Slice Of Life Comics

Updated: Apr 30 2004, 05:30am hrs
Seeking to enlarge your comic book horizon beyond Tintin, Archies and Dilbert Corridor a Penguin India release out earlier this month wont disappoint. It explores urban sexuality and machismo, its longer than a typical comic book and tells the entire story via a hybrid of writing and illustration.

Welcome to the world of the graphic novel. These books are aimed at the sophisticated reader, says Corridors creator Sarnath Banerjee, which explains why the genre is still at a nascent stage in India. But that does not diminish Mr Banerjees passion for spinning yarns, graphically. What feeds it is his avid interest in contemporary visual culture.

In comics you can be, at any given point of time, at various points of reference which you are not while reading or writing, explains Mr Banerjee. ...A graphic novel, he says, has the depth of a novel and the visual range of a film. That comes about because the text and the image dont lose their individual meaning but, together, create a third level of meaning which neither of them can bring about by themselves.

Sarnath Banerjee
Interestingly, the Delhi-based author was not always into comics. He began with making documentary films and content for TV. But I was getting fed up because some half wit would invariably walk into the editing room and tell you that cut doesnt work...you start doubting (yourself) except (that) he was always wrong, born into the mediocrity of television programming, he says sharply. Net net, all his quirky ideas ended up in the waste basket.

Welcome to the world of the graphic novel. It has the depth of a novel and the visual range of a film, says Corridors creator Sarnath Banerjee
He developed a love for the graphic novel genre in 1994 when an ex-girlfriend introduced him to a series called Love and Rockets, a comic book in the tradition of magicrealism. Half of the story takes place in the post-modern hybridity of Los Angeles and the rest in a sleepy village, Palomar, in Mexico. The stories run parallel, cross-cutting each other, and remind you of the best of Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie, Mr Banerjee gushes.

In 1999 he devoted himself to comics full time and went through a long spell of income-less existence because no one wanted to publish slice of life comics, comics which were neither for children nor political satire. Then along came the MacArthur Fellowship to study image and communication at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He jumped at it, for obvious reasons: Three years of doing comics and getting paid for it, does that happen

In London, he researched for a graphic novel and churned out Corridor. Mr Banerjee also received a grant to study the eccentricities and scandal of 18th century Kolkata by the Indian Foundation of Arts inspiration for The Barn Owls Wonderous Capers, his next graphic novel based in that period. The story is told through the writings of a Baghdadi Jew who meticulously records the eccentricities and scandals of the citys elite in his journal. Relying on a robust body of archival research, the novel has the soul of a modern thriller as it moves between the past and the present where Pablo inherits the diary from his deceased grandfather and proceeds to lose it!

Mr Banerjees advice to aspiring graphic novelists would be to hone writing skills and a keen interest in life. Inheriting his mothers obsessive reading habit, he admits to being influenced by Allan Moores, Will Eisner and Art Spiegelman, Thomas Pynchon, Orwell, Murakami, Vargas LLosa, Borges, Walter Benjamin, Barthes etc. And he doesnt think a beginner would get overly worked up about money (or lack of it). Speaking from personal experience, he says the thing with comics is that, if they pay you, youll do comics...if they dont, hell, youll still do comics.