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Thursday, 7 February 2013

Creating Indian Comics: An interview with Campfire's Jason Quinn

Jason Quinn
Jason Quinn may not be a name familiar to many of our readers, but trust us, you'll be hearing more from him in the coming year. Progressing from comic writer to editor, to TV and back to comics, he's a man whose carved himself a steady creative career, 10 years of that based in Spain.

Now, he's moved even further afield - to Delhi, India, to become Creative Content Head at Campfire Graphic Novels.

You might have come across some of their books in your local British book shop: mainly they've been classics, biographies, Indian mythology and a few originals, including Quinn's own biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs: Genius by Design, which is up for best Graphic Novel at the Third Comic Con India awards this coming weekend.

(In fact, Campfire's up for a whopping 15 awards, which is pretty good going).

Jason tells us Campfire is going to make its mark on the industry over the next couple of years, so we thought it a good time to ask him about his career so far and the company's ambitious plans...

"I learned to read with comics," he reveals. "In fact when I was little Iron Man used to come to my house at Christmas rather than Santa. I've still got the Fantastic T-shirt he left me when I was about four years old.

"Yes, I loved comics right from the word go, but as a teen I wanted to be an actor so off I went to Drama School. I got kicked out after a year or so and did a few acting jobs: I played an Ugly Sister in Panto and King Henry II in Becket, up in Glasgow, amongst other things. Then I tried a bit of teaching English as a Foreign Language to bring in some extra cash. I hated it and so I badgered my brother Tim, who was working for Marvel UK at the time, to get me an interview. And lo, I was taken on and became editor of Barbie magazine and the Care Bears.

"I survived the cull at Marvel UK when we became Panini and went on to become Project Leader and Chief Sub, responsible for the short-lived classic Football Crazy, Quiz Mania and Fun Song Factory. Actually, it was while I was project leader that we brought out Spectacular Spider-Man, Essential X-Men and Astonishing Spider-Man, all of which are still going today, or they were last time I looked.

"Anyhow, after a while, I was approached by a kids TV company at Pinewood Studios and asked if I wanted to join them as head of creative, so off I went to the home of James Bond. (Pierce Brosnan actually bummed a cigarette off me on one occasion). Then, when my kids were at school, we decided one day to leave the rat race and head for Spain where I hoped to pick up a fair bit of freelance. I'd been doing the odd job for Panini, such as the UK Spectacular Spider-Man series.

"I spent ten happy years in Spain working on a variety of comic books and other projects, from Spidey to Commando and Ben 10. I scripted the live arena show and the script for a Ben 10 monster truck show. It was during this stint that I scripted my first book for Campfire, Steve Jobs: Genius by Design and that brings us up to your first question...

downthetubes: You've had a quite a varied career as a comics freelancer but moving to India is quite a leap! How did that come about?

It is a leap. It's madness but I love it. I first came out to India a little over a year ago when we were working on the Steve Jobs book and I fell in love with the place. Not with India per se, though Delhi is awesome, but with Campfire.

It really was like Marvel UK used to be, complete with its artists downstairs beavering away. It was a mad hive of creativity and I loved it. When the directors asked me if I would be interested in joining I jumped at the chance. My kids were growing up. One had left home and to be honest, freelancing can get lonely. I wanted to be surrounded by creativity and this was a pretty good place to do it in. So off I came a couple of months ago.

downthetubes: How did Campfire come about, how long has it been publishing and what does it publish?

Campfire has been publishing for over five years now. It all came about when our founder, Mr. Keshav Thirani was spending the holidays with his grandsons and they were bored and wanted something to read. The comic books they had weren't up to much and so... he thought to himself, we could do better than this -- and so Campfire was born.

downthetubes: What is your role at Campfire?

My official title is Creative Content Head, so basically I oversee the creative side of what goes into our books, liaising with editorial, art, marketing and the directors. I'll go over the scripts, choose writers and artists, and have a say in what titles we will be producing or not producing.

downthetubes: How big is the Indian comic market and who reads comics?

In India, although comics have been around for a while, the market is relatively small but growing all the time. I remember my brother bringing back some comic books based on the likes of Krishna and Ganesha back in the early 1970s so while comics aren't new, people are only recently beginning to really catch on to them as fan bases are growing all over the country. We're off to the third India Comic Con in Delhi this week and that's getting bigger all the time. They also have big events in Mumbai and various other places throughout the sub continent.

downthetubes: What are your most popular titles - some of which have gotten critical acclaim and awards?

I'm going to blow my own trumpet and say Steve Jobs: Genius by Design. It's done very well both here and abroad and it's up for three nominations at Comic Con this week. Best Graphic Novel, best writer and best cover. The cover is pretty cool. The book is shaped like an iPad and well, the writing is incredible.

