Cambrian Comic’s Friday Showcase: My top 5 favorite comics #5

So it’s Friday and instead of being at Comic Con or having somebody else’s cool work to show you (if you are interested in showing off your written work or art work feel free to hit us up @cambriancomics and we’ll take a look) I’m going to do what seems to be par for the course on the Internet these days and share with you my favorite comic book series in a list based format.  Over the next couple of weeks I am going to countdown my top 5 favorite comic book series and explain why I like them.

First the usual disclaimers: This list reflects my opinion only if you see something you don’t like please keep it to yourself or leave a nicely worded comment on the site or on Twitter.  All work belongs to their respective owners.

5. DMZ (Vertigo Comics)


Author: Brian Wood

Artist:  Riccardo Burchielli

Number of issues: 72 (collected into 12 trade paperbacks)

DMZ is what happens when speculative science fiction meets really good and really personal dramatic writing.  The comic is set in the not too distant future where a post 9/11 American government has over extended itself in its War on Terror and has ignored too many pressing domestic issues.  Furious at Washington for spending far too much blood and treasure a large group of dissidents in the American Midwest form a new government dubbed the “Free States” and the second American Civil War begins.


The comic takes place after the Free State armies halt their successful advance at Manhattan, unable to take the island with the American military on the other side of the river unwilling to engage.  A stalemate develops with Manhattan being declared a Demilitarized Zone, stranding over 400,000 people on the island between the two opposing armies.


Into this potential powder keg comes a young reporter named Matty Roth who must navigate armed gangs, corrupt public officials, and a very tense political situation to learn all he can about life in the DMZ and manage to survive with his life and freedom intact.


This is one of those once in a generation comic books, a story that captures the moment it was written and manages to act as a warning to possible future events without sounding too preachy.  Writer Brain Wood manages to accomplish two things.  First, he manages to shed a glaring spotlight on current geopolitical affairs through his storytelling.  It may seem a bit of a stretch to see America torn in half with two equally unpleasant factions vying for control


and to see America littered with bombed out buildings, suicide bombers, and military checkpoints,



But this sort of thing is happening today, just not in America.

Also, while Wood does a fantastic job at showing the grand political and military game being played he also makes the story deeply personal and intimate.  When Matty Roth crash lands into war torn Manhattan he doesn’t find a collection of savages living off of rats and wallpaper paste, he finds normal sane people going about their daily lives and trying to adjust to the situation around them.

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It’s not just gangs and psychopaths stalking the streets of New York (although there are plenty of those around) it’s a community filled with art, culture, and pride in who they are and where they are from.


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Amid the ashes, grime, and horror of warfare these 400,000 refugees manage to create their own home and distinct identity, which brings me to the artwork.

Holy crap the artwork is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Normally I’m not much of an art hound, I prefer comics that favor a good story over art (I may be slightly biased since I can’t draw worth a damn) but I do believe that comic art is at its best when it compliments the story it tells.  Riccardo Burchielli is the perfect artist for this project.


His style is very dark and blocky creating an aggressive and intimidating look that stays with you for a while, a style that is very good at displaying both the weariness that comes with warfare and the inhuman savagery of those who are fighting it.  He’s also very good at drawing lots of tiny little details in both settings and characters which is fantastic for the countless pouches and modifications you can see on the clothing and uniforms and the destruction of the bombed out hulks in each of the buildings.

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The entire comic series has solid writing, amazing artwork, and tells a story that is gut wrenchingly brutal, deeply personal, and yet…strangely optimistic and heartwarming.

If you would like to read DMZ you can find it on COMIXOLOGY or buy the physical copy on the Vertigo Comics website.

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention #3: Legacy Code

So last week I got my first request to help promote a Kickstarter campaign with this weekly blog series (by the way, if anyone reading this has a Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Patreon campaign up and running feel free to send it to my Twitter @mblair112 and I’ll take a look) and I was impressed with this title so I decided to give them some well deserved attention.  Welcome to Legacy Code.

Link to the Kickstarter:

What is it?

Legacy Code is a Kickstarter campaign to build a one shot comic, animated movie, computer game, and table top RPG.  The project is run by a company called Short Fuse Media, a relatively small comic book publisher that has this neat service where they can take a character of your creation and turn it into everything from a short comic to an action figure.


