Originally appeared in The New Indian Express on June 05, 2010
JUMP into a Comic Democracy
For Suhas Sundar and Shreyas Srinivas, the corporate world just didn’t cut it anymore. Four years in the lucrative IT industry in America had left Suhas dissatisfied. “I wanted to do something new…and soon. I just couldn’t imagine explaining to my wife and kids when I’m 35 that money is gonna be sparse for the next few years ‘coz daddy wants to print comics,” he says and laughs; sentiments echoed by his college buddy Shreyas who had been equally successful in the FMCG industry. The two friends had drifted apart geographically and career-wise but their common passion for comics and graphic novels kept them together. So when Suhas decided to nix his techie lifestyle for a career in comics, he knew Shreyas would be his perfect partner-in-crime (comically speaking, of course).
In August 2009, the duo started Level 10 Studios with the intention of creating “the very best genre fiction and visual / sequential narratives.” Since then, they’ve come a long way and their fledgling magazine, JUMP – an 84 page, full colour comic magazine- hit the stands on May 25 and will be available at all major bookstores and magazine outlets.. The monthly magazine, priced at Rs.60, will be the first of its kind featuring three series which will run for a period of five months. As the stories unfold, month by month and episode by episode, readers get the unique opportunity to vote for their favourite series. At the end of the season, the series with the least votes is nixed and replaced with a new series. This interesting approach to a magazine is all part of their business mantra: “Level 10 is a comics studio run by comics fans for comics fans.” A comic democracy, if you will, where Suhas Sundar and Shreyas Srinivas are more than just comics fans; they are self professed “comic geeks.”
Despite their lack of formal arts training, the duo had no qualms about entering the comics industry. In true entrepreneurial spirit, they recognised the demand for indigenous comics and the corresponding lack of supply. In early 2009, they met several artists through their network of friends. “We got together and talked about comics. Really geeky stuff; but that evolved into a kind of informal club,” says Suhas and the rest is history. Today, Level 10 houses four artists- Vivek Goel, Santosh Pillewar, Harsho Mohan Chattoraj and Deepak Sharma, along with Vijayendra Mohanty-a journalist and blogger who is also currently writing the graphic novel Ravanayan with Vivek Goel. Apart from these studio staples, they also work with an extensive network of freelancers across the country. “Oh, and there’s Keshav-the tea guy,” Suhas adds. “Keshav”, an amorphous entity, gets a credit in every issue.
Like his peers in the industry, Suhas isn’t keen on re-telling mythologies. This is a trend most visible amongst the young, upwardly mobile Indian who wants to look forward rather than backward. “There are so many more stories to tell,” Suhas says. “So we tried to come up with three stories that were diverse and unconnected to one another and then try to develop them as a series.” The process of creative collaboration led to three concepts: The Rabhas Incident, a dark noir-ish story about zombies, set in Bangalore; Northern Song which follows a demon hunter through lands inspired by Indian mythology and finally, Shaurya, a tale of five teenagers with super powers set in Mumbai. While The Rabhas Incident and Northern Song deal with villains that are supernatural, the antagonists in Shaurya are much more real: terrorists.
The voting system will be a good indicator of stories that work and those that don’t and the team at Level 10 plan on issuing each series as a graphic novel at the season’s end. “The way we see it is that the magazine is like a quick fix on a monthly basis but the graphic novel has more shelf life.” The graphic novel at the end of the seasons works like a special edition DVD set: it come with extra features: an inside look at the series’ creation, thumbnails, sketches, bios etc.
More importantly, the voting system allows for fresh ideas to become part of the magazine.
“We’re open to receiving pitches from anyone for new series,” Suhas says but cautions that he’s “not really interested in mythologies because we feel we can do so much more. As for pitches, we want complete pitches, a one or two page treatment and some character sketches. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.” Suhas is open to the idea of pairing writers with in-house artists if the team likes a pitch and unlike most fledgling comics, Jump Magazine does pay its contributors.
Level 10 will also be the first comics company in India to give creator credits. The Rabhas Incident is a good example. Although the story was written by Suhas, it was illustrated by Harsho who created the visual word as seen in the comics. For his input, Harsho gets co-creator credit. This is true of all three stories where artists and writers share credits. “We don’t have a manga situation where the writer also draws the story,” Suhas says. “So each story is broken into writers, artists and colourists.” They are, however, willing to print ‘creator-owned’ titles. In this case, the creator is not paid but is remunerated through profit-sharing. The creator also gets to keep copyrights and royalties from reprints.
At 27, Suhas Sundar and Shreyas Srinivas may be young but they’re certainly not green. Leading a team of young entrepreneurs, all under the age of 30, Level 10 Comics is poised to take the comics world by storm.