Diverse Mythologies in the Media
Earlier today, I heard a story that was on NPR a week ago. It was about Virgin Comics, which is a comic book company based in Bangalore, India. The NPR story is online (or you can listen to it). I offer a short excerpt below:
...But in a building on a quiet residential street downtown, an army of Indian animators is working to export their culture to the rest of the world. Their source material: The elaborate pantheon of Hindu mythology. "In every state of India we've got, like, about a hundred different gods," says Neha Bajaj, an editor at the fledgling Virgin Comics. "'Cause everybody believes in a different god; they've got their own idol, and every idol is given its own name in every village. It's vast — and it's amazing!"
This use of Indian mythological material is what drives the work of Virgin Comics. They have comics such as “Ramayan 3392 A.D.”, which is based on the Indian epic, the Ramayana, but recast as a Good versus Evil post-apocalyptic story. Other titles include “Devi,” “The Sadhu,” and “India Authentic.” All of these tell stories based on Indian mythological and philisophical themes, even if reinterpreted into typical comic book idiom and format. “India Authentic” is actually a series of one-shot comics that retell specific bits of India mythology.
One of the executives for Virgin Comics (quoted in Wikipedia) has also stated:
"I have always felt that a culture is sustained and nurtured by its myths. Mythical themes influence our behavior and even our habits of consumption. Myth encapsulates the collective imagination, the collective dream, the collective aspirations of society. We are in need of new myths as we move into a global culture. The super heroes of tomorrow will be cross-cultural and transcend nationalistic boundaries. They will provide the raw material for a new imagination that will take us across the seas of space, time and beyond. I am excited about participating in the creative aspects of the comic project because I see an opportunity to bring to our society a message that goes beyond the narrow boundaries of nationalism, and invites them to a domain of awareness where we experience our universality and hopefully, go beyond racism, ethnocentrism, bigotry, prejudice, and hatred. The new super heroes will be hybrids of all cultures helping us dream infinite possibilities and actualize our highest potential."
There is an interview, by Comic Book Resources, with Deepak Chopra, one of the three founders of the company, that is worth reading as well. (Yes, that Deepak Chopra…)
I have noticed that Virgin Comics has an account on Youtube and offers “trailers” for a variety of their comics. Below is one for “The Sadhu,” which focuses on some obvious themes drawn from India:
I find all of this quite interesting and refreshing compared to the constant rehashing of old and tired themes that one often sees in most comics or even other media. This is not an entirely unexpected development. As an example from outside of comics, Ian McDonald wrote his award winning science fiction novel, “River of Gods,” and set it in a version of India 50 years from now, for example. As the world grows more diverse and economies (and the power that goes with them) develop, I expect that the two billion plus people of India and China to have moe and more of an impact on popular culture. Simply by sheer numbers, one would expect that this would be the case but it is also to be expected because both India and China have rich and diverse cultures. There are traditions of philosophy, spirituality, mythology, literature, and other art that extend back millennia. There is no reason to except that cultures that constitute a third of the people in the world are simply going to consume the output of the West and I would expect that they have a lot to offer.
Not everyone reading this is, I expect, a comic book fan. I’ve been a fan of comics since childhood but have grown tired of what Warren Ellis refers to as the “Underwear Perverts” end of comics (super heroes in tights) over time. The medium is a rich one though and it is not limited to simple super heroes. I hope that work continues to come out of Asia (and other parts of the world) that is influenced by these cultures.