Content warning: This article contains discussion about mental health which could be triggering.
From his first introduction to comics as a child in Fiji, to director of comic publishing company Rising Sun’s Oceania branch, Aru Singh has spent his entire life reading, writing and creating.
He discusses the series of fortunate and unfortunate events that led to where he is now, the importance of storytelling and why he is fond of comics as an artistic outlet.
Rising Sun’s Oceania branch director Aru Singh first encountered comics at the age of eight in Fiji.
“My friend had these goofy Mickey Mouse comics,” he says. “When we moved to New Zealand in 1981 we lived in Moerewa and my friend, who lived across the street from us, used to get a weekly subscription to 2000 AD featuring Judge Dredd who Kiwi actor, Karl Urban played in Dredd 3D.”
As a young migrant to New Zealand, English was a foreign language to Aru, so comics became a fun and easily accessible way to improve his vocabulary. He continued extra reading lessons throughout his schooling which also inspired him to start writing.
“I remember writing a story about kiwi fruit picking and reading The Never Ending Story. That became my kind of fantasy world while at boarding school in Kaeo, Northland.”
Little did he know that life was about to throw him some serious curve balls which ultimately made his passion and drive for creating even stronger.
After graduating from film school, Aru decided to share his work online under the name Rising Sun Comics. He’d faced some serious health setbacks and reading and writing was something he could do that required minimal physical effort.
“I started Rising Sun Comics by myself because my name is Aruneshwar, which means rising sun. When I came out of film school I started making short films but then I had to go into shift work, so I wasn’t available on Saturday’s for filming. I began thinking, well what can I do instead?”
Aru also received a nasty concussion during an attempt on his life while walking home after a second year film student party. Seven months later he was in a car accident caused by a speeding driver and a previous incident left him with cut tendons in his right hand which meant he could no longer draw.
All he had now was a feature film script and a dream to turn it into something great.
“My script was complete, so not only was it already in my hands, but all the images were there too. I started using illustrator and a mouse. It took me two-and-a-half years to turn a one hour and 25 minute film into a 158 page graphic novel. I put it online and saw it downloaded thousands and thousands of times. That’s where my brand Rising Sun Comics came in. The novel is called The Circle and we are releasing it in 2019.”
In 2012 he discovered quite by accident that there was another company called Rising Sun Comics and they asked him if he wanted to join up.
America-based Rising Sun Comics CEO Hawk Sanders was interested in extending his company to Oceania and knew Aru was passionate about telling stories from a kiwi point of view.
“He was ambitious and driven to put his and the good work of artists out into the community,” Hawk said.
“Sadly Aru steered down some hard roads that we could not follow. He was facing divorce, depression, suicidal thoughts and anger. We were seeing a friend in need yet had no way to help him and slowly he disappeared from the web. I sent several emails, called his phone, called the comic shops he might frequent and pondered a trip to find him. Yet the task seemed to big and expensive for me. Time passed and the domain he had registered was up for sale so we bought it and hoped that when he came back he would see it and get in contact again.”
Meanwhile ACC had decided there was nothing wrong with Aru anymore, and removed all his financial support.
“This sent me into a tailspin as I was still trying to work at my own limited pace and stay motivated mentally,” he said. “I got really depressed because I had all these ideas for things I could do whilst living with chronic pain. An hour on my feet means two hours in bed to recover. I’m always in pain, it’s just working out how to manage it.”
On top of all that Aru was taking a cocktail of pills everyday to cope with nerve damage and the side effects of various different medications which were playing havoc with his mental health.
“When you have too many pills they can react very badly with your brain. People keep giving you things to fix the side effects and in the end I was on about 20 pills just to deal with one thing – nerve damage.”
To cope with this, one night Aru began drinking, which led him to fall, smashing his head on concrete and giving himself a bad concussion.
“I got a ride to my sisters in a taxi and then passed out. I woke up the next day in hospital and I didn’t remember anything.
“Within two months I did it again, but this time on purpose to kill myself, I just wanted an end to all the pain. I thought ‘wow that was easy.’ I’d forgotten about everything. I’d forgotten about my business and my interests. I’d had enough.
“I woke up again in hospital and the nurse came in with a Section Six of the Mental Health Act where they say because you’re a danger to your own health you can either voluntarily go into a mental health unit or they force you in. I decided to go in voluntarily. I was basically locked up for two weeks. Whilst I was in there we tried out all kinds of different medications and it eventually cleared my head.”
After this incident Aru began writing again and putting his work online as well as doing reviews for Comic Addicts – and India-based comic book entertainment blog site.
“I was doing video interviews and written reviews. People were sending me graphic novels and I was learning about the industry and people creating things in New Zealand.”
The next year he decided to open a shop called Comic Trade in Whangarei through Work and Income with the Enterprise Allowance Grant.
“With a store you can create a community,” Aru said. “That community is still alive now, four years later. A store is a place where you can argue and debate about the things you love.
“One thing that was really important to me was making it accessible to everyone. From your 5-year-old kid to your 60-year-old, female and male. Making my store friendly for everyone was the most important thing to me.”
Six months in, another store opened in Whangarei which divided the economy.
“I had to decide whether I should I shut the store down or keep running it,” Aru said. “It was a difficult decision, probably the hardest one I’ve had to make, because it was my dream.”
He decided to close it down rather than go bankrupt and went into a state of depression.
“When I felt mentally unwell, I would just pop a pill until I didn’t feel anything. I stayed at home and would only come out to go to the supermarket and pick up my meds or to visit my sister. I locked myself in my room but all this time I was still writing. My doctor saw I wasn’t getting physically better and suggested changing my meds which cleared my head again. Then suddenly I had a better idea of what I wanted to do.”
Whilst all this was going on, Aru had completely forgotten about creating Rising Sun Comics and joining up with the other company. With a new lease of life, he began putting his work back online. It wasn’t long before he discovered the other Rising Sun company website again, which had continued on without him.
“We had just released the first comic book from that division when we received an email from Aru,” says Hawk. “Our friend was back and stronger than ever. Once he was caught up to speed, he informed us we were thinking too small. He was right as he is most of the time and it was renamed RSC Oceania to include all parts of the pacific.”
There had been a four way division and Aru was still a shareholder so Hawk asked him to be director of the Trans-Tasman branch [now Rising Sun Oceania].
Suddenly, Aru had the opportunity to either take his money and walk, or stay and be a part of a company that could help him realise all his creative dreams.
“So I said why wouldn’t I stay? This is an opportunity for creative people in New Zealand to be on a worldwide stage. Now I’ve got the chance to create comic books handed to me on a platter which we’ve never had before. It feeds into everything creative that I’ve ever wanted to do.
“You can do so many things with comics and you can tell so many stories. There’s no limit,” Aru says.
“Rising Sun Comics is opportunity. I don’t think there’s anything else to it.”
Aru has recently reopened Comic Trade inside The Gamers Guild at 59 Robert Street, Whangarei, New Zealand.
Visit https://comicsrisingsun.wixsite.com/risingsuncomicstt to read more about what Rising Sun Comics is all about.