BuzzFeed recently compiled a list of “21 Indian Graphic Novels That Should Be On Your Reading List” and four of my books (including two books I wrote for Virgin Comics) featured on it – Mumbai Confidential, Moon Mountain, Devi and The Sadhu.
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. 🙂
Yesterday, I got the sad news that a friend of mine in India passed away. I had never met him, but he was a collaborator on a couple of comic book projects I had worked with and we were facebook friends too. Even though we lived a few continents apart in the “real” world, the wonders of social networking kept us in touch. Facebook would keep me abreast of his life, one news feed item or tagged photo at a time. I knew when he got married, what new projects he took on and most importantly his “mood” — being a true artist, his posts would reflect the infamous ups and downs of the artistic whim. His forte was horror and the supernatural. He could tap into some dark cavern of his subconscious and come up with monsters and dreamscapes like only a few gifted ones can.
I got a mail from one of our common friends in the weekend that he had suddenly passed away. It was a shock on many fronts. But, as the day progressed, something even more shocking happened. Our friends started posting on facebook and remembering his work and life. He had influenced quite a few friends and fans and some of them (actually most of them) started @ tagging his facebook profile in their posts. Everytime I logged into facebook, it was a bit creepy to see his name hyperlinked to his profile pop up on my ticker. He’s survived by his wife and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain she must live through again when the same items pop up before her (a tagged photo of my friend smiling, an image he worked on, condolences from a common friend). Loss is something we all have to deal with, but I can’t help but cringe at the thought of the connected social/mobile world of ours scratching the tender wounds of a departed loved one again and again and again.
We hype our world as being connected, social and mobile. Everything is converging, everyone is connected and everything is shared. But that is not necessarily a good thing… always. 🙁
Image from here
I created this character for the Virgin comics one-shot MUMBAI MACGUFFIN, which was written by me and illustrated by Saumin Patel. I had visualized the story as THREE DAYS OF CONDOR meets SNATCH and set in Mumbai. It’s an action-comedy about a CIA operative who comes to Mumbai to hunt for a downed satellite and ends up facing a cast of weird characters.
Saumin and I created the gangster Ali Shah Jung Bahadur Fakruddin Sheikh (aka Fukku Bhai) as a larger-than-life mob boss who rules over “Chor Bazar”, the secret market of thieves deep inside the slums of Dharavi. We gave him a disability (he’s wheelchair bound) to humanize him, yet made him cold and hard as Megatron’s balls. Fukku Bhai is a John Wayne fan and watches old westerns all day long. He carries an antique colt in an authentic wild west holster and doesn’t hesitate to shoot people who irritate him. He’s the king in his kingdom and you mess with him at your own peril.
Rather than being the antagonist, Fukku is sort of the local bigwig and plays a part in the story that suits his stature as the undisputed ruler of Chor Bazar, where his word is law.
You can read the whole comic book here for free.
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 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 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:
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.
Just after I had submitted the script and Dean Reuben Hyrapiet finished the art, things at Virgin got a little… umm… hairy.
RYDERS is the story of vigilantes/outlaws armed with custom cars in a dystopic future where cities are ruled by totalitarian regimes who have outlawed free speech and personal vehicular ownership. It has kind of a Mad Max meets Fast & the Furious vibe. I borrowed a lot of motifs from Westerns in terms of setting and story elements. Dean did some fantastic art on this project (Might just be me but I felt a great Geoff Darrow vibe when I was visualizing the world and Dean delivered that tone pretty nicely).
I was kind of sad that (as I thought at the time) RYDERS got “lost” in the transition from Virgin to Liquid. Long story short, RYDERS is now available for purchase from Scribd. So if you like your dystopic future/post-apocalyptic melee and muscle cars, do check it out. 🙂
Last time I was there we were all sitting at pretty much the same table and this time around the seating order was not much changed. I haven’t had this much fun just shooting the breeze since college. 🙂 So thanks guys, look forward to next time.
Also managed to sell some stuff : DEVI vol 3 TPB, Sadhu Silent Ones TPB and the Mumbai Confidential Preview. As usual, the conn drew a pretty comics savvy crowd and it was a real pleasure chatting with the fans.
Towards the end, I walked around and traded books with other pros attending. Mark Holmes gave me a smashing print that I shall be scanning and putting up on the blog soon-ish. Jackie drew me a DEVI pinup that she couldn’t complete on time, so looking forward to receiving that in mail sometime soon (will post scan as soon as I have it). Paul Harding also sketched a mean Punisher for my con sketchbook.
Below are some cellphone snaps I took while the conn was going on in no particular order.
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,
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing – aka Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle – http://www.kabedford.com/archives/000013.html