Eastern Swing: Sharad Devarajan talks Indian Spider-Man

What's the hottest comic book topic right now?

If you said Spider-Man, you'd only be half right.

As officially announced by various East Indian newspapers last week and confirmed online this week, the South Asian comics distribution company "Gotham Entertainment" has reached a historic deal with Marvel Comics to publish a new version of Spider-Man in an upcoming four issue mini-series. No, it isn't just a new continuity: Spider-Man is now an East Indian by the name of Pavitr Prabhakar and the Green Goblin is tied to Hindu mythology. To tell CBR News and its readers a bit more about the project, Gotham's President & CEO Sharad Devarajan spoke with CBR News.

"Just to give you a brief background, our company, Gotham Entertainment Group, is the South Asian publishing licensee for Marvel and DC Comics, as well as for King Features, Dark Horse Comics, MAD Magazine and Warner Bros. Worldwide Publishing. The Company currently publishes local editions of numerous American comics in India in English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and Malayalam languages.

"Since we first started Gotham, we have always dreamed of fully integrating a western superhero character into the Indian market in this revolutionary way. It is one thing to translate existing US comics, but this project is truly what we call a 'transcreation,' where we actually reinvent the origin of a property like Spider-Man so that he is an Indian boy growing up in Mumbai and dealing with local problems and challenges. I have always believed that the superhero relates to a 'universal psyche' already firmly established in India through centuries of mythological stories depicting gods and heroes with supernatural abilities. This project is the true culmination of such a synthesis allowing us to interweave the ethnic & mythological themes of India into Spider-Man's very origins and powers.

"Though we will remain true to the underlining mythos of Spider-Man, which is epitomized in the phrase 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility,' the character will be reinvented so his powers, problems and costume are more integrated with Indian culture. Unlike the US origin, which is deeply rooted in science, the Indian version is more rooted in magic and mythology. This version of Spider-Man will gain his powers from ancient mystic in order to combat the evil threat of the Green Goblin, who will also be reinvented as a modern day Indian demon from myth.

"The project came about through a number of dialogues my colleague Suresh Seetharaman (Gotham's co-founder and COO) and I had with Marvel, discussing ways to enhance our existing publishing program of American Marvel comics. We discussed a number of ideas including having the US version of Spider-Man make a trip to India in a comic series. However, the one that really excited us, was the concept of reinventing the property specifically for India.

"Certainly, none of this would have ever been possible without the creative vision of Marvel who has nurtured this concept with us from the very beginning and embraced the potential of the cultural integration this project represents," continued Devarajan. "Marvel has continuously pushed the boundaries of comic entertainment throughout the world, often transcending the genre and taking bold risks with the medium. As a Company, we greatly admire their entrepreneurial spirit and are honored to be working with them on this groundbreaking project for India. They have truly enabled one of my longtime dreams to finally become a reality."

But if you're wondering what other changes are to come in this brand new and unique take on the Spider-Man mythos, you won't find out much more till the premier later in India this year. "I'd rather not devulge too much of the story just yet, however I think readers will really enjoy the way we have stayed true to the core elements of the Spider-Man characters while similarly also intertwining them with new origins that are distinctively Indian," contends Devarajan.

Some fans may argue that Spider-Man is already a universal enough character, using the incredible success of the "Spider-Man" film as support for that contention, but Devarajan says there's more to making Spider-Man relevant than some may realize. "I think the core mythology of Spider-Man is very relevant to anyone in the world. He is a universal superhero that in many ways transcends cultures. A modern mythology. In fact as mentioned above, we publish a number of American Spider-Man titles already in India very successfully. However, I think this project offers a very unique way to really make an international hero also a local hero, and have fun interweaving the origin of the character with some of the great mythological culture of India. Also, one if the greatest aspects of people's identification with a character like Spider-Man is the fact that he lives in the real world versus a fictitious city. For Indian readers to see for the first time, this new version of Spider-Man bouncing off rikshaws and climbing local monuments like the Gateway of India will be great fun and hopefully bring in many new readers to experience this great character for the first time."

Looking at the costume designs and movement of the character, as well as the bold nature of the reinvention of Peter- whoops, Pavitr- then you might believe Devarajan was influenced by "Ultimate Spider-Man." And you'd be right. "If we can capture one-hundreth of the incredible talents of Bendis and Bagley it would be a great achievement for us. As far as reinventions go, Marvel's 'Ultimate' line is in a class by itself!"

Regardless of fans' positions on one thing: artist Jeevan J Kang is a phenomenal new talent. "Jeevan is Gotham Studios, Studio Chief and unquestionably one of the most creative individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing," says Devarajan enthusiastically. "An architect by training, Jeevan realized his true passion rested in creating comics and joined with us at Gotham to help build an artistic studio focused on creating indigenous original content for the Indian market. Spider-Man India will also be Jeevan's first published work (and what a great way to begin). He epitomizes the very best of the artistic talents India has to offer and literally every month I see his skills improve at a staggering rate. I have the utmost praise, respect and admiration for Jeevan and his amazing work ethic. Jeevan is taking on the entire creative process including the co-writing, penciling, inking and coloring for the first four-part series. In addition to this project our studio is also creating a number of original characters for the Indian market and we expect to release our own line of indigenous comics later in the year. These new characters fit in line with our company's mission 'to foster the imaginations and fuel the inspirations of the next generation of leaders and thinkers.'

"The medium of comics are like a movie with an unlimited budget, a place where you can recreate the entire universe in a single page."

While the series will be India exclusive for some time, Devarajan assures American (and those from other countries) that you won't miss out on the series. "I believe Marvel has plans to release the Spider-Man India comic later in the year for American readers to also enjoy."

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