This week’s sterling opening issue of Paradiso brings together the team of Ram V, Devmalya Pramanik, Dearbhla Kelly and Aditya Bidikar for a new story looking to the future of humanity. But before you start thinking this is another standard dystopian sci-fi series from Image, just hold on a moment — there’s something wholly different going on within the pages of this story, and it’s a hugely promising and involving debut at Image Comics.
The story is set in a scrappy, hard-fought future where people are trying to improve their lives by pushing their way to a promised city known as “Paradiso.” Among them is Jack Kryznan, an ordinary man holding an extraordinary secret, and as we start to follow his journey we’re brought into a fully realized world of hope, ambition and double-dealing.
It stands out as a story with something to say, and the team of Ram V and Pramanik imbue each page with life, technological or organic. Sometimes both. CBR spoke to them both about their work on the series, how it came to find a home at Image, and how they think Indian sci-fi offers some new and fascinating ideas both about humanity’s future and present.
CBR: On the inside cover of the first issue it says, “based on stories written by Ram V and Rajiv Bhakat”. What were those stories? How long has Paradiso been in the back of your mind, Ram?
Ram V: I first wrote about this in my studio newsletter, called White Noise. Paradiso began as an idea first proposed during a train journey through North India. Rajiv (an architect and urban designer) and I were on a road trip. We were both amateur writers who wrote as a hobby. Rajiv mentioned wanting to set stories inside a living city… and we just ran with the idea from there.
There wasn’t a sprawling narrative to begin with. No unifying thread. We just wrote short stories and vignettes set inside this city. We populated it, gave it shape and solidity through these stories. They form the foundation, or to choose a better metaphor, they are the sandbox within which the story of Paradiso takes place. We first came up with the idea in 2011. I wrote comics in India, moved to the UK and wrote Black Mumba, before we decided to seriously look at turning Paradiso into a comic. I’d met Dev by then and took the idea to him. He absolutely loved it. We were freshly coming off our collaboration in Black Mumba and we both jumped into the project straight away. So, it’s been six years since we first had the idea!
How did Paradiso first come to find a home at Image Comics?
Ram: I think the first time I ever sent anything Paradiso-related to Image was over email. I remember getting an encouraging response at the time. Soon after, we’d continued working on the project, and I met Eric Stephenson at Thought Bubble 2016. I’d shown the work around to other creators by that time and people like Kieron Gillen and Ivan Brandon had encouraged me to pitch to him in person. So, that’s what I did. I showed Eric the pages, and a year later we were soliciting issue #1!
What was it about Image which made it the ideal home for the comic, in your mind?
Devmalya Pramanik: When we started pitching, I already had my heart set on Image. I’ve always had a soft spot for them and the kind of boundaries they push with their books. And with Paradiso, it seemed like a story tailor-made for their sci-fi publishing space.
Ram: I think, publishing a creator-owned book through Image has always been an aspiration. I’m still new to comics so I say this with the caveat that I could be off the mark here. But, to my understanding, Image is the ideal publisher for a creator/creative team that are largely confident in the vision they have for their book and can deliver it. I think Dev and I came into Paradiso with a largely clear idea of what we wanted to do and how we wanted the book to look and feel. That showed through in the pitch.
Beyond that, Image, in my time in comics, have been the place for new interesting ideas. New voices and aesthetics have often found their first footing at Image, and Image have shown time and again that they’ve been able to find those creators. It is of course exciting to be part of that. But more than anything else, I’m just happy to have a publisher of their magnitude backing the project. It lets me work professionally and do what I do best. Which is, focus on making the book!
One thing I’ve seen you write in previous interviews is how you finished an early draft of the story and realized that you’d Americanized it as a reflex. You subsequently redrafted to add more authenticity to the story. How important was it to the believability of the story that this version of the future doesn’t just feature the typical American protagonists — that it has underexplored voices running in the lead roles?
Ram: I should clarify: What you might have read was in response to a question that asked if I thought it was important to have Indian voices telling stories in international comics. And so, I was speaking about the early stories I was writing and how the lack of representation influenced me. It wasn’t specifically about Paradiso. I think by the time I was writing Paradiso, my intent to create a narrative that was reflective of my own background and inclusive of the idea of what a future society might actually look like was already part of my thought process.
I think stereotypes are always best avoided. People are complex. Put a group of people together and the complexity rises exponentially. I think it’s time we stopped trying to fit people into molds that serve the story. It’s time we stopped representing modern society with a kind of naïve homogeneity. It often makes for boring, one-dimensional characters/societies. I think a good story makes room for complex characters to often make unusual choices. Add to that, characters that come from diverse cultural backgrounds (as a future metropolis might conceivably have) and it provides the writer with the ability to tell a more believable story as you say, despite the characters acting in interesting and non-intuitive ways.
For me, it is more interesting to write a character who stumbles into their role than one who comes into the story knowing exactly who/what he is and that he must now do everything that fits into that trope. I like my characters to find their moments of heroism, cowardice, malice, kindness etc — as people do in life.
So who is Jack Kryznan, the lead of your story? What’s going on in his head as the series starts?
Ram: In the interest of keeping this spoiler-free, I’m going to have to keep it vague. Jack Kryznan, for all practical purposes in this story is a pretty average guy except for two defining distinctions. The first of which we see in a flashback. He encounters “The Watcher” as a young boy and narrowly escapes being killed. Jack is left traumatized by these events, but they also drive him. Like a scab you can’t stop picking at. Jack is, on some level, determined to unravel the meaning of those events. But, there is another layer to it, which I won’t give away just now. Let’s just say, the Jack we see in the opening doesn’t quite know the full extent of who he is.
The second distinction is that he is in possession of a device that is capable of bringing dead technology to life. We won’t go into how exactly it does that. That’s another reveal. But it will suffice to say that this makes Jack a target for anyone who knows he has this device. So far, he’s kept it relatively low key. Using it rarely to help himself here and there. But that’s about to change. So, everybody wants a piece of Jack.
On a storytelling level. Jack is a relatively unmarked canvas. I like my characters to develop as the story goes along. I like them to pick up bruises and scars. Here, at the beginning, Jack is a cipher and so the reader will find it easy to step into his shoes and experience Paradiso for a while.
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