KALI-YUGA: An Interview with Graphic Novelist Benton Rooks

I digitally “sat down” on my flight from LA to interview Benton Rooks, an old friend and author of the exciting new indie graphic novel, KALI-YUGA:
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“KALI-YUGA is an epic dark fantasy/sci-fi graphic novel trilogy concerning the fate of the heroic, time traveling wizard named Abaraiis, who is born as a 500 year old man.”

As the name suggests, Benton’s artistic directions implicitly explore esoteric and mythological dimensions of our time. I wanted to hear more about how these ideas played into the creation of KALI-YUGA.

Here is our conversation.

Note! My readers should also see Benton’s Kickstarter campaign for KALI-YUGA. If the spirit so moves you, consider donating a little something to support this fantastic indie art project:

KALI-YUGA: Issue 1

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JJ: How do you situate yourself, as an artist, in a hyper-mediated, rampantly technologized time? From the looks of it, KALI-YUGA explores both mythology and some epic-sized science fiction.

Fantasy and sci-fi have always played a major role in my life, but I am also a student of the evolution of consciousness, technology, religion, myth and magic. KALI-YUGA is an attempt to synthesize these two passions – to find a balance between the creative wizard and the scholar archetypes that are rooted deeply inside of me.

I think that the new media of digital comics offers very exciting possibilities for creative artists that do not adhere to the rules of corporations. Like many others I see the innovations in digital distribution, the 21st century economy (as discussed in my interview with Charles Eisenstein) and creator owned indie comics as the future of the comic book medium.

JJ: Second part of that question. Why KALI-YUGA? How did this story come about in your imagination? Why now, and what message – if only one – is your story trying to tell us?

KALI-YUGA was born when I was at the School of Visual Arts in New York City studying film and making these kind of strange, german expressionist inspired short films. I’ve always been attracted to dark/surreal/mind bending stuff in art, because I believe that stuff has the most freedom in some ways for anything to happen. It seems unpredictable.

I began to be frustrated with the financial limits of filmmaking and started to look more towards comic as a way of doing the dark psychedelic visual stuff but with less budgetary concerns. I then left SVA to study the history of religion, myth, magic and consciousness at Goddard College in Vermont, where I completed a proposal for this graphic novel as my Bachelor’s thesis.

During this time the scholars Francis X. Charet, John David Ebert and Charles Upton pretty much advised me and answered all of my nagging questions about how storytelling/mythology relates to metaphysics and spirituality.

I think the book has less of a message and instead asks the reader a question, which is, what is the role of the supernatural in our 21st century lives? How do we make sense of magic, yoga, and all of the occult stuff in the modern world, within the context of concepts like transhumanism? I also wanted to have these larger than life characters that are very personal to me in order to embody these archetypes (in particular the wizard, yogi and scholar) within a trippy, genre hopping, time traveling plot.

JJ: What’s the role of the feminine in your artistic process? I truly support your effort to bring a feminine voice to the comic-book world with Sarah Lopes’ elegant line work. Could you speak to that some more?

There are more women who read comics now. An article I wrote recently for Reality Sandwich called “On the Divine Feminine in Comics and Mythology” explores this subject, but I think that women have been shut out from the comics culture for the same reasons as they were in the past, when they were not allowed to vote. There is a general trend of sexism/misogyny from corporations that have a long patriarchal legacy and tend to look down upon women and are intimidated by intellectual equals in the work force from the opposite sex. You would think by now that trend would have been eradicated from the contemporary world as it is quite old fashioned, but in many parts of the country it is, unfortunately, still very much alive. Sarah and I see each other as creative equals, so gender equality in art is something we feel very passionately about.

Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter really allow artists to create works that do not have to be politically correct, and can, in fact, transcend big business limitations on artistic freedom.

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JJ: Now let’s go into some of the metaphysics here. Are we living in the Kali Yuga? What does that mean for us?

According to India mythology, yes, we are. Kali Yuga translates to iron age in English. It basically means we no longer have telepathic super-human powers as we did in the Golden Age, when there was peace between the human and animal kingdoms. There was also a kind of super advanced psychic link with the Gods that began to break down in the bronze age, that kept us honestly – morally and ethically.

Now that the Gods have sort of departed temporarily, or prefer the shadows, there seems to be a little more chaos in the world, and more moral degeneracy, and humans tend to think they are entirely separated from the metaphysical world, or that it doesn’t exist. But this is a part of a very long cycle, so eventually the Iron Age ends and the Golden Age begins again anew.

JJ: In the age of Kali Yuga, what’s the role of artists and cultural creators, like yourself?

I think that artists should attempt to really experiment and see where the limits of consciousness are. The human body is a kind of laboratory that can allow alchemical shifts of consciousness to reveal the reality and presence of the metaphysical world. These visions should be transferred into the artistic medium to share with others. That way there is a bit more evidence for the supernatural and we can once again prioritize investigating these strange invisible worlds.

