Earlier this week I had the opportunity to sit down with the masterminds behind Kickstarter’s newest darling, the comic book Super Sikh. This project has been years in development and was fully funded within 36 hours. It has now moved on to a range of stretch goals, including more issues and new storylines for some of the supporting characters.
Super Sikh features a turbaned secret agent, Deep Singh, making his uber fan pilgrimage to Graceland, the home of Elvis. He is waylaid in his journey by Talibs and other forces of evil. Supreet Manchanda and Eileen Alden dreamt up this slick superhero as a way to combat the negative stereotypes about Sikhs that have been seeping into Western media. And with the help of artist Amit Tayal, Super Sikh is quickly becoming a reality.
Nadya: Two years ago, when you started the project and began creating these characters, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted the comic book to do?
Supreet (S): The characters and idea has evolved and morphed especially as we got feedback from kids and others. We have always targeted kids specifically teenagers as they are the most bullied. Also the comic collectors who might like a new character.
Eileen (E): I always imagined it as something new and different than what’s been seen before, like a new cross-over story, mixing all different things you wouldn’t ordinarily see together.
Now, with the homestretch in sight and the last couple of weeks of the kickstarter winding down, do you have a clearer idea of the intention or message of the comic book?
E: I don’t think the message or intention has changed at all, but I think the passion and urgency to get these stories released just grows every day.
S: Sometimes every hour. Depending how close we are to the goal.
If the intention is to create a Sikh superhero, why make him a secret agent? Where’s his cape and magic powers?
S: No capes, remember they get sucked into engines and *poof* no superhero. He is a new league of superheroes and not just as a sidekick to other heroes.
The element of surprise is really cool with kids and it allows them to become him and dream. Being ordinary by day and super-hero by night is a common theme of many and it makes it ok to be ordinary while being secretly extraordinary. This especially helps kids who get bullied to develop courage. This is a piece from my own personal experience.
With the creation of Gurpreet, a STEMinist heroine who aids the hero Deep on his journey and later becomes the main character in the next series, what were you hoping to demonstrate?
E: Here I want to confront a whole different set of stereotypes and play with some external roles vs. inward journey. I like idea of Gurpreet as a problem-solver and someone who is an exceptionally clever strategist, and even well-trained physically for combat. This makes her unusual and competitive in a worldly sense, in a role you might expect a man to have. But there is also a strength that comes from within, and I’d like to explore how she balances both.
There is an obvious parallel made between the turbaned Taliban villain and Deep Singh. Do you think you’re making a dichotomy? Do you fear, possibly, highlighting only one issue Sikhs in the West face, namely that they are often mistaken for Muslim extremists?
S: The perception is greater than the reality. We aim to help all see beyond stereotypes and look to Sikh values — equality, fairness, justice, democracy and selfless service to all humanity. Sikhs, all over the world, have fought against tyranny and on the side of good since our very beginning. We want to break the current negative stereotype that people with turbans and guns are the bad guys when we have been in reality the good guys who have been fighting fire with fire.
In the wake of Ms. Marvel, do you think there’s more room for South Asian heroes in comic books?
E: Absolutely. I know there has been some backlash from some hardcore comic fans, but I’ve never been that kind of a fan. I have always liked the underground, independent comics, and in that realm uniqueness is a good thing. So I think there is a lot more room for South Asian heroes if the South Asian community supports them and doesn’t create its own backlash, but instead supports creators, especially young ones, who want to take risks and make different types of art and fiction. Each comic can only tell one story. We need a wide range of ideas and characters and situations and personalities to come to life on the pages.
Deep Singh seems like a very modern Indian Sikh — he dresses in a suit, enjoys classic Americana, etc. Do you think this depiction of Sikhs will be understood by a non-Sikh audience? Do you think his nuances will be appreciated?
S: Deep Singh is truly global (multi-lingual, multi-cultural and don’t forget “Loves Elvis and hates bad guys”). Regarding his dress, we need the familiar to help people understand that he is an ordinary guy who values and has pride in himself and reflects it by the way he dresses and carries himself. Sikhs have no restriction on dress other than the addition of a turban and heck he should look good! Good self image begins here. The rest is up to the imagination of our readers.
I see there’s a kickstarter perk you’re offering — for $200 the giver can be part of the editing process? Why are you offering this?
E: We want to be known as not just creators but also as part of a community of artists and writers. So it’s important to us to share our process. If it goes well, we’ll achieve several things: We’ll learn from this group, the “Editors Circle,” what resonates with them in the story and what they are craving as an audience. We will also share with them what it is like to go through the process of creating the story and building to the final comic, in case they want to go and make their own. And finally, we’ll have fun sharing ideas.
S: I get to veto things and especially make Eileen do all the work. It’s her aura you know.
E: My aura will kick your aura’s ass.
What is your wildest dream for this comic book?
S: We get to make Super Sikh the movie.
E: Definitely. I also want to have a whole series of movable action figures for all the characters that I can play with. I mean, the kids can play with (laughs).
The Super Sikh Kickstarter still has one week left. You can find it here.
The above image is a Super Sikh Sneak Peak from the first issue, courtesy of Eileen Alden.