after seeing the divisive language on both political sides following November 2016's United States election night, author Brad Meltzer told his son that he should go read the script for his children's book, I Am Gandhi.
It was then that Meltzer realized Mahatma Gandhi's message of working together toward peace was something everyone in the United States needs right now, not just children.
Meltzer, a best-selling novelist, TV personality, and comic book writer, decided to reach out to the comic book community to create a new graphic novel, I Am Gandhi. Because of Meltzer's effort, the book, which is being released this week, is illustrated by some of the industry's top artists and published under Meltzer's imprint at Penguin, Ordinary People Change the World.
All royalties from the book will go to Seeds of Peace, a non-profit organization that cultivates future leaders around the world.
Newsarama talked to Meltzer to find out more about the graphic novel, how the comic book community joined forces for the project, and why he thinks the art speaks for itself.
Newsarama: Brad, the art is so stunning for this graphic novel that I don't know if we even need to talk much for this interview…
Brad Meltzer: Trust me, I realize who the stars are here, and it has nothing to do with me. Right? I mean, look what happens when you go get the best people in comics.
Nrama: We could talk about how inspiring the life of Gandhi is, but I guess that's what reading the book is for. Out of all of the different heroes that you've spotlighted with your children's books, why did Gandhi get the graphic novel treatment?
Meltzer: It's funny, if I were just doing this out of the top of my head and was starting as comic books as the end goal, I probably would have started with Dr. King or Amelia Earhart or Abraham Lincoln or one of the people that we launched with.
I just think it was the timing of where the world is that got us to having it be Gandhi. And this book started for me on election night in 2016 when I was watching the returns come in and watching the country rip itself apart, each side shooting nothing but venom toward the other. And that level of venom was disgusting to me. We'd stopped listening to each other. We were two countries.
And on that night, I told my 16-year-old, you need to read this Gandhi book, because that's what I was working on at the time, the kids version. Chris Eliopoulos hadn't even started drawing it yet, so all I had was the script.
And as he was reading it, I realized, wait…I need this message. He needs this message. We could all use this message right now.
And sometimes you make plans and sometimes you have to listen to the universe. And when it came to what we were going to do as our first comic book, I just listened to the universe.
Nrama: Anyone who's read the children's book, is that the same story you cover but in a more adult tone?
Meltzer: That's exactly what it is. We basically changed the text to reflect it not being for little kids. So we lost some of the explanations and things like that. And I re-broke every page so it would work as a comic book page. So instead of being a one-panel moment, I took those moments that worked together and broke them down into how ever many panels of a page it needed.
So the book is even longer than what the kids book was because we told the story in a different way.
The story and the history obviously remain unchanged, because Gandhi's story is the story, but we got to tell the adult version of it.
Nrama: When you went to these different artists, were they receptive because of the "timing" you mentioned above? Is that how you got so many on board?
Meltzer: It was interesting. You know, there are other books that work out of so-called social causes, but what I wasn't prepared for was the pure passion that each of the artists brought for not just the comic book, but for what Gandhi stood for.
It was like, just, these amazing, resounding "yes" answers.
Also, everything is being donated to charity here. None of the artists are making money. I'm not making a single dollar on it. We've all donated our time.
For an artist, if you're not being paid to draw, you're not making money off this. So I really respected how many people stepped up and said, "Yes, this is where the world needs to be right now."
Nrama: So how did you come up with this list of artists?
Meltzer: I started with the people I worked with before, like Rags Morales from Identity Crisis or Gene Ha, or Phil Jimenez, or Bryan Hitch, who I did Detective Comics with. Those were the obvious ones, because we worked together before.
Every other person in there was on my list of "I want to work with them someday." That went from David Mack on the cover to Bill Sienkiewicz, whom I've wanted to work with since The New Mutants came out, and Elektra and Daredevil and everything else that he's done. And people from Art Adams, whom I admired when I was a kid, to John Cassaday, who for over a decade, we've been plotting and trying to figure out something to do together.
I remember Marco Rudy re-doing his page in the best way, fighting to get it just perfect, and watching Gene Ha try two different styles in the opening of the book and the closing of the book, because he wanted them to have different feels for the sunrise and the sunset.
But I think what struck me more than any one artist was the way the entire comic book community pitched in for this. It looks like, oh, I just picked up the phone and started calling friends, but the friends I actually started calling were Dan DiDio and Brian Bendis, you know, people with access to various artists at DC and Marvel.
I owe Brian Bendis a great deal, because he reached out to all the people he works with, from Michael Gaydos to David Mack, to Alex Maleev, to David Marquez. You know, Brian was just so generous in saying here are my collaborators, and I know that they would love to stand with you doing this.
And I called Tom Brevoort and Ron Marz, who had access to incredible Indian artists that weren't even on my radar.
When those Indian artists came in, watching Abhishek Singh, watching Siddharth Kotian, watching Saumin Patel - watching their art come in, their take was just so incredibly meaningful.
And then we also ended up with people like David LaFuente, and Jim Cheung, and Nate Powell, who did March with John Lewis and got to do our march page.
I think the one thing that I hope people will appreciate is that the comic book community does stand together. There's no competition about it. When comic succeed we all succeed.
Nrama: Well, we did find something to talk about, although it ended up mostly being about the art...
Meltzer: Yeah, one of the things I learned as a novelist when I came to writing comic books is that you have to learn when to shut up and let the art do the work.
It is the number one rule I have when I work in comics: Just keep your mouth shut and let the artists do the work, because they're the stars. And this book was proof of that.