Many untold stories have been brought to the fore by illustrators who dared to think beyond the realm of reel-life superheroes. They believe in giving power to the voiceless by using comics to share their stories with the world and design change.
Meet Sharad Sharma who draws as much inspiration from the courage of residents of conflict-riddled north east India who inked their aspirations on paper, as he does from youngsters of Muzaffarpur who changed the landscape of their local governance with their ‘comics campaign’. The founder of World Comics Network (WCN), the global network of the World Comics India (WCI) that comprises activists, students, artists and journalists, is passionate about story-telling.
He uses his artistic bent to train not only the common man, but also NGOs and social workers.WCI has spread the idea of grassroot comics in different parts of the globe through 500 odd workshops. Sharad Sharma etches out his journey for us.
“I believe in telling stories that are our own and not those of superheroes,” says the artist who forayed into the world of comics during his college days in Rajasthan. His first break came in the form of a comic strip that landed him his dream job as political cartoonist in Dainik Nyaya, a regional daily.
He moved on to experimenting with political animation in a news channel, where his adventures in the interiors of north eastern India that brought him face-to-face with a host of development issues turned out to be an eye-opener.
Rooting for the ‘artist next door’
Sharad’s love for visual arts set the stage for the setting up of the WCI. He slowly began spreading the power of illustrations through workshops in different parts of the world. The WCI provided a platform for participants to express their message effectively with basic drawing skills. After all, creating awareness on local issues by tapping the cultural background and sense of humour of the ‘artist living next door’ was the underlying theme. Dwelling on what drove his passion to create illustrations, he says, “Every time participants are asked to come up with ideas for a wall-poster comic, they connect it with a theme close to their heart. It’s incredible. They post it all over the place — from trees to lamp posts — to grab attention.”
Moulding young change makers
Students have realised the power of comics to tackle problems in their local community. Sharad cites the example of school children who mooted a campaign for active participation in the local governance in Muzaffarpur, Bihar in 2008.
“They made comics of the problems they had with the garbage dump outside their school and about a classmate who was being forced into child marriage. They didn’t stop with that, they handed out photocopies to ward members and managed to resolve the issues successfully,” he explains.
Power-packed messages on corporal punishment, girl child rights and female foeticide have gone viral through the workshops hosted by the WCI. “Kids who took part were so proud of their work; they showed it off to others. It helped in opening up a debate,” Sharad says.
A new game plan
Sharad believes that grasping the endless possibilities of illustrations is the need of the hour. He strongly makes a point about their potential in giving a new dimension to lesson planning. “Can you imagine not having to hide your comic strip under a text book in class? I think connecting comics with the school curriculum can help make teaching a lighter task,” he says.
For further details on the WCN or to download manuals on wall-poster comics, check out the official website www.worldcomics.net