Sikh Comic Changes a Life ~ Exclusive Interview Pt 1.

...I was a screenplay writer on the side, and he suggested that I consider making a Sikh character....

 

Recently  in France 12 media people were killed for expressing themselves through the medium of cartoon satire. Knowing that death was very possible they boldly carried on with their cartoons as an ultimate statement an artist can make to stand for freedom of expression. We know how powerful and important even comics can be.

As the Kickstarter video for the Super Sikh Comic says, "Our story takes place in a 4 comic book series as Deep Singh leaves India and heads to the USA for a weeks vacation trying to reach Graceland, the home of Elvis, without being killed by the Taliban..."

It is inspiring to know that the KickStarter campaign for the comic got such an overwhelming response in the wake of such a fearful tragedy in France. The goal of $5,000, for the 1st book in the series, was quickly met and surpassed by over $3,000 so far. This team will also not be deterred for any reason to carry on with it's vision and neither will it's backers.  

Recently SikhNet sat down with Eileen Alden. She is one of the main creative forces behind the new SUPER SIKH COMIC.

SN: Eileen it is very nice to speak with you. We are happy to see this project coming to fruition and thankful for your helping to make it happen. Can you tell us more about yourself and your background before you got involved with Super Sikh? 

EA: So I’ve always been doing a creative project of one type or another. On the one hand I have a traditional job in the investment world and I’ve done that for many years, but I’ve also had a very strong creative streak always. I’ve done things such as, I’ve been in a band, I’ve run a record label, I started to make films and write screenplays.  

At the time of conception for the idea of Super Sikh I was primarily writing screenplays. Super Sikh began as a screen play. I had met Supreet, he knew I was a screenplay writer on the side, and he suggested that I consider making a Sikh character. My pension has always been for outside the box ideas. I’ve never been a traditional thinker in a lot of ways, particularly on my creative side. So I thought that was a great idea. I had just finished a screenplay called ‘Santa Vs. Aliens’. I wasn’t looking for a particular angle per se. We started to ping back and forth some different ideas.

SN: How did the Elvis element get involved here?

EA: I think Supreet showed me a video with, I think his name is Peter Singh from the U.K., who is a Sikh Elvis impersonator. We were just bouncing around these ideas for a quirky character. At that point I’m not sure if Supreet took it seriously that I was actually going to go and do this. There was some brainstorming and some thinking about it but sometimes you get ideas and they don’t gel, that’s part of the creative process. I’m sure a lot of people have ideas all the time, “I’d like to hike the Himalayas” “I’d like to go around the world in a balloon.” But this idea did gel and one reason for that is that I just wanted to see if I could make it work as it is kind of a challenge. What does it take to make this story unfold and this character unfold?   

SN: How did you view this work as someone looking into Sikhism from the outside? Did you have any thoughts on Sikhs, or think it was interesting to have a hero with a turban?

That’s a great question. I had Sikh friends and I also had in my background a couple things that I drew from. I grew up half my childhood outside the U.S. in the Asia Pacific area so I have some experience of being the minority in a certain place and looking very different than other people. In addition to that my ex-husband African American, my kids are half Caucasian and half African American. As the parent to my kids I had to come up to speed on a lot of issues around the consciousness of racial issues and with diversity in general.  

One of the things that I look and I thought, “OK this is a great idea, let’s see if I can make this work.” is just the approach. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it the best I can. I want to come right as they say, I want to do it correct. In my understanding of an ally, as a white ally, in this context is that I’m not going to go and ask all my Sikh friends to regurgitate everything that’s ever happened to them, “How long is your hair? Why is your hair like that?” These type of things. The onus is on me to educate myself. That’s my perspective. So I did that as part of the process of writing. I might be agnostic or atheist but I understand there is a connection with something deep and meaningful here.

So I got a bunch of books, I looked online everyone and I tried to really dig into these questions to explore the culture. I did things like I went out to hear bhangra, I took some dhol lessons, I took cooking lessons. I did this smattering of things just to get a better understanding.  

SN: It sounds like some exeptionally in-depth research you did for this comic…

Yeah, and it was fun too. I’m not a very good cook, I made a lot of messes but it’s fun, it’s a learning experience. The kids are certainly along for the ride, they’re testing out the food I’m making. It certainly wasn’t a chore.

There is one funny story, I was taking an Indian cooking class, I don't remember if I was making dosas or if I was making dahl... I've blocked it out now, I don't make this dish anymore. I was trying to blend the lentils. I had just gotten this super powerful blender, a vita-mix so I could make these fabulous smoothies. I'm just not a good cook, I don't operate well in the kitchen, I'm better with writing. I put the lentils in the blender to, I don't know, cream them or something I was supposed to do. I called my roommate, "Look check this out, I'm cooking." and I pressed the on button, but the lid wasn't on all the way and the lentils spewed all over the kitchen. All over the curtain, in the toaster and the sink. She was just, hahahaha, totally horrified, heheheh. So, I stick to writing mostly.  

Anyways, I was in a band, I’ve played music so when I went to bhangra and heard the dhol I thought, “This is great, I love this, it’s like a base and a drum in one, I wanna learn how to play a dhol!”

I had just finished turning Santa Vs. Aliens from a screenplay into a comic and I was working with an artist and I said to Supreet, “Why don’t we turn it into a comic, it will be more accessible and realistic to complete as a project.” When I finished the screenplay even before I started to turn it into comic, I couldn’t stop doing research. I would say, “Well NOW I’m researching because I’m turning it from the screenplay into a comic.” Coming from a research perspective, coming as a non-religious person, I wanted to explore this and be respectful. I try to understand the concepts behind things.

I couldn’t stop doing this quote unquote “research”. I thought, “Well maybe the character might need to refer to Gurbani, so I should probably learn Punjabi and I should probably look at Gurbani just to understand what’s in there.” I started looking at the English translations. I could tell right away that there was a lot of Judeo-Christian influence in the translations. There would be 15 words to represent 4 words of Gurmukhi. What is really being said here? So I said, “Well, I’ll just learn Gurmukhi and I’ll start to read it in Gurmukhi. I’ll get some dictionaries and I’ll start translating the Gurbani”

So I started to do this and obviously it’s starting to take a life of it’s own. I started to actually contemplate what was being said and it started to really personally affect me. Eventually I looked at myself and what I was doing and realized I was looking at my entire life through this lens now. It had taken on a completely different path than just making a comic book. That’s when I realized, “This is MY path.” This is way more personal and way more meaningful than just the on-point research. That’s when I accepted that this was my spiritual path.

 

SN: How long did you study Gurmukhi for? 

Well, I started about...  

Click here to read part 2