America. The U.K. Japan. So where's the next big hotbed of comic book creativity? If Gotham Studios has its way, we're all going to be saying India.
As announced earlier, Gotham Entertainment, best known for its "Spider-Man: India" series (in which Peter Parker was re-imagined for Asian audiences), formed a partnership with renowned spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, his son Gotham Chopra, acclaimed director Shekhar Kapur (best known from his work on the film "Elizabeth") and Sharad Devarajan, President & CEO of Gotham Entertainment. With their press release outlining a very unique approach to comics, CBR News caught up with Deepak, Gotham and Sharad to find out more about the importance of this newly formed Gotham Studios Asia.
"Similar to the phenomenon we have seen with Japanese Anime and Manga, which has influenced virtually every aspect of popular media in the West today, our mission is to reinvent contemporary Indian popular art and permeate this new style and vision throughout the globe," explained Sharad. "Deepak, Shekhar, Gotham Chopra and I all share a collective vision of providing the catalyst for a new creative renaissance to emerge from the Indian market. We truly believe that in the years ahead India will become a leading global cultural exporter. In the same way Indian children have embraced Batman, Spider-Man, Scooby-Doo and Britney Spears, today's Western world has an increasing global appetite for the most engaging content, regardless of its cultural affiliation. Today some estimate that 30% of all children's programming in the United States is based on Japanese Anime and Chinese films such as 'Hero' have been top of the movie charts for two consecutive weeks. Such phenomena are proof that Asian content has a global appeal that resonates with audiences on a global scale."
Those sentiments are echoed by Gotham, who says the creation of the new studio was inevitable once Asian and Western sensibilities started to intermingle. "We firmly believe that the culture of India and Asia is increasingly finding an audience in the west. The great mythologies of the East, once consumed by the West, will surely find resonance with readers. The heroes and villains that have endured for centuries in the mythical traditions of Asia form some of the most dynamic characters that we feel are now ripe for global consumption through an entertaining and colorful medium like comic books."
But with fans in the rest of the world only beginning to see Gotham Entertainments' efforts in "Spider-Man: India," some might wonder what to expect from the company and Sharad explains how that project represents the new studio's creative ideals. "'Spider-Man: India' is just the start of this process and was actually in development by Gotham Entertainment Group before the formation of the new company. However, thematically the Spider-Man India concept taps into a theme that cuts to the roots of Asian culture, the concept of 'Man versus Mythology' - infusing elements of spirituality, mysticism and the belief that man is ultimately ruled by destiny and forces beyond his understanding. Unlike his American counterpart who gained his powers from a radioactive spider and whose nemesis, the Green Goblin, received his powers from a scientific serum, the Indian origin of Spider-Man is steeped much more in mythology as he gains his powers from a mysterious yogi and his enemy is reinvented as a an ancient Indian Rakshasa demon. Also, we hope that audiences who experience the 'Spider-Man India' comic or see some of the preliminary artwork in the Signed Collector Edition we just released will find that the artistic talent we are assembling in India today is truly leaps and bounds beyond indigenous comics that have been produced in the country before with the potential to appeal to audiences on a global scale."
Everyone involved with the launch of Gotham Studios feel that this is the time to launch such an ambitious venture because of the pace at which the world is changing. "Satellite TV, the internet, the global film and entertainment trade has brought the world much closer," explained Gotham. "Today, entertainment properties are increasingly built around their global resonance. In the very near future, we'll see mega movies open to half billion dollar opening weekends around the world at the box offices. This is because global sensibilities are clustering and finding resonance with each other. Today, one nation cannot enter into a conflict without it directly impacting every other country in the world. We are all collaterally connected. When it comes to what we are doing, we simply feel that in this global entertainment economy, a good story, resonant characters, and dynamic story-telling will find an audience in Boston, Bangalore, or Bankok. The nationalistic restrictions of yesterday are increasingly a thing of the past."
Sharad says that the success of efforts by companies such as DC, in partnering with the already successful Humanoids publishing company, and TOKYOPOP, who many credit with the manga boom, and even rapper Jay Z's collaboration with the musical phenom Panjabi MC, have set the stage for Gotham Studios' creation. "Specifically, I think the American audience has an appetite for something new and different," said Sharad. "In comics we are seeing this with the success of relatively new companies like Tokyopop and also the introduction of French comics in the Humanoids/DC line. This belief is further re-enforced by the increased popularity of Indian themed content in the West. In fashion, today's American teenagers wear clothing with Indian elements, accessorized with bindi's on their foreheads, nose-rings and even henna on their hands. In music, artists such as Madonna and rappers such as Jay-Z have incorporated Indian rhythms and lyrics seamlessly into their songs. Eastern philosophies and practices such as meditation and yoga have become commonplace in contemporary America and Indian-themed or stylistically infused movies and shows such as 'Moulin Rouge' (stylistically Bollywood), 'The Guru,' 'Bend it Like Beckham' and 'Bombay Dreams' have found strong audiences."
For those new to the names, Deepak Chopra is a huge force in the literary & spiritual field, while Shekhar Kapur is a respected name in the film world- the combination of both is a coup for Gotham Entertainment. But why did they join together for comic books? "My whole life's work has been about the telling of good stories," explains Deepak. "Much of my career has been about bringing some of the traditions of the East - mostly in healing and spirituality - to the doorstep of the West. I know firsthand the appetite amongst many around the world for the messages and wisdom of India and Asia and I also know from growing up in India, the amazing and sensuous stories of our ancestry. What we are doing through Gotham Studios is really just another playground for me to tell more stories that will educate, enlighten, and most importantly entertain readers around the world."
His son, Gotham, agrees that all parties were drawn together to do one thing: tell good stories. "Shekhar and my dad have been two of the most important mentors in my life. They are both incredible story tellers - a tradition in India that has been alive for centuries. When Sharad and I started contemplating ways in which we could start growing this company and its potential, getting Shekhar and my dad was a no-brainer. We also knew that their incentive would be simply to share their many great stories with the world and that through our studio, we had found a low cost formula for being able to facilitate that. It just made a lot of sense!"
It also makes a lot of sense to Sharad, the CEO & President of Gotham Entertainment, and he explained what makes both men so indispensable. "Shekhar and Deepak are unquestionably two of the most creative minds on the planet today. Shekhar is a consummate storyteller with hundreds of ideas, all of which are amazingly engaging. Considering there are only so many hours in the day it would be impossible for Shekhar to make all of his countless story ideas into movies, the Studio enables him with a vehicle to have dedicated teams developing those ideas into a visual world through comics. Since our content relies heavily on tapping into the primal mythologies of the Indian market and integrating them into contemporary storylines, Deepak is an unparalleled asset in this capacity with his mastery over the ancient mythological stories of Asia and the primal mythological themes that resonate with humanity across the world. He has been extremely helpful creatively by helping us infuse these themes and a sense of spirituality, mysticism and destiny into our characters.
"Also, just to make clear the distinction between Gotham Entertainment Group (GEG) and the new Gotham Studios Asia (Gotham Studios), the important thing to note is that GEG and Gotham Studios are two different Companies. GEG will remain a separate Company focused on Asian youth magazine publishing through our publishing licenses with Marvel, DC Comics and others. Whereas Gotham Studios is a content development firm focused on creating the next wave of global properties. The focus of GEG is to bring global content to India in the form of publishing products. In contrast, the focus of the new Studio Asia is about bringing the creativity and original mythological content of India to the world."
The spotlight on Deepak and Shekhar shouldn't be taken as a slight to Gotham, whose work on many films- from "Elizabeth" to "Bulletproof Monk"- and creative endeavors in the music and literary world make him a good fit for the company and, as he explained, very excited about the opportunity to bring a new voice into the comic book world. "This is something I am enormously excited about. I think that my whole experience- professionally as a writer and journalist as well as my personal experience growing up between two cultures - really gives me a solid foundation to foster the types of globally resonant stories that we hope to tell. I grew up on the comics of Batman and Krishna, X-Men and the Mahabharata (think 'Braveheart' with loincloths).
