Monday, 30th October 2017

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Man and supermen

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  • Published 15.11.09

Tony Lee was surprisingly sprightly for someone who had hopped in straight from a 13-hour flight, though he said that the audience to him tended to look like a “blur of pink unicorns” to him.

Pink unicorns — they were not surprising. For Lee, 39, may have been living closely with some of them. He has been a writer with some of the biggest comic book series — or should we call them graphic novels? — in the world, such as X-Men, Spiderman, Starship Troopers and Doctor Who, where the extra-terrestrial, or at least the extraordinary, frequently intrude into daily life. The last two are very big properties in the western world, if unfamiliar in India.

Lee was here as part of Lit Sutra, a cultural event organised by the British Council. On Wednesday, he was seen in conversation with Abhijit Gupta, who teaches English at Jadavpur University, at Starmark in South City Mall.

“I always wanted to do three things,” said Lee. “One, write comics. Two, write Dr Who. Three, be a Ninja or a giant robot.” He is yet to realise his third dream, he reminded, adding it was difficult enough to get to the first two.

He had been a journalist in Britain, his country, but he knew he wanted to work with DC Comics or Marvel Comics in the US, which has a publishing industry more encouraging towards the comic book.

So he landed in the US, called up Marvel Comics and said that he was a writer available for only a few hours, had an appointment with DC Comics at 4, could Marvel meet him at 1? Marvel was impressed and agreed to meet him. Lee called up DC and said he was meeting Marvel at 1 and was available for a meeting with DC at 4. DC agreed too. He did a lot of work with Marvel.

Lee uses a lot of “literary” characters in his works. He is also the writer of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is Jane Austen’s classic, but only its zombie version, he said. Similarly, he has also written Dodge and Twist, the story of Oliver Twist, but “basically Ocean’s Eleven written by Dickens”.

Among his recent works are Hope Falls and Midnight Kiss, which feature his own characters.

Answering questions, Lee said that he agreed that a visual in a comic book now can pack less. Earlier, because of space constraint, an image would be far more compressed. But now there can be “double-page splashes of absolutely nothing”. It is not a good thing.

He also agreed that many graphic novels read like films, as many of the writers are writing with the hope that their story will be picked up by a movie house. Another bad thing.

But if he is at home with many superheroes, he cannot ever write Superman, because there is nothing Superman cannot do, and so “there’s no fight with anything”.

So what’s the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel? “Graphic novel is the name of the comic book when someone wants to sound grown-up.”