BENGALURU: From a Bengaluru set in a dystopian future, 20 years from now, to a mystery about a missing ATM ‘Bangalore - A Graphic Novel’ is an anthology of nine stories, released on March 1. It features some popular as well as new writers and artists and is the second installment in the ‘Every City is a Story’ initiative from Hyderabad-based Syenagiri, a graphic-novel studio. The first novel, ‘Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel’ (2014) became quite popular among comic enthusiasts as well as bibliophiles. Goa is has been slotted as the setting for the third edition. City Express speaks to Jai Undurti, Creative Director, Syenagiri, about the studio's latest work.
How did you decide on the themes for the different stories in the novel? Was this also the basis of picking the writers and illustrators/ artists or was it the other way round?
A- We started by contacting writers and artists from Bengaluru who were living there. They picked the themes that interested them. The only brief was that the stories should speak of their relationship to the city in some way. Because the style of art influences and in turn is influenced by the story, this led to a lot of diversity. You can see crime through the lens of Zac O'Yeah and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj with their caper comedy and then there is Salamander and Devaki Neogi's story which is dark and edgy.
From Richmond Road to the Indian Coffee House, the plots are set in different locales. What do you hope to convey to a Bengalurean reading the novel as well as to an outsider?
A-There are 18 artists and writers with 9 stories. The idea was to have this deliberately fragmented approach to the city. For outsiders, the general idea was not to replicate information which you can get elsewhere, be it a guidebook or Wikipedia but instead try to get this sense of a city, its particular 'flavour'. We didn't want stories that could be set anywhere - they had to have some integral connect. Apart from the architectural details, hopefully even certain 'states of mind' will also ring true to the Bengalurean reader.
Why did you choose Bengaluru after Hyderabad? It could have been a Mumbai or even a Chennai.
A-When we were promoting Hyderabad, the kind of response we got from Bengalureans was very heartening. When we were at the Bangalore Comic Con, quite a few people asked us whether we would be bringing the project to their city. So that idea was planted there from the beginning you could say. We hope to reach Mumbai some day but that is very daunting - it is like many cities in one. Mumbai is a galaxy of stories.
Goa we thought would be an interesting experiment, slightly tweaking the 'every city' template, by taking this entire region. It also comes ready-made with several distinctive historical eras which plays well into this anthology approach, with different visual styles for each period.
How has Bengaluru inspired you, if at all, in your work?
A-I have never lived in Bengaluru but have been a fairly frequent visitor. I still remember a visit (as a schoolboy) to Select Book Shop. The shop was something straight out of a fairytale!
How was the reception for the last novel?
A-It has been very heartening and is the basis for making this a continuing initiative rather than a one-off. People were initially surprised to see something which wasn't either a superhero/mythological or totally avant-garde but forming a separate category.
What is the present so far as graphic novels in the country is concerned?
A-The present scene is definitely exploding. There has been a massive increase in Indians writing in English in genre literature (not only 'literary' as was the case earlier). This has also trickled down to graphic novels/comics. You also have Comic Cons and such, which have raised overall awareness levels. Technically, we are already very good - the last decade has seen a lot of work outsourced from the West to Indian artists. The main difference is that, internationally, whether Europe or Japan, there is a full-fledged ecosystem, especially in the distribution and the ways they generate revenue. Comics operate within this environment; and if you like to measure success using such parameters - they even act as a kind of raw material from which films, games, etc. are mined. We haven’t yet evolved to this stage.
Alan Moore of course is a Zeus-like figure in the field. I got into comics as a creator, like so many others, after reading V for Vendetta and Watchmen. They are excellent examples of how powerful this medium is. Some time ago I read Ascent by Jed Mercurio and Wesley Robins. I was very impressed and moved by it, especially the way they take a character who is far removed from us - a Soviet pilot in the 1950s and make him totally relatable. My first comics were Amar Chitra Kathas and I am still a huge fan.
(The novel is now available only as an e-book)