Singh is King - Meet ‘imagineer’ Supreet Singh Manchanda and his hit creation — the Elvis-loving Taliban-bashing agent Deep Singh
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- Published 19.03.15
Secret agent Deep Singh is here to narrate a story where “justice wins, bullies lose” and the West is hooked. Enough for The Guardian to carry a piece on the “superhero in a turban fighting injustice and ignorance”.
The turbaned brain behind the comic book Super Sikh is Supreet Singh Manchanda, a technology executive and comic creator based in San Francisco. And with him is the brunette brain of Eileen Alden, a senior financial portfolio executive at a major bank in San Francisco.
Supreet, who was born in Delhi, moved to Africa at a young age, then to the US in 1981 and finally settled down in Silicon Valley some 20 years ago. The 51-year-old now splits his time between Houston and Silicon Valley.
At the moment, Supreet has only one identity: the co-creator of Super Sikh. Here’s what he told t2 in an email chat.
On your Facebook page there is a Peanuts strip in which Snoopy is inspired to write an adventure story. What inspired you to write a superhero story?
I have been toying with this for quite a while and it really crystallised after I met Eileen (Alden) in 2011. She and I talked about various stories and then we settled on a screenplay about a Sikh protagonist. Eventually that screenplay idea became a comic book idea.
What made the Super Sikh Kickstarter (US crowdfunding site) campaign successful (the project had 360 backers offering $22,511 in no time; the goal was just $5,000)?
I think there are two perspectives –– Sikhs have traditionally been defensive warriors and so it really resonates with our community to imagine a modern Sikh hero who defends the innocent. So they supported it. And from the non-Sikh perspective, people relate to the universal values and the idea that a normal person can become an action hero to defend those values, in a way that transcends political agendas and spans across cultures. So the comic community we reached also loves this new hero.
This really is the classic story of good versus evil where basic values like education, equality, and justice are at risk… if we don’t step up, who will?
There was once a famed Sikh Elvis impersonator called Peter Singh (whose famous lines are: I don’t smoke dope/ I don’t drink Bourbon/ All I want to do is shake my turban). And your Deep Singh is quite an Elvis fan...
Yes, I loved Peter Singh. He really broke barriers and in a fun way. One has to ask: “Who does not like Elvis other than perhaps the evil guys who hate music?!” Elvis was a good guy with great music and the classic association quickly establishes Deep Singh’s bona fides as a good guy as well.
Also, we bring humour and are not preachy about the values. This isn’t propaganda, which kids and adults alike will avoid like the plague. Instead we are showing a different perspective through a fun and entertaining piece of fiction, illustrating what Deep Singh can do and why he does it. As a warrior he focuses on the people he saves, but he’s quirky and human and has a great sense of humour.
How did you meet Eileen Alden and what is her understanding of Sikh culture?
Initially Eileen and I became friends as we have mutual friends on LinkedIn. And as we chatted about our passions what jelled was that she liked the idea and was writing screenplays and then later comics, while I’m really an ‘imagineer’ and see possibilities and connections. And we liked the same type of humour.
Eileen went off on her own to work on the writing and do research for the story. She never asked me for information about Sikhism, she just read books, and read things online. Eventually though, she even learned Gurmukhi (the Punjabi script) and started studying the writings of Sikh gurus. Of course, we continued to talk about the story and exchange ideas but then at some point she told me she had decided to take Sikhism as her own path. It was a big surprise; I didn’t see that coming.
The illustrations are by Amit Tayal. What does he bring to the storyline?
Amit’s brilliance is his wonderful art and so we reached out to him and he graciously accepted to produce the art. One thing that is not always easy to find in a comic book artist is someone who is able to show both humour and big action. Amit can do both. It’s great to have someone with Amit’s skill level also because we show the character’s human side, so like all of us he is a work in progress and the art is also showing Deep Singh’s journey of growth as a Sikh and even more as a person.
Tell us a bit about the storyline and how it evolves….
Secret agent Deep Singh is tired of fighting bad guys in addition to holding down a “cover job” in technology, and so he decides to go on a vacation to Graceland, home of his hero Elvis. One crazy Taliban crew is fed up with Deep spoiling all their evil deeds, like bombing schools to stop girls from getting an education. So they decide to follow him to the US and get rid of him once and for all.
You have an MBA from London School of Economics. So, why comic books?
The MBA is more to my work while comics are more to my passion and first love. I grew up with comics and they have become keepsake from my childhood. As we moved a lot in Africa it was hard to maintain friendships as a child but the comics were and have been my constant friends. As an adult I have focused my career on technology and innovation but some things never change. In fact, imagery is an important tool that I use to this day in my work.
What about your childhood and growing-up years?
I am a proud Indian by birth and went there often on holiday. I was very young when we moved to Africa and then grew up there with the diversity of African, British, French and, of course, American cultures brought by other expatriates. When they left, they often sold their stuff to others in the community, including novels and comics, as a result I was exposed to many cultures through those comics. I was also bullied as a child and in many cases I got a lot of courage through my comic characters.
Is there a bit of Supreet Singh Manchanda in Deep Singh?
Yes, he is also from Africa. I love Elvis, so he loves Elvis. I speak many languages, so does he. And he is also exposed to many cultures. Things that would not have happened as much if he had grown up in just one country.
Finally, has the hipster culture of San Francisco rubbed off on you?
I don’t know if I’m inspired by it or that rather it is inspired by me as I have a cool beard or so I would like to think! But regardless of whether you are pro- or anti-hipster, one thing you have to love about San Francisco and the whole Bay Area, is that it is a place where creativity is supported and allowed to flourish, and where creativity and change go hand-in-hand with technology. And that’s a lot like me — an ‘imagineer’ and catalyst helping people think out of the box.
Name: Supreet Singh Manchanda, 51
Born in: New Delhi
Lives in: Houston and Silicon Valley
Education: Technologist by training with a background in industrial engineering. Has an MBA from TRIUM (a global programme offered by the London School of Economics, HEC, Paris, and New York Stern School of Business).
Daytime work: Technology strategist and senior executive. He is on the board of a few startups, chairman of a non-profit organisation and managing director of a private equity fund.
Night-time thrills: The comic book Super Sikh
Co-creator: Eileen Alden
Favourite comic book characters: Tintin, but I also love Asterix, The Phantom and all the Marvel characters. Of late, I like independent comic writers. The Burka Avenger, a Pakistani animated television series, is fabulous.
Deep Singh fights for equality and justice and defends the innocent. He hates bullies of all kind and believes in education. He is part of a secret, independent — but UN sanctioned –– special force whose duty is to stop evil acts wherever they occur, fighting for justice around the globe — The creator sums up his creation for t2 readers
I am a Deep Singh fan because.... Tell email@example.com