“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:
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.
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.