Sunday, 9 August 2009

TALE IN PICTURE


TALE IN PICTURE

Besides the regulars, occasionally a traveller or two would also knock the door of the hotel just as two men Kona and Kuja did. That’s how Parismita Singh’s recent graphic novel The Hotel at the End of the World begins. And as the two travellers sit for a meal, they share their story with others; so do others like the hotel owner Pema who cooks rice and pork curry when someone stops for a refuge from the rains. Their stories at that odd hotel in the hills get woven through the black-and-white graphics to take us to the story of a floating island. And with the fantasy elements there are historical references like the World War II and the homesick Japanese soldiers in the hills of Manipur and Nagaland who help us conjure up settings full of suspense.

Why did she think of a graphic novel, I ask Parismita, whose works have appeared in various publications including the Sarai Reader and Katha Prize Stories 13. “I’ve been working on shorter pieces in this format for a while now, and I thought it would be fun to try something longer, so I landed up working on this book,” she replies. For this work, Parismita has drawn from various oral storytelling and folklore traditions. But were there any real characters that inspired her to create the characters of Pema, Kona, Kuja and the priest? “Kona and Kuja are two characters from Assamese folklore and I have borrowed them for the story, though in the original story one is blind and the other hunchbacked,” the author informs, adding, “Their adventures in my book are also different from the adventures of the original pair. About Pema and the prophet — it is difficult to say. Sometimes I feel that they came to me, all formed. But from where, I don’t know”.

Talking about her creative process, Parismita says, for a comic book, usually the script is readied first. “So I had the characters and their stories. And then I had to give the characters a voice — in terms of the story they tell, and the art style used for the story or the visual idiom,” she tells me. Then after a couple of rough drafts, when she was “comfortable with the way the story has shaped up”, she did the final drawings and then the inking and paints. “All along there were also edits — some on my own when I felt something wasn’t working. And then there was the editing with my editor at Penguin. At some point then, we decided to stop, and the book was ready,” Parismita informs.


For this novel, Parismita did some research into the history of World War II. “I read the
accounts of the Japanese and British,” she says, also mentioning the oral sources. Moreover, she did research on the “site sketches and on elements like the battle tank”. Then there was the research on visuals, she adds. While a writer has words, the artist has graphics. What are the basics that one needs to remember while telling a story through graphics, I ask her. “I wouldn’t want to specify rules, because I think there are many ways one can go about it. What is special about comics though is that you have both text and graphics, and you can use both to great effect,” Parsimita avers.

So who came first... the artist or the storyteller? “I don’t know, but I think the artist is a part of the storyteller,” she replies. A number of frames in the graphic novel have no words and that could lead to varied interpretations. “In a graphic novel, you have to read words and images. In some frames I use very little text, and I expect the reader to ‘read’ the drawings, the emotion in a face or the change in nature,” Parismita says. “There is a lot of space for interpretation. And it’s great to have readers wonder about the significance or the meaning behind a detail in a drawing”.

Was there any criterion while deciding on the frames in the panel? “The frames are usually decided by the content,” Parismita says. And it depends on “how long the storyteller-artist wants to stretch a moment or whether she wants to show the motion,” she replies.

I ask her about the future of graphic novels in India. Parismita says everyone is “quite
optimistic”. The most important thing, she adds, is that with more graphic novels appearing — from memoirs to children’s comics, mythology, detective comics and fantasy — people get more option to choose from. Parismita is now working on some smaller pieces. “This is a good time to browse around and experiment with things, and read, and research before I start working on another book, because that requires a lot of focus, and isolation, and sticking to the subject,” she maintains.

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PANELS OF JAPANESE LIFE

Manga is a popular Japanese comics strip that appeared in its modern form after the World War II. Literally meaning ‘whimsical pictures,’ the word was first used in the late 18th century with the publication of Santo Kyoden’s picturebook.

Usually the graphics are in black-and-white, and the panel runs almost like the frames of a motion picture with details like zooming in close-ups and slow motion actions. Traditionally, manga are written from top to bottom and right to left, as this is the traditional reading pattern of the Japanese written language.

Manga is widely read in Japