Eastern Philosophy: Deepak Chopra talks Virgin Comics

Brian Bendis. Alan Moore. Neil Gaiman. All big names, in and out of the comic book industry, but with the announcement of Virgin Comics, they may not be the biggest names in the comic book industry anymore. Sir Richard Branson, head of the Virgin empire, and Deepak Chopra, self-help guru and renowned author, have joined forces to create Virgin Comics, as announced last week. CBR News spoke with Chopra's son, Gotham, over the weekend and our coverage of this historic deal continues with Deepak Chopra. CBR News was able to contact Chopra in Sri Lanka, where he is currently teaching, and he explained how he became involved with Virgin.

"I've always thought of myself as a story-teller," explained Chopra. "This is another exciting medium for me to share my stories with the world. I've never been that comfortable with the labels that the world has put on me - sometimes I just want to tell a tale and people don't have to wonder what sort of lesson I may be trying to teach. I hope that Virgin Comics can be that place."

Due to the lack of press with Chopra, there's been some concern that the guru may only be involved with Virgin on a name-only basis, but he's happy to dispel such rumors, saying, "I will stay involved very closely most of all because I love the vision and because my son is overseeing the creative development and I have also grown to admire and respect Sharad - our CEO. I'm looking to learn from them and am happy with the role of being a student. I am also very excited to watch the development of a cadre of artists and writers that we are grooming in India that I think have exceptional talent. To whatever degree all of them ask for my contribution, I am thrilled to give it. And of course, my stories will hopefully meet their expectations!"

With both Gotham Entertainment and now Virgin Comics, Chopra has made a concerted effort to promote an "Eastern Voice" in comics, which may leave some bewildered, as South Asian culture isn't well-represented in North America. "I think in the east there is a whole different perception of the cosmos, it's architecture, and existence in general," explains Chopra of that "voice." "In the East there is also the great Pantheon of Gods. And each God represents a certain state of being. Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and represents our quest for luxury and comfort. Ganesh is the God if wisdom and remover of obstacle - he represents our aspirations toward wisdom and enlightenment. The Indian Gods and what they represent are the seeds to great Super Heroes! I also think there is a certain acceptance of contradictions in Eastern mythology - a basic understanding that the sacred and the profane, teh sinner and the saints are actually the same players who have just managed to exchange masks for the time being. The mythic traditions of the east feature a lot of these elements and I think they resonate more and more with folks here."

As one might expect, there is a focus on the Indian culture and it's style of comics, as well as exploring the nuances of the culture, which are more than Apu and the Kwik-E-Mart. "Well in India there has long been a tradition of comics re-telling the tales of ancient dynasties, of kings and queens, Gods and Goddesses, and their great mythologies," explains Chopra. "But I'd say the richness are the stories not necessarily the art which there has been no effort to re-invent since the days that I was a kid. So I think our being part of that spark that can maybe trigger a creative renaissance and bring some attention to India for its creative capacities is very exciting and fulfilling. I really do think that people will be excited to see some of the talent that we'll be able to showcase to the world and that maybe the best part of this whole thing."

Chopra and Branson aren't the first successful entrepreneurs to enter the comic book area, as the failure of Mark Alessi's Crossgen Comics is still fresh in people's minds, and one has to wonder what attracts these new moguls to the medium, as the market is unforgiving to new companies. "What makes comic books so appealing to creators I think is obviously the visual story-telling and the fact that there are no real restrictions," contends Chopra. "There's no budget, no set, no actors, producers, and studios restraining the creative process. What could be better than that for an artist and creator? Gotham and Sharad have been giving me a fast lesson in the history of comic books. Of the ones they have had me read, I'd say I am really enjoying the 'Planetary' Series, 'Astro City,' and 'Strange.' As a "reformed" physician, I really like that last one."

The biggest question on people's minds is this: will Deepak Chopra write comics? "Absolutely," he replies. "I have a novel I am writing right now on the life of Buddha that we are going to also create a graphic novel out of. It's a wonderful story and as my son likes to remind me, the story of Buddha "pre-enlightenment" - so their is action and lust and rage and so many of the elements that inspire an epic. I'm planning on telling many more stories via this medium as well."

With comics scheduled to ship in the summer, Virgin is looking to break new ground with their work and Chopra reveals, for the first time, which titles to expect in coming months. "I believe we've put together a slate that includes a re-invention of the great Indian epic the Ramayan called 'Ramayan Reborn.' Gotham likes to call it the "Lord of the Rings" of Asia and from what I see, that's certainly what it is looking at. Gotham is also scripting a comic called 'The Sadhu' which explores the mystical tradition of India. And Shekhar Kapur - a co-founder in the company - is headlining two properties 'Snakewoman and Devi.' I love Devi as it is the tale of the many faces of the Goddess and integrates some of Shekhar's greatest strengths in story-telling. Last I believe, Gotham and the crew will be collaborating with John Woo on a title that is unnamed but I am sure will be wildly entertaining."

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