Interview with Manta Ray Comics

MantaRay is an indie publisher of comics & graphic novels, based out of Bangalore, India. They publish The Small Picture, a weekly comic in Mint newspaper.

MixtapeMixtape is their first anthology, their attempt at building a platform to showcase short comic stories by new, upcoming and established comic creators. It’s a collection of 4 diverse stories each one different in style and treatment from the other.

Mixtape is priced at INR 55/- in a DRM-free pdf / cbz format, and can be bought from https://www.instamojo.com/mantaraycomics/

Pratheek Thomas, Founder Manta Ray Comics Interviewed by ISF:

ISF: How has MixTape been received?

Pratheek: In terms of numbers, I think these are very early days (It’s just been a few months weeks (edit) since we released Mixtape). We are doing more Mixtapes and more comics (like ‘Twelve’, our first series) in the months to come, and that should bring in more readers and more visibility. So, it’s very possible that new readers of future Mixtapes will read the older issues. And since it’s digital, there is no shelf life or expiry date for Mixtape. I’d be more interested to see what the numbers are a year from now.

But, in terms of the feedback we’ve got from readers, reviewers, our peers in the comic scene in India, the response has just been fantastic. That’s the biggest encouragement. We’ve also had a good number of story pitches for the next Mixtape issues, which tells us that there are talented storytellers in India and this idea of pro-bono contributions and 100% returns to creators is worth exploring.

ISF: What are your views on graphic novels and science fiction (SF)? Do you think SF will be better served via graphic medium here?

Pratheek: I think comics lend themselves very well to SF. The visual possibilities of a comic would add many layers to a prose work. Some of my favourite comics are in the SF space—Frank Miller’s Ronin, Paul Pope’s 100% (though it is ‘low voltage sci-fi’ as Pope calls it), Grant Morrison’s WE:3. Some of the big hits in comics, like Y: The Last Man and Saga (both by Brian K. Vaughn) are SF. And there’s Akira, of course, and so many more that I’m missing out here.

However, one of the obstacles is that SF as a genre is very niche in India—as in, with respect to Indian writers, books and readers. And from what I understand, our fantasy genre leans mostly towards the mythological… it could be that for most Indians, our mythologies come before science.

ISF: Do you think that mixing genres gives you better reach?

Pratheek: It wasn’t a conscious decision to have stories from different genres in Mixtape 1; it was more of a happy accident. We never saw them as SF stories. The Silver Spider could be classified as fantasy-horror and Rather Lovely Thing is more a surreal story.

This is the first time we’re trying out an anthology collection, so we don’t know if the different genres give us a better reach. My guess would be that it doesn’t. I think the readers who got Mixtape 1 like comics in general and that’s why they got the book.

ISF: Varied stories with different illustration styles or Particular style + Strong character-based series: what’s the trend?

Pratheek: Mixtape is the former—varied stories with different illustration styles. And Twelve, our upcoming limited series is a character-driven, but it’s not the regular ‘series’ common to comics. ‘Twelve’ is a collection of 12 stories, each one with a different cast of characters, and features a different artist. So, it has varied stories, and varied styles, but the stories are connected by a common theme—which makes it a ‘series’.

I don’t see a specific trend in India yet. Level 10 had Odayan and Daksh—though I’m not aware of the current status of either; the big publishers tend to do graphic novels or anthologies, while the independent publishers are bringing out one-shots. So, everyone is trying different things.

In the West, the trend has always been to build character-based series, especially at the big studios like DC, Marvel, etc.

In a series, there is the potential to build a huge fan base and the character can be spun off into multiple dimensions like TV, animation, toys, film, merchandise, etc. But a series comes with its own trappings. It can become repetitive and tiresome after a point. Especially since there is no real ending to the story. Particularly if it is a studio-property like Batman. Batman is killed but he finds a way to come back alive after a few issues. It just goes on in an infinite loop.

On the other hand, there are series like Hellboy and BPRD (two of my favourites), The Walking Dead, Goon, Saga and many more—where there is no Reboot or Reset button. Things once broken cannot be fixed, characters who die do not resurrect… and that’s a series worth creating and building.

Interestingly, the common feature in all these series is that they are creator-owned (as opposed to being a publisher/studio property).

ISF: What genre would you concentrate on a series?

Pratheek: We have an idea for an action-adventure series we’d like to do after Twelve. Another genre would be a fictionalized retelling of an interesting historic event or period. And personally, I’d like to do an SF series. In all these cases, we want to do storylines that have a definite ending.

ISF: Do you think there is scope for an Indian sci-fi series?

Pratheek: The honest answer is that I do not know. There is Aveon 9 by Rovolt, which is a SF/fantasy story… though I think they’ve released only a few issues till now… so it’s yet to be seen if it will catch on as a series.

Comics are an experiment in India; there are some waves and buzz around the medium, but it’s still in a very nascent stage. I think everyone is experimenting at this stage, heading out in different directions and seeing what works.

ISF: Tell us about your writers and artists.

Pratheek: We are a core-team of four people, and we work with a team of extremely talented artists who are spread across the world, and whose work we absolutely love. However, writers—good writers—are hard to come by. In a nascent medium (in India) like comics, that’s the way it’s bound to be, too. We’ve discovered some amazing writers and storytellers via The Small Picture, our weekly comic in Mint newspaper, and we hope that Mixtape can be a platform where more writers and artists can showcase their strengths, and be discovered.

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