I think of it like sharing a map of a foreign contingent with a friend, and saying “look how cool this world of bliss, light, interdimensional beings and supersensory sound is!” but on a global scale.

JJ: What would you like the readers of your graphic novel to come away with?

I would just like them to be able to relate to the characters and enjoy this epic story that begins at the Golden Age and surveys an incredibly vast supersensory history. But I want them to have an especially child like delight, as I do, in all the action, high tech and dark wizardry stuff too, which is really fun to write.

I want atheists and people who may not entirely agree with my views politically/philosophically to really be able to enjoy this epic, mind bending comic, along with the painterly art work from our international team of illustrator Sarah Lopes and colorist Juan Chavarriga. I believe there is a way of satisfying both atheists and people who consider themselves more spiritually minded.

JJ: Finally, perhaps you could share with readers a bit of your inspiration. Who are you reading right now? Who would you recommend, who played a part in the creation of KALI-YUGA? Finally, who are your muses?

I am reading a lot about the Kaballah right now. I’m attempting to see it is a really advanced system to organize nearly every archetypal thought/character/symbol. It is a perfect tool for storytellers. That is really taking up the majority of my time, and is reminding me of how much I loved Alan Moore’s Promethea, because it was kind of my first introduction to all of this stuff.

John David Ebert’s essay on Grand Theft Auto in his book New Media Invasion has recently inspired an essay I am working on called “Skyrim, Norse Myth, and the Astral Plane.” I am also quoting you, Jeremy Johnson, and submitting this soon to Reality Sandwich!

Everything Grant Morrison has done (hence how interdimensional DMT elves figure into the story of KALI-YUGA consequently). Neil Gaiman and the Lovecraft trio – Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith – have also significantly influenced the multiverse of KALI-YUGA.

 

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  • Michael Purdy

    Now this is the “real stuff”: The human body is a kind of laboratory that can allow alchemical shifts of consciousness to reveal the reality and presence of the metaphysical world.
    Let’s experiment.

    • http://www.evolutionarylandscapes.net/ Jeremy Johnson

      Yes Michael, totally agreed here! One of my favorite spiritual scholars, Gloria Anzaldua, wrote that writing is a deeply embodied practice. I’d like to think that it’s also transformative, and therefore in some way, alchemical.

    • http://www.evolutionarylandscapes.net/ Jeremy Johnson

      Oh and thanks for commenting!

    • Benton Rooks

      Thanks Michael. Couldn’t have said it better miself, Jeremy.

  • dirtyfrank

    i propose that we create an ‘institute of creative-consciousness expansion’ where adept psychonauts can travel the interdimensional spaces of spiritual beings in collective experiments of metaphysical travel, bringing back gems of insight from the multiverse and alternative perspectives on the possibilities of human relations and social organization. let’s ride.

    • http://www.evolutionarylandscapes.net/ Jeremy Johnson

      Well that sounds like a trip!

      I think some folks are already trying to create such a modern-day mystery school. But for the time being, it already exists in the “underground,” between and amongst us.

      • dirtyfrank

        one word, guys: kickstarter.

        • Benton Rooks

          How do you mean?

          • dirtyfrank

            see my synopsis below, in reply to guest, benton. use kickstarter or other crowdsourcing to fund an institute rather than an individual project of creative consciousness expansion.

          • Benton Rooks

            Much as the communal idea sounds good, and interesting–the funds for something like that would be considerably more than what I am asking here–which is on the low financial spectrum for a single issue comic. This comic has the potential to make a big social impact, but we can’t do it without everyone working to spread the word as intensely as we are.

    • Benton Rooks

      I like your optimism, dirtyfrank.

  • rachel

    The last question, “Who are you muses?” I was kind of hoping to hear about some being from an inner realm who tells him things and he transcribes them. Maybe I’ve been taking the muse concept too literally.

    • http://www.evolutionarylandscapes.net/ Jeremy Johnson

      You’d be surprised, Rachel! Sometimes we encounter the Muse quite literally. Or should I say “imaginally”? Jung, for instance, encountered his daimonic/Muse in the form of Philemon, a winged sage who occasionally appeared to him in his garden. He wrote about this in the Red Book.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • rachel

        Thanks for making that connection, Jeremy. I think I will start reading the Red Book. In regard to figures in psychology, Jung seems like the fun one:)

        • Benton Rooks

          I second Jeremy’s recommendation. The Red Book is an absolute beauty to behold. It is fashioned like some medieval relic.

    • Benton Rooks

      I would also say that mystery is sometimes fun. :)

  • wrapto

    Love to see this Kickstarter get funded, sounds like it needs to be out there. Great interview, really enjoyed reading! :)

    • http://www.evolutionarylandscapes.net/ Jeremy Johnson

      Thank you so much for your support! Agreed. Love Benton’s work here and I do hope it gets the financial, as well as communal support it will need to launch.

