Interview: Ram V, Dev Pramanik And The Living City Of PARADISO

Since the beginning of time cities have been havens in the middle of vast wastelands of loneliness. They once represented a source for all the necessities to survive the world but our current society tends to spread itself out more. What happens, though, in a future that has become a wasteland again. Will the importance of cities rise again? What if those cities are more than just the sum of the people in them but become alive themselves. Creators Ram V and Dev Pramanik have created a world in Paradiso #1 from Image Comics where this is a reality and are giving readers a journey into it. I had a chance to chat with them about this amazing world and what they have planned for us.

Chris Campbell: Beyond a comic book or a dystopian story what is at the heart of Paradiso?

RV:  The sentiment at the heart of Paradiso is one that is entirely human and common to us all. It’s the search for meaning. And, it layers over all the narratives that we’ll follow as the story of PARADISO unfolds. The survivors contending with their new reality are looking for new meaning to their lives inside this living city. The cyborg Guardians are looking for meaning to their existence, outside of serving the function that they were meant for. The city herself, once inanimate, now immortal, trying to understand the meaning of her life by looking at the people who live within her. That, in particular, is a beautiful contradiction in a sense. How can a thing we made, an intelligence we constructed, ever comprehend the meaning of her existence if we could not comprehend the meaning of ours? But I want to be careful not to come off as trite. I don’t have answers, I don’t think anyone does. I think these are the kind of answers you find for yourself by observing people and life. Which is what the story does!

CC: Jack seems to be different from most of the other inhabitants of this world. He has a heart while everyone else is colder. What has made him different than the others?

RV: I’d be giving away spoilers if I answered this! But there are many reasons why Jack is different. Some of them, I won’t reveal just yet. For starters, Jack grew up in an environment of unusual kindness. He grew up with a Tinkerman named Yosef taking care of him; not something a lot of people have in this world. Especially not outside Paradiso. Jack also has the Pneumas and you can tell he knows how to use it. That makes life easier for him in a lot of ways. So, he has reason to be kind and hopeful. That’s not to say he is naïve. He has seen the world outside Paradiso and he knows it is dying. That can either turn you bitter and cold or it can imbue a certain kind of warmth and hopefulness that I think Jack has.

CC: Is Jack based on anyone that you know in particular?

RV: Ah, I don’t think so. At least not as a conscious decision. I think all my characters take bits and pieces from people I know, or other characters that I’ve read. I do like my characters to evolve through the story. Pick up scars and bruises. They change, become bitter, become better. So, I’m sure we’ll see Jack do all of that!

CC: Cities have always played an important part to humanity’s growth, culture, and survival. What part will the living city of Paradiso being playing in the human experience in your story?

RV: I think that relationship is more reciprocal. Cities are also defined by the people who live within them and the way those people decide to populate the spaces given to them. And these things change constantly. A once abandoned canal may become a skateboarding hotspot and that fundamentally changes the nature of that space. It affects things around it and triggers a sort of butterfly effect, if you will. At the same time, cities outlive us. Compared to a human life, the life of a city is immortal and the weight of that history and personality that a city possesses necessarily has influence on its own people. So, it is that relationship that the story will try to explore. There are interesting questions to ask. How does the city define her body, as compared to how the people within her define it? Does she get to manipulate their lives simply because they dwell within her? If she has the power to protect them, does she have the power to destroy them as well? And then there is the interesting aspect of how the city knows what she knows about humanity. If all that you had to learn about a civilization was the data and media they produced, what would you learn about it and how would that reflect your interactions with those people. So, there’s a lot of rich material there to dig into!

CC: There are many that would say that we should be moving away from the cusp of the singularity however the world of Paradiso seems to be even closer than we are now if not already there. Do you think we should be moving away from technology or towards it?

RV: I don’t think we’ll ever move away from technology. Invention is part of human nature. There’s no way you can invent the wheel and then not go on to invent a car. We may be more aware of our relationship with technology but to stop inventing is to die. The singularity is a different question entirely, it is a hypothesis and so any movement toward or away from it must be understood in that context. Although recent developments in self-repairing materials / AI research and robotics do not seem to indicate that we’re moving away significantly. I think we should always move toward being inventive and creative. I think inquiry and invention are human prerogatives. We tend to reach beyond what we know and grab at things in the dark. It is what makes us amazing- this ability to supersede our instinct for self-preservation in favor of our pursuit of knowledge. And, simultaneously, it is also likely to cause our downfall. As with all things human, everything is about balance and benevolence.

CC: At the end of issue #1 the device that Jack has is referred to as the Pneumas which traditionally has referred to the breath of life that gives life to the lifeless. Is this device mechanically bringing machines to life or is there more to it than that?

RV: Definitely more to it than that. Hah! I feel like there’s a pattern to all my answers. Everything is more than what it seems. I like doing that. There are no throwaway references or visuals in my stories. I don’t want to give away spoilers here, but the Pneumas as you’ve correctly pointed out as a meaning attached to the name. ‘The Breath of Life’ goes on to become much much more important and central to the story as the larger plot unfolds. Rather than mechanically repairing defunct technology, I’d like to think of it as ‘telling the machine its function and how to repair itself for it.’ As cryptic as that sounds, you’ll see why when you read on!

CC: The world that you are bringing to life is very impressive. How did you and Dev handle the creation of it?  How long has it taken to bring to life?

RV:The idea originally began back before 2012 when my good friend and architect, Rajiv Bhakat and I first came up with the concept behind Paradiso. We initially wrote short stories and vignettes to flesh out the world. A lot of what you see in the books comes from those. Dev and I started working on that material from 2015 onward and Dev brought his visual sensibilities to all the material that Rajiv and I had put together. A lot of it, we designed on the go. But the specifics– locations and character designs, we put time and effort into. It really helps that Dev and I are usually on the same page with designs and how we want the book to look! Plus, Dev has a really strong sense of tone and atmosphere and I think that is very important when building a world, visually.

CC: Besides enjoying the story what do you hope that readers take away from Paradiso?

RV: I hope they take away a sense of wonderment. A new way of looking at the places that we live in. And perhaps, if I’m being ambitious, I hope they take away the idea that no matter how bleak the circumstances or how dire things are, life (not just humanity) but life itself, is beautiful and resilient. Hope is not limited to human beings.

CC: You’ve made the dystopia look beautiful. What’s the secret to taking something that must be ugly to live through and turning it into something to marvel at?

Dev Pramanik: We love to make the best of everything. That, I think is a beautiful thing to watch. So, with Paradiso, I imagined the way they have built the world around them from the dregs of an old world. When we look at this dystopia, we are looking at the nature of human perseverance. And, in Paradiso, a ruined city is so much more than the way it looks. There are occasional bits of weirdness, and the uncanny, making you realize there is so much under the surface. It makes the dystopia feel vast, wonderous and beautiful

CC: What has influenced the design of the world of Paradiso?

DP: The design of Paradiso came from many different sources of inspiration. First and very significantly was Neo-Tokyo from Akira. That city was phenomenally designed, and you got to see both the before and the after of the destructive event, so it was pretty much the perfect cityscape for me to draw inspiration from. I also took a lot of inspiration from modern megapolises. And from this deserted island called Hashima, also called Gunkanjima, off the coast of Southern Japan. It is a very good example of what happens the infrastructure of the city fails and how that looks.

CC: The reader will be able to tell that you put a lot of work into the costume design of the characters. What goes into the creation of costumes for a comic book and what influenced these designs in particular?

DP: Well, Ram gave me carte blanche on how the characters should look after we discussed the concept for Paradiso and how the characters should look. Developing the general sense of what passes for clothing in and around Paradiso has been a lot of fun. But for the main characters, we went into a thorough character design phase, based on Ram and Rajiv’s designs for the characters. Going back and forth over the designs to make sure the characters fit into their role and making them feel personal and a product of their environment.

CC: The panel layout throughout this issue is pretty much perfect. It flows wonderfully and guides the eye without losing the reader. Does the script that you worked from give you room to be able to design the pages as you see fit or did you have to design around the script?

DP: Ram and I work on the layouts together. His scripts are pretty tight but also leave room, in the sense that he breaks down the panels in the page, but I have room to play with them and arrange the panels the way I see fit. And then we sit down and discuss the thumbnails together. That’s where the magic happens. We both talk over it and sometimes he points out to me the things I may have missed, and we decide on the final version of the layout. But I’ve always been a fan of panel layout directing a story, so, I always try to make sure the panels and the compositions are intuitively leading the reader’s eyes through the story in a coherent and pleasurable fashion.

CC: There is so much detail in each panel from the clothing to the backgrounds, how long does it take you to knock out each page?

DP: Haha! well, this is pretty much the first time I have worked on 4 full issues at a stretch, so it was difficult at first. But as I have gone on, I have started putting out one page per one and a half day on average. Some pages take more, some pages take less.

CC: What do you think is most important when capturing a moment in time to render in a panel for the reader to take in?

DP: That’s a very good question, actually. I distilled the answer to that question to a somewhat acceptable form through the course of these 4 issues. The most important thing for the artist to capture in a moment is basically the essence of the story being conveyed in the panel. Nothing takes priority over that. Everything that you show has to be in service of the story, namely, the emotion you’re trying to convey about the world/characters. You have to purify the elements down to the most potent combination and portray it. Sometimes it’s hard to follow that and I end up spending too much time on drawing cool stuff instead of focusing on the story, but my primary concern is always telling the story properly before I even start to get to the technical details of the drawing.

Paradiso #1 hits stores December 6, 2017 from Image Comics.

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