Saurav Mohapatra - comic book writer

author, artist and bona fide geek

Tag: Sadhu

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. :)

“Building Character” (Part 2) – TRISHANKU

Like parents, creators are duty bound to say that they love all their children equally and like parents, creators always have their personal favorites.

When working on creator owned projects like MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL or DHURANDHAR, I have the freedom to build the world and its inhabitants from the ground up. So I can craft each character and add whatever oddities I feel like to make them more “human” :). But as a “work for hire” writer, the properties one deals with already have set personalities as protagonists and antagonists. So as a creator, I always felt that one way I could leave my stamp in those projects was to create some characters around the main cast who’d provide extra flavor.

Here’ a list of some characters from the ones I’ve created so far for my Work-For-Hire projects. I shall be writing a series of these dealing with one of my favorite characters in each.

#2 – TRISHANKU (from THE SADHU: THE SILENT ONES)

TRISHANKU was a major character in my run on THE SADHU : THE SILENT ONES, a 5 issue mini-series drawn by R. Manikandan and edited by Ron Marz. When I thought of the character of Trishanku, the immediate model in my mind was the character of Ben Gunn from R.L. Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND.

The other influence, obviously, was the mythological figure of Trishanku, who was the only mortal on record to bodily ascend to heaven. His unprecedented act threatened to topple the delicate cosmic balance and as a compromise, he was offered “Trishanku’s Heaven”, a midway realm between heaven, hell and earth.

Like his namesake, our character from Sadhu has been marooned in Limbo for a long time and this has cost him his sanity. Trishanku is a scholar-warrior, displaying in depth knowledge of Vedic hymns and martial arts — a homage to the drunken/crazy kung-fu fighters from Hong Kong flicks.

I still remember the first line I wrote describing the character to the editorial team.

Trishanku is the proverbial mad monk, kind of like Ben Gunn from Treasure Island meets Yoda. You don’t know at any given moment, if he’ll unlock the secrets of the universe or fling his poo at you.

Another cool thing about Trishanku was the way he spoke. He is shown as completely mad by the time we meet him in the story and thus he has a unique speech pattern. He refers to himself in the third person and fires off synonyms of words together. This gives him a deranged voice that hints at deep wisdom.

As the story progresses, we get to know more about who Trishanku really is and what he’s capable of. Needless to say, he plays a pivotal role in wrapping up the plot and helping James Jensen in his quest.

Even when his mind is not quite right (from the centuries of being marooned in Limbo), Trishanku displays awesome capabilities and powers that help him when threatened.


You can read the whole THE SADHU : THE SILENT ONES miniseries for free at SCRIBD. Here’s a post I made earlier about that.

SADHU – THE SILENT ONES Full Miniseries is now free to read on SCRIBD

Way back in 2007, I wrote a miniseries called SADHU – THE SILENT ONES for Virgin Comics (now reborn as Liquid Comics). There was an 8 issue main series called The Sadhu written by Gotham Chopra, who had created the character. I was assigned to the project to continue the story further.

Ron Marz (Witchblade, Green Lantern, Samurai: Heaven and Earth, Dragon Prince) had signed up as Editor for this title and we decided to follow up the main series with a 5 issue mini. So long story short, the entire 5 issue mini is up at “SCRIBD for FREE. I’ve created a SCRIBD collection for easy access.

The Trade Paperback collecting the 5 issues is available from Amazon.com.

The first series (created and written by Gotham) dealt with British soldier James Jensen, whose family (pregnant wife and son) was brutally murdered by his psycopathic commandant and nemesis Townsend. James was left for dead and was revived by a mystic, who initiated him into the ways of the Sadhu. But James was torn between quest for salvation and his thirst for vengeance. The main series ended with James slaying Townsend in London.

I had a ton of fun writing the series. I set out to create what I thought of as an “existential swashbuckler“, something that blended elements of mysticism, metaphysics and good old pulp adventures. Ron was an excellent guide in creating the story and mentored me as I learned the ropes. He also got some cool covers done by Brian Stelfreeze and Jefferey Spokes. The series had great interior art done by R. Manikandan (see the interior page pictured above and below).

