Karan Vir Arora is the CEO/Publisher & Editor-in-chief of Vimanika Comics, the first ever Indian comics publisher in the US. He’s a young and vibrant entrepreneur who has been creating astonishing comics embedded with historical and cultural authenticity using several years of research in terms of Indian mythology which he has been conducting along with his team of archaeologists, researchers and scholars from renowned Indian research institutes. He is on a mission to use Vimanika comics not just as a tool for entertainment but also for imparting knowledge to its readers.
Inspired by his journey and achievements so far, we decided to get him talking for us so that we can better understand his quest and motivations.
So here’s what he had to share with us…
You could have easily taken up your family business, but you didn’t. Why?
In 2007, my father asked me to handle his construction business, but I had noticed a few things in our family business which finally encouraged me to do what I am doing today. Firstly, this business environment had no scope for creativity, nor was it conducive or constructive in my perspective.
Money is there in what I do today, but it’s not as much as what my father makes. If I wanted to make money I could have joined my father’s business or could have done anything else. I had lots of options available at the time, but they weren’t able to pull me towards them.
I had grown up in a storytelling atmosphere at home, my brother used to consistently tell me bedtime stories every night! My childhood was filled with a fascination for stories. Tales from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and then even the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ with its world of fantasy got ingrained in my subconscious.
Hence, I realised that clubbing inspiration and creativity can be a formidable combination that can be used to make a difference in society may be in a small way, and that’s how my journey started.
What inspired you to start Vimanika Comics?
Our Bharatiya history has been negated for many years and I feel that we have been strategically cut off from this rich cultural heritage, earlier because of the vested interests of the invaders and now by our politicians! Today’s youth, the millennials as we call them, are hence often ignorant about our heritage. I have met so many youngsters who think that Mahabharata, Ramayana and even Rama are nothing more than fiction. Even things like the flying Vimanas which are well documented in our ancient texts are now called fantasies and figments of the imagination of rishis!
There was a time when even I believed that these mythological tales were just religious material and nothing more. But when I started studying them more deeply, I realised that they were more than just religious fantasies. There’s never smoke without fire, so what if they were derived from actual historical events which transpired thousands of years ago, maybe they were diluted over the passage of time and facts turned into myths as these tales were passed down through several generations. Our civilisation is not just the oldest one but it’s also the only one to have the longest living texts in the world. Just imagine, if not 100% then even if 50% of these tales are true then they are the biggest thing that has ever been ignored in the history of mankind!
On the other hand, there’s hardly anything comparable to our texts which was ever written about myths like the city of Atlantis. However, just a few bricks and rocks found somewhere in Malta are considered as ample proof to send the world in a frenzy about the existence of Atlantis. In this same world, we choose to ignore hundreds of real sites and monuments which are visible surviving evidence of the historical accuracy of our ‘ancient texts’. In fact, we choose not to read these texts at all.
Truth is something that can never die and can never be destroyed. These are the texts which have been passed down to us through thousands of generations, they even survived after the invaders destroyed our ancient libraries like the one in Nalanda. Most of them are written in archaic Sanskrit which is not only the toughest but one of the oldest written languages in the world, probably the mother of all languages, even German, French and Latin as well.
I also realised that thousands of years ago we were a flourishing and prosperous civilisation, we were called the ‘golden bird’! Why? What about the difference between then and now?
I was awed and shocked, this motivated me to make people aware of this truth through stories rooted in our culture and our history. I decided to cut through our collective ignorance to bring forth these forgotten tales using comics. The comics format is something which can connect with our new generation and I realised that if I could use it to educate even one or two people about our rich heritage then I would be very much satisfied.
I do know that perhaps I may never make a huge social change or any difference in people’s lives, but perhaps I may make them aware of what they are missing. Maybe I’ll help them realise that answers to all our problems today may be found in our past through our myths, we just have to stop ignoring them! Also, I am not trying to show that we are the best in the world, rather I am just trying to show that India rather ‘Bharat’ is the most ancient civilisation in the world, just accept it and get over it because it’s a fact! This is what I want to achieve through Vimanika.
Which one of the Vimanika character/stories reflect your journey as a person?
The Sixth, the first title that we launched about the legend of Karna. In that I see a parallel with the story of my namesake, it’s something which is relatable with how my story, how my life has unravelled so far. Of course, the thrills, mysteries and the superhuman strength is him in the story, not me. But I feel the connection on the ground level because he is seeking something just like we all are seeking something or the other throughout our lives. Not just me, but the story of Karna is so much relatable to everyone today. He strives to find solace in something, the same way we try to find solace in something or the other in life. This sort of connects a lot of dots for me, hence it’s relatable.
Which stories have a larger audience OR stronger impact, mythology-based tales or the contemporary ones?
I feel mythology has not yet been explored properly in the right way. A lot of people say that mythology has been overdone, but I think they are the most ignorant people in the world! Because Indian mythology has not been done, forget overdone! Done in terms of the new age formats, mediums and technology. I am talking about globally popular formats that exist today through which comics and graphic novel-based content is being consumed today. Mythology has not reached there at all.
