Graphic nar­ra­tives are grow­ing in a space where artists can com­mu­ni­cate per­spec­tives that may not find im­pe­tus in the main­stream, Vidyun Sab­haney, who has co- edited First Hand, tells Gargi Gupta

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE - Gargi. gupta@ dnain­dia. net, @ tog­a­rgi

Few peo­ple out­side Ker­ala to­day re­mem­ber ‘ Nawab’ Ra­jen­dran, the jour­nal­ist and anti- cor­rup­tion cru­sader who died in 2003. There’s a Wikipedia en­try on him but those are just dull de­tails. But The Nawab, a graphic bi­og­ra­phy by Gokul Gopalakr­ish­nan, fills the vac­uum by bring­ing to life Ra­jen­dran’s un­worldly, sage- like mien and his un­com­pro­mis­ing courage.

The Nawab is part of First Hand, a col­lec­tion of 22 short non- fic­tion comic nar­ra­tives that tell “ur­gent sto­ries of the odds against which lives are be­ing lived, and the events and forces that are shap­ing them”, says Vidyun Sab­haney – who edited it along with Ori­jit Sen – in an in­ter­view.

How did this book come about? Would you de­scribe the process of putting it to­gether?

The idea for First Hand came al­most two years ago. Comics have al­ways been used to tell real ex­pe­ri­ences, in­ci­dents and ideas and place them within a larger con­text – whether jour­nal­is­tic, his­tor­i­cal, sto­ries of in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive strug­gle and hope, nar­ra­tives of trau­matic in­ci­dents, or larger so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ideas. It seemed nat­u­ral that these graphic nar­ra­tives should be more com­monly pro­duced, but they weren’t.

We ini­tially ap­proached a hand­ful of writ­ers who were col­lect­ing sto­ries as part of their work. It was meant to be an ex­per­i­men­tal zine. Later, we opened it out and in­vited ap­pli­ca­tions. We re­ceived a num­ber of fleshed out sto­ries, sketches, and sto­ry­boards. We be­gan se­lect­ing works, in­cu­bat­ing a few col­lab­o­ra­tions, build­ing con­ver­sa­tions around the idea of ‘ non- fic­tion’ and work­ing with con­trib­u­tors on nar­ra­tives.

The num­ber of artists ex­plor­ing graphic nar­ra­tives has gone up in In­dia of late. How do you see the scene?

The com­mu­nity of creators is grow­ing quickly and at­tract­ing peo­ple from dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines – this book is an ex­am­ple of that. The medium is be­ing used for con­ven­tional story- telling, per­sonal cathar­sis, doc­u­men­ta­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, etc. It is grow­ing into a space where artists can com­mu­ni­cate per­spec­tives and nar­ra­tives that may not find space in the main­stream. Very dif­fer­ent from how it was five years ago.

Are main­stream pub­lish­ers more open to graphic books? How large is the au­di­ence and how open?

Graphic nar­ra­tives have al­ways been a part of main­stream pub­lish­ers’ pro­gramme, but to­day we are see­ing a shift in the kinds of nar­ra­tives on of­fer in terms of struc­ture, style, theme, etc. For ex­am­ple, there was a time when the vis­ual lan­guage of pop­u­lar comics was driven by text, and to­day we have pop­u­lar comics that are en­tirely silent. This speaks vol­umes of how the au­di­ence for comics has grown and di­ver­si­fied. In­de­pen­dent pub­lish­ers and self- pub­lish­ers have played a big role in this.

All the es­says are in black and white. Why not in colour?

Black and white has been a com­mon op­tion for many creators work­ing in the non- fic­tion realm, be­cause of its stark and evoca­tive qual­ity. It lends it­self well to the theme of the book.

The vis­ual style here is var­ied but es­sen­tially western. Isn’t any­one work­ing in In­dian styles?

In non- fic­tion, vis­ual style is about the nar­ra­tive de­tail one se­lects and how it is high­lighted to evoke the mood of the story – all the while com­mu­ni­cat­ing a spe­cific re­al­ity, which is in this case is con­tem­po­rary In­dia.

Hills & Stones by Nikhila Nan­duri uses mo­tifs from Likhai wood­carv­ing in telling the life of Gan­garam, a prac­ti­tioner of the craft based in Ut­tarak­hand. The pat­terns used evoke a sense of Gan­garam’s re­la­tion­ship with his work.

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