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Gotham Chopra interview

Gotham Chopra has played many roles in huge projects across media, from writing books to producing Hollywood movies. He is currently Chief Creative Officer at Virgin Comics and Animation

Q: Graphic novels and comics are the fastest growing market in fiction
today, and Virgin Comics and Animation seems like a fascinating
project. You’re not only trying to produce comics from India in India,
thus creating a market and creating new groups of readers, you’re also
looking to create a whole niche in western publishing markets. How has
the experience been so far, in the process of creation, and what are
the problems you’ve faced?

A: It’s an exciting venture, most notably because it’s never really been
done before. I am proud to be a part of what we think is a creative
renaissance in India. I think India in of itself will become the
dominant market for publishing and other forms of entertainment and
servicing that is certainly our goal. But there is also a richness to
our heritage and stories that we think the world will really fall for
if its package the right way with great quality.

As with any new business, there are a thousand new challenges every
day! I think the toughest is identifying the best and most real
opportunities amongst the million that come at us every day and
staying focused on them. Also, of course is building the right team.
I have no doubt that the right mix of creative and managerial talent
exists in India but finding them is not the easiest thing in the
world. We also only want to work with dreamers – those who share our
vision and want to be a part of something truly innovative and bold.

Q: The comics Virgin plans to publish are by and large related to the
larger literary genre of science fiction and fantasy, or SFF. Do you
think Indian readers are by nature receptive to SFF? Do you think your
comics could start a wave of increased popularity for SFF in India? If
yes, what are your own favourite SFF influences (books/comics/movie)
and where do you see the genre going in the near future?

A: I think the fact that we have such a rich mythic heritage does in
fact form the bedrock of a great SFF market. Readers first have to be
equipped with great imaginations to consume and appreciate good SFF.
The great texts of our past – the yoga vashista and vedic tomes
include references to things, places, dimensions that even the best
SFF writers of today have not dreamt up. The Indian market has of
course drifted away from that, become consumed with Bollywood, but I
think they will still react to a great and imaginative story. In
terms of my favorites – I always have loved the great SFF writer
William Gibson. The Dune series is a classic. Comics in the genre- my
favorite writer would be Warren Ellis. Movies: Star Wars of course is
the seminal myth of my generation and I’ll put the original Matrix up
there with any other film.

Q: I understand you’re looking at creating content across a variety of
media. Is text-only book publishing a part of your plans?

A: We live in an era of integrated media whereby a good story can be
spun out into as many ways you can think of. We think of the comic or
graphic novel as a great storyboard – the R and D lab – from which we
can spring films, games, wireless content and much more. That doesn’t
mean we skimp on the publishing side of things. In fact, we think
that’s the most important part, building a solid foundation from
which we can be creative and have some more fun.

Q: What sort of material would you like to see coming out of South Asian
comics – not just as head of Virgin, but as a comics fan? Is there any
particular aspect of Indian history/culture/media that you’re
particularly fascinated by, and are dying to see in comics? And what
do you think Indian comicbook writers would do well to avoid?

A: I am a sucker for mythology and have always been a history buff as
well. Of course re-inventing our great myths – the Ramayan and
Mahabharat – is a no-brainer and something we are exploring. But I’d
rather take our rich mythology and our Asian thinking and integrate
it into contemporary stories and dramas. I think we have a type of
story-telling that will increasingly find a global audience, a
richness to our characters and their backstories that roots them in a
greater sense than just themselves and propels good narratives. I
think that’s always critical – giving your protagonists really strong
backstories. Even if you don’t include any of it – and that is often
the case – a strong backstory really helps build the spine of a good

In terms of things to dodge, I think super heroes in the classic
mold. The days of tights and capes seem to be passing in terms of teh
emergence if new heroes. I definitely think there is room in the
pantheon for new and dynamic characters that have powers as part of
their arsenal but I generally look away from the classic caped
crusaders as we develop new stories.

Q: In other media, SFF content is often treated as marginal, low-caste,
bereft of real literary content, and thus outside mainstream
literature. Interestingly, in comics, SFF content IS the mainstream,
and more literary comics are mostly marginal, even underground. What
do you think is the reason for this?

A: A good comic writer understands that it is such a dynamic platform to
imagine a whole world and turn it into something visual. It’s a film
with an unlimited budget. There is something very fulfilling about
having an idea in your head and then watching a greta artist start to
really bring that alive. In the movies that requires millions of
dollars. In a good graphic novel, when an artist and writer find the
synergy and rhythm, it happens almost effortlessly and they both
compliment one another. As with most art forms, there’s a huge gulf
between the good stuff and the bad stuff – and the good stuff can be

Q: A huge problem for readers and writers in India has been that they
simply don’t have access to cutting-edge comics and SFF novels – in the
case of graphic novels, price is often a very limiting factor. Until this
situation corrects itself, do you think the best placed Indians (in terns of both . reading and writing) are those who belong to the diaspora? Will the diaspora play . the leading role in the creation of SFF material both in comics and in books, at . least in the first wave of Indian SFF?

A: We’re working in. Bringing the world’s best content to India has been
the mission of my partner and co-founder of Virgin Comics, Sharad
Devarajan, for many years with his first company. And certainly as we
mine the rich talent of India and create new books, we want India to
be key in the emergence of these stories on the global stage. As far
as getting the stuff now, I think you’ll start to see innovations as
the whole branded character industry grows. You’ll also find a lot of
surrounding countries from Singapore to UAE moving more aggressively
in these areas and that obviously having an effect.

Q: Finally, a question about heroes. What sort of heroes are you planning
to create for an Indian market? Do you think there’s a degree of
saturation with superhero comics in the west, or are readers
insatiably hungry for their favourite superheroes? Do you think the
Indian superhero works as a concept?

A: I think it all depends on how we define the concept of a superhero.
To some degree there is an insatiable appetite in the west for the
great comic heroes – the Batmans, Supermans, and Spidermans. But I
also think in India, we’ve had the original superheroes for years!
The Krishnas and Ramas and Lakshmis and Kalis. Not so much their
personas as the attributes that make them up, the characteristics
that define their divinity, are what can make for the most powerful
and provocative new heroes. Sticking a cape and tights on our great
Indian Gods and Goddesses is too much of a short-cut. We need to
understand the subtleties of our pantheon, tap the collective
creative mind of our heritage and I am confident that even Superman
doesn’t stand much of a chance!

About Samit Basu

Writes books, comics, films, other stuff.


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Copyright (c) Samit Basu. Images copyright respective holders.
July 2006


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