Lavanya Karthik: Interviewed by Samit Basu

Lavanya Karthik is the author of the Ninja Nani series. The first two books–Ninja Nani and the Bumbling Burglars and Ninja Nani and the Zapped Zombie Kids–release in October 2017.
She is interviewed by Samit Basu, who writes fantasy and superhero novels, children’s books and graphic novels.

SB: Why ninjas?

LK: Because they are the ultimate in cool! Amazing powers, awesome weapons, unbelievable speed and agility, stealth to boot! What schoolkid doesn’t spend a boring double period of physics imagining she was a stealthy warrior flying over rooftops, felling whole armies of monsters (and the odd school bully), gliding up walls and crawling across ceilings,  facing off in long, draining bouts of combat against evil warlords with names like the Black Scorpion, Invincible Mantis and the Jade Underlord of Divine Destiny!!

You can probably guess, I didn’t learn much physics in school.

SB: This is an illustrated book, a comicbook and a text-as-picture book series. Is this how your brain works? Tell us about the joy about storytelling through different formats, and how you decide how to tell different parts of it.

LK: Does my brain dart back and forth between ideas, yapping incessantly and snapping at things that get in its way–like Pongo the pug? Yes! Yes! Raaargh!

In case you are wondering who Pongo is, wonder no more!

The visuals are a very important part of any narrative for me. After all, a book plays like a movie in your head as you read it; those images, rather than the actual words, are what you often recall of the book years later. I knew I wanted to show, rather than describe, the action sequences between Nani and the villains in each book. I also wanted them to be funny, full of slapstick humour and silliness–drawing these bits of the book as comics seemed the perfect answer. Amazingly, my editors at Duckbill took one look at the manuscript (submitted entirely in text) and said the same thing: ‘Turn the action sequences into comics!’

SB: Tell us about your own nani and her ninja skills if your nani is the inspiration for Ninja Nani. If not, tell us about the people your characters came from.

LK: My nani was a word ninja. She could–and usually, did–fell whole armies of hapless relatives, nosy neighbours and careless hangers-on with her caustic wit. She could also charm the most mundane ingredients into mouthwatering treats, and bind us kids with the magic of her storytelling skills . My mother, a grandmother too, is a lot like her. While Ninja Nani isn’t really based on either of these fantastic women, the character certainly borrows from their spirit, their irreverent attitude to things, their sense of humour. The other characters are all a mishmash of people I know, that we all know–TV-obsessed kids in the playground, eccentric pets and their owners, helicopter parents in the PTA. Pongo, however, is based entirely on me.

SB: Ninja Nani feels like a (now called classic because I am old but these are what I grew up on) 90s cartoon. What were your favourite animation shows growing up? What are the ones you watch now, and what do you think about the shows kids watch nowadays?

LK: I am old enough to remember a sci-fi show called Fireball XL-5 from the days when we had a single black and white DD channel, so there! Think Star Trek with puppets, little violence and absolutely no romance or racial/ species diversity–just a lot of genial jigging about on a space station.

For those who wish to sample Fireball XL5, here is a link:


But other than that space oddity , the anime Jungle Book (with its classic theme song in Hindi by Gulzar) and the odd episode of The Simpsons, animated shows didn’t really blip on my radar until the mid-2000s, when my daughter started watching television.

There was the golden anime trinity that was practically a food group in our daily diet —Ninja Hattori, Doraemon and Shin Chan. I loved As Told by Ginger, and the little-known Japanese import, Chibi Maruko Chan, both light-hearted shows about schoolgirls dealing with real life problems. There was that timeless classic, Spongebob Squarepants, whose kooky characters I still quote the way folks these days quote the Lannisters and the Starks. But the one show I loved enough to want to be a part of, was The Last Air Bender.

I barely watch TV any more, and my daughter, now a teenager, prefers reading manga and manhwa online. But TV hasn’t changed much either–it’s still mostly reruns of the shows the kid and I watched a decade ago. There are a lot more Indian shows too, with superior animation technology, but something tells me it’s shows like Shin Chan and Doraemon–which wonderfully captured the essence of being a kid in a world dominated by grown-ups–that still reign supreme. I’m not one to worry too much about the effect of TV shows on kids–if anything, I am more alarmed by the proliferation of channels with names like ‘Topper’ and ‘Baby TV’.

SB: What is the future of this series? How many books would you like to do, and what is on the to-do list for your protagonists?

LK: The future of Ninja Nani? To paraphrase my old pal, the Jade Underlord: ‘WORLD DOMINATION, ONE SEQUEL AT A TIME, BUWUHAHAHAHAH!’

Seriously, I‘d hate to put a number on it, as I have a long list of progressively bizarre situations I’d like to hurl Nani and Deepu into, and weird characters just waiting for their cues to jump into the Nani-verse and stir it up further. Deepu and his granny are evolving as individuals and as a team; Gadbadnagar is changing as a result of its secret superhero, mysterious creatures–and parallel worlds–lurk in the shadows around us! Anything could happen–and probably will!

To preorder:

Ninja Nani and the Bumbling Burglars:

Ninja Nani and the Zapped Zombie Kids:


Advertisements Share this:
Like this:Like Loading... Related