Virgin Comics, an international joint venture financed by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Books Ltd. and including bestselling self-help author Deepak Chopra that was first announced in January, is firming up its publishing plans, which include a graphic novelization of Buddha's life by Chopra. The venture is headed by Gotham Chopra, Deepak's son, and Gotham Entertainment CEO Sharad Devarajan and grew out of their earlier development of an Indian version of Spider-Man, which they launched in 2004. Virgin Comics will be based in New York City, while Gotham Entertainment is headquartered in Bangalore, India.

Gotham and Devarajan decided to launch the venture after the success of various Marvel titles they licensed in India. Virgin Comics will introduce new propertiesit hopes will mix classic Indian mythology and spiritual themes with contemporary comics imagery.

Virgin will produce three lines: the Shakti line, for traditional Indian themes; the Director's Cut line, for properties by such entertainment figures as director John Woo; and the creator-driven Maverick line.

Shakti launches this summer with four periodical titles, which will eventually be collected into paperbacks. Gotham Chopra will write The Sadhu, a historical tale of the raj. Film director Shekhar Kapur (Bandit Queen, The Four Feathers) has created Devi, the story of a young woman with mystical powers trying to clean up a corrupt city. Zeb Wells was announced as the writer of Snake Woman, another title developed by Kapur. The fourth Shakti title, Ramayan Reborn, is an epic fantasy about the warrior Rama.

The art for the books will be produced mainly by artists at a studio in Bangalore, many of them originally street artists and temple painters.

Seymour Miles, formerly of Wizard Entertainment, has joined as senior v-p, sales and publishing; former Marvel editor Mackenzie Cadenhead has joined the company as senior editor.

The books will be sold throughout India, as well as being distributed in the U.S. through the comics shop channel. Although India does not have a tradition of comics publishing, according to Gotham Chopra, a growing system of mom-and-pop stores that cater to India's enormous youth market is springing up and will provide a suitable retail outlet.

Chopra and Devarajan hope the comics themes of spirituality and adventure will find a worldwide audience.

"Eastern philosophy has been having a growing influence in America" says Gotham Chopra. "We want to deal in universal themes."