it into the final cut is at 02:06 on the video), it was kind of interesting to discuss about the role of race/ethinicty in the kind of stories we tell.

I stand by the views I expressed in the documentary i.e. a writer is not defined as an Indian writer or a latin american writer or a caucasian writer. There are good writers and then there are bad writers. :)

Watch it with an open mind and hope you enjoy it.

Video Link

Trying my hand at drawing :)

Had some free time. Did a doodle of DEVI (Virgin Comics). :) click for a hires version. The pose is from an Aeon Flux poster (one of my favorites as was pointed out recently by a friend :) )

devi

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