Since my youth I have been interested in the concept of expressing ideas and stories through visual arts. Often it is far more effective to convey a topic with the aid of illustrations, charts, animations, and videos than to rely exclusively on words. I served a short stint at an art school in Pittsburgh after high school, and what I learned in that semester and a half was that I never wanted to do art as a career. Art, being an expression from within, works best when it is relevant and meaningful to the artist. Thus the term “starving artist” is well known because many artists prefer not to express someone else’s thoughts, visions, and so on – often opposed to their own – just so they can eat.
Fast forward ten years, and I found myself doing art as a career so that I could pay off my student loans from another university. So for the last twelve years, my art has been mostly limited to forced renditions of images meant to increase my clients? profit, adoration, and distinction, but leaving me wanting. Since the field I have worked in does not lend itself much to spiritual artistic expression, I have decided to change my field and begin producing graphic novels that depict Krishna’s entertaining and inspirational pastimes.
Before I talk about that, let me address the question of whether or not Krishna should be presented in the medium of comic books and graphic novels. On the one hand, Krishna, being the supreme all-pervasive Lord, is already present everywhere, and one who can perceive Him within everything is truly Krishna conscious (Gita 6.30). On the other hand, since comic books, with their use of science fiction and fantasy, generally stretch readers’ perceptions of reality, the heroes in them, although revered as gods by many, are certainly not (nor do they generally attempt to be) accurate portrayals of the Supreme Lord.
There is no denying the immense overwhelming popularity of the comic-book industry, which is responsible for many of the highest grossing films of all time. The influence of this genre is not limited to books, television shows, and movies. Indeed, it has saturated every imaginable market out there and become greatly successful. From action figures, to clothing, to Halloween costumes, to school supplies, to limited-edition breakfast cereals, we are constantly encountering superhero paraphernalia.
Although Krishna makes some small cameos in some popular movies, whether in a painting in the background or by the mention of His name, most of the time His vivid and colorful pastimes are not conveyed. Some contemporary books introduce the character of Krishna into their stories, and even try to present some of His pastimes found in Vedic texts, but due to the nature of the comic-book industry, the authors take artistic liberties to change the details of the story to try to make it more relatable to the masses.
It is difficult to interject an all-powerful being like Krishna into mainstream storytelling because people want to be able to relate to the heroes. Readers or viewers like to feel that under the right circumstances, they too could be mighty and heroic enough to save the world. For this reason many comic-book authors claim that a hero has to have an imperfection or weakness so that his story is more believable and more interesting. Their theory is that people will accept that a boy can climb walls and shoot webs from his wrists, but only if we humanize him by burdening him with tedious schoolwork and girl troubles. People don’t want to read a story about someone who is completely perfect, because they know that absolute perfection is unattainable for us.
Many times when a “god” is introduced in comic books, he is written off as merely a powerful alien, but with certain flaws or limitations. In that regard, it may be awhile before we see a fully accurate portrayal of the Vedic stories we know and love hitting big in the mainstream.
Trying to Meet the Challenge
This, of course, does not mean that Krishna’s pastimes cannot be accurately depicted in comic books without imposing imperfections on Him or equating Him with an alien or mythological character to accumulate an expansive fan base. In this iron age of Kali-yuga, where people care more about politics, sports, and self-aggrandizement than they do God consciousness, it is no surprise that comic books about costumed vigilantes fighting alien forces will be more popular than their spiritual counterparts. But when it comes to transcendence, popularity does not determine value.
For that reason, we at Sunanda Productions have decided to produce graphic novels that allow readers to experience the culturally rich stories of the Vedic literature without altering their valuable messages. The first book we published tells the story of Lord Narasimhadeva from the Seventh Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam in seventy-two full-color pages with beautiful illustrations by Bhakta George Marnero of Bulgaria.
Throughout the last two decades I have told the story of Lord Narasimha at least a hundred times to various people. From curious customers where I used to work, to family members, to budding spiritual seekers – every one of them emphatically expressed their appreciation of the poetic justice this ultimate story of good versus evil conveys. Many of these eager listeners had me repeat the story multiple times so that they could get the details right when they retold it to their friends.
This story is often prompted when someone sees an illustration of Lord Narasimhadeva disemboweling the demon Hiranyakashipu, who tried to kill his saintly son. Due to the graphic nature of this pastime, the story is often acted out in a dramatic play or skit, which is perhaps why many devotees have experienced the story in that form rather than by reading it in a book or hearing it in a class.
To make this highly appreciated and morally rich pastime more accessible to people of all backgrounds, we have carefully adapted it to a graphic novel while preserving the spiritual message conveyed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way readers can experience all of the details of this awe-inspiring pastime in a very engaging way.
A preview of the book can be viewed at SunandaProductions.com, and if this first publication is well received, we will gladly continue producing other stories from the Srimad-Bhagavatam in this format. The next graphic novel we plan to publish will tell the story of Lord Varahadeva. There is virtually no end to the number of Vaishnava stories that can be produced in this medium, and I hope to continue making them available to a much wider audience.