Gotham Chopra, Virgin Comics Chief Creative Officer
Storywriters, Artists, Animators these are good times
for the entire visual arts community in India. Every
single day one witnesses acitivity and investments
in this space.
a decade ago who would have thought that someday there
could exist a company such as Virgin Comics in India?
company that has celebrity achievers like Sir Richard
Branson, Deepak Chopra, Shekhar Kapur, and accomplished
business leaders such as Sharad Devarajan & Suresh
Seetharaman. Creative Direction from the likes of
BulletProof Monk writer Gotham Chopra... all these
names and people investing time, money, effort and
conviction in comics! INDIAN COMICS!
Xpress.com Editor Anand Gurnani recently met up with
Virgin Comics Chief Creative Officer Gotham Chopra
at the Bangalore studio.
always had it in us" shared Gotham Chopra about
Indian visual arts talent. "It's about having
Comics is increasingly being perceived as a company
which is a platform for creative people like illustrators
and writers etc. Tell us about yourself and your approach
have been creatively inclined my whole life, I wrote
my first book Child of the Dawn, which was published
by Aber-Allen Press, while in College. The book is
now published in 13 different languages around the
world. That was my first experience as a writer where
I went through the entire process.
college I worked as a documentary film-maker for five
years. I traveled quite a bit and made documentaries
on war and conflict in regions such as Chechnya, Afghanistan,
Iraq and wherever there were problems of these kind.
That, for me was a really interesting time because
I was traveling quite a bit and also doing a lot of
film-making, creative documentary film-making. Also
I had a lot of time to write and to keep journals.
That's when I wrote my second book and also got involved
in comic books. I started writing a book at that time
'Bullet Proof Monk' which later got developed into
a film of which I was one of the producers with John
Woo who ended up producing it and directing it.
the whole process of a comic book maturing into a
film was an amazing experience.
Bullet Proof Monk I started working with Sharad. Ironically,
the company that Sharad and Suresh started almost
2 and half years ago has my name.
comic books and then transforming them into movies
seems to be the core business model at Virgin. Could
you please elaborate and explain?
core mission is not just comics to movies but comics
as a platform to multi-media. Today you can turn a
comic into a game, film, animation, online, merchandising,
there are so many different ways of evolving a good
property and that's more on the business side.
the creative side we don't create comic books thinking
that we are creating a story board, I think that's
the natural evolution. That's why film-makers like
comic books so much. We go ahead think about a good
story using graphics fiction. With storyboards, one
has to think about budgets, draft structures and stuff
like that. But with comic books our mission is to
create a good story. With comics you can also have
multiple levels, comic is a movie with an unlimited
budget, you can create a city and destroy it the very
evolution of a film, if you look at it in comparison
to a comic concentrates on one issue and you develop
the story that way. Whereas a comic book is purely
for a creator, it's a platform to be creative. When
I work with it as a film-maker, work with Shekhar
Kapoor that's what he really loves, it's like an engine
to put your creativity through.
about comic books like Bullet Proof Monk, being an
artist I visualize and help these guys or they help
me with the storyboarding and ideas, and how one sees
the story unfolding on the page. I'm not a fine artist
by any means and these guys (the creative) are teaching
me a lot in that sense.
do projects evolve at Virgin Comics?
have a great creative core team here. Our process
here is that different people like me, Shekhar and
any other artists working here come up with their
ideas and then there are a lot of brain storming sessions.
We share our stories with each other and they gradually
evolve. We've got a constantly growing pool of story
ideas at Virgin and we have people who come up with
concepts and we have writers who then write scripts
and storyboards based on these concepts. We take five
sentences and turn them into five pages as a treatment.
Then you got your process from there and break the
treatment down and you've got a storyboard. We discuss
how a story would flow over five issues and once we
have the storyboard and the process, the artist goes
about refining it with sketches and different kind
of things, stating what the characters will look like
and the universal setting of the story will look like.
Much of it is working out the creativity in your own
a comic book creator, what's the aspiration for Virgin?
aspiration is to use the comic book medium as a platform
to develop IP. We are developing Sadhu as a feature
film in the west. Involving big Hollywood actors and
producing a big feature film. We'll be shooting some
of it in India. The story is about an English soldier
who becomes a Sadhu eventually. That's one example
of how we take a comic book and develop it into a
larger film or property. We've taken Sadhu, Ramayana,
Devi and we are creating mobile games here in the
Indian market. So in the next few weeks Devi will
be available on mobile phones as a game.
are creatively working with Paradox studios. They
got on board as partners with us even before the books
were out in the market. They are aligned with us in
seeing the future of Indian entertainment and Indian
property is different some may be developed into creative
games, online and different things. Right now we want
to work with partners who have their core competencies.
Our concentration is on publishing right now and we
tend to pick up partners from other multi media disciplines.
That is the strategy.
Indian professionals other than Shekhar are you currently
have almost 50 artists and creative people here, they
are all Indian. But these guys here are artists, creators,
writers, so that's the core. We're also working with
some writers like Sumit Basu who is a young novelist
here in India. He's writing a book for us. We are
also working with Anurag Kashyap. They are all working
on comic books.
like Japan has its own domestic market for Anime.
Do you see something like that happening in India?
