Vikram Balagopal on Creating Graphic Novels

Author of Simian, Vikram Balagopal
Vikram Balagopal

The author of Graphic novel series SIMIAN, Vikram Balagopal talks about the art & craft of creating a graphic novel.

Vikram Balagopal Interview

Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, what did you study and what do you do for the living?

Vikram Balagopal: I was born and brought up in Kerala. An avid sketcher from the start, I began writing poems and short stories when I was nine and discovered cinema soon after. I studied filmmaking at the NYFA (New York Film Academy) and returned to work in India with various filmmakers. One of my screenplays, “Sentinel Rock”, was chosen by Mira Nair for her Maisha Screenwriter’s Lab in 2006. Currently, I am based in Delhi and, bringing together my three passions of writing, visualizing and drawing, I am working on the third installment of my graphic novel trilogy SIMIAN.

Why did you choose graphic novel as a medium for your novel?

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata have lived more as images in my imagination, from the days my grandmother used to tell me the stories at bedtime. So, when I sat down with this story, there was no question in my mind that I would have to find a way to tell it involving images. I think visually, so it was more straightforward for me to translate my thoughts into a graphic novel.

What is the basic difference between a comic and a graphic novel?

I’m not certain of the precise definition between the two. But as I understand it, comics are serialized daily, weekly or monthly, while a graphic novel is a standalone volume. Just as Dicken’s “Great Expectations” was originally a serial. And then collected into its collected form as the novel. Graphic novels like “Watchmen” and “The Dark knight returns” were originally serialized. And then collected into self-contained volumes. But all graphic novels don’t have to start out serialized, just as novels don’t have to either. I think the term graphic novels also lent them the freedom of novels, to tackle more adult subjects. Because comics are often targeted towards children (not always the case).

Why did you choose mythological themes and not a contemporary dilemma to explore in your book? What draws you to ire-interpreting these ancient texts?

I wasn’t looking for a project to do when it came to SIMIAN. These thoughts on the Ramayana had been gestating within me for years. I didn’t set out to re-interpret it but to address my questions concerning it, and they go deep into the story. I’ve made relatively few changes in my telling. Because it has more to do with the story and the characters we know than me reinventing them with flashy designs for the sake of doing something new. SIMIAN is a very personal project for me. There’s a lot of me in it. In that sense, it is contemporary to the core.

Between Ramayana & Mahabharata – which is your favorite story and why?

I love both. That’s why SIMIAN begins with a bridging between the two. But I think I lean towards the Ramayana, because of Hanuman and the rawness of the story.

What technology did you use to create the visuals for your book?

A computer and a Wacom Tablet.

Why did you choose the black and white visuals? When you do use colors, what is your idea of using colors in certain situations?

I felt the tone I could achieve with black and white better suited the tone of the story. I’ve used color to exclusively denote divine beings like Indra and Lanka’s goddess.

How much time did it take for you to complete the book once you had a clear idea in your mind?

Each part took roughly a year and a quarter to complete. I had Part One complete in January of 2011. And sent it out to publishers. There was some time between working on Part One and Two when I was busy with other projects. Part Two was complete in January of 2013.

What would be your advice to people who would want to publish a graphic novel – some tips that they keep in mind?

Believe in your work.

Are you working on your next book Vikram Balagopal? If yes, please share some details with us.

Yes, I am working on the next book, along with a couple of other projects. SIMIAN Part three is where all the exciting stuff happens, that the story has been building up to.

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