Words and Images: Exploring the Genre of the Graphic Novel

We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are . . .

It took the Earth around twenty-four revolutions to implant the germ of the idea which holds the potential to shape my destiny. I was like a rudderless ship, unsure of my vocation. And one fine day, bright-eyed Sunandini said, ‘Bon voyage.’ She seemed to emanate these words, ‘Two roads diverged in a woods and I—I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.’ A flurry of baffling thoughts about numerous options to choose from had been tormenting me. I discovered my latent gene of publishing after meeting the brilliant mentors and students at Seagull. I never felt gullible at Seagull, because every theory/hypothesis was imbued with logic and reason. After dissecting a book, I realized how much groundwork goes into the construction of the tangible commodity that we call a ‘book’. The whole hierarchy of activities that go into the making of a book was explained to us. Seagull is more than an oasis for me, rather, the fountainhead from where my love for non-fiction has sprung.

It was one of those rainy Calcutta nights. As rainy as Calcutta could get this year! Lullabying myself to sleep I was finally getting closer to knowing my mind. Sleep was definitely not a priority that night. In spite of the fact that it had been a hectic day, I was repeating in my mind (like a mantra) those three words from the label of a water bottle at Seagull, ‘Renew, rejuvenate, repeat.’ Voila! Rewind!! And my mind started browsing through the day’s events.

That day we were graced by Aswathy Senan’s presence. A research scholar, she guided us methodically into an in-depth study of graphic novels. We dealt with the genre with complete ease because of her expert advice and the additional study material she gave us. We were gifted Campfire’s Nelson Mandela authored by Lewis Helfand and illustrated by Sankha Banerjee. In the meanwhile, Aswathy delved into the technicalities of a graphic piece such as panels, bubbles, background, foreground, images, caption and so on; and all the people involved—the writer, the commissioning editor, editor, artist (penciller and inker), colourist and letterer. The main stages Aswathy mentioned were: choice of moments, choice of frame, bird’s-eye view, worm’s-eye view, choice of images and choice of flow. It was an enriching experience and we were spellbound by the various possibilities of the genre, which caters to the visual aesthetics of readers. In class, we analysed episodes from the different graphic versions of Alice in Wonderland. I was amazed by the way in which she taught us to encapsulate Tagore’s ‘Kabuliwallah’ within a graphic framework. She welcomed all our suggestions and modifications to the script of the short story. We were made to work out the framework of the graphic version. Some of us were quite confident about the design elements while some were better with the speech bubbles and the plot. What served as a Bible of Graphic novels was the handout Aswathy gave us—Nandini Chandra’s Classic Popular Amar Chitra Katha 19672007. I concluded that this genre can be the dark horse of publishing. And, I felt that Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea has the potential of being transformed into a beautiful graphic novel. More master classes are eagerly awaited.

Nivedita Banerjee

Meeting an Author

Manjula Padmanabhan—journalist, author, playwright, artist, cartoonist—so many identities!

In my mind the only identity Manjula Padmanabhan had was synonymous with Hidden Fires—the hard-hitting, timeless monologues she wrote post the Gujarat riots of 2003. So powerful are the monologues that it is difficult to imagine the writer being identified with anything else.

Till you meet her in person . . .

I had been having long, intense email interactions with Manjula over the past six months. So the news of her visiting and conducting a session for us at The Seagull School was very exciting. Finally there would be a flesh-and-blood encounter with a deep-thinking, analytical, serious mind that so far, for me, was only a presence in my inbox. And my encounter would be as a student of the editing course!

On the afternoon of 23 July 2013 Manjula slipped into The Seagull School—literally, stepping out of a taxi and losing balance on the muddy pavement. Mercifully, there was no major damage, except for the filth on her beautiful silk kurta.

One of the nicest things about the publishing course is the opportunity it offers students to meet and interact with people and personalities that are not just big names in the field of publishing or renowned authors, translators etc. but have led rich lives that lend themselves to sharing of experiences that in turn is hugely enriching.