This Kickstarter campaign itself is Short Fuse’s shot at building a fully realized, self contained, massive multi media universe set in a sci fi dystopia which is like, according to their own words, “imagine ‘The Terminator’ mixed with ‘X-Men, ‘The Matrix’ and ‘All You Need Is Kill (Edge of Tomorrow)’ and you would have ‘Legacy Code'”.

Why I like it

You’ll notice a couple of things about the paragraph above.  First, there isn’t much in the way of plot.  The Kickstarter video simply describes the concept in very broad terms.

The second thing you’ll notice is that this project is really…really ambitious.  Trans media story telling, the idea that you can tell the same story across different mediums like television and books at the same time, is an idea that starting to catch on.  It’s something that I’m very interested in studying and with the advent of the internet and our deeply connected society it’s becoming more and more realistic every day.  Normally I’d be against putting something this broad and this ambitious up on Kickstarter but credit where credit is due they’ve put up quite a bit of material on their page already so I get the feeling that when they say they’re building a comic


an animated movie

a video game

and a tabletop RPG


they can pull it off.  Also, while describing a story or set of characters in broad strokes doesn’t help potential backer understand the world you’re trying to create, it is sometimes necessary when you’re trying to build something on this scale.

Another thing I like about the project is the sheer amount of talent attached to it.  One of the biggest risks in giving your hard earned money to a stranger is that the stranger will simply turn around, take your money, and leave you high and dry with nothing to show for it.  However, I don’t think that will happen here as almost everyone attached to this story has also led successful Kickstarter campaigns themselves.




These guys mean business and I get the feeling that whatever they create will not only epic and awesome, but be a fun and productive exercise in translating an idea into a world that doesn’t just come alive in a comic but in a movie and game as well.

Why you should donate:

These kinds of projects are going to be the future.  Not long from now we’re going to see everyone trying to turn their stories and characters into ideas that won’t just be comfortable in one particular medium, but will reach out and grab our attention in all sorts of new and interesting ways.  So if you want to be on the cutting edge of entertainment and make sure the future is run by dedicated and creative companies with good ideas and wonderful storytellers, donate today.

Campaign link:

Golden Age Showcase #3: Miss Victory

Quickly, without thinking name the first patriotic superhero.  This is what you were thinking right?


Yes if the Golden Age of superheroes is known for one thing it’s the fact that most of it took place during a little world event known as World War 2.  America’s superheroes rose the occasion and so many of them took on Hitler and the other Axis powers that if they had all been real then we would have won the war in no time.


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But believe it or not there was another patriotic hero, one who wasn’t afraid to buck tradition or assumed gender roles that the 1940’s had placed on American culture, one who used her incredible strength and invulnerability to not only help America beat back the Axis powers but to open a unholy beat down on American officials who she deemed corrupt and incapable of doing their jobs: Miss Victory.


Origin and career:

Miss Victory debuted as a side story in Captain Fearless #1 in August, 1941.  In keeping with wartime comic tradition it shows someone beating Nazis to pulp.


It should be noted that she predates Wonder Woman by about four months making her one of the first super heroines in comics, although not the first.   In terms of origin Miss Victory doesn’t have one, she just appears in the comic and it is simply assumed she has super strength and invulnerability (hey, it was a simpler time back than).


Her real name was Joan Wayne, a stenographer (fancy word for someone who writes down conversations) working for the government.  However, instead of simply contenting herself with beating back Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo she decided that it wasn’t enough and turned her attention towards corrupt and deceitful American politicians and law makers (corruption and lies in American government? THAT’S never a problem)  and holy hell was she dedicated to her work.




Yes Miss Victory wasn’t just a Nazi hunter, she was also a champion of social justice.  As a quick side note, social commentary is another thing that the Golden Age of superheroes was known for.  Superman’s first appearance had him save a man from Death Row, stop a wife beater, and tackle political corruption, it’s just that it quickly took a back seat to Nazi punching.

So what happened?

Miss Victory continued to star in her own short stories in the back of Captain Fearless comics until the comic was discontinued in 1946.  Post war America had little use for patriotic themed heroes and her publisher, Helnit Publishing, had been bought by Holyoke Publishing (it should be noted that Holyoke was no shrinking violet publishing house.  They are responsible for the creation of the Blue Beetle and one of their original artists, Carmine Infantino, was instrumental in creating the modern day Flash) and she was cut to save money.

