Indian superhero should have been created long time ago – Stan Lee
Best known for his comic book superheroes that have been adapted into big Hollywood movies, veteran American writer Stan Lee is set to make his India debut.
In partnership with Graphic India, Lee has created a TV animation feature called “Chakra – the Invincible.” The teenaged superhero is based in Mumbai and taps into ancient Indian Hindu beliefs to gather his superpowers.
In an interview from California on phone, Stan Lee tells India Insight how his latest creation has him all excited, why he thinks the digital age is no threat to comic book characters and why his superheroes are not cardboard characters.
How did Chakra happen?
We are friendly with Sharad (Devarajan of Graphic India) and we were talking about the fact that India doesn’t have a POW! (Lee’s company) type of superhero, and I loved creating superheroes so I thought it would be fun to do an Indian superhero.
How challenging is it to create a character, a superhero from a culture that you may not know a lot about?
Well, I know enough. I know about chakras in India. And I know that, am a little bit versed with the background and some of the legends of India. And I have a number of Indian friends, chief among whom is Sharad. It was no problem really. It was something that I thought should be done and should have been done long time ago.
But as a long-time creator of such characters, what kind of challenges does a creator face when he works with a foreign culture?
To tell you the truth, coming up with any superhero — whether America, or Indian, or Chinese, we are also working on some Chinese superheroes — it’s always a challenge. It doesn’t matter what the nationality is. The important thing is that most people all over the world are similar in the sense that they all want to succeed in what they do, they all wish that they had some special abilities. And people all over the world seem to react favourably to superheroes. So it’s just the case of coming up with another superhero but finding a way to give it an Indian flavour. And it was fun, it’s almost like doing a cross-word puzzle.
Why an Indian superhero and why now?
Well, I can’t make it a hundred years from now because I won’t be there. It’s an Indian superhero because Sharad is our friend and we were talking about it and thought it would be a good idea. And my partner Gill Champion just said it also will expand our brand internationally which is always good as a business gesture anyway.
As opposed to most of your enduring superheroes, Chakra is very young, a teenager. How will he appeal to the adult comics fans?
Let me put it this way. Peter Parker was a teenager when we started him, and Spider-Man has really been quite successful … Chakra starts out as a teenager, we expect the stories, and the animation, the cartoons, and the books and the live-action movie which will follow — we expect them to be popular enough, that as each new instalment comes out he might be a little bit older, a few years from now he might be a full grown man. When we do a character, I never think that this will be for young people or older people, I find that if you get a character that is interesting enough and empathetic enough, people of all ages enjoy that character.
Is digital media leading to a new era for comics or do you believe tablets, PCs and TV can never capture what a comic book can?
No, I couldn’t say that. You can write a wonderful TV series — and people have done that — that becomes very popular. You can have a motion picture that’s an original story and people would love it. The story is the important thing.
What do you think about comic characters or superheroes being made to cater to certain tastes — like Ms Marvel or THE 99?
If your material is being read or being seen all over the world, why not do stories that have characters that are representative of nations all over the world. So we here at POW! are working on a number of Chinese superheroes, we have Chakra the Indian superhero, we are working on a new Latin superhero and a number of others. So I think the idea of a Muslim heroine, I think it’s a wonderful idea.
Would you agree that the concept of a superhero is often too simplistic — good guy fights bad guys and wins?
No, it depends on who is writing the story and how the story is written. It could be just as you say. But we try to make it quite a bit different than that. We try to make the good guy seem like somebody you know. Even though he is a superhero or might be a superheroine, they have their own personal problems and their own stumbling blocks in life that they have to overcome. And even with the villains we try to make them a little bit three-dimensional. We try to make their motivation understandable.
Do you think issues like political corruption and violence against women can and should be fought by a comic superhero, especially in the current Indian context?
Absolutely. Everything you write, if you are a good writer, is a reflection of the time you are living in and the problems that are occurring in that time. Violence against women is a subject that is very important and it can be touched in these stories, violence and bad treatment of young children is another subject, dealing with drugs is another subject. We did that in a Spider-Man story, some years ago we had an anti-drug story. Chakra will touch on many issues that are of concern to people in the real world.
When your characters are turned into movie heroes, are you usually satisfied with the adaptation?
Well, actually I don’t think any writer ever feels that anybody else did 100 percent justice to his story. I see little things in the movies where I say I might have done it a little bit differently. But generally, by and large, I think the movies have been wonderfully done.
You are 90 years young and have had a long, fulfilling career. What’s next for you?
Next is to make Chakra as famous as Spider-Man and to come up with many more cartoons, rather many more characters and superheroes so that when I am a 100 years old, I will have even more things to talk about when I am being interviewed.
(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Shashank on Twitter @shashankchouhan and Robert @bobbymacReports | Disclaimer: This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)