"I also worked on the comic success 'Bulletproof Monk' which was turned into a major feature film that I exec produced along with John Woo. I think that has given me some sense of how to take a cool 'eastern story' and translate it for a more global audience as well as built it into a major media property. Hopefully next time we'll have some more creative control to the screen!"
If you're wondering, no, the company isn't named after Gotham Chopra, though Sharad is happy to address that serendipity. "Through amazing coincidence/synchronicity, Gotham Chopra shares the same name as Gotham Entertainment Group, the company I formed in 1997 -thus naturally the name 'Gotham Studios Asia' seemed a uniquely appropriate name for our new joint venture with Intent. Gotham is an experienced and brilliant writer who will be scripting many of our comics. His involvement in 'Bulletproof Monk' offers him a perfect understanding of our goal to utilize the medium of comics as an 'R&D' lab to create the characters and visual world for other media licensing such as film and television."
With such a diverse group at the helm of this creative venture, it would seem as though there are many personalities and philosophies to filter through the lens that is the work and Gotham explained how the first batch of projects represents that merging of ideals. "This will be a very collaborative process all around. That being said, it's very important to really have a strong sense of story straight through and not feel like the narrative has been cut and paste through various tellers. I think the most exciting part is that with many of the initial slate of properties that we are focused on, they are all ones that we are familiar with but very excited to spin, add some subjectivity to, and really carve out in a unique way. We also know what everyone's strength is on the creative side - especially Shekhar (building character and conflict) and Deepak (adding soul, subtext, and consciousness). We hope that will differentiate our stories."
The fact that some of the stories we'll see adapted- such as the classic "Ramayana"- are so distinctly East Indian may seem to be an impediment to global embracement of Gotham Studio's efforts, but expect to see a few tweaks in the stories to give them context. "We describe the Ramayana as 'The Lord of the Rings' of India," explained Gotham. "Devi - another of our initial properties - is based on the myths revolving around the rivalry between two Hindu Goddesses Sita and Sarasvati, but it takes place in a contemporary Urban city and the plot centers on an overworked police detective and his adulterous fantasies about the heroine who keeps appearing in his life. These are not going to be traditional re-tellings of thousand-year-old Indian myths. We definitely think there are inherently universal qualities in some of the stories and characters of these great myths, but with the added ingredient of contextual settings, modern language and morality, we hope that we'll find new audiences. If we do it right, a lot of people will have no idea that we are re-telling tales that have been around for thousands of years!"
When asked if Gotham Studios will produce superhero comics, Deepak Chopra responds in his trademark introspective style and poses his own question. "What is a superhero after all?" asked Deepak. "It is the representation of some of our greatest aspirations and ideals. The Superhero is the manifestation of our collective vision of what we wish our leaders to be and to some extent - what we wish ourselves to be. What some western superheroes have done superbly is reveal a darker shadow self that is actually a very spiritual and eastern characteristic. That is to say, that the eastern traditions tell us that there is no separation between sinner and saint, the divine and the diabolical, or the sacred and the profane. They are just different sides to the same seminal state. Even our Gods and Goddesses are not immune to things like jealousy and rage. We'll definitely look to build these fundamental archetypes into the souls of our superheroes as we build them."
In the press release, reference was made to comic books as a "new culture" and not just a "gimmick." That aggressive stance has been well-received and Gotham is happy to explain exactly what it means. "Comic books are fun! They are inexpensive to produce (at least that's our formula) and they are inexpensive to buy. For a creative person, there is no limitation. I don't have to pull a scene because of its budgetary implications. Therefore, it is truly liberating. We'd love to see a renaissance for comic books and be a part of it. But we also realize that what we have the ability to due is let our imaginations run wild, create great stories, and then allow others - with deeper pockets in the world of film and gaming - come work with us to develop some of these characters and properties in other mediums. It's by no means a new formula to develop comic books and their characters into bigger deals in the movies and gaming. However, we do believe there is a whole universe that has been relatively untapped and that can play a major role in the re-emergence of comic books as a cultural phenomena."
