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Grant Morrison: Krishna is super cool, like a rock star of the ineffable

Author: Narayanan Krishnaswami
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 1, 2013
URL: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-09-01/all-that-matters/41662568_1_mahabharata-grant-morrison-bhagavad-gita

Grant Morrison is a superstar of the comic world. The 53-year-old Scotsman has written the acclaimed 'All Star Superman' and the recently concluded epic version of the Batman mythos, among other comic titles. Morrison spoke to Narayanan Krishnaswami about why superheroes are increasing in appeal for countries like India and China as well as his '18 Days' project, a graphic retelling of the Mahabharata.

Q.: Why did this project (18 days) strike your fancy?
A.: I liked the challenge of adapting a story on the scale of the Mahabharata, which I've loved all my life but never truly grasped the intricate, glorious structure of the thing until I had to read and re-read the entire epic for this project. There's an incredible range of characters and all of them are achingly human and vulnerable as well as magnificent and mythical. So it appealed to me on all levels.

Q.: You've spoken of how you've placed the Bhagavad Gita — as a revelation of cosmic knowledge — at the centre of '18 Days'. Could you expand on that — in terms of how the central idea dictated the structure and the writing?
A.: I had to read and understand the entire 1.8 million words of the Mahabharata before attempting to translate the storytelling techniques, into something more familiar to western audiences. And I wanted to retell the Mahabharata as a kind of sci-fi story of a lost age of wonders, so I structured this as a series of "onion skins" around the central core, the singularity that is the revelation of the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita emerges from a non-dual divine source that is the ground of Being. On the outer skin of this Absolute, there's a differentiation into basic dualities first — light and dark, duty and desire, free will and predestination, you and me, up and down — then into a multiplicity of forms. In terms of 18 Days, our inner onion skin of narrative depicts an epic, archetypal battle between irreconcilable, abstract, opposing forces. Every this versus every that! As we expand outward, primal duality fragments like light through a prism into more subtle shades and this is where the great heroes and villains of the Mahabharata appear in all their glory, with each hero or villain representing a specific ideal. This is the grand symbolic level of the narrative. The outer layer delves into the lives and personalities of these towering heroic champions, until that they stand revealed with all the foibles, motivations, hopes and fears of ordinary people. This is the gritty, emotional, grounded level of the narrative, where the heroes are seen as fallible, vulnerable and human. So the storytelling structure expands from an explosive core of pure divine oneness through expressions of duality, then myth and allegory, to the dirty, tearstained realism of human lives facing the end of their time.

Q.: Who was the character you found most interesting?
A.: My favourite character is Karna. I love the idea of someone who has all the qualities, all the potential and who should have been the ultimate hero — except fate decides otherwise and other guys get all the breaks. I find him very human and relatable. I think he has a kind of brooding, misunderstood, James Dean-outsider quality which translates easily to the west. I'm also very fond of Krishna, who is quite simply supercool, like a rock star of the ineffable.

Q.: Were there any significant areas where the tale changed in the telling?
A.: Well, the project is only just getting under way, so ask me again at the end if we succeeded in realizing the original vision! This is very much a condensation of the original story. Otherwise, we've tried to include everyone's favourite Mahabharata moments in this. I also added a few of my own science fiction touches and I've created a completely new twist with Krishna which makes the story even more relevant to our current times.

Q.: You've said that superheroes will become more important to the east — in countries like India and China.

A.: There's a pioneering, forward-looking appeal to the superhero which I think it plays into the sense of growth, accumulating wealth and influence that's being experienced in the east. In the west, post 9/11, we want our superheroes to be tough soldiers, rather than the vigilantes, social reformers or crimefighters they used to be. It's hard to think of a recent superhero movie that doesn't somehow reprise the fall of the WTC towers, using scenes of mass urban devastation against which the flawed heroes are barely effective until the end. It seems to me — mostly from reading the papers and watching the news, I must admit — that there's a much more progressive and positive feeling in some of the countries of the east, like India and China. For me, the superhero has always been a crude and hopeful representation of how the human future might look if we don't blow ourselves up. The reactionary soldier superhero of the West has his place but I'd like to see the kinds of superheroes who might arise from cultures with a little more faith in tomorrow.
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