Goa Diaries – a Q & A with Pratheek Thomas, Co-Founder, Manta Ray

Manta Ray is an independent publisher of comics & graphic novels based in Bangalore, India. Founded with a mission to provide a platform for visionary storytellers and artists, Manta Ray publishes books with a strong focus on original content, superlative artwork and high production values.

It was a pleasure to run into Pratheek, Co-founder, Manta Ray at Publishing Next. A week earlier, we had seen him during Comic Con 2012 held in Bengaluru. Talk ‘comics’ and Pratheek’s eyes light up, a high wattage smile will come on, his face will glow with almost child like glee and his hands will move animatedly as he talks. He can talk endlessly about comics & graphic novels and we feel we barely scratched the surface of his knowledge with our – it appears – basic questions!

1. Thanks, Pratheek for taking time out to talk to us. A basic question, first: What is a Graphic Novel? 
The term Graphic Novel was popularized by Will Eisner (one of the most influential creators in the history of comics) – who used it when he was pitching his own comics to publishers, to give it more respectability in the publisher’s eye. A graphic novel is a long form comic book, and the term is often used to indicate that the stories stories and themes maybe of a serious/ mature nature.

2. How are Graphic Novels different from comics?
A comic book typically has 20-24 pages of story, but a graphic novel is that – a ‘novel’, that is a larger, longer story line. As I’d mentioned above, while the term Graphic Novel is usually used for stories that have a mature theme to it, this is not always the case.

A good example for this is Bone by Jeff Smith, which is an all-ages comic book. Initially, it came out in smaller (no. of pages) installments and since then, it has been collected into a set of 9 volumes and one complete volume too. So, in the smaller installments, Bone could have been seen as a comic book series, but in the collected volumes, it has been called a graphic novel.

3. Would it be right to consider that Graphic Novels are for former comic lovers who have now reached adulthood?
No, this is a misconception. Bone, is a comic book that is loved by young readers and adults equally.

4. The first impression is that Graphic Novels appear to be more ‘artistic’ and ‘creative led’ than comics. Is this observation correct?
I think every comic book is creative led, and artistic. There is no difference whether it is a longer storyline (a graphic novel) or a smaller 22 page book.

5. Graphic Novels tend to be dark, foreboding by nature. Why is this so?
I disagree. The very term Graphic Novel has come to be synonymous with this dark, foreboding label, when it is not really the case. There are so many ‘graphic novels’ – Laika, Vampire Loves, Garage Band, Bone, Amulet – that are not dark or foreboding.

6. Graphic Novels are slowly but surely making a name for themselves in India. What do you think is fueling this trend?
I think “comics” are finding some visibility in India now. Many of the new publishers are young entrepreneurs who grew up on a lot of comics, and are now creating their own stories – so that’s one reason. There could be the influence of these comics being made into successful movies in Hollywood – so, there is a desire to recreate that trend in India too. Also, readers across the world are recognizing that comics can tell sophisticated, nuanced stories – and there are a lot of creators testing the waters now too. It’s a combination of all of these, I think.

7. Manta Ray Comics. That’s a nice, sharp zinger of a name. Tell us the inspiration behind it.
The honest answer is that we just love the Manta Ray fish. We love it’s form, the way it seems like it’s flying under water. They’re so graceful and gentle. And also, we know so little about them. They’re strange beings from another world, which, in some ways, is true of comics too. 🙂

8. What’s the team behind Manta Ray Comics?
The core team is made of three people. Dileep and I are the co-founders, and Prabha Mallya is our Art Director, she sets the visual tone for almost everything we do. She’s simply the best.

9. ‘Hush’ has made a name for itself as a graphic novel, hasn’t it? How satisfied are you?
Hush is a comic book, okay, maybe, it is a graphic novella. It’s a very short story, so it’s not a novel by any standards. Yes, Hush was noticed by a lot of comic readers, new readers, the mainstream press… and that is very gratifying, and humbling too. Humbling, because, so many people have come and told us how the book affected them, moved them. Hush was never meant to be a commercial project for us, with it, we wanted to say that Manta Ray is going to tell different stories in comics.

10. What can Graphic Novel fans expect from Manta Ray in the coming future?
A complete reboot of Manta Ray is happening right now. We’ve had a lot of insights and learnings from the past 2 years, and Year 3 is going to be different. Which means, readers can expect a lot more stories, of various themes and shades from us in the coming months.

11. What are your favorite Graphic Novels? Why?
I have such a loooong list that it would need more than this forum to write / talk about it. Having said that, I have attempted such a list, which you can read here. It’s a little old, but most of those books are still my favourite graphic novels. One of these days, I will update it and I’d love to talk about it in greater detail with you.

12. We’d love to showcase your comics at JustBooks libraries….good idea?
I think we’d have to first create some kind of awareness about comics in general and our own books amongst JustBooks’ readers? I’m saying this because a lot of readers are probably not comic readers, and may think that comics is only for children, youngsters. So, we would have to dispel that notion in the first place. Also, we wouldn’t want any parent to pick up Hush or Love like a Sunset for their child! 🙂 But, if we can find a way to reach out to readers, we’d be glad to showcase our books with your libraries.