    • Benton Rooks

      Us too, wrapto!

  • Guest

    Thank you for the interest and comments everyone. Rachel, in regards to muses, at the moment I will say they are a mixture of internal and external sources, but to reveal more may ruin the mystery of it all :)

    An institute is an interesting idea, dirtyfrank, I know that Alex Grey does a lot of work in this area already, so I am not sure how it would be different from that.

    Michael and wrapto, I could’t agree more! Share it with your friends! Lets get the word out on this thing!!

    • dirtyfrank

      guest, and all, i was thinking of a community of psychonaut creative researchers, systematically trying different methods (drugs, grof-like breathing techniques, remote viewing, lucid dreaming, etc.) and setting-out on pre-planned courses of journey, with specific targets and questions to be addressed. then coming back and reporting in forms of art, writing, music, discussion, etc. on what was found, what answers to our questions were given, and what implications this has for our lives now. doing this in an intentional community of systematic exploration and reflective feedback, rather than individual random explorations, could help break new ground in the understanding of our place in the multiverse.

  • Iuwus

    this looks really good. i especially like how the art style looks kinda like stained glass.

    • http://www.evolutionarylandscapes.net/ Jeremy Johnson

      Tanks Threedinium! I agree. The combination of line work and coloring is stunning.

      • Iuwus

        yeah the colour work reminds me a bit of this tarot deck i was looking at : http://trep.astrology.com/_tarotImages.cfm?id=90&ut=N, it’s all emphasized for emotional charge. is that something that’s been done purposefully in the comic? it looks like it. i find colour pretty fascinating like that.

        • Benton Rooks

          Yes, colors have specific emotional impact, and also relate to the chakras, in terms of symbolism. I think our colorist from France, Juan Chavarriga, is more from the expressionistic school of color–rather than the ultra realism that you sometimes find in comics. That tarot deck is really cool looking, it almost has a pastel feel to it!

    • Benton Rooks

      Thanks Threedinium, that is quite the compliment. :)

  • Guest

    Thank you Threedinium! That is quite the compliment.

  • Ray

    Congrats Benton! Hope this gets funded! Great interview by Jeremy!

    • Benton Rooks

      Thanks Ray! I really appreciate the encouragement and enthusiasm you have had so far in supporting our work.

  • alternative@heart

    I really vibe with your “message” and I like how you are posing a question to the readers to search within for their answers rather than preaching. For me, thinking about the supernatural in this day and age, brings up a whole cluster-f of questions and concerns. I worry that we are too busy with our “techno-gods” that we don’t stop to consider our mortality, no matter how impending it may be. In the end, with all our our advancements and achievements, do we know the hour of our death? Do we care to ponder the ultimate questions? Maybe we would, if we weren’t eternally distracted with the smorgasbord of pretty, sleek, electricity powered machines merely just skirting transhumanism. Sure, maybe we don’t actually have a robotic arm (yet) but with how plugged into our machines we are, might as well we be? Thanks for prompting me to mull this stuff over. I just recently donated and I’ll do my best to get more people to wake up and support this.

    • Benton Rooks

      Yes, we are in fact transhumanistically communicating at this very moment! As Donna Haraway says, we are already cyborgs. Thank you for this comment and for thinking deeply about this important subject.

  • John David Ebert

    It’s nice to see that some of my work is influencing the current generation of artists, poets and writers. As Heidegger said, the gods have withdrawn into concealment in a destitute time, but Benton is making them visible for us again. Keep up the good work.

    • Benton Rooks

      Thank you John, that is really an amazing compliment coming from a scholar of your stature.

  • Chris Gorrie

    I’m really digging this project’s focus. The idea of transhumanism and a study of various systems of magical practice coinciding within a graphic novel is exciting. I can’t wait to see how this project turns out. The illustration style is really cool, unusual too. Benton, your earlier comment on color – “Yes, colors have specific emotional impact, and also relate to the chakras, in terms of symbolism” – makes great sense to me. All color is symbol, each evokes memories, feelings, even presences. Keep up the amazing work here, Benton!

    • Benton Rooks

      Thanks Chris, I really appreciate that. I too think think the art has a unique charm of its own.

      I think the time traveling aspect of the story allows for a wide philosophical reach on the discussion of so called “pre-history” or the four ages as depicted in Indian, Norse and Judeo-Christian mythological traditions, amongst others.

  • ericacrockett

    This not only looks visually remarkable, but spiritually satiating. Kudos to you for tackling the world of comics with a decidedly metaphysical bent. I sense good things happening for this project!

    • Benton Rooks

      Thank you Erica. Your words of encouragement and support are really inspiring to the whole team. :)

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