Monday, September 18, 2006

INSTANT YANG v. 27: APOCALYPSE NOW; VIRGIN COMICS; POND-STRADDLING; UP AND ATOM, RYAN CHOI; (MIKE) KANG'S KASTING KALL; THE DRAGON RETURNS

Well, it’s been a fun two weeks since the last edition of this humble mailblog.

In my little corner of the universe (the slightly ghetto North side of Park Slope, Brooklyn), Al Gore’s intimations of imminent climate catastrophe have never seemed more true. First we had a series of three days of torrential downpour—water falling in sheets from the sky, really biblical-feeling weather (and not in that forgive thine enemies sort of way, either). Then an unabated heatwave that lasted another three days—triple digits each day, the kind of sticky, brain-fusing temperature that even air conditioning can only dull. Not that people didn’t try to refrigerate their way to relief…walking around my little cul de sac, you could hear the collective humming of dozens of maxed-out ACs, a sound like a swarm of angry bees.

Which is why it wasn’t entirely a surprise when Con Ed’s overtaxed transformers strained and then blew. First there were rolling brownouts, with appliances flickering madly, clocks resetting themselves every five minutes, lights dimming themselves to a nasty orange glow. By nighttime, a smell like a runaway tire fire was belching forth from the bowels of the subway system, and an armada of fire trucks, repair vans, and bulldozers had descended on our nabe, which was mired in pitch blackness. There were literally six blocks of outage, centered around my house: A patch of power failure too big to easily escape, but not big enough to allow easy looting. (Damn you, Circuit City, and your oh so tempting flat-panel displays!)

Despite the apocalyptic conditions, I still managed to squeeze out an SFGate column this week--one that helps rectify a glaring omission in my previous piece on Asian heroes in comics, namely, coverage of South Asian supers:

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ASIAN POP: KARMIC BOOKS

Watch out, DC and Marvel: A new line of comics, backed by the world’s wealthiest maverick, is bringing the heroes of India’s vivid heritage of myth and mysticism into the 21st century.

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The new comics publisher I write about, Virgin Comics, is the brainchild of Gotham Chopra and Sharad Devarajan, who serve as the enterprise's chief creative officer and CEO respectively. Gotham's eclectic resume includes work as a war correspondent for Channel One, authoring the books CHILD OF THE DAWN and FAMILIAR STRANGERS, co-creating the indie comic title BULLETPROOF MONK, and serving as creative consultant for Current TV, Al Gore's cable startup. (Look, Al: Between reinventing television, running a global investment firm, advising Google, and saving the world from carbon-emissions disaster, you've clearly shown you're still willing to take on ambitious projects; stop being so damn coy and just throw your hat back into the presidential ring. Odds are you'll get elected. Again.)

Chopra also happens to be the son of bestselling lifestyle guru and inspirational speaker Deepak Chopra, which explains, as Gotham himself is quick to say, why his father is one of a trinity of "chief visionaries" associated with the company. (The other two are celebrated filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and the bankroller of the company, Sir Richard Branson, which you probably guessed already, given the venture's name.)

Gotham's partner in Virgin, Sharad Devarajan, is also incredibly interesting: He's a New York-born, Syracuse U. educated desi who started his professional career as an intern for DC Comics. The experience led him to a brainstorm: There are a billion people in India; a huge percentage of them are under the age of 20. Why not bring the iconic heroes of U.S. comics to the subcontinent? Founding Gotham Entertainment (total coincidence, apparently), he cut his first deal with Marvel, and soon released the "transcreated" Spider-Man: India--featuring a dhoti-wearing, mystically powered webslinger named Pavitr Prabhakar. Tie-ups with DC, Mad Magazine, and Warner Bros. soon followed--leading to 13 titles in all, drawing over 1.5 million readers per month throughout South Asia.

"Spider-Man being introduced to India is mostly about trying to take advantage of a business opportunity," says Abhi Tripathi of SepiaMutiny.com (one of the most lucid, interesting, and wittiest groupblogs out there; desi or not, you should check it out). "If you can get even a small percentage of a population of a billion people hooked on your comic, then it's worth it."

Abhi's got a point...and it's the same one people have been making around China for a decade. The market opportunity in India and China is so huge and open for so many products we take for granted here that those who enter first and lock up brand awareness fast are virtually guaranteed a certain level of success.

While established brands are all trying to figure out how to mate with the Elephant and the Dragon, Virgin Comics is an interesting example of a "pond-straddler" startup--one of the first of what I suspect will be many in the near future. Its entire business plan rests on the idea of riding growth on two sides of the Pacific: Surging consumer power in Asia, and soaring interest in Asian stuff here in the West. The two trends are related, of course--but few companies, particularly new ones, has yet leveraged them successfully.

Pratik M. of the blog Nerve Endings Firing Away (iPatrix.com) and confounder of the other big desi groupblog, DesiPundit.com, makes the point that the world is moving towards cultural convergence: "The world is fast becoming a melting pot of material that qualifies as entertainment," he says. "The 'Long Tail,' as Wired Editor Chris Anderson mentions, makes even niches marketable now, so homogeneity is out, and we can look forward to more 'remixed' choices than ever before."

Businesses would do well to consider the implications.

Anyway, Virgin's first books are out now--DEVI and SNAKE WOMAN, and RAMAYAN REVISITED and THE SADHU are arriving soon. The last is penned by Gotham himself, and from what I've seen of its previews, shares honors with the still-mysterious SEVEN BROTHERS (from Garth Ennis and John Woo!) as the title I'm most hotly anticipating.

But let's not leave the big two out of the picture entirely yet. I received the first issue of the all-new ATOM from DC Comics, and I have to say, I'm pretty impressed. Early solicitations described Ryan Choi, the new Mighty Mite, as a "young hotshot professor who's filling the extra spot on Ivy University's teaching staff... and who inadvertently ends up filling the old Atom's super-heroic shoes." Sounded a bit cheesy, to tell the truth (whoa, he's hunky AND smart), but writer Gail Simone pulls it off--Choi comes off as witty, earnest, a bit nerdy, yet as capable of thinking with his fists as his head...think an Asian Peter Parker. Peter Park, maybe. (Well, okay, he's Chinese, so maybe not.)

I think it has promise, especially since DC editor Dan DiDio says he's going to be around for the long haul. I'll be keeping an eye out for him.

Elsewhere in pop, Mike Kang shared the fact that even as THE MOTEL hits L.A. (premiere's next Friday, kids), he's gearing up to start shooting his next feature in August--a "Korean American gangster flick" set in Flushing, NY, to be produced by Teddy Zee (who also backed Alice Wu's SAVING FACE). John Cho's attached, as is Han Yeo Rum from the Korean chiller SAMARITAN GIRL). He's looking for more cast (older Korean actors/actresses and teens) and crew--particularly, a DGA/DGA eligible 1st assistant director based in New York. If you're interested or no anybody who might be, ping his line producer, Sabine Schenk, at rschenk@aol.com.

Meanwhile, Angry Asian Man (angryasianman.com, though if you aren't bookmarking him already, you oughta be) has some intriguing news about how Bruce Lee's family--specifically, his brothers Robert and Peter and his sisters Phoebe and Agnes--have authorized and are co-producing a movie about him, hoping to dispel the bad craziness that came out of the woodwork after his passing on July 20, 1973. The film is targeted for 2008, his 35th memorial anniversary. One hopes the results will do justice to the man, his life, and his message, though the involvement of family doesn't necessarily guarantee that; even the best of the previous attempts, Rob Cohen's DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, based on a book by Bruce's wife Linda Lee Cadwell, leaned on conspiracy theories, superstitious curses, and the like in "explaining" Lee's death.

For now, the upcoming Bruce Lee tribute film I'm putting my money on is Justin Lin's FINISHING THE GAME, in production now. Casting notices pulled the tarp off the storyline a few weeks ago: It's a comedy about the posthumous attempts to complete Lee's final film, GAME OF DEATH, which Bruce shot just 12 minutes of before his untimely passing. A director assigned the project is tasked with casting a "Bruce Lee clone" from an eccentric pool of auditioners--which, we assume, will include all of our favorites from BETTER LUCK TOMORROW. It's a setup that offers fantastic potential for dark hilarity with a scalpel-sharp message behind it, and I think Justin can pull it off. Can't hardly wait.

And that's it for this week. Stay out of the blistering heat. Or torrential rain. Depending on which day it is, of course.

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