However, Miss Victory had a much longer career than most of the Golden Age gems we’ve talked about and she would eventually have something even rarer: a resurrection.

In 1984 writer Bill Black and artist Mark Heike resurrected Miss Victory and gave her a new team, the Femforce, which was one of the first all female superhero groups ever created.  The comic was published by AC comics, a company that was founded in 1969 and made a name for itself bringing Golden Age superheroes into the modern era.  Her look was updated.

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and she was given a back story.  In this version she was still alive for WW2 but secretly developed a serum called V-47 to help boost the strength and endurance of American troops.  Sadly, it only worked for her but thanks to the serum she now had super strength, invulnerability, and radically slowed aging which explains why someone who is over 70 years old can look like that.

Now you may be wondering where this particular title went.  The answer is that it’s still going.  AC Comics is still around and you can actually purchase recent Femforce comics on their website.  It just goes to show that when you have a staunch defender of liberty and freedom like Miss Victory it’s almost impossible to make it go away.

The Primordial Soup: July 4th, Captain America, and Modern Myth

Ah the 4th of July.  A time for Americans all over the world to stuff our faces with more food than even we’re used to,


Terrify our pets and small children with big loud explosions in the sky,

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and if we have time, remember our country’s foundation and the crowd of old white men that got together and hammer out the rules and laws Americans live by today.


One thing that has really struck me looking back at the history of America is our fascination with symbols and myth, especially with the classics.  Granted, this is nothing new.  Every part of the world has a part of their history that they fondly remember but I like to think America is a bit different and a bit more obsessed with it than the rest of the world.  After all, what other country has a massive statue of the Roman God Libertas, the classical personification of freedom from tyranny, and displays it so proudly?

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Author’s note: yes I am aware the statue was a gift from France.

It’s fair to say that Americans, especially out founding fathers, loved to build statues based off of classical ideals and abstract figures.  It’s also fair to say that this fascination has changed a bit.  Instead of building monuments to the ancient goddess of victory like the Dewey Monument in San Francisco


To more corporeal figures like Abraham Lincoln

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To Martin Luther King Jr.


So where have all the representatives of ideas and values gone?  Do we pay attention to symbols anymore?  The answer is yes, we still have representative figures of these values and they are found in our comic books, specifically our comic book heroes.

It’s no small secret that pop culture is in love with super heroes at the moment and a truly great hero can become immortal in our hearts and minds.  In my opinion the best heroes fall into two categories.  They are either the weird and crazy ones that you can help but admire.


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Or the more serious ones succeed because they are representations of ideas that are much bigger than themselves or anyone one person.  Comic books are stuffed to the gills with the personifications of justice,


human curiosity and scientific advancement,

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and our hope for peaceful existence and a desire to live a society that can accept us for who we are.


This all started, as almost every comic book trope started, with the big blue boy scout himself the physical manifestation of the American dream who tirelessly fought for the principals of “Truth, Justice, and the American way”.


There have been entire books and websites dedicated to the meaning and symbolism of Superman, the creation of two first generation Jewish Americans who wanted to build something that would symbolize the hopes and dreams of the wave of immigrants coming into America, but one thing is clear, the years have not been very kind to the original message.  Today Superman is written more as a Christ figure and writers tend to play more to his alien heritage than his original meaning and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.


However, that means that there must be another hero to take his place, someone who can symbolize what America can stand for and if you read the title, or have even the most cursory knowledge of comics or comic book movies, you know who it is.


The symbolism of Cap is pretty obvious, so obvious that even a 4 year old can figure out his meaning.  To quote Bob Chipman, a Boston based internet movie critic who is a favorite of mine, “If you pointed out to him [Captain America] that he’s kind of corny, he’d respectfully ask that you not refer to a storied American produce like corn in the pejorative sense.” (this is taken from his review of the first Captain America movie) and that is completely true.  Captain America is everything now that Superman was fifty years ago.

