Ram Venkatesan is an author and comic book writer from Mumbai, now living in London. His short stories and comics have appeared in anthologies and e-zines. His comic series, Aghori, is award nominated. Kohinoor Joy chats to Ram all about his latest release Black Mumba and his inspiration.
What inspired you to embark on a graphic novel?
In 2012 I started writing professionally after having written as a hobby for years. And one of the first things I wrote was a comic in India which did well. Over these past years, I’ve grown as a graphic novelist and I’ve gotten to know likeminded creators in the industry. There had always been a desire to do something set in India, to tell Indian stories that were subtle, sophisticated and yet accessible to readers from all over the world. That desire to tell those stories eventually led to Black Mumba.
Do you believe that comics have the opportunity to turn into more sophisticated stories like Black Mumba?
I think comics have always had the ability to tell and have always told sophisticated stories. As with all mediums of story-telling what is popular is not always what is subtle or sophisticated. So, it’s often been the case that people’s impressions of the medium have been formed based on their perception of comics as entertaining and colourful stories for younger audiences. But sophistication and nuance and comics has always existed regardless of genre or reader age. It’s just a matter of looking for those kinds of stories.
Why did you turn to kickstarter and has that changed any of the creative process?
I’d always been a little bull-headed about getting the book out. When we had 5 pages done I went around to conventions and showed the pages to creators and editors that I respected. They were all very kind and encouraged me to publish the book. That really gave me the confidence to take the leap to putting the book out there. I pitched it to publishers and while they were all complimentary they said it wasn’t quite something they would publish. One of them suggested that I put the book out via Kickstarter. And that’s how the Kickstarter happened. I found creators who were willing to guide me with their experiences and we had a great campaign! As for the creative process, I don’t think that’s changed. Kickstarter is a great way to put out your work. But I am of the belief that the work in itself should be free of any non-creative considerations.
You’re from India and Black Mumba is set in Mumbai, do you think new literature like Black Mumba is shaping India in popular culture?
I’d like to think so and I’d also add that the relationship between culture and literature is reciprocal. Black Mumba is shaped by Indian / Mumbai culture as much as it any influence it may exert. In fact, I think a lot storytelling and literature in India still carries with it the baggage of its colonial history. Often, we tell the same kind of stories about the same subject matter. I’d like to think at Black Mumba is among the newer works that are trying to look at a different part of India and its culture- one that very much exists but is often overlooked.
Now living in London, how has your love of India and heritage travelled with you?
It has, to an extent. In as much as my childhood was spent in India and it will forever be a place that shaped who I am and so informs all my work. But I choose to focus on the people who make India what it is and so it is that part of India that has travelled with me. The brazen friendliness, the warmth and willingness to come together. Of course there are parts of India that I continue to take great joy in. Some of its languages, its festivals, its food the experience of a place still untouched by formality and the social transaction. There is a rawness to being Indian that I greatly treasure. But that said, I think of myself as a nowhere and everywhere kind of guy. I’ve travelled a lot. I lived in the States for a while and at this point I’ve spent more than a third of my life outside of India. And I am convinced that people around the world have more in common than they’d like to admit.
Do your stories help your affinity with India?
Yes. I find myself drawn to writing more stories in an Indian setting. It might be a case of simply finding comfort and ease in writing something familiar but it might also be my way of experiencing a form of nostalgia.
What’s next for you?
More writing. More stories. I’ve got a few projects on the way at various stages. Some of them still in the process of being pitched. Some that have already been picked up for publication. I also have another book set in Mumbai that’ll be out sometime soon. It’s a busy time but I’m enjoying the rush of having to be so creatively productive. I’ve also been pondering putting more time and effort into my illustration. But I’ve been pondering that for years now. Maybe this coming year I’ll put some real work into it!