‘We celebrate Spider-Man on Diwali, swing by Gateway of India’

“Comic books are like movies with an unlimited budget; a place where an entire universe can be destroyed on one page and rebuilt on the next,” says 48-year-old Sharad Devarajan.

Devarajan says, 'Prabhakar is an Indian boy who grew up in Mumbai and faced local problems and challenges.  (Image courtesy Sharad Devarajan) premium
Devarajan says, ‘Prabhakar is an Indian boy who grew up in Mumbai and faced local problems and challenges. (Image courtesy Sharad Devarajan)

Now an assistant professor at Columbia Business School, lecturing on media marketing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and disruptive technologies, Devarajan is best known for co-creating the Indian Spider-Man, Pavitra Prabhakar.

He brought out comics featuring Prabhakar in 2004 as part of a collaboration between Marvel and the banner he co-founded at the age of 20, Gotham Comics (which acted as the regional publisher of Marvel and DC Comics content in India). How does he feel about the character’s first screen outing? Excerpt from an interview.

What did Stan Lee think about Pavitra Prabhakar?

Although he was not directly involved in the project of creating Pavitra Prabhakar and Spider-Man: India, I remember meeting Stan Lee shortly after the release of the first of those comics and being incredibly nervous. When I handed him the book and told him about the story, my heart raced. Stan turned the pages carefully. When he finally looked up, he had a smile that warmed the room and instantly put my fears to rest.

We talked about his characters and his belief that creators around the world can build on the foundation of those stories. As a show of kindness, he signed a copy to show his support for the project – a treasure I keep close to me on my desk.

My company at the time, Gotham Comics, had been working with Marvel for several years as their local Indian publishing licensee. Based on that relationship, my co-creators Jeevan Jay Kang, Suresh Sitharaman and I came up with the idea of ​​doing the world’s first reimagining of Spider-Man, while the Great Spider-Man has had multiple incarnations since then, most recently reimagined in 2004. An icon like Spider-Man was still a very rare occurrence.

Prabhakar is an Indian boy who grew up in Mumbai and faced local problems and challenges. Just as Western audiences over the years have seen Spider-Man celebrate Christmas by scaling skyscrapers, Indians in our series get to see the iconic character swing by the Gateway of India and celebrate Diwali with his aunt Maya. Fortunately, the leaders of Marvel’s publishing and creative teams at the time, Avi Arad and Dan Buckley, saw the value in this exploration, and it was a true testament to the forward-thinking nature of Marvel and their team.

At one point, you even worked very closely with Lee. How was that?

In 2009, we started work on Chakra the Invincible, which we finally launched in 2012. Working with Stan to create a superhero was like being able to paint with Picasso or write a sonnet with Shakespeare. It was quite simply one of the greatest joys of my life.

I have many wonderful memories that I will treasure about my time with Stan. I remember a panel with Stan at New York Comic Con in 2008. Thousands of fans lined up to see Stan – which was no surprise. What was amazing was when Stan told me to go out there and try to shake everyone’s hand.

I walked with him the entire convention as he shook everyone’s hand, hundreds if not thousands…I was exhausted by the end of the walk, and I can only imagine how exhausting it must have been for him at the age of 85 at the time. We went into the back room and he sat down exhausted, but he knew how important it was to his fans and wanted them to know how much they cared. Within two minutes, he regained his energy and we went on stage, where he wowed and entertained the entire room. That was the amazing thing about Stan, he had an energy that was incredible.

Stan was fascinated by legends, stories and fables from around the world. He was particularly interested in Indian culture, which he found deeply philosophical and rich in tradition and morality.

While audiences around the world dream of becoming Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk and Thor, there’s really only one hero they want to be like: a kind and generous man who spent his life creating universes and stories that will inspire generations. Stan Lee was the greatest superhero of them all.

How do you feel about Prabhakar popping up in…Across the Spider-Verse?

Well, it took only 20 years for Pavitra Prabhakar to come from that comic to the big screen. Hopefully it won’t be another 20 before we see the live-action version. Unfortunately, neither I nor the other co-creators were involved in the new animated film so I don’t know what to expect. But wherever Pavitra’s new adventure takes her, you can bet I’ll be the first in line to buy my ticket!

What is the larger mission when it comes to your life in comics today?

My current business, Graphic India, is the culmination of a lifelong dream to create characters, heroes and stories that tap into India’s unique creativity and culture, but appeal to a global audience like characters like Spider-Man. Harry Potter and Batman do.

I believe that India can become one of the biggest creative exporters in the coming years, just as the West has created superheroes and Japan and South Korea have exported anime, manga, manhwa and other original styles of storytelling to the world. The next Steven Spielberg or Stan Lee is sitting somewhere in India and our responsibility as a country is to find these young talents, nurture them and help them take their ideas to the world.

Graphic India recently announced that we are launching India’s first dedicated webtoon comics platform, ToonSutra, a home for Indian storytellers in this medium of digital comics.

We will provide support, guidance and the expertise of our team to young artists to make it easier to develop ideas, collaborate with other creators.

We are hiring artists writers, illustrators, creators, and disruptors with one defined mission – to create stories, heroes and characters that ignite the imagination of audiences in India and around the world. That is our company’s goal and my personal driving mission in life.

Why did the world of comics appeal to you so much, growing up?

As a first-generation Indian-American who grew up in the early 80s in a town where we were the only Indian family, I felt a special kinship with the characters that Stan Lee brought so vividly to life in his work.

Often his heroes were the underdog, the outcast…the person who didn’t fit. However, their uniqueness was the real source of their power. Stan’s heroes taught me to embrace difference and respect the difference in everyone.

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