Katha to Comics: The Evolution of Visual Storytelling in India

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Arpita Das, Jahanvi Prasada, Jason Quinn, Pankaj Thapa and Reena Puri, moderated by Philip A. Lutgendorf

Durbar Hall, Hotel Diggi Palace

 

Rahul Nair, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger

 

Cartooning, comic books and lately, graphic novels have acquired a strong following worldwide, owing to the stimulating manner in which they tell stories. A finely balanced mix of words and imagery has led to the manifestation of this style in a number of forms like manga, comic strips, web comics, and comic albums. The ‘Katha to Comics’ session under Jaipur BookMark (JBM) saw a number of Indian pioneers of this art coming together to discuss their journeys and their thoughts about the comic culture in India.

It was only natural that Reena Puri, Executive Editor of publishing house Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) began the session, given the ACK is celebrating five decades of existence this year. She gracefully took the listeners on a journey of those five decades, from the initial hiccups faced by her uncle (founder of ACK) to the transition from manual to digital art, and the rising trend of the portrayal of gods as ‘superheroes bearing six packs.’

Very few people would recognize Pankaj Thapa by face, but no one can have missed his ‘iPhone, iPad, iPod…iPaid’ cartoon featuring a helpless middle aged Indian man troubled by his family’s splurging on technology. Thapa joked the ad made him ‘world famous in Sikkim’. He described modern technology-laced society as ‘physically together but disconnected,’ and this detachment is evident in the graphic novel illustrations he shared with the audience.

Given that M.K. Gandhi is considered the father of India, it’s rather surprising that there is to date only one digital portal dedicated to him. ‘Ten years ago, I stumbled onto My Experiments with Truth (Gandhi’s autobiography) and when I started, I couldn’t stop,’ said Jahanvi Prasada. She observed that despite the layers of reverence Gandhi is generally placed inside of, there is a human being like all of us, and it is that story that led her to write Youth for Gandhi.

Arpita Das’s Yoda Press is one very few publishing houses in India that deal with non-fiction content revolving around sexuality, popular visual culture, and dissent. She humorously recalled an incident when a young woman told Das that she was buying her graphic novel on male chauvinism in India called Little Book on Men, because ‘she wanted her fiancée to read it.’ Das is also the brains behind the maiden graphic novel on partition to be published in India. This Side, That Side saw over 40 artists from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh coming together to recreate the seminal event that changed the course of all these countries.

Jason Quinn is an editor and a writer who has worked on Spiderman and Barbie. His obsession with Indian mythology resulted in him writing The Kaurava Empire, a science fiction series inspired by the Indian epic Mahabharata. ‘At a book fair, I picked up a book which was about Sita. It had fantastic images: guys with many heads, and heads getting cut off,’ remarked Quinn, describing the vivid inspiration that Indian mythology filled him with.

Though a question regarding the representation of human anatomy in comics led to the temperature in the room rising a little, the discussion quickly moved on to education through comics, which all of the writers agreed has huge potential, as the combination of imagery and text can help people learn more easily. India is a storehouse of content and talent, and the graphic medium is perfectly placed to represent and transmit that content. This fascinating session provided deep insight into this potential, and the people who are making it happen.

 

Photo Credit: Rajendra Kapoor

 

 

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