But here’s the thing, it’s not just Cap’s uniform and shield that make him the personification of American ideals, it’s his actions as well.  Whenever America did something morally questionable or outright evil, Captain America was there to voice his displeasure.  One of the biggest instances of this was in 1974 when it was discovered that the President, looking suspiciously close to Richard Nixon, turned out to be a terrorist in disguise.  Captain America proceeded to abandon his costume and start fighting crime as the hero Nomad.


But one of the best, and my personal favorite, example was with the 2006 story line Civil War.


Now to many comic fans this may seem like a polarizing choice and I’ll admit that Civil War has produced some things that quite a few people don’t like.


But it’s the main storyline, where the superheroes are divided between those who see government registration as a safe and secure way to train and use their powers to help more people and those who view becoming glorified government employees as a threat to their personal liberties, that I really like.  While Iron Man, the ever practical business man and futurist, sides with and lead the pro registration side it is Captain America who goes against the will of his government and many of his friends to say “this is wrong and I need to fight it”.


Captain America is the unironic personification of all the good America the country has done and the model character for all the good and upright things America is capable of doing.  So this July 4th enjoy your food, enjoy the fireworks, and remember that myths and heroic representations of all the good things we can be is still around and still going strong.

Oh, and for all the non Americans who read this article, thank you for putting up with this one day where we’re louder and brasher than usual.

Cambrian Comic’s Friday Showcase: “It Couldn’t Have Been the Pay: A Life of Teaching and Learning Public Schools” by Irving Rothstein

Today we begin another blog series that I find incredibly exciting.  Part of Cambrian Comic’s mission is to explore and share a wide variety of ideas, stories, and points of view.  Starting today, every Friday will be a time to share and explore something that someone else has made.  It could be a comic, a film, or in this case an excerpt from a book.  

For our inaugural post we are pleased to present an excerpt from 

It Couldn’t have been the Pay: A Life of Teaching and Learning in Public Schools

a memoir by Irving Rothstein.  It’s a strange and funny little story about a professor teaching a science fiction writing class and learning about a strange local legend in the city of San Francisco.  The way I see it, this story is proof that the core of the science fiction genre isn’t rooted in grim and gritty visions of the future but rather a strange and almost playful fascination with the weird and impossible.  But enough from me, sit back, relax, and enjoy this excerpt from a wonderful book.

Anachronisms, Epiphanies and Aliens 

“Strange is only what you don’t understand.”

– Kenny Miller, Old Friend

In 1998 El Niño is kicking up a fuss in the Pacific and California is being inundated. The city approves an 80-foot Coca Cola bottle in the Giant’s new ballpark and state officials are investigating whether or not Kaiser Permanente’s refusal to cover the cost of Viagra violates a state law. The human genome project is in full gear and the kids are all walking around with cell phones. No one is ever out of touch.

To the English teachers at Lowell, Science Fiction and Fantasy—as I teach it—is a non-academic course, but it is a great take-off platform for connecting disciplines. Time machines allow us to travel back and forth in time to explore how the past influenced the present. We explore ecology and human values through stories about robots, androids, cloning and other forms of human engineering. We deal with value systems as we examine possible, probable and preferable worlds. We discuss and debate economic systems and above all the necessity to change as futuristic technology creates an ever-changing world both in fiction and in fact. The UFOs, space aliens and the various characters around San Francisco make it real.

It is May when a book by Robert Heinlein, Stranger in A Strange Land, prompts Anthony to kick off a story. Anthony is a slender Latino surfer dude. “Space aliens? I see one all the time. This dude

wrapped in aluminum foil is always hanging out on the beach where we surf.” Anthony pauses and hums the theme of Twilight Zone.

Tanya, a blonde Russian immigrant who makes her own clothes and looks like a model in Vogue, chimes in. “I see him near the end of California Street. He wears an aluminum suit and a weird aluminum helmet with an antenna.”

Their anecdotes make me curious. I ask, “Is there any relation between him and that house out there with aluminum foil on the windows? I pass that house on my way out here.”

Fong, a self-confessed video game nut perks right up. “I’ve never seen the house but I’ve seen that dingy dude. He’s tall and thin with a white beard and tanned face. He’s got those light blue eyes, kinda like those white Husky dogs. He looks like Gandalf the Gray, a wizard in an aluminum suit.”

Anthony says, “He’d scare the sh—uh, the stuff outa’ you if he didn’t have that smile.”

