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Great stories are essential to great comics: Dinesh Shamdasani

Q&A with the CEO of Valiant Entertainment

Debarghya Sanyal  |  New Delhi 

Dinesh Shamdasani
Dinesh Shamdasani

Whatever happened to the Indian comic industry? Some would say it has laid low and restive for some time now. Others might think it has been long laid to rest, by television and movies. Some say it is resurgent. I pit the question to someone who knows about returns and resurgence of comics more than others.

Meet Dinesh Shamdasani, CEO of Valiant Entertainment, and one of the architects behind the rebirth of Valiant Comics – one of the leading comic book publishers in the United States. Dinesh, along with Jason Kothari, had worked for seven years from 2005 to 2012 at reviving what was earlier known as Valiant Comics, and which, after several changes in ownership had finally stopped publishing in 2004.

Dinesh, as soon as he arrived at Comic Con Delhi, was seen strolling from one stall to another, talking to Indian Comic artists and graphic novelists. As he sits under the central white tent where all the special guests would be handing out autographed art work, he still seems interested in soaking in the atmosphere.

“I had heard about Delhi Comic Con earlier, and how it had been organised over some years now. This is the very first day, and I have walked about a bit, met a few volunteers. What I am very interested in seeing how much superhero pop-culture is embraced, or not embraced, or changed or localised. We have spent the last few years in China, and it is interesting to see how the Chinese are distanced from comic books. India however loves comic books. It is not very different from what it is like in US. I feel very much at home.”

I ask him about the current Indian comic scene. Dinesh mentions he has the entire collection of Amar Chitra Katha Comics, and is very much familiar with the first-generation majors like Raj and Diamond Comics. These had had driven the Indian Comic industry till 1990s, when the boom in television and films, rapidly decreased their circulation numbers. Today, most would say that the attempts at resurgence, despite events like Comic Cons, are all but faltering and feeble. What does the CEO of Valiant entertainment think about the road ahead?

“I think the first step is fan appreciation. I think the onus is on American publishers, to make sure that content is available, artists come out here and get to know about the scene here. Also young talents should realise that they cannot be as good as the market leaders in the first step. Look at Tarantino’s first few short films. One should persistently follow their own art. No body starts-off great, they gradually grow to it. I think what publishers like us, Valiant, can do to encourage these talents is to come here and showcase our work, tell them about the processes that go into our art and make them realise they can do this too. I see great opportunity for doing that. I was talking to Vivek Goel of Holy Cow! Entertainment and we talked about exchanging sample pages.”

So is Dinesh thinking of tying up with Indian publishers and exchanging techniques and technology?

“We are looking forward to doing that everywhere. At Valiant, our artists are from all over the world. We have experimented with varied styles. And certainly I am looking forward to meeting with here, taking a look how we can work together – the artists, the publishers. There can definitely be a brilliant exchange of ideas on both sides,” Dinesh tells me.

“American style of storytelling lacks an energy which is found in the narrative styles here. I am hoping to get in touch with artists and story tellers who can bring that energy, that style of storytelling to our comic books,” he adds.

Dinesh is then thinking of broadening the style book of Valiant? “Of course. We don’t want to get tied down to any house style. We simply want to do what is cool, artistic and hopefully build a reputation for ourselves.”

This makes me also wonder about Valiant’s recent interest in cinema. Dinesh confirms that they signed a deal with Sony pictures to produce five films based on two of their prime assets – the Bloodshot and Harbinger comic books. Both Bloodshot and Harbinger will receive two features each before a fifth movie, Harbinger Wars.

Is there then a compulsion or necessity for comic book publishers to move towards cinema? “Yes there is, unfortunately, an increasing propensity to move towards movies. For valiant, it was our fans who repeatedly requested us to bring out movies. From then on we have been waiting for the right plans and the right partners. But coming back to the larger picture, one must realise whether it be movies or merchandise, they are just a part of the whole picture. Developing sound plots and characters within the comic books should be the first major concern. First job is to make the comic work, focus on building great stories in comics. Once that is done, movies, video games and 3D animation – all of which are very enriching – can come later.”

By this time the fans have all lined up, and I need to wrap up. As I thank Dinesh and take my leave, it becomes apparent that there does exist a concern about movies taking away the attention from comics, and the route to resurgence, if ever, for Indian Comic industry, would surely have to be through great stories and engaging new characters.

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First Published: Sat, December 05 2015. 14:33 IST