"As Gotham mentioned, compared to the millions of dollars spent telling stories in other mediums, comics truly are akin to a movie with an unlimited budget - a place to recreate the entire universe in a single page," added Sharad. "Even in the US, comics have become an inexpensive medium to explore a myriad of story genres, indicative by movies as varied as Road to Perdition being originated through comics. Also when we refer to comics as a new culture we are referring to changing the perception of comics in India as well, where the industry is still in its infancy. To make comics a part of contemporary Indian culture, we need to up the level of storytelling and artwork and market the medium as a relevant entertainment choice for today's Indian readers. Having a director of Shekhar's caliber and an author of Deepak's renown, telling the world that comics are the next wave, will help legitimize the authenticity of the medium and attract a whole new audience of readers in India."
In general, it seems as though Asia is becoming a major creative force in the world- just look at the success of the remake of the Japanese film "The Grudge" starring Sarah Michelle Gellar- and Deepak has his own perspective on why the global sales market is turning into a sharing of global culture. "These same civilizations and cultures from the East have been around for thousands of years. The lands of India and China, the far and south east of Asia have been trading posts and routes for global explorers for millennia. It is fascinating how these enduring spiritual and cultural traditions become 'trends' in the west! I think the mere fact that they have been around for so long are indicative of their timeless resonance. I also think that it is time that our narrow walls of nationalism fall down and that the wisdom traditions of the East hopefully can add some direction on how we do that. In the future, I firmly believe that military might well become increasingly irrelevant and that the true super-powers of the future will be driven by their economic and cultural might. In that scenario, Asia will play a very prominent role - it's already doing so."
On a similar note, we've seen manga- colloquially used to describe comics originating in Japan- draw in record numbers of female readers who have no interest in mainstream superhero comics. So it stands to reason that Gotham Studios believes it can draw in an untapped market and Gotham Chopra explained what he sees as the group attracted to the new studio's work. "Perhaps we can draw in some readers that have never really had an interest in comic books - never really understood them to be powerful platforms for telling truly intense stories. We'd also like to think that we'll bring in a lot of global readers, those that will bring a sensibility that understands the world to be an increasing shrinking place where we will be defined by our common stories, our new mythologies, as well as the unique eccentricities that we bring to the global carnival!"
Though there's no firm release date for Gotham's Studios first production, all parties involved are excited but are loathe to say their work is any better than is what is being produced. "I am not going to make any bold predictions on why our stuff may be better than some of the tremendously strong content that is already out there along the comic book landscape," said Gotham. "I think our goal is to bring a level of story-telling and a certain world that has been relatively untapped. I think readers that are intrigued by the fast evolving world around them will hopefully find some resonance in our books. There's a great saying in the East: 'our explicit enemies are our implicit allies.' Think about it - if not for the villainy of Kobe [Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers NBA player], there would be no so-called 'heroism' from Shaq [Shaquille O'Neil, Miami Heat NBA player]. These are the basic thematic ideas that we intend to bring to much of the stories that we'll tell. We hope that we'll build an audience out there and are excited to get on with all of this and stop just talking about it!!!"
"I think there will always be a universal audience for great characters such as Spider-Man and Batman," added Sharad. "However, the recent introductions of Harry Potter and Pokemon, show the world that there is still plenty of room to originate new globally powerful brands. Our content relies heavily on tapping into the primal mythologies of the Indian market and integrating them into contemporary storylines. Successful movies such as the Lord of the Rings are proof positive of the potential in exploring this genre. We are aiming for the middle of next year for our first stories to be launched."