Tanya laughs and adds, “He’s really got a great smile and walks quickly for an old man. Do you really think he lives in that house?”

I’m really curious now. I say, “I really don’t know this guy you’re talking about. Fill me in some more.”

Anthony responds immediately. “We call him Aluminum Man, and he hangs down at the beach. One time he even came in to surf with us, but he never took off that aluminum helmet. He’s hella good on the board.”

“Did he tell you why he wears the helmet?” I ask.

Tanya laughs. “He’s an alien! The helmet shields him from space rays and messages that tell him what to do. Like that funny guy on Third Rock from the Sun.

Fong picks up on the description. Aluminum man tells people he was born here, the son of a space

alien father and an earth mother. He says his father went back to a planet on some distant galaxy, I forget the name he gives it, and left him here to soak up earth culture. He says his pop is trying to reach him and beam him up to his planet but he doesn’t want to go. The helmet protects him from the beam ray.

The discussion goes on and on. Is there intelligent life on other worlds? What would they be like? Are there people with ESP? Would creatures on alien worlds look human, and could they make babies with humans?

A cell phone rings and Tanya is apologetic. “I’m sorry you guys. I forgot to turn it off.” Her face is red as she fumbles for the phone and the buzzer.

Hamid, an East Indian born in Guatemala, riffs away. “Maybe he’s related to the same aliens that invented the cell phone and planted it on earth. They can monitor our conversations and learn all about us.”

Hamid stops and wiggles his little finger. “He’d be redundant, an anachronism. Who would need a human spy if you had technology? He’s probably afraid they’ll terminate him.”

Sylvia, who is from Mexico, loses no opportunity to tease her friend Tanya. “I hope they don’t monitor Tanya when she calls me. They’ll think that all we think about are clothes and guys.”

Everybody laughs, including Tanya, at the period buzzer. To be continued tomorrow.

For me this story doesn’t end at the bell.

It is about four o’clock after school as I drive along Great Highway at Ocean Beach. The day is beautiful. The wind is blowing and the sun makes reflecting beacons as it bounces off the waves.

I think about how my wife won’t be home until seven as my car climbs up Geary Boulevard. Suddenly I get the urge to pull into the parking lot just below Sutro Park. Don’t ask me why. It is one of

those impulses. It’s as if I’m supposed to do it.

I park and climb out of my old, dented Subaru and hike across the boulevard. Between the Cliff House and Louie’s Restaurant there’s a rutty asphalt path leading down a steep hill between some manzanita trees and baby pines to where the Sutro Baths used to be. I’m thinking about the day’s discussion, space aliens, UFOs and aluminum foil when suddenly a friendly voice slips into my reverie.

“Nice day isn’t it?”

I must be dreaming. The guy walking beside me has pale blue eyes and is covered from head to foot in shiny aluminum foil. He is tall, slender, tanned, with a white beard, about my age and wearing an aluminum foil jacket, pants and helmet. The helmet has two antennae coming out above his eyebrows. The kids described him and his rap to a T.

I flash him a friendly smile and he falls into stride with me as if we are old buddies. We talk about the weather, the water, the 49ers and the history of the Sutro Baths. He tells me how the aluminum keeps out the tractor rays from his space alien father who planted him in his earth mother’s womb.

In minutes we are sitting on the wall staring out at the Pacific and he’s confiding to me he’s going to stay right here on earth. He can do more good here than on his father’s planet because here he just feels more comfortable. It is about five now and the sun is hanging lower on the horizon. I see a freighter riding low in the water as it approaches the entrance to the bay and wonder where it’s been and what stuff it’s bringing.

“Besides,” he smiles, “I love to surf and there are no waves on my father’s planet.” Then, as if on cue, the wind picks up and whips the tops of the waves into white-capped riders that spin themselves up against the shore and explode into light spraying on the jagged rocks and over the both of us.

There is the sudden sound of laughter behind us and he and I spin around to see three kids chasing

after a rubber ball across the broken cement where in the 50s people still warmed themselves at the baths. Thirty or 40 yards behind them a man and woman come into view. They are two walking as one in a loving embrace. They stare tenderly into one another’s eyes and glide toward the wall where we are sitting. The woman is slender and tall, wearing jeans and a red sweatshirt. The man is a few inches taller than she is, his hair neatly combed and lacquered into place

Abruptly the man reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a cell phone. He flips it open and begins talking to an unseen somebody. The girl tenses in his arms. Her jaw tightens as she reaches up and yanks the phone from his hand and runs purposely to the wall and, like a quarterback in the last seconds of a close game, spirals the phone up and over the rocks. The phone hits the water and surfs to the break of a small wave and sinks.