Another strong aspect of the whole thing was that Ron and I decided to create a narrative which would be accessible to people who hadn’t read the main series. So if you haven’t read The Sadhu before, you can still enjoy The Silent Ones (or at least we tried our level best to make it so) :)

I introduced an ancient cult led by a fiesty Grand Mistress (yeah, that’s the pulp adventure part. this was my homage to Thugee lore and an honest attempt to grow SADHU : SILENT ONES TPB beyond Mola Raam from INDIANA JONES AND TEMPLE OF DOOM), played with themes of multiple realities and pre-destiny/rebirth. We started the series off with James coming to know that his son is alive and that the child is a captive of the cult. James races against time to reach his son before they sacrifice him. But his path is not straight forward. He finds himself in Limbo (the void between universes) and encounters a character marooned there for centuries. (gawd, I so want to give out the details, but don’t want to spoil it for you). So why don’t you head on over to SCRIBD and see for yourself?

Or you can use the handy links below:

[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

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.

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).

Albany Comic Convention update

my table

Thanks to Ron Marz, I got to attend the Albany Comic Convention on Nov 1st. This was my first time as an invited guest at a comic book show and I enjoyed it a lot. The excellent folks at That’s Entertainment (especially George and Pete) hooked me up with a ton of Mumbai Macguffin and Sadhu vol 2. – The Silent Ones TPB, so that I had some stuff to sell. Thanks to everyone who bought a copy. I managed to offload almost all the copies I had gone into the show with. Hope you enjoyed those, folks! :)

The show was small-ish but a ton of fun. I shared tablespace with Nick Taplansky, writer of AWAKENING (Archaia) and Dave Rodriguez, writer of STARKWEATHER: IMMORTAL (Archaia) and SHADOWGIRLS webcomic.

Had a blast with Ron and Matthew Dow Smith (Dr. Who, The Keep). Scored some free copies of Ron’s Samurai TPB vol 2. and Con exclusive cover WITCHBLADE (done by Matthew).

Towards the end of the show, chatted with Dennis Calero and found that we have a common friend. Small world, indeed.

So all in all, a good time. Looking forward to heading back there next spring in April 2010. Here are some pictures from the show.
before it begins
(Before the Show Started)

Ron's Table

(Ron at his table)

Nick T. with his book (courtesy Zach Rosenberg - http://nerd-quest.blogspot.com/2009/11/albany-shenanigans-and-little-comic-con.html)

Nick T. pimping AWAKENING (photo: Zach Rosenberg)

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

THE SADHU – THE SILENT ONES TPB now available in stores

THE SADHU - THE SILENT ONESWell, finally it’s out. This weekend at NYCC I got my copy of SADHU : THE SILENT ONES Trade Paperback collecting issues 1-5 of the miniseries I wrote. TSO continues the story of James Jensen, the british soldier who became a mystic and walked the path of the Sadhu as he searches for his son. He faces off with an ancient evil cult lead by a beautiful but deadly witch, The Grand Mistress of the Silent Ones. His quest takes him far beyond the limits of the mortal world as he pierces the boundaries between the physical world and the more esoteric planes of existence and discovers the true nature of reality.

Sadhu : TSO was fun to write as I got to play around with a lot of existential concepts. The cosmology of TSO tries to combine the Indian mystical concepts of Maya and Reincarnation along with the Australian Aboriginal concept of Dreamtime, reality as a set of interlocked / intersecting dreams of the collective unconscious.

You can either pick up the book at your nearby bookstore (which carries Virgin Comics) or buy it from Amazon here.

Do let me know how you liked (or did not like) the book. Drop me a line either via the contact page on this website or mail me at mohaps at gmail dot com.

Also if you find any reviews or articles refering to the book, feel free to post a comment here or drop me a line.