Sally here with work by Indian cartoonists Sarnath Banerjee, and Appupen – plus a few other comics news notes!
A recent Comics Workbook Rowhouse resident – Javed Haque – brought along a copy of Corridor by Sarnath Banerjee to show us. This comic has been loudly touted as India’s first graphic novel – a masterful publicity move, which, although it is untrue, helped get international eyes on the book and brought good attention and energy to the alt-comics scene in India. The River of Stories by Orijit Sen was published in 1994, and is actually the first Indian graphic novel.
Corridor, created by Sarnath Banerjee in 2004, it is set in contemporary Delhi and follows the adventures of 4 characters. At the center of the group is Jehangir Rangoonwala, something of a Socrates wannabe who owns the second hand bookshop where the other characters meet and mingle. Brighu is searching for rare books and maybe an even rarer love. Digital Dutta meanders among his own dreams and ambitions, but makes little progress. Shintu is recently married, and quite caught up in keeping his domestic life spicy.
Written and drawn by Sarnath Banerjee (who grew up in Calcutta and Delhi in the 70’s) the artwork is a mixture of black and white drawings, color work, and collage. Banerjee captures Delhi street life and “the psyche of middle-class India” deftly, and with compassionate humor.
He has gone on to publish 3 more comics – The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers (2007), The Harappa Files (2011), and All Quiet in Vikaspuri (2016).
In a great interview from last year on Guernica Magazine, Sarnath Banerjee talks about how he came to make Corridor. He was more of a documentary film maker, but through a string of small miracles he received a version of the McArthur Genius Award, and suddenly had to produce the graphic novel he had accidentally pitched. He actually went to Orijit Sen (who if you recall made India’s true first graphic novel) in the hope that Sen would draw the stories Banerjee had written. He got encouragement and support, but not an artist. So he drew Corridor himself.
“I started at the deep end. I learned while writing the book. I started drawing all the time after that. Like a maniac. My ex-wife recently told me that when she was cleaning up our house she found trunks—I had forgotten about this—trunks and trunks full of notebooks on which every surface had been drawn. I drew everything. I drew toasters, air conditioners, chairs, people and flowers. I was a maniac. I drew, drew, drew, drew, drew. And that’s how I learned. Purely by doing. In Japan there’s a phrase for it, it’s called aware karada, which basically means learning through your body. You practice something to the point where you don’t think anymore about it. It just comes out. The brain and hand barrier is absolutely taken out. So I think now I don’t think about my drawing at all. It just comes the way it comes. Another thing that was good about working in this entirely new medium—new to India at least—and not getting published was that it makes you learn everything from scratch. Which is why I feel that every graphic novelist from India—Amruta Patil, Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Orijit Sen, Appupen—is phenomenally original.“
I highly recommend reading the rest of this interview. Banerjee is a very thoughtful and interesting person and there is a crash course on Indian comics, film, and other pop culture to be had just by perusing this conversation. Read it HERE.
I’ll be tracking down Banerjee’s other comics asap – and also looking for Orijit Sen’s comic. Sen has been making a ruckus lately with politically charged artwork – a recent article about his work and life can be found HERE.
My research sucked me in and I discovered this comic by Appupen – Dedshort #7: The Ring of the Lord, originally published on Brainded. Appupen wrote: “This classic story has stood the test of time in Halahala. You can clearly see their influence on some popular stories of our world.”
More on Appupen, from his website: “Appupen is a comics creator, visual artist and musician who tells stories from a mythical world called Halahala. Armed with a skewed view of the world and a sarcastic bite, he is a unique voice in Indian comics and comics in general. God recently appeared to him and said he needs to push out his comics more and hence this effort. Please help him.” As per this stated mission, there are tons more comics on his site – check them out HERE.
Other News of Note
- Unaiza Ali Barlas, a 20-year-old Lahore-based cartoonist, has been officially named in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the world’s longest strip. Her strip is 267.38 metres (877 feet) long! More details HERE.
- Tara Betts is interviewed on LA Review of Books – she is the editor of the anthology The Beiging of America: Personal Narratives About Being Mixed Race in the Twenty-First Century (which includes work by Pittsburgh cartoonist Rachel Masilamani) – interview HERE.
Suzy and Cecil – 8-17-2017 – by Sally Ingraham
Joanie and Jordie – 8-17-2017 – by Caleb Orecchio