Time stops. The man looks back at her in surprise and anger. I’m thinking, Better do the right thing buddy. Your whole romance is riding on this one.

He breaks into a laugh. He shouts against the wind, “I’m sorry.” He really looks contrite as he opens his arms and walks toward her. I think they’ve been through this one before. She meets him halfway and they hug and kiss. The scene is sweet and schmaltzy.

I turn to my left and the Aluminum Man is gone. I look around the whole area but he’s nowhere to be seen. As I hike back up the hill toward the street I keep looking back. Wow, that was strange, I think as I drive home past the house with aluminum foil on the windows.

The next day at school I tell the kids about my adventure. They don’t seem too surprised. Anthony tells me, “That’s just where he usually hangs out.”

Hamid laughs and goes theatrical. “I told you. It was the cell phone. He had an epiphany when he saw it in the air. He ripped off the suit thinking they don’t need him anymore and then they beamed him


The class breaks into laughter. We get a great deal of smileage out of the story as we discuss epiphanies, anachronisms and aliens, the space kind.

Irving Rothstein began his teaching career in 1963 and taught mainly in the San Francisco Public School District until he retired in 2002. This excerpt is from his memoir, It Couldn’t Have Been the Pay: A Life of Teaching and Learning in Public Schools, published by Rocín in 2015. His writing has appeared in Tai Chi Magazine and the anthology Why I Teach. He is a lifelong member of the California Federation of Teachers. He still teaches Tai Chi and is an active member in San Francisco’s Jewish Community.

Crowd funded comics that deserve more attention #2: Devi and Modern Myths

Today, for our second post talking about crowdfunded comics that deserve more attention we are going to talk about a company that is bringing the massive, complex, and epic mythology of the Indian subcontinent to comic books and in order to help they have launched a Patreon campaign to bring one of their creations to life.

Link to the campaign:

What is it?

The company running the Patreon campaign is called Graphic India.  It is a new company dedicated to bringing the history and mythology of India into the mainstream.  To that end they are already well into production of a web series called “18 Days”, a retelling of the great epic the Mahabharata and it is written by none other than Grant Morrison (for those who don’t know Grant Morrison one of the best comic book writers alive today), you can find out about that here.

The Patreon campaign is for Graphic India’s second major undertaking, a weekly motion comic web series called Devi.  Written by film director Shekhar Kapur the story follows the adventures of Devi, a mystical avatar of the Hindu gods as she does battle with an evil demon named Lord Bala.  Devi is set in a futuristic Indian city called Sitapur and looks like this.


Aside from looking like she can rip any opponent the shreds the story itself looks incredibly promising.  Sitapur is a futuristic Asian city filled with high buildings, low morals, and a blend of magic and technology that creates something new and different.  Also, the trailer is awesome.

Why I like it:

Besides looking amazing and promising a story with the kind of blood and violence I like Devi, and Graphic India’s other projects, is bringing new ideas and new traditions to comic books that make all kinds of excited.

A little bit of history, comic books are known for adapting and reworking existing mythologies and stories into the present day.  Greek and Roman mythology was especially popular in the early days of comic books and DC is known primarily for utilizing it for some of it’s biggest stars.

While Marvel turned to Norse mythology for its mythical heroes and created this guy.

It seems to me that Graphic India is looking to give Indian mythology the same treatment, and when you have stories of monkey kings


Multi headed demons being defeated by mythical arrows.


And humans of immense strength battling giants with fallen trees.


You have the makings of an amazing comic book universe with plenty of amazing and epic stories.

Why you should donate:

Devi is currently being developed as a weekly motion comic series and they’re already six episodes in.  The Patreon campaign was launched to help with the cost of creating the videos and you can contribute on a per creation basis, meaning you pledge for each video produced.  So if you want to expand your horizons with an epic story, awesome characters, and usher in a new mythology into the pantheon of comic book myth, consider donating today.


Campaign link: