BELGRADE – Expectations that people who originate from Asia would very quickly assume leadership in the world of science, innovation and art have become generally accepted.
Together with them there slowly emerges a stereotype about the superior mental capacities of the numerous inhabitants of the Asian continent. Much as that stereotype, like every other, represents an ungratefully simplified picture of the real situation, Ravé Mehta, a renowned engineer, entrepreneur in the field of new technologies, musical producer and writer, fits into it easily.
Mehta is of Indian origin, but was born in and lives in America. He is the director of a multi-million dollar company and his name is often featured on the lists of important and influential people. However, the media afforded him the most attention two years ago when he published the comic strip The Inventor: Tesla – a story about the life of Nikola Tesla which has found its was to certain schools in the United States, where it is used as a supporting textbook. Mehta has therefore become a great populariser of our scientist, but also an advocate of the introduction of artistic forms of expression into an outdated system of education. In mid-July, Mehta stayed on Mt. Fruška Gora in nortnern Serbia on the occasion of the Tesla Global Forum , where we took advantage of his presence to talk to him about the strip, its application in education, pitfalls in writing, motives to dedicate it to Tesla and the problems which appear in the realisation of various aims.
You entered the world of comics after several years in the world of technology and engineering. Was the transfer to new forms of communication difficult?
Yes and no. As a child, I loved reading comics. There was something in that combination of visual arts and narration which stoked my imagination. Reading a story like Superman inspired me so much that I believed everything was possible. I remember I ran around the house and jumped from bed to bed with a blanket tied around my neck pretending to fly! Many years later, I chanced upon the story of Nikola Tesla while I was working for the Florida Space Agency, and was so inspired that I felt a great responsibility to share Tesla’s life with the world, especially children. However, I had never written a comic strip before, nor did I belong to that branch, so I had no resources or knowledge about the creative process, artists, distribution and the manner in which the comics industry works. Nevertheless, I had a deep-rooted faith tat everything was possible from the moment I was a child reading comics about Superman, so I decided to learn everything about comics, and somehow managed to convince a large number of people to support me and work with me, in spite of the fact that I had never created a comic before. Their support and faith in me paid off, because the Inventor became a best-seller in the category of comics based on real events, and is now use in schools as a new way to stimulate children to read and to learn, while at the same time it inspires education about science.
Science should be Presented to Young People in a Fun Way
The existing education system is in a crisis because it is growing increasingly distant from the young generations. It is your view that comics should be used as a means of conveying knowledge in schools. How can we in such artistic circumstances prevent doing damage to the already hard to capture scientific objectivity?
I believe comics should be introduced as another manner of conveying knowledge and inspiring children to read and learn, but not the only manner. I have spoken in many schools, and I have yet to see a child who gets excited when he or she sees a textbook. On the other hand, I met many children who get excited when they see a comic. I think many more children would be interested in science if it was presented to them in a more fun and attractive manner. What at first sight appears as a boring and complicated subject – biology, chemistry, physics and others, can be brought to life if we use the visual manner of narration to stimulate the imagination of children and show what is possible! Once children get an interest in something, they will research and learn everything they can about the subject because they are motivated. Art and comics have nothing to do with compromising scientific objectivity, but art can create more interest in science. When for example we create computer games, we used just as much time on the artistic aspect as we use on the mechanics of the game and programming, because we know that art sells the game, and then it is the task of the story and mechanics to retain the interest of the user.
It is Necessary to Change and Innovate the Inappropriate System of Conveying Knowledge
Many people were disappointed when they realised that archeology and paleontology were not as much fun as the adventures of Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park. The enthusiasm of schoolchildren with a comic also does not guarantee enthusiasm about science. How after an interesting and multicoloured comic can armies of students be inspired to genuinely delve into complicated theories and formulas, while avoiding a return to the old and inadequate system of conveying knowledge which would annul the just applied creativity?
In your example maybe many people were disappointed, but now many more people are exposed to archeology and paleontology, a considerable number of them deciding to continue involvement in those sciences. For example, if only ten children are interested in archeology in the traditional manner, and we use art to expose 1,000 children to that area, even in 90% are not interested once they learn more, we still have 100 children who will continue to be involved in science, which is ten times as many as we would get by the traditional method. And the remaining 900 have still gained new knowledge, which leads to dialogue and interest in the subject. That is how the Internet functions – the more traffic you produce on your site, the better chance you have to stimulate people to buy something. The real problem is to change and innovate the old and inadequate system of conveying knowledge. The children of today are constantly involved in hyper-visual games, comics, films and applications, so that the traditional manner of teaching and conveying knowledge is no longer competitive in holding their attention. Our curricula should be repackaged to contain more visual stimulation and direct application, with feedback in real time. In my former company we created a programme of training for the military which by presenting data in a more accessible manner with faster feedback and approach to the principles of visual games reduced learning times from three months to three weeks.
