I was fortunate to chat with Rudra Purkayastha about his new graphic novel, Flirting With Death. This comic is an anthology of seven vignettes which explore the notion of death in thoughtful and intimate ways. It’s something outside the norm but all the better for it with its visually stunning images and lyrical storytelling.
Death is a big topic and Purkayastha was more than willing to talk about his inspiration for the comic and the large creative ideas he brought to each story.
A Place To Hang Your Cape: Flirting With Death is very unique and unlike many comics. Where did the inspiration to do this come from?
Rudra Purkayastha: I met a girl in a bar and decided to write a short story based on that brief encounter and the conversation we had. I liked the simplicity of just a guy and a girl flirting. It then occurred to me that it would be more interesting if the guy turned out to be Death. That in turns made me want to explore the character and concept of death in more detail. I kept connecting dots until eventually we ended up with Flirting with Death.
AP2HYC: The comic has a poetic, lyrical quality to it. Did music affect your writing process at all?
Purkayastha: As you know, Flirting with Death is a series of interconnected stories. The first of these stories that I wrote is Cosmic Fish, about a little fish that keeps growing and growing to cosmic proportions. For some reason I decided to write it as a short film first and then adapt it to a comic. The film script was set to the music of the ballet piece ‘The Nutcracker’.
Now there’s no music in a comic or graphic novel. So when it came to adapting the film script, the challenge was figuring out how to convey the emotions the music evokes through a combination of words and the visuals. That set the tone for the rest of the stories in the book.
AP2HYC: The stories are very much driven by imagery, sometimes abstract. What was it like working with Lyndon White and Paulina Vassileva and fully realizing this?
Purkayastha: I have worked with both Lyndon and Paulina on a number of projects. Besides being amazing artists, they both have an excellent sense of visual storytelling. I try to tailor the scripts to their specific strengths and to describe each panel with enough clarity and precision to enable them to visualise it in their mind’s eye. They then translate the panel descriptions into the imagery on the page whilst adding their own individuality and personality to it. With the right collaboration, you always hope that the final result is more than the sum total of each creator’s individual parts. And I can happily say that that has been my experience with Lyndon and Paulina thus far.
AP2HYC: Are there any comics or books or movies or anything out you’re currently enjoying?
Purkayastha: I have recently been watching a Netflix show called Sense8. I can’t say for certain that everyone who watches Sense8 will love it. But I can definitely say that this is THE most creative and boundary pushing show I have ever seen. More than The Wire, more than Breaking Bad and more than Game of Thrones.
I’ve also been having a bit of an Alan Moore readathon lately. I am currently on Promethea, which is simultaneously exasperating and amazing.
AP2HYC: The character Death is ordinary, passive, and slightly optimistic. He’s not dramatic like some interpretations. What lead to this idea?
Purkayastha: My thinking was that having the personification of Death be relatable and ordinary would be more interesting than having him be otherworldly or dramatic. As for optimistic, science tells us that the molecules and atoms in our bodies don’t get destroyed, they simply change form through the circle of life. Death gets to oversee the beauty of this transformation. I imagine this would make him optimistic. Also, he doesn’t need to actively chase anyone as all things come to him in time. That ought to make him grounded and laid back.
AP2HYC: The stories range from being greatly fantastical to deeply personal. Was there any challenge in changing tone or execution?
Purkayastha: Tone and execution represents the craft side of writing, which generally tends take care of itself. The more difficult part was finding an emotional anchor in each story that makes it personal and meaningful. That can be a tad challenging when the protagonist in each story is so different from the other.
AP2HYC: While death is a big, sometimes difficult subject, the comic never becomes preachy. Was there any concern in tackling the issue and how it would be interpreted?
Purkayastha: I was quite concerned about writing the suicide story in particular. It is a serious matter and one that I have no real personal experience with. But ultimately I said to myself that if I was honest and open minded in trying to understand how someone might get to that stage where they want to end their life, then that should be enough to tell the story with sincerity.
AP2HYC: Lastly, what’s the next project you’re working on?
Purkayastha: Since I have already written about death, I figured it was time to tackle something at the other end of the spectrum of life: Sex. I am currently working with Paulina on a graphic novel, an existential sex-comedy about a young man who is about to lose the ability to have sex in a years’ time and has to accomplish all the sexual pursuits of a lifetime in the year he has left. It’s called Man-oh-pause.
I’m completely sold just hearing the title Man-oh-pause. Many thanks to Rudra Purkayastha for giving us his time!
Have you had a chance to read Flirting With Death? Sound off in the comments or on Twitter!