For example, in our film industry, there was nothing ever made like Bahubali with such a large scale fictional yet mythical setting. Until it was made people did not have faith in this genre, but once it was made, they realised its massive potential. It reached worldwide, and we all know the kind of successful milestones that it achieved.
In the same way, our actual mythologies have a bigger potential and we have just begun to see the tip of this iceberg! Yes, the contemporary genre has always been a more relatable genre across the world. Contemporary stories always work but mythology too has started carving its own place in the market, it’s massive in its own way. Indian mythology has not yet been fully explored, it’s at a very nascent stage right now, but it will always be the first choice for me.
Recently you released the Shiva action figure, how was its reception? Which other Vimanika characters can we expect next in the form of action figures?
This was just something like a small market test, we planned to launch just about 100 exclusive limited-edition action figures. We thought that if this works then we move ahead if not then fine we will be ok with that. But they have turned out to be a big hit, almost all of them have been pre-booked and people are still ordering and asking for more. People are thrilled to see the quality itself, many have not even seen the price but still, demand is high not only from India but from other countries as well!
This is something new, people have never seen anything similar before. It’s perhaps the first time in the world that an Indian publisher has created something like this. I would say that none of the companies, except one or two who have not yet gone mainstream have ever created anything like our Shiva action figure. It’s on par with international standards. This the best that we could do with the margins and funds that we have and people are just loving it!
I am sure we will do better than this next time, this is just the start. We are now planning to conduct a poll via social media to ask people about which figurine or action figure should we make next, it could be Vishnu or any other God. We will go ahead depending on the choice made by the people.
Are there any plans for animated or live-action adaptations?
We did have some plans in the past, but India neither has the apt technical machinery nor the capacity to produce the kind of genre that we have created via our titles. However, given an option, instead of animation we would rather go for live-action adaptations because then we will have a bigger market, especially in India. We feel that animation is sadly not that big out here, even in markets like the US, Japan and in Europe it’s not that big anymore. Look at the kind of quality that we have on television right now in terms of Indian animation products, I don’t see much potential at least as of now! Also, right now all the producers and studios seem to be focused on making money, and as long as they are not willing to take a risk then I don’t see anything as innovative as our vision being tackled by them.
But we are still hopeful, we are talking with a lot of production houses for a live-action film adaptation of The Sixth. The story of Karna is something that is very close to my heart since I have personally done more than 15 years of research on him. In fact, now we are working on The Sixth: Part 2, Part 1 was a novel which I had written. Till now it has done critically very well, it’s selling very well, and people are still loving it. We are focusing on Part 2 which is going to be bigger and more powerful than Part 1, it’s going to be very different and original. We are trying to keep our stories as pure as we can. We don’t want to replace the Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings nor do we want to make anything similar. We just want to create a pure concept, the story of Karna which is ancient history and mythology filled with adventure, which is powerful. We are working on this, let’s see how it goes.
We have been expanding beyond just comics, we have gone into apparels, we have gone into toys. Now my next goal is our documentary series which is coming out soon, we are pitching it to a lot of channels and OTTs. It’s something very innovative based on ancient mythologies, with various subjects covered in 20-21-minute episodes having motion graphics as the core USP and hosted by me. I am a passionate researcher and a TEDx speaker and a motivator. I am using all these attributes of mine to sort of make this happen. It’s something that’s going to happen in India for the first time ever, so I am really very excited about this. Then, of course, comics and graphic novels will keep coming out because that’s our core business, but we are also doing a lot of new things because we have to survive, grow and scale up as well.
What’s your opinion about the future of the native comics industry in India? Do you feel comics have the potential to create a big impact in India?
Earlier the reading material was very powerful but sadly it is not that effective nowadays, the hard copies are dying. Printed hard copies are relevant if they can potentially reach people, but unfortunately, their reach is very low, especially in India. The hard copies may sell via support from distributors and retailers, but there must be demand and there’s not big enough demand like there used to be 30 years ago. Nowadays a lot of people just don’t read! Hence I don’t see a way ahead if we just stay attached to the hard copies.
Comics may not really be impactful unless they are carried via a medium which is as powerful as the celluloid. The internet is the second most powerful medium, hence platforms like YouTube must be utilised. Various digital formats are coming out and this is something that will take things to the next level for comics. But I think it’s the motion graphics format that’s going to be the next big thing. For something that has motion, there’s more engagement. If you look at the same story in a printed comic book and then in a motion comic, definitely you will be more attracted to the later! People are moving towards such digital comics formats and if we must create something impactful then it must be through motion comics.
Also, there are only a few comics buffs in India compared to countries such as the US and Japan. For example, the US has a thriving comics culture which is over 50 years old, and they have kept it consistent, even during world war 1 & 2. Comics have become a part of their mainstream culture. India had this potential, but it got diluted perhaps because of lack of innovation and motivation. Now its high time that we once again set things in motion to rebuild our own comics culture. But this must be a cumulative effort of all the publishers, they must invest together to exploit the immense potential in the Indian market!