Comic about Nikola Tesla: the Inventor
In several comics Tesla was presented in a more fantastic, even more paranormal way than in yours. How much historical data did you have to change or deviate from to ensure a better narrative?
The Inventor is a biographical comic strip about Nikola Tesla so that we generally stuck to the timeframe and events. We were creative between certain important events and in writing dialogues which led from one historical factual point to another, while the art was used to convey the emotions of the story.
You have said on numerous occasions that besides the comic about Nikola Tesla you plan to write strips about other important inventors. Why was it that you began the series with Tesla?
Yes, we are developing stories about other personalities, but that was not the plan when I began writing the comic about Nikola Tesla. In the beginning, I focused on him and his story. During the process which lasted two years I began affording attention to other inventors and scientists who also had incredible ideas and inventions which had an enormous influence on the world. While I was completing the comic on Tesla, I was thinking about how phenomenal it would be to tell the stories of other inspiring figures, which changed the world in spite of the challenges they faced.
In stories about Tesla, Thomas Edison was often portrayed in a negative light, but he is also an important inventor. If some day you create a comic about Edison, how will you reconcile it with the Inventor?
That’s is true. We are already developing a comic about Edison which will begin with his childhood and describe his path to fame, while together with readers he shares a very different approach to ideas, inventions and the world as a whole. In a way, Edison’s story is a prequel of the story about Tesla.
Tesla Wished to Upgrade Humanity
We should point out that Tesla’s achievements have been correctly valued only in the past few decades. On the other hand, revision of his opus, at least in this part of the world, often ran out of control and turned towards unobjectiveness, even pseudo-science. Did you in researching Tesla’s biography run into similar pitfalls?
Yes, there are many exaggerated truths about Tesla, but the main intention remains the same – he had powerful feelings in aspirations to advance humankind and saw meaning in that, and had some fine ideas how to realise that. In spite of this, we did not focus excessively on science, in the sense of what functions and what doesn’t, but instead focused on Tesla’s intimate story about how he managed to overcome physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual obstacles he faced in attempts to transfer his ideas into our world. That is the essence of the story about every entrepreneur, artist or creator.
The realisation of your dream would be a film about the comic you signed. How difficult is it to make the first producers’ steps in that direction?
A major part of the film industry (and life as a whole) concerns timing and preparations, so that we are spending a lot of time in preparations. Making a film is a lengthy and laborious process, especially in the case of blockbusters, and, as we develop the idea, I have made a short animated film for the song I Will Rise of the band Renaissance, which contains visions from the comic.
In your company Mеhtа , the branch Меhta Entertainment has a very important place because it encompasses music, film, comics and computer games – the four most popular artistic means of expression. How do you fight with your more than competitive milieu?
Yes, the milieu is very competitive, but in the creative areas the power of the idea reigns supreme! Fresh ideas always surpass older ones because it is the nature of our field to innovate and create new things which have not yet been seen or experienced. It is easy to get discouraged when you are in a sea of excellent ideas so that the essence lies in trusting oneself, with openness and sensibility for other ideas. Finally, a lot of patience, hard work and perseverance brings our ideas to their goal.
Morale, Creativity and Marketing – Recipe for Success
Do you have any advice for people working in the field of art for the first time?
Yes, I was not a professional in the area of comic strips yet I managed to create a comic which became a best-seller, so that my advice is made up of three parts:
Morale – with patience and perseverance you can achieve anything, so you should continue following yourself and reminding yourself of your original intention, intuition and inspiration which led you to start your business, and also remain steadfast in your desire to complete the project. Furthermore, wherever possible, look for assistance or form a team, so you don’t have to shoulder all the emotions by yourself.
Creativity – look for, research and store photographs, sound and video recordings of every possible example of art, ideas, works and inspirations because your biggest creative resource will be your inventory of ideas from which you can choose in order to create something new.
Marketing – someone once told me that without marketing the most horrible thing happens...NOTHING! This means that you should learn as much as possible about the activity in which you are involved and the network as much as possible so you can get help in connection with marketing. Remember – there is an audience for everything, so that it is very important to develop a marketing plan which does not contain just placement on Facebook, because the most important aspect of the creative act is sending your art out into the world, so people can experience it.
Source: House of Good News