The Mahabharata is an immensely human story: Grant Morrison
Renowned comic writer Grant Morrison brings a new avatar of the epic Mabhabharata in the new web series 18 Days
Writer of some of the darkest episodes in Batman’s life, the famed Animal Man series as well as Superman, The Flash, Joe the Barbarian and New X-Men, creator and comic writer Grant Morrison is set to give the epic Mahabharata a new look. Titled 18 Days, after the period during which the epic war was fought in Kurukshetra, it will be released as an audio-visual Web series on YouTube.
While it will have Morrison’s trademark writing and catchy dialogues, 18 Days also gets, what Morrison describes, as an amalgamation of his writing with captivating audio, graphics and animation. Excerpts from an interview:
The Mahabharata is one of the most widely written-about events in Indian mythology where many texts have been dedicated to single characters. Were you aware of this epic battle before you signed up for 18 Days? What made you agree to this?
I’ve loved the Mahabharata stories all my life but I never 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 each are achingly human and vulnerable as well as magnificent and mythical so it appealed to me on all levels.
Was it difficult to convert the epic into 18 Days, keeping the multidimensional personalities/sides to every character?
I had to condense this immense text into something that could work in digital short episodes and it was hard to do drama in short episodes, particularly if you were showing the spectacle of the war, which was much more interesting. So we developed this kind of modular style of almost plugging in the human stories behind the mythic events in separate episodes. You see almost a mosaic building up in what seems to be a huge mythic war, but then we begin to get flashback close-ups of people’s lives and what brought them to that stage so that, the next time we see them in danger or under pressure, we’ll begin to feel it even more, and the idea was to continually ramp up the emotional level of things that would only be accepted on that big mythical level.
Comic stories are usually about Good vs. Evil, but in the Mahabharata the difference gets blurred in several episodes...
18 Days is less about Good vs Evil in the traditional Western sense, and more about dealing with compromises, anger, greed and fear. The very things, which make its heroes great, are the things, which bring about their greatest defeats. It’s an immensely human story that acknowledges the weaknesses and failures of its heroes as often as it promotes their strengths and victories. Unlike the snarling, cackling irredeemable villains of Western melodrama, even the monstrous Duryodhana is a complex, ultimately sympathetic figure, while a character like Karna is quite simply heart-breaking in his inability to achieve the greatness of which he knows he’s capable.
18 Days is different from your previous works, especially since here you are working on sound, animation and catchy dialogues all at once...
Like all new storytelling platforms, it adds to the possibilities of comics. We’re still at the very early stages of the process and there’s still a tendency to rely on some of the tropes of the print format but the potential to innovate and to define this new platform is at a peak at the moment. We’re witnessing the birth of something new and it’s still hard to tell what the child is eventually going to look like!
How did you come by this project?
Sharad Devarajan (of Graphic India) came to me with the idea of doing this and that was that. I‘d have never considered it before, but as soon as he suggested the idea to adapt the Mahabharata, I was hooked.
Did you read any of the available literature on the Mahabharatha before working on 18 Days?
I read several versions (of the Mahabharatha), including RK Narayan’s condensed retelling, Ramesh Menon’s two-volume “modern rendering” and the short, punchy The Penguin Guide to The Mahabharata, which manages to explain everything in 138 pages, and is probably the best book for a newcomer. Also particularly helpful on the spiritual side were Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda’s God Talks With Arjuna and Perennial Philosophy of The Bhagavad Gita by Swami Rama. I had to read and understand the entire 1.8 million words of the Mahabharata before attempting to translate it into something more familiar to Western audiences.
Morrison on Karna
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 the other guys get all the breaks. I find him very human and relatable. I think he has a kind of brooding, misunderstood, James Dean-like outsider quality, which translates easily to the West.