While the last decade or two have seen the consistent slide of the newspaper cartoon, what has jumped in profile, in publishing terms, has been the graphic novel. The graphic novel is everywhere and everyone is creating one. A cartoon in the New Yorker had a man standing in front of this boss saying ‘Here is my resignation note. It’s in the form of a graphic novel.’ Graphic novels are young and sexy. They are also read mainly by the young. People of a certain age bemoan the lack of attention span of those much younger, and are quick to diagnose them to have ADD. How is it then that the single-panel cartoon that can be digested in seconds, slides, but the fat and often dense graphic novel, rides, is a question that awaits an answer.
PAO-The Anthology of Comics-I, is a collective effort by a group that is both young and diverse. Seven of the 12 featured stories are collaborations between the artist and the writer. In terms of being together, there is little in common to the contributions in the book, save a need to express in word and image together, at the same time by the artist/writer.
The book begins very promisingly with ‘Tattoo’, a very stylishly written (Laxmi Indrasimhan) and drawn(Jacob Weinstein) story, which is both original and satisfying. It is about a tattoo artist and his peculiar clients. It takes the ‘graphic’ in graphic novels seriously and even literally. ‘Plasmoids’ is a taut sci-fi work by Samit Basu, rendered beautifully by the very talented Orijit Sen. Orijit Sen is also in top form in the other story by him ‘Hair Burns Like Grass’—a work in progress, which is based on the life of Kabir- the weaver-poet-saint. The artwork is a revelation—and Sen’s skills set him apart from the rest. This short account draws one in with the soft, muted, grey visuals, which create the right mood for the captivating writing. This reviewer will look forward eagerly to the full work when it is released. Sarnath Banerjee’s ‘Tito Years’ treads familiar ground to those who know his work, which is idiosyncratic and filled with understated humour coupled with childhood nostalgia.
‘Hindus and Offal’ is essential an essay in just that, by Ambarish Satwik, a writer whose often deals with the nether regions of the body. I suspect as a child he must have loved looking at undersurfaces of rocks, in hope of finding slimy creepy crawlies there. The illustrations ( Pia Hazarika), however, add nothing to the text. ‘Chilka’ by Shohei and Vidyun, based on the Mahabharata is what Amar Chitra Katha is not. Heavily influenced by Japanese Manga style, this is one of the longest stories in the book, and exudes youthful energy. Some of the stories are plain bizarre (‘Sleepscapes’ by Parismita Singh, ‘The Pink’ by Salil Chaturvedi and Priya Kuriyan). Others tedious ( ‘Helmetman in Zamzamabad’ , ‘RSVP').
One particular complaint this reviewer had- poor binding quality of the book. Within just a few days, several pages started coming lose, something not expected from a reputed publisher like Penguin, more so, for a book priced at `799.
This is an ambitious and well meaning effort. We are still in the early days of this new medium. Clearly some self-editing will be required before the dust settles down and a clearer view emerges—about what shape the medium eventually takes in India. The book has, by physically shedding some of the pages, already begun the process.