Storytelling comes first for Vivek Tiwary; the medium comes second. And as a result, he tells stories in different ways in a lot of different media.
Tiwary is a pop culture polymath. He’s worked in the music industry with stars like Bruce Springsteen; he’s the founder of a multi-platform art and music company, and he’s produced multiple Tony award-winning musicals (among them Green Day’s American Idiot) and is currently working on a Broadway production of Alanis Morissette’s album Jagged Little Pill. But there’s still more.
He wrote and produced The Fifth Beatle (Dark Horse), a bestselling graphic biography of pioneering Beatles manager Brian Epstein—his first attempt at comics storytelling—which won two Eisner Awards (Best Painter/Multimedia Artist and Best Reality-Based Work) in 2014. Now he’s developing the same story into a multi-episode television series.
Tiwary is in the midst of writing Asha Ascending, an illustrated YA novel that is being serialized online, and, after acquiring the rights, he's shopping around cartoonist Dave Roman's children’s graphic novel Astronaut Academy, with plans to develop it into either a television or film project.
The key to Tiwary's work is matching the medium to the story. When he started his own music and arts production company, Tiwary Entertainment Group, in 1999, he said, "I gave it that vague name so I could take on whatever project in the entertainment sphere I was interested in."
This platform has enabled Tiwary to move freely between the worlds of music and theater to book publishing and TV production for The Fifth Beatle and now for Astronaut Academy and his YA novel Asha Ascending.
He described Astronaut Academy as "Harry Potter in space: It has the kids training to be heroes in school, school sports, heartbreak, the threat the adults can't handle and the kids have to overcome."
Tiwary had read the Astronaut Academy graphic novel and webcomic before he met Roman while promoting The Fifth Beatle on the convention circuit. Astronaut Academy, he said, resonated with his love of kids' adventure movies such as The Goonies, Time Bandits, and Spy Kids. "As soon as I realized it hadn't been scooped up, I said [to Dave], 'I would love to do this and I would love to do this with you,'" Tiwary said. "I'm one of those producers who wants to work very closely with the creators of the source material… and Dave is a super cool guy with super cool ideas."
After acquiring the rights to Astronaut Academy, Tiwary is keeping his options open. "It could be live action, it could be animated, it could be a TV show, it could be a feature film,” Tiwary said. “If you read the source material, there is a version of this that is really goofy for little kids and a version that could be more mature, for teenagers.”
Tiwary said a “sweet spot” for the property would be a live-action television show in the vein of Harry Potter that would appeal to kids and adults. “But until we sign a deal with a studio or network, we are doing what all smart producers do: We have a strong point of view but we are keeping our options open."
Asha Ascending, he said, is a very different property. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel about a future world in which teens can access the Internet via body implants. "In that world, a coder of Indian origin has to help an irresponsible party boy save his mother's life," Tiwary says. "They are racing against the clock and against mysterious evil factions to unlock the code to immortality." The novel is illustrated by Sara Richard, whose previous credits include the Eisner Award-nominated Kitty and Dino.
Tiwary says he had the story for Asha Ascending in his head for a long time, but he felt it would work best as an illustrated novel, rather than a graphic novel. He chose to serialize it online, posting a chapter every few weeks, with plans to modify the story according to fan feedback. "I still love reading things in hard copy," he said, "but I feel young people are increasingly reading digitally, on devices, and I want to play in that world."
He’s working with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit that works to defend First Amendment rights and the right to read, which will include the first chapter Asha Ascending as part of its Free Comic Book Day comic. When the novel is completed, he plans to sign with a traditional publisher to release a print edition for the book trade.
"To an outsider looking at my career, it would appear there are a lot of big shifts," Tiwary said. "You work for record labels, then shift to Broadway, then graphic novels, starting with a music-related biography, and now you are shifting to YA with Asha Ascending and kid lit with Astronaut Academy. But to me it does feel like it's a continuum: I'm a storyteller going where I see great stories."