Ram V is not a name that is unfamiliar to Indian comic book fans or to the readers of this column. In the case of the former, it would likely be due to the popular series that he wrote, Aghori, amongst the finest comics from the Indian comics publisher Holy Cow Entertainment. New Worlds Weekly readers would, of course, be familiar with him as the writer of the post-apocalyptic science fiction series from Image Comics, Paradiso which was reviewed in this column earlier. A chemical engineer by qualification, Ram V is also known for the acclaimed ‘noir’ comic Black Mumba, that was published as a result of a highly successful Kickstarter project. Originally from Mumbai, but currently based in London, Ram V is also a part of White Noise Collective, a group of London-based artists and writers, as also the writer of These Savage shores and the Brigands series.
Batman. Everyone knows Batman. But perhaps what not everyone knows is that with Batman Secret Files – helmed, and with a framing narrative given, by Tom King and Mikel Janin – Ram V has become the first Indian author to write an official Batman story. So, to talk about all of this and much more, I reached out to Ram V for an interview. Without further ado, here it is:
Gautham Shenoy: How does it feel to be the first Indian writer to pen a Batman story for DC Comics?
Ram V: It feels great! I’m quite thrilled to be writing a character like Batman, of course. I also understand the desire and joy of people when they see these characters written with new perspectives and voices. I genuinely believe that is where new stories are to be found by giving these characters to the world and bringing in voices from all over the world to tell their stories.
Shenoy: From Aghori for Holy Cow in 2012 and Black Mumba in 2016 to Paradiso for Image, Batman for DC and These Savage Shores for Vault in 2018, you’ve been on quite the upward trajectory, at a pace that shows no signs of flagging. Can you take us through your journey of these past 6 years?
Ram V: You’ve pretty much summed it up, there. Although, I really don’t pay a lot of attention to trajectories. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the opportunities that have come my way, but I don’t read too much into them. I love telling stories. It’s that love and my joy in doing my work that has brought this success. And I guess that’s a good way of talking about my journey.
I used to be a chemical engineer until 2012. I switched to writing that year because I no longer wanted to do something that I didn’t take joy in. I’d been writing as a hobby and I’ve always been the kind of person who needed no motivation when it came to the pursuit of things I was interested in.
Writing brought me joy. It interested and satisfied me in ways that nothing else did. I moved to the UK to study creative writing in 2014, and self-published Black Mumba shortly after. That really brought my work to the fore. It helped me reach out to editors with work that I had written, produced, designed and really led to Paradiso being picked up at Image, which in turn opened up a conversation with my editor at DC about working on a Batman book. So if there’s anything to be taken away from my journey, it is that the work is the destination. It is the point of everything. Success is incidental.
Shenoy: This question is inevitable given we live in the times of comicsgate and such like. Did you find it more difficult because you were a writer-creator from India? How often was your identity held against you?
Ram V: This is a difficult question to answer. It would be easy to count the times I had my identity held against me. It’d be easy to count all the comments that were made by people who don’t fully realize the gravity of their words to a person of my background and origins. So yes, of course, like any other person of colour, I’ve had times where I’ve felt like that was held against me.
But I choose to count the people who helped me along the way. I began naming the people who’ve been incredibly supportive and realized that if I mentioned them all, we’d be here for a while. So that’s what I choose to focus on. For every comicsgater that brings you down, there are more people who will treat you with unabated kindness. So no, I wouldn’t say it has been difficult because I was from India. There are far too many good people I’ve met along the way to objectively make that statement. I did the work and enough people thought the work was worthy of recognition regardless of who I was or where I came from. I can’t possibly complain about that.
Shenoy: Why comics? What drew you to them and when did you decide that this will be your chosen medium? What were your biggest influences, and where do you think comics score above other mediums of storytelling?
Ram V: Why comics? Because they interest me. I enjoy reading them and making them. I’ve always maintained that I am a storyteller. The medium is merely a matter of choice. I don’t limit myself. In the coming year, I’ll have written for film and TV, and possibly some prose as well. So, I really don’t have a preferred medium. Just ones that I enjoy working with.
