The New Frontier: Gotham Chopra talks Virgin Comics

Sun, January 8th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

What's a good way to make the news? Announce your new business partnership between one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time and one of the most successful self-help gurus of the twentieth century.

Announced on Friday, Indian comic book company Gotham Entertainment Group has formed a partnership with Virgin empire mogul Sir Richard Branson, forming Virgin Comics, an announcement that has excited many fans, due to the reach of Branson's various enterprises. CBR News caught up with Gotham Chopra, son of the world-renowned Deepak Chopra, to learn more about this historic deal and the implications for comic book fans worldwide.

"The architects for the deal were myself and Sharad Devarajan," explained Chopra. "When we first met in 2004, we realized we were on parallel tracks, not to mention Sharad's company was named after me! (Gotham Entertainment Group). I was working with my father and Shekhar Kapur to create a company that was looking toward Asia as the entertainment frontier. Already working in Asia, in comic books, Sharad was grasping the opportunity to tap the incredible pool of talent he was exposed to. The formation of our company and partnership was a no-brainer. Then came the desire to grow and grow aggressively. Sharad and I made a list of who would be the type pf bold visionary that we thought we needed as a partner. Richard Branson was at the top of that list. We figure "let's give it a shot" and just reached out. Richard was great - he "got it" from the start and we were on our way. It's also then that we realized that there was no reason to limit ourselves to Asia. Indeed our mission remains to tap the incredible talent and mythology of Asia but also to build an entertainment company that is global and whose stories and properties resonate around the globe."

With so many enterprises at his fingertips, Sir Richard Branson has a wide array of available venues to promote comic books, the kind of promotion unheard of in the comic book industry. While that will surely benefit Virgin Comics, Chopra says they'll be continually looking at further innovative ways to promote their comics. "Not only Virgin but the whole world of entertainment and media have become a lot more tangled and integrated in the last few years. It's certainly a part of our agenda to think progressively of how we can maximize exposure for our properties and stories both within the "Virgin Universe" as well as outside of it. That won't come at the sacrifice, however, of great stories. I am a big believer in that content comes first. Ideally we will be at the forefront of using new technologies and broad distribution platforms to showcase our content in innovative ways - but our goal is to make sure it's the stories and characters that our fans fall in love with."

The initial announcement of Virgin Comics' formation highlighted the fact that there will be three distinct lines of comics from Virgin, with each focusing not on a specific universe per se, but instead focusing on spotlighting specific content. Chopra explained, "The Shakti Line will focus on "Asian edged" content in an effort to really brand the space of Indian and Asian character properties and capitalize on the increasing global appetite for these innovative characters and stories. Several of our founders are originally from South Asia and we are excited to mine some of the incredible untapped talent lurking there. If I were going to qualify these broadly, I'd say we are tapping into narratives that focus on a "man vs. mythology" themology. The east is often associated with mysticism and how man's fate is determined by his fate. The "chosen one" is a popularized motif that was conceived in the East. We'll certainly be tapping some of those sorts of ideas as part of the Shakti line.

"The Director's Cut Line will focus on working with some of Hollywood and beyond's best talent to co-create properties in the form of comic books, again to be packaged and leveraged into Hollywood and the entertainment industry at large. We are thrilled to be launching this line by creating properties with two innovative film-makers Shekhar Kapur (one of our founders) and John Woo. For these properties, we will be looking for talented writers to work with and develop seed ideas provided to us by these film-makers.

"The Maverick Line will focus on working with talented creators, thinkers, and artists both within and outside of the comic book and graphic novel industry. Our mission at Virgin Comics is to be a "creator driven" company and work closely with creators we respect and admire to incubate, foster, and develop their ideas into dynamic properties - initially as comic books and/or graphic novels and ideally beyond."

While some of the names mentioned may be foreign to North American fans, the name John Woo evokes the kind of widescreen action that has been in style since Warren Ellis' "Authority" comic book series. But will Woo be producing a lot of comics? "We certainly hope so!" smiles Chopra. "I've had the incredible fortune of working with John before on the adaptation of 'Bulletproof Monk.' To have the opportunity to have him seed us with an idea that we can co-develop is just an awesome creative opportunity. Personally, it's one of the things that I am most looking forward to."

With a self-help guru, successful filmmaker, respected entrepreneur in charge of Virgin Comics, one is tempted to imagine the production of comics far different than the norm, focusing perhaps on genres not well-represented in the North American comic book industry. Still, Chopra is reluctant to label Virgin's planned projects as being of any one genre, saying, "I'd hesitate to qualify our comics/stories under only one banner or category. We certainly hope to be able to cater to a wide variety of titles that please the diverse fan base. If there was one uniting vision, I'd hope we're seen as a "creator driven" company, i.e. as a place where creators can bring their ideas to incubate and develop them into properties they are proud of. That definitely doesn't mean that from day one, we're opening the doors and able to develop everyone's ideas. We're a small operation hoping to grow aggressively but we're being careful not to mess it up!"

Still, the comic book market is unfriendly, at best, to new publishers and there's also a greater focus on bookstore sales these days, which changes the playing field. Virgin has taken this to heart and has planned their launch accordingly, with a gradual release of product, as opposed to the heavy initial launch method of some publishers. "We're starting out slowly, releasing 4 titles this summer and then scaling upwards," explains Chopra. "Our books will be traditional 22 page stories with added backstories and features that hopefully will make readers and fans feel a part of our birth. In terms of graphic novels, we have a few in our scope that we are developing. It's certainly part of our mission but we'll be diligent there as well."

CBR New readers first heard of Gotham Comics when they launched "Spider-Man: India" in 2004, through a partnership with Marvel Comics, and Chopra says the company would be open to more projects in that vein. "We're definitely open to some more collaborations like 'Spiderman India' and are contemplating a few of them. It's a great way for us to showcase some of our budding talent to the fanbase as well as let our creators take a crack at some of their favorite characters. As for 'Spiderman India,' it did very well. Fans, as you can imagine, reacted very strongly to it. [smiles] And very importantly Marvel was happy."

Virgin will also be producing animated features, which allows for the creations of Chopra & Co to reach an even wider audience, but the comic book and animation projects are not scheduled for simultaneous release. "Probably not simultaneously - not at first anyway. But certainly we have our eyes on taking our comic properties to the next level almost from the starting point when we put pencil to paper. We definitely want our characters to have long lives and will try and be innovative in ways to get them out their to the audience."

With the media attention Virgin Comics has garnered in less than 48hrs, the company is moving along quickly with their projects and curious readers will be able to sample the products soon. "Look for them this summer - before the Comic-Con in San Diego," revealed Chopra. "We'll be in all the traditional places wedged in between your favorites. We'll do everything we can to make fans aware of our properties but our hope is that the best sort of promotion - word of mouth because people like the stuff - will do our work for us. And of course, we'll hope for your help!"

 
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