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

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