Saurav Mohapatra - comic book writer

author, artist and bona fide geek

Tag: India Authentic (page 1 of 3)

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

“Oh, my god! You’re punching me” – an adventure in comic book writing in India

This is a repost from my “Nine Panel Grid” column at Comics Waiting Room and was written in 2008. So all temporal references relative to the original date of publication.

I did something yesterday that I thought I’ll never do in my life. I told a publisher to basically (and very politely) “shove it”. Of course I ended the mail wishing them luck with their line (and I really, most sincerely do), but all in all this has been a pretty surreal experience for me.

Towards the end of 2008, I was contacted by the publisher to see if I was interested in doing a full length OGN based on Indian mythology. I was just coming off of India Authentic from Virgin Comics (now reborn as Liquid Comics) and the sudden winding down of their comic book line had left me with a few stories I wanted to do (with all the research done and plots ready) with no one to publish them. I thought this was a golden opportunity to do one of those on a bigger canvas so to speak (India Authentic was 22 page one-shots). We had the honeymoon phase where I explained the way I wished to write the particular story, a tale from Mahabharata about a young warrior who knew nothing but war. The editor-in-chief was enthusiastic about it and once my detailed page by page breakdown was approved, we got down to contractual details. I must say of all the Indian comic book publishers (Virgin excluded) I’ve had dealings with so far, they were the most open and prompt in taking care of the paperwork. Let me give credit where it’s due. The contract was standard boiler-plate “I’m signing my firstborn over to you” work-for-hire one (since the character was public domain and not one I created, I accepted it) and we got it off the plate in quick time. We created a schedule and an editor was assigned. The usual pleasantries were exchanged.

Then the first tragedy struck. I fell down the stairs in my home and ended up spraining my wrist. This put us off the schedule by a couple of weeks for the script. I managed to get the script first draft out to them within the revised deadline and moved on, waiting for the redline to arrive.

That is the funniest part. The redline never came. I got one note from the editor saying she was going through the script and then she sent me a mail saying that I should “rework” the script. As the editors who I have had the good fortune of working with in the past will confirm, I don’t mind reworking and even rewriting entire scripts if the editor gives me specific notes, but here there was a general note asking me to rewrite an entire OGN. To top it all, I was sent a script by another writer, saying use this as a reference. So I went through that script and tried to extrapolate what exactly was expected. I kept on asking for specific notes and a redline meanwhile.

There is a whole list of things I had problems with, but here are the top two.

One of the notes said “There is a lot of philosophy!”.

Of course there is. I like to call myself a non-practicing atheist. I view mythology as a rich source of tales, nothing more and nothing less. Writing mythological stories is my way of answering the questions I posed to my mother (a deeply religious lady) as a child. What was this god thinking when this even occurred? Why didn’t incidental character X did action Y when the logical thing would’ve been to do Z? In India Authentic and in the script I submitted, I tried to tell a story from the protagonists viewpoint, not simply retell a legend. The effort was to provide a narrative based on an inner monologue. I’m afraid I can’t get into specifics to protect the identities of those involved.

Some panels don’t have any captions. We need at least 180 words per page” / “The captions don’t mention what’s shown in the pictures

Wow, me not being verbose? My wife laughed heartily upon hearing that (She is always ribbing me about how I never know when to shut up!). Now a comic book is a marriage of words and art. But the age old adage of “Show, don’t tell” still applies.

Which brings us to the title of this article. To draw an analogy , imagine if I were depicting a fist fight between a normally peaceful hero who’s decided he’s had enough. So my script would have a panel of the guy punching the villain and next one would be the villain crashing into the ground ass first. I’d then have a close-up of the villain looking up at our hero and a reverse angle upshot as the hero glares at him. The last panel would be the villain as he collapses deciding he’s had enough. All these would be silent panels ( Maybe a line or two of the inner monologue of the hero if that). The art tells the story and I don’t need to ham handedly spoonfeed the reader. The prior pages have established the hero’s inner conflict and the dastardly villain’s desperate need for come-uppance.

Now in the absence of specific notes, here’s what I gathered I was being asked to provide for such a sequence to the publisher.

Panel 1
Hero punches villain
CAP: And then the mighty hero punched the villain
Hero: I’m punching you, you mangy cur!

Panel 2
Villain crashes down on the ground
CAP: The dastardly villain crashed to the ground
Villain: Oh my god! You punched me! I have fallen to the ground.

And so on and so forth. You get the idea!

Oh yeah! Before I forget, there was an explicit request to use “million dollar words”. The note was to the effect “The captions are worded in a very matter-of-fact/simple way. Please use more intellectual words”.

So I did a lot of soul searching. I come from a decade old professional career where I take immense pride in being …umm… professional. I like to think that I inculcate that in my writing gigs too. But I finally decided to mail the publisher and tell them that I can’t write for them. So far there has been no artist allocation for this and printing schedule has not been decided. So I decided to save both of us a lot of aches/pains further down the road and called it quits. I received an email response saying that the reason a redline was not provided was “to carry out a full edit on the script at this stage would be extremely time consuming and, I think, unnecessary.

Anyway, as things stand right now, I’m intent upon for the first time asking to be let go from a writing gig. Hope I didn’t come off as too bitchy in this post.

Until next time, toodles and take care.

mohaps

A “Redline” is basically a version of the script with the editor’s note inline with the original draft text. Usually it’s a word doc with “Track Changes” enabled. In the merry old days, editors used to mark corrections with a red pencil and that was the origin of the term.

Disclaimer
The Capt. America #1 (Marvel Comics) cover image used in this post doesn’t mean any disrespect to the content/writing of the comic book. It was one of the most iconic punch images I could think of from the golden age. :)

INDIA AUTHENTIC Returns

My very first comics gig for Virgin/Liquid was a series of one shots titled DEEPAK CHOPRA presents INDIA AUTHENTIC. IA dealt with stories from Indian mythology and each issue featured a story about a member of the Hindu Pantheon. Deepak Chopra provided a lead-in/write-up about the featured story.

I wrote 15 issues in total and it was a fun gig while it lasted. I like to think of IA as “Amar Chitra Katha on steroids” :) IA #15 KRISHNA, my last issue, was kind of lost in the turmoil surrounding the demise of Virgin Comics, or so I thought. Looks like the whole IA line is now available from as MYTHS OF INDIA. The issue #1 GANESHA is a free read and others are a dollar each.

And GANESHA has been featured on scribd.

For handy browsing, here’s a collection I made of all the issues I could find.

K.I.S.S. Me, you fool!

My fingers tap on the typewriter keys – a staccato clattering like a spastic with a tommy gun, in perfect cadence with my stuttering thoughts. There it all is – a symphony made out of the slow start building into a crescendo as I feel clarity and then the pregnant pause as my mind lulls.

Blah Blah Blah!

Well, I could’ve just written, “I’m typing as I think.” Somehow couldn’t resist the temptation for “Purple Prose”. When I started writing comic books, my first break was INDIA AUTHENTIC, a retelling of Indian myths and legends preceded by a foreword from Deepak Chopra (yes, THE Deepak Chopra). Given the subject matter and Deepak’s reputation, my first few issues I veered towards high and haughty sounding words and phrases. The pieces were caption heavy and I tried my best to make sure they sounded lofty.

During that time I had the good fortune of working with Ron Marz (GREEN LANTERN, WITCHBLADE, SAMURAI : HEAVEN & EARTH) and as I’ve mentioned before I learned a lot about the craft. Ron is a great believer in K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). One of my titles that he edited was THE SADHU, about a British soldier in colonial India in the 19th century who has a spiritual awakening and becomes a mystic warrior. My story took James Jensen, the protagonist beyond the realms of the physical on a journey that eventually ended within himself. I used James as the narrator of the series and my first draft carried on the style of my first few INDIA AUTHENTIC books and I thought myself to be the Cat’s Pajamas.

But after a few discussions with Ron on the first draft, I realized that I was actually making a title that was kind of alien to the American reader in the first place, further obtuse by my purple prose. Obscurity is often mistaken as profundity in this world of ours, and frequently dropping words like Karma, Dharma, Cosmic Synergy does not equate a tale well told.

Less is always more. A comic book in particular has the assist of the visual storytelling of the artist, so the writer can counterpoint that by using simpler language that don’t cause the reader pause breaking his suspension of disbelief. Simple doesn’t equate to flat storytelling. Hemingway wrote magnificent works of literature and perhaps the best display of dialogue based narrative. He rarely used the so-called Million Dollar Words. His language was simple, accessible and had a cadence of its own. Elmer Leonard’s novels and the narrative techniques he uses are based on simple building blocks, yet he crafts a masterful body of work from those ingredients.

In comic books, perhaps the best example of simple language creating an unforgettable mental image is the opening of ALL STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison (DC). We’ve been told the origin of Superman so many times in different media, but Morrison is downright majestic in the way he uses four simple phrases to sum up eight plus decades of mythos. (picture below)

“Doomed planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.”

Try and beat that!

Till we meet again,

Toodles!

mohaps

UPDATE
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing – aka Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodlehttp://www.kabedford.com/archives/000013.html

Repost from my previous Nine Panel Grid column at Comics Waiting Room.

Belated Find : Some radical India Authentic love

Well, I think I found this a year or so too late. http://nenena.livejournal.com/126717.html

Thanks for the kind words, Nenena. It is much appreciated. These are the moments a writer lives for :)

An excerpt:

The modern heir to Amar Chitra Katha, India Authentic comics are effing fantastic: A combination of spiritual lesson, high adventure tale, and artgasm after artgasm. All are fronted by Deepak Chopra’s poetic introductions. But the best part is the writing by Saurav Mohapatra. Mohapatra gets inside the heads of the gods and gives them voices that sound all-too-human; which is exactly what the Hindu gods, flawed and imperfect as they sometimes are, should sound like.

Read the whole post

Read India Authentic #1 Ganesha and #2 Kali for Free

Liquid Comics has put India Authentic #1 GANESHA and #2 KALI online at Issuu.com. It came out back in 2007 and was my first ever gig :) so special place in my heart.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India_Authentic_%28comics%29

DEEPAK CHOPRA PRESENTS INDIA AUTHENTIC is a series of one shots reimagining Indian myths and legends for an international audience.

Issue #1 GANESHA
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Issue #2 KALI
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a lovely blog post about India Authentic

Google Alerts popped up a link to this blog post about India Authentic vol 1. Book of Shiva.

http://becomingicha.blogspot.com/2008/07/im-in-love.html

Interview by Venetia Ansell of "Sanskrit Literature"

I was recently interviewed by Venetia Ansell, who runs the “Sanskrit Literature” blog, about India Authentic and the retelling of ancient Indian myths for a new generation.

Here’s the link to the full interview.

Sequential Tart Interview

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

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