Manjula’s life is no exception, we discovered that afternoon as she took us through a power point presentation titled ‘In Transit’. Almost vulnerable in parts, she shared her life with us in a candid manner that was heart-warming.

Talking about her struggles and her experiences—her multiple identities of illustrator, cartoonist, journalist, writer, playwright genuinely seem to be perpetually in transit—she moved seamlessly from one persona to the other. Having begum her career in the 1970s, she showed us a large collection of her illustrations and cartoons—most of which were commissioned works. In 1996 she published her first book with Kali for Women in the form of a collection of short stories called Hot Death, Cold Soup. The big turning point in her career came in 1998 when she won first Onassis International Cultural Competition for Theatrical Plays for Harvest—a dark fantasy about a high-tech racket in body organs. This allowed her to finally write and illustrate what she wanted to rather than what she was commissioned to do.

‘Learn from my mistakes’—a phrase we are all familiar with having heard it often through our growing years. Manjula, I thought, in sharing her struggles was also saying this to us—often saying, ‘Looking back now, I would have done that differently’. Not with regret, just very matter-of-fact!

As she took us through her life’s journey the one thing that came to my mind as a recurring theme is ‘fiercely independent’. Manjula has lived her life on her own terms. Never compromising on her ideals, never tiring, never giving up—her strength and determination I thought were very inspiring.

Megha Malhotra

Silkscreen Workshop with Ronnie

In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing. — Oscar Wilde

  

STILL IN USE: A technique so old, it could be its own mother!

Silkscreen Printing

Starring

 Ronnie Gupta

by

 Bertrand Finckler

It was one of those hot Calcutta mornings . . .

Another one of those hot Calcutta mornings . . .

As hot as only Calcutta knows its mornings . . .

So hot that they can only be called ‘Calcutta mornings’ . . .

On that specific morning, attending the silkscreen workshop in the courtyard of the Fine Arts Gallery and Seagull School of Publishing became much harsher a task than usual, almost an enterprise . . .

As we have all surely experienced, life can be quite unjust at times! But it is only when we are faced with characters such as Ronnie Gupta that we realize the extent of the injustice perpetrated on the human race . . .

That said, let us try to find an answer to a few banal questions, such as: Why is it that, in Her infinite wisdom, God Herself time and again decides to distribute all the skills at Her disposal only to a few—therefore making them perennially content with what they have—and turns the rest of humanity into mere spectators, perhaps ‘granting’ us better seats (or in some cases even a main role) next time?

What makes me absolutely furious is the fact that the same few, not entirely content with having inherited all the skills and merits one could possibly wish for in this world, perpetually tend to materialize in front of our very eyes!

Do these people have no sense of shame? Did the creator also free them of that burden? Or am I wrong in assuming that all of us common mortals have experienced that deep and perennial feeling of inadequacy since the very first steps we took when we started our journey on this planet?

And then . . .

On that hot Calcutta morning . . .

There he stands . . .

Reminding us of all our human shortcomings . . .

Ronnie Gupta’s incomparable skills and expertise—I mean, the guy reckons the nylon mesh size on a given screen just by holding it up against the light—are all there in front of you to make you understand that something in your karma must have gone terribly wrong, probably right from the start! He makes sure that you experience this feeling repeatedly as he displays the surgical precision required for this art, and his knowledge of several fields including photography, chemistry, surgery, etc.

Thus, because I am terribly frustrated by the skills involved—skills that have evaded me since the very day of my birth—I shall not undertake the attempt of describing the process involved in silkscreen printing, but would rather validate God’s motives in making us feel incomplete, and therefore inevitably frustrated and useless.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a hater, I am just frustrated! I think there are two main kinds of human beings on this planet: the ones that are constantly surrounded by idiots, and the ones who, despite various attempts to escape, are constantly surrounded by themselves . . .