I got the chance to interview Biju Parekkadan, the co-author of the graphic novel, Legend of Sumeria. I asked and he answered. Check it out below, and make sure to read my review of Legend of Sumeria.
Tell me a little about the project and how it started.
Jay and I had been creative writers for years as a fun hobby. I found myself entered into a novel writing competition which seeded the initial concept for Sumeria i.e. what would the world look like without the evolutionary pressure of infectious disease? Once Jay read the initial story, he recognized that a graphic novel would be the right media to really advance this concept and started to build a real worldview around it with new characters and exciting story arcs given his background in film production. We enlisted a number of illustrators and constantly pushed forward while building up a community along the way to book launch.
Did the story flow out of the science or did you have to research the science once the story was set?
The initial story flowed from the science of how Bruce’s blood disorder led to a cure-all gene therapy. As Jay came on, and we started to expand on this concept, we did a lot of research to find viable scientific theories to support our alternate reality. One example is how extraterrestrial life could exist using a non-carbon source. In fact, at the end of a number of chapters, we have a news page that gives more detailed background to the story and also describes a “search bar” which has a few keywords that can take a reader on the research journey we started on a few topics pertinent to the chapter/story.
How has this project been different from your previous works?
Personally, I’ve never written a true creative work before. All of my published work is based on my labs’ and biotech companies’ research or patented inventions. I had to learn how to engage with artists and it was important to recognize that quality trumped all other project objectives.
I was right not to trust certain characters while reading. Did you have a clear path of who was really behind it all or did it change as you were writing the story?
We had a clear path early on. It was important to find a good balance for each character and develop them in the right way at the right time.
What advice would you give to writers or artists collaborating with friends?
Find the clear areas where individual contributions are defined. For Jay and I, it was the art direction and science direction, respectively. Then for the areas where there is a lot of cross-pollination, spend a lot of time discussing the goals of what is trying to be communicated and then find creative ways to show that with art and/or dialogue.
Speaking of friends, were there any points of contention while creating Legend of Sumeria?
No points of contention. We had a lot of great discussions and debates, but all the while we knew this was a fun project and we enjoyed every moment of it through all the hard work it took.
How did you wrangle so many artists to work on this project?
Anthony LaGaipa was our lead and established the right tone of art we were looking for when we sent out a request for proposals. To speed up production later on, we again solicited freelancers and made sure that they could mirror this style while adding their own elements. These latter artists had one chapter dedicated to them to allow for their freedom and also maintain a continuity through the chapter.
Was there a character or characters you related to most?
Personally, I related to Bruce and Jack a lot because of their scientific backgrounds. It’s a lifestyle that comes natural to me, though for the public it is often mysterious what happens in the lab so we tried to paint a little more of that picture too. I also related a lot to Henry’s story of finding himself and his true calling in the face of so many naysayers.
Were there any characters based on real people?
I think all the characters have a blend of Jay and I. The best writing often does. But I won’t want to comment on any of the specifics!
My biggest pet peeve is that Henry is wearing a belt and suspenders. Who’s idea was this?
Ha! I think this was a joint decision to have Henry look a little old-fashioned.
As this is Talk Nerdy, I have to know what you nerd out about.
Science!!! I love thinking about new ideas in technology and what the future might hold. Along with that is the importance of doing things with ethics and morality, which is really what is at the heart of this story.
Tell me about any upcoming projects or conventions we can find you at.
I’ll be speaking at the World Cell Therapy Congress in London in May as well as other technical conferences throughout the year where I’ll subtly highlight this effort. We are most excited by the bioethics community, which is greatly appreciating this new approach to communicating ethical stories. We plan on attending the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities to share Sumeria with this community in the fall. And of course, there will be Comic Con.
To find out more about Sumeria, Biju, and the rest of the creative team make sure to visit their website.