But was there a point where I decided comics were for me? Yes, absolutely. I was 21 and in the US studying engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. A friend of mine gifted to me the first Volume of Sandman. I hadn’t read a comic in years at that time. But that book drew me in and sent plummeting down a comics rabbit hole. I read everything I could get my hands on at that point. All of Gaiman, Moore, Ellis, Morrison and Ellis. Unsurprisingly these writers are probably the greatest influences for me. I also enjoyed a lot of Azzarello and Hickman later on, and I continue to be enthused and inspired by a lot of my contemporaries.
I really don’t think comics score above or below any other medium. That kind of comparison is not very useful. Instead, I look at the ways in which comics are unique when compared to other mediums. And that kind of thinking opens up possibilities for trying new things and understanding stories and structures in new ways.
Shenoy: In terms of genres, you’ve written noir, urban fantasy, about the supernatural, but most of all science fiction. What is it about sci-fi that makes it special?
Ram V: You can tell, I really do like working with a variety of genres. I don’t like limiting myself. I do enjoy science fiction though. I think it probably has to do with the fact that I come from an educational background in science. I’m naturally inclined to think about scenarios and ideas in that general space.
I also hate science fiction when it’s done poorly. Especially when it’s because the science is bad or obviously untrue. Every time I encounter something like that, there’s an inner voice that screams at me to write more sci-fi.
Shenoy: What projects are you working on currently, and what can we expect from you in the near future?
Ram V: I’m currently writing These Savage Shores, which is a story of Vampirism and Colonialism set in the 1760s, in pre-colonial India. I’ve finished work on Grafity’s Wall, which releases in the UK in November and is a coming-of-age story that looks at the lives of four young people growing up in rough neighborhoods in Mumbai. My Batman story comes out on Halloween and that just about rounds up my work for this year. I’ve got a few projects lined up next year and more exciting things on the horizon. But nothing I can publicly discuss just yet. So, stay tuned!
Shenoy: You’ve worked with comic book publishers here in India and now abroad as well, what are the big differences you see between the two? What could Indian publishers do differently, and better?
Ram V: To be very frank, I don’t think Indian audiences have been given their fair share when it comes to comics publishers. There are a lot of ‘graphic novels’ published by book publishers and a lot of work in those has been very good. But when it comes to the more genre comics, things published as floppies and single issues, Indian publishers in those areas have a long way to go. I think there is a need for sophistication and seriousness when it comes to having a vision about the kind of content that is published. No one seems to want to drive new stories, instead most simply choose to re-tell old ones. There’s also a need for more professionalism in terms of working and fair pay-rates in comics publishing in India. These things will come with time, of course, but the intent needs to be there.
Shenoy: What tips and/or tricks would you share with aspiring comic creators in India? What advice would you give them? Also, what mistakes would today’s Ram V tell his 13-year old self to avoid?
Ram V: There are no tricks. Overnight success is a myth. Do the work.
If you want to be a comic creator, make comics! If you want to be a writer, write! Just do the work, be uncompromising with your work and when it’s done, put in the effort to make sure you put it out there for the world to see.
I’d probably tell the 13-year-old me to believe in myself a little more. To have more focus in terms of the things I truly wanted to do. But that’s a grown-up thing to say. 13 is the age for making mistakes. A lot of them. And the whole point of mistakes is most of them are the kind that you don’t really know to avoid until you’ve made them. So fly or fall, pick up some scars, get your heart broken, make mistakes. It’s fine.
Shenoy: Any message for comics fans in India?
Ram V: I wouldn’t be here, making the books I’m making or writing Batman or doing any of the things I’m doing right now, without the love and support I got for my work in India. Comics fans in India are exceptional. They are incredibly supportive of an industry that hasn’t really repaid them for it. But I hope to see more creators and creations coming out of India, backed by the kind of support and enthusiasm I got when I was there!
And that wraps up the Q&A. Thank you, Mr. Ram for your time and sharing your thoughts with readers of New Worlds Weekly. Readers, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. On that note, I sign off for this week and hope to see you next weekend – as always – with yet another edition of New Worlds Weekly as we further explore all the things that make SF great. Live long and prosper!
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