One side is exporting Indian myth and character to
a hungry audience you've identified abroad and when
it comes to the local market, how do you see it?
when you compare with Japan, they have a culture of
graphic novels. 40% of their publishing is comic books
and graphic novels. India has a culture of story telling
but graphics and illustrative story telling exists
but more so as an art form with various sub cultures.
India's got a long way to go in those terms. What
India's got is an explosion of technology going on
so when we create comics, we create a package where
u can play mobile games as well simultaneously while
releasing the comic.
while we look towards building comics, properties,
we're building brands, characters and trying to get
close to the Indian market by providing variety.
have been observing the Indian space for sometime
now in terms of animation. What are your comments
on the developer's side? What's your take on it?
think what a lot these studios are doing or have done
is incredible. And we know their founders and executives
who are pioneers and visionaries. I think the next
genesis of evolution for Indian animation is how do
we go from the service providers to the creatives
or how do we go from the technical to the artists.
That's a challenge and something that we are pushing
here. We recognize that others are doing it as well.
There is no formula to this.
you find in the big animation companies is that they've
got themselves into business that is going to be challenging
for them and difficult to get out of. They've built
such enormous teams. They need the partners in the
west to give capital and resources to keep them going.
have identified a different strategy that we are not
going to scale up so massively that we have to rely
on anyone to keep us breathing. We are about building
properties and bring them to such a point and building
things around them and building teams around them.
When you are employing such large teams you are pumping
in a lot of cash and it's a constant commitment and
however much you get paid to do a Tinkerbell or Shrek
or whatever it is somewhere down the line, studios
will need to make their own content. Outsourcing is
a margin business and those margins are getting thinner.
I also think it's a business that will never stay
in one region for long. It's only a matter of some
other region offering a better price performance ratio.
So I guess in our own way, all the Indian studios
are thinking as to how we get to the next stage. How
do we create the next Tinkerbell? For us that's always
been the ambition and for a lot of others it's an
is a content creation company. Our founders all of
them Richard, Deepak, Suresh and Shekhar they've been
very successful in the fields they've worked in. they've
made money, they're comfortable. For them this was
just not about building a lucrative company but starting
a revolution. Really triggering a creative renaissance
in India. Shekhar and my father specifically because
they are Indians and Indian content creators who have
been able to take Indian content and really showcase
it to the world in a very dynamic and a very successful
way. For them it was about raising another generation
to do that. Shekhar always says that it's not going
to be him who creates the next Lord of the Rings or
the next Harry Potter, its going to be some Indian
kid somewhere in this country who perhaps comes and
works with us because they idealize shekhar. Creativity
is what's going to do that and that's coming out of
the fresh generation of creative people in India.
now to the next level what's the road map?
roadmap is getting our properties going, later this
year you are going to be seeing a lot of activity
on that front. Besides these four titles, the others
to come out include John Woo's Seven Brothers, Deepak
Chopra's Buddha, Dave Stewart's Walk In as well as
some indigenous properties we are building like Virluents,
Panchatantra: End of Story and more.
you have a comic, there are some properties that would
do well in comics but may not lend themselves so well
to movies in spite of being popular comics and vice
versa. What is the selection process of choosing one
title from ten comics to develop into a movie?
is definitely a vibrant publishing strategy. The concept
of producing comic books in India is pretty good right
now and publishing the comics in Europe, Us and Asia
is what we do and plan to do. That itself has pretty
strong economics attached to it. Films are the lottery.
There are so many different factors, one of the factors
is obviously the cost of producing whether it's in
India or the US, and it's still very expensive. That's
why you have to work with big stars because of the
nature of the business.
think there are other businesses as well like mobile
gaming in the Indian market which is a booming business.
I think online gaming is the other market. So we look
at different ways of evolving properties.
at the selection process one of the major things is
the strong publishing
that for us
is a really important thing and to execute it well.
It's all different ways of evolving creativity. Like
Pokemon which doesn't even have a story associated
to it but has become an iconic figure and got revenues
out of it. It's the same creative act. It's how you
go to market it and we have some great people here
as well as in the west who are experts in that field.
are doing Ramayana and we wanted to be an iconic thing
and we've just finished it and its coming out soon,
we're getting there on certain pages you can see that,
unique. We want people to look at that book and say
that it's different.
impression of the Indian market is that there is no
dearth of creativity but what needs to increase is
the conviction in that creativity. At a session at
JJ with shekhar and me, a girl got up and said that
I'm not really a great artist, colourist, writer nor
an animator but I think I'm a good story teller is
there any role for me. Shekhar said that I don't write
the script, don't act in the script, don't shoot the
camera, I don't pay for the shoot, I am the director
and people have ideas and I just tell them what to
do, lean on their creativity.
the end of it, Shekhar's pretty good at it and has
made a living out of it.
consider ourselves as part of the creative community
in India that is sparking something unique and we
are glad to be a part of it. There is a lot of potential
and the biggest challenge is how we get there. There
is no set formula. How do u a train a guy or girl
to think creatively? Look at the Japanese market and
the Japanese Manga which is the signature style of
Japan. How do we do that in India? How do we form
a distinctive visual storytelling style? It's not
going to happen tomorrow. That's what we are pushing
for. We don't have a training system in place that
teaches us. You can't really tell a guy that go and
watch this movie. Give them structure or instructions
and a chance to articulate. That is the challenge
which builds into frustration sometimes. That's the
nature of creativity.