For younger readers, our adaptation of The Jungle Book won best art at Comic Con India last year and our biography of Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul, won best graphic novel. They're all pretty good.

downthetubes: What kind of projects are you looking to publish to extend the Campfire brand beyond its current catalogue?

So far we have specialised in adaptations of the classics, mythology both Indian and Greek, biographies and a handful of originals. We are always looking for exciting new ideas, and have a few good original series lined up, including sports (Think Tiger and Roy of the Rovers), historical, adventure and anything that we think could be commercial and exciting.

I can't go into too much detail about our upcoming programme just yet but I will be sure to keep you informed.

Let's just say that I'm really excited about our sporty one, because I was a massive fan of Tiger as a kid. And of course we have some pretty cool new graphic biographies too and a popular adaptation of a classic that will hopefully become a must have item for girls and women all over the world.

“The story of Mother Teresa was an
inspiration for me," says artist
Sachin Nagar."
For this title, I
decided to go for a water colour
art style to juxtapose the starkness
of poverty, violence, disease
and death on the one hand,
with the kindness, devotion
and love shown by a most
remarkable woman.”
Actually, that is the key for our future books. I want them all to be must have titles.

Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums, our latest book [which is officially released in May], is being launched at Comic Con India this week - and once you see the artwork for this you'll be blown away. Every page is a real work of art that you'd want hanging on your wall. I cut up the proofs and have them hanging on my wall now.

Sachin Nagar is the artist and he's one of the brightest talents I've ever worked with.

downthetubes: Will all your creators be Indian or are you looking for projects from abroad? Is there a Campfire submission guidelines page on your web site?

It's true I want to encourage more Indian writers. All of our artists are Indian and usually work in house. That said, we do occasionally commission out work for cover artists. But as for writers, they come from all over the globe.

We're revamping the website at the moment and a submissions guide will be up there. In the meantime, we are always on the look out for talented writers, preferably with some experience in writing comics. If anyone is experienced, and either has an idea they want to pitch or wants to be considered for any commissions on our biography, mythology or classics lines, feel free to drop me a line at jason@campfire.co.in.

That said, don't get your hopes up too high that we will publish your great idea, any ideas have to run the gauntlet of me and the directors and fully answer the question 'Why should we publish this?' Alas, 'Because it's great' isn't a good enough answer. We need to know it's going to sell too. After all, we're not in this just because working in comics is a great way to meet and impress girls, we've got to eat too, now and again.

downthetubes: What kind of comics do you like to read?

I still love the same stuff I read as a kid. I love revisiting the old Stan Lee classics. My favourites being The Avengers. I also love The Spirit, anything by Dudley D Watkins, my old Action collection (Dredger, tough as old boots, is an all time favourite) and more recently, at least in this century, I've enjoyed Hitman, KickAss, Joe Sacco... and the list goes on.

downthetubes: Which three Campfire titles would you recommend to those unfamiliar with company's range?

Hmm. Well, the Campfire Age is really just beginning but a good current sample of our range at the moment is Steve Jobs: Genius by Design (yes I'm blowing my own trumpet again - someone has to!), Krishna: Defender of Dharma (which has stunning art and is a great introduction to Krishna, who is quite a tough cookie as he comes up against monsters, demons and you name it), and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the classics range. You can't go wrong with that.

Oh, and one more, Ravana: Roar of the Demon King. It's based on an other old Hindu tale and the art with this is incredible.

downthetubes: What one piece of advice above all others would you give an aspiring comic creator seeking to break into the comics industry?

Who wants to listen to what I've got to say? Not me, that's for sure.

Actually, these days it is really tough, so I would say persevere, put yourself out there and be prepared to write about anything, not just your own pet projects. Believe me, you can make yourself fall in love with just about any subject, especially if you're being paid for it.

The other thing is that the more projects you work on the better you get. I look at some of my earlier stuff (most of it, actually) and I cringe now. Be prepared to write about anything and the chances are before too long you'll eventually end up working on your dream book.

Now, in the meantime, look out for Campfire and pick up a copy of Mother Teresa: Angel of The Slums when it comes out, believe me you won't regret it.

• Campfire Official web site: http://campfire.co.in

Campfire on Facebook

Read a 2011 interview with Campfire founder Keshav Thirani
Mr Thirani reveals each Campfire title has print run of about 5,000 per title. In India, it sells around 10,000 copies a month

1 comment:

Jason Quinn said...

here's a quick update, Campfire won 3 awards at the Comic Con India awards show last night. Yours truly got best writer for Steve Jobs: Genius by Design, Sachin Nagar got best colourist for Sundarkaand: The Triumph of Hanuman and we got best graphic novel of the year for Steve Jobs.
Cheers John.
Jason

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