In the strange, dangerous, and dystopic world that the characters of Ram V and Dev Pramanik’s comic Paradiso inhabit, a cataclysmic event known only as The Midnight heralded the collapse of civilization as we now know it. Centuries later, all that remains of the old world is the titular and somewhat mythic mega-city, Paradiso. It’s a purported haven, and Paradiso’s hero, Jack Kryznan (with the help of the mysterious device that he keeps with him) is determined to get inside. Of course, nothing is ever so simple.
The Nerd League was able to recently interview Ram and Dev about Paradiso. Read on to find out how their comic came to be, what inspires their work, and more about their roguish and mysterious hero, Jack.
1. We’d love to know how you two came together to collaborate on Paradiso. How did you find each other? Is there a particular aspect that drew you to one another?
R: I’d seen Dev’s work during my time making comics in India. Dev had been part of the indie scene there, for a while. We got in touch with each other and talked about working together. Nothing quite came of it until I had moved to the UK and had begun to put together a graphic novel called Black Mumba. I self-published that in 2016. It did well and around the time we were finishing the last story, Dev and I had begun to talk about Paradiso.
Dev’s work is very atmospheric. He captures the tone and emotional content of a panel. That is hard to articulate in a script, but with Dev, I never have to. He knows how a page needs to ‘feel,’ if you will. That’s probably what really pulled me to Dev’s work in the first place.
D: We first found out about one another when we were both in India, working together in the Indian comic book industry. We shared our work with each other and enjoyed interacting about work. I had started working on Black Mumba with him, and around the end of that project, Ram came to me with this idea of a living city. And so began Paradiso.
I loved how Ram always wrote very real characters. The way he writes — story comes first and by virtue of that characters come first. Action and set pieces are the cherry-on-top , and thus I’ve always loved how much more impact they have for that reason. Also, he always indulges me when I want to do something I think is cool artistically, so that’s a plus.
2. Some creators work well while listening to music. Others feel the need to put on sound-cancelling headphones. Where do you two fall? Essentially — what does your creative process look like?
R: There’s definitely a Paradiso playlist. A lot of industrial, dark, brooding electronica mostly. Some progressive / heavier stuff. I love listening to music when I’m writing. But it tends to be more ambient, atmospheric stuff. The lyrics tend to interfere with my own work. I definitely find my writing being influenced by the music. It helps me conjure mood and imagery that I might not otherwise.
D: Well, the thing with me is that I work for long stretches. And my taste in music that I can listen to while working is very specific, and hence the playlist isn’t long enough to accommodate me. What does help a lot are audiobooks and radio plays and narrations of Bengali (my native language) horror stories. They are much longer and aren’t as repetitive, which helps stimulate my mind while I’m working. I also listen to blind playthroughs of Mass Effect games, because I have played them so much that I can tell what’s happening just by hearing what the player is doing.
3. Creators often keep their sources of inspiration a secret. We want to pull back the curtain a little. From where or from what did you draw inspiration for Paradiso?
R: It’s hard to point at any one particular thing and say, ‘here’s where the inspiration for Paradiso came from.’ The whole thing began as a rumination on the idea of setting stories inside a living city. Rajiv (with whom I originally conceived Paradiso) and I began writing short stories and vignettes set in this living city and the concept solidified and took shape from there. As for the larger influences, you could look at things like Dune, Solaris, The Fantastic Voyage, Ghost in the Shell, Westworld and things in a similar space.
D: We as creators love to discuss our influences. I personally took a lot of artistic influence from both fictional cities and real cities. For example, the city of Neo- Tokyo from Akira had a major influence on me. As well as the real island city of Hashima off the coast of South Japan. Then there were modern megapolis I took a lot of influences from. As for art, I have always loved Zaffino and Toppi, and the innate storytelling and how they made it look so effortless. I’m also a fan of kinetic, energetic art like that of James Harren, Sean Gordon Murphy and many more. Their lines have always made me want to push my style a bit more over the edge.
4. What was the process of pitching Paradiso like? Why Image Comics?
R: We made a standard cold pitch at first. A pitch document, first few pages of art and a cover. Something that I submitted through Image’s website. We got some initial interest on that and then later, at Thought Bubble 2016, I had the opportunity to show the pages/cover art and talk about the concept a bit with Eric Stephenson. He was very encouraging and said they would be interested in the book. And shortly after that, we had the book officially picked up. And, here we are in 2018 with Issue #1 out!
D: Ram and I basically worked over the first few pages of Paradiso for a while getting the tone and the characters right. Once we were done halfway through, Ram started showing the pitch around, but we had our hearts very set on Image. For me, Image Comics had always been a frontrunner for books that pushed the boundaries of the medium in a very genuine way. Telling stories in the comic medium that catered to people who were looking for something other than superheroes. And for that, I’ve always had an immense amount of respect for them, and it has been one of my dreams to make a book at Image that I cared about and could pour my heart and soul into. So that was an awesome moment for us where all the pieces had fallen into place.
5. Can you tell us a little more (without spoilers, obviously) about your character Jack Kryznan? Based on what we know about him so far, he seems to have a roguish, Mad Max/Han Solo-like quality about him.
R: Ha! Yes, I’m sure there’s a bit of all of that in him. But also, he is mostly just an average guy trying to come to terms with all that has happened in his past. He is driven by it but isn’t particularly heroic or brave just yet. I like characters like that a bit more. Characters that find their heroism and courage. Characters that make rash choices and pick up scars along the way. What makes Jack stand out from the rest is his drive. He is intent on finding answers and is also on balance a good person. Will those two things come into conflict? We’ll see!
6. And Noira… given where the first issue of Paradiso ends, I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of her.
R: Oh, you’ve definitely not seen the last of Noira. She’s street-smart, tough and not squeamish. She wants to get into Paradiso and she’ll do what it takes to get there. Who’s going to get in her way? And will they survive it?
7. What have been some of your favorite moments (so far) working on this project?
R: I think it’s writing the little character moments. That last bit in Issue #1 where Noira betrays Jack. The little interactions between Dandy and Honeybad. Also, I love planting seeds for things that’ll become reveals later. I can’t get more specific because it’ll probably act as a spoiler. But there are lots of reveals and things you’ll learn about the world and characters as you go along!
D: Well, for me, every page where I am able to reproduce exactly what I have in mind is a good moment for me. A lot of my favorite moments came from drawing the later issues of the first arc. But my favorite moment of Issue 1 had to be drawing the second page with Watcher in it. I just sat down with the character and designed it in one go, mostly because I was confident that I could nail down what Ram and I had in mind for it, and it came out very much like what I had wanted. Also, the moment when I finished the double page spread and the splash page of Aquarius. Definitely one of my favorite moments.
8. What are some of the biggest drawbacks you’ve faced? Are there ever moments where you feel like throwing in the towel?
R: Never felt like throwing in the towel. I really love writing. I might get frustrated at the work sometimes but finishing something is never in question.
D: Being able to draw consistently is a big hurdle. This is the first time I have drawn a full set of 4 issues that average close to 28 pages per issue. I’m very much a perfectionist by nature and tend to overthink things a lot and they end up snowballing. The first couple of issues were very difficult for me to do on a timely basis.
As I went into the 3rd issue, I started realising that my drawing process was getting more streamlined, whereby I was able to distill the important aspects of a panel and convey the story and cut down on whatever was necessary, so as to make the storytelling more concise and engaging while also ending up becoming faster. But I’ve never had a moment when I wanted to throw in the towel with Paradiso. Times when I felt like a zombie for poring over a single panel for 8 hours straight (it was a big panel), sure, but never wanted to throw in the towel.
9. What comics or artists do you enjoy? Are there any in particular that have influenced your own work?
R: There are just so many to ever create a comprehensive list. The classic canon is of course influential. Moore, Morrison, Gaiman, Ellis, Ennis. Watchmen, Sandman, Arkham, Transmetropolitan, and Underwater Welder were all influential reading in comics for me. Of the more contemporary work, I’m currently loving Black Monday Murders, Miracle Man, and Wic + Div.
D: S. Toppi, Jorge Zaffino, Alex Toth, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bernie Wrightson, John Paul Leon, Jean Giraud, Richard Corben, Daniel Acuna, Frank Quitely, Stuart Immonen, Olivier Coipel and so very many more. I try and look at all kinds of art. As I’ve grown older, I have learnt to look and appreciate the finesse of many different kinds of style and trying to incorporate the best aspects of them in my work to enhance how I draw and tell stories. Because I’m mostly self-taught, all of the artists I follow are essentially who I learn different aspects of the craft from.
10. Is there anything you’re reading/bingeing/looking forward to that fans should know about?
R: I read a lot. So probably difficult to create a list, again. I’m currently reading Cormac McCarthy, Mike Carey and Phillip K. Dick. I’m about to embark on a viewing of all the Martin McDonagh films and I’m currently playing Divinity: Original Sin.
D: I do become obsessed with things but in little doses. I have been building up a roster of RTS turn-based strategy games to play and would love to spend a few days doing nothing but playing a game till I’m sick of it. But I also want to re-read all of Invincible if I can. That thing is so massive. I want to revisit it from where I left off and finish it off. And just read books, and listen to music, and watch some tv shows.
11. Are there any fictional characters (from comic books or otherwise) you’d like to have a chat with?
R: Morpheus and in time, Death, of course.
D: Hmmm, well, when it comes to fictional characters, I would definitely love to have a chat with Superman, the Green Lantern Corpsmen, and Dr. Stephen Strange to learn more about the expanses of space as well as the astral plane. And Wolverine, cause that dude just sounds like he has some major life experience.
12. Lastly, what advice would you impart to young comic book artists or writers?
R: The best way to learn, to begin and to end, is to make things. Start by making and finish what you start. Don’t wait for people/life/circumstances to give you permission. Your job is to create things and tell stories. As long as the endeavour stays true to that, with a little bit of graft, charisma and professionalism, the rest will come.
D: I don’t think I’m the right person to impart advice on this matter. I do think that for comic books, time management and being laser focused to produce your best work in the time you have is key. To focus on telling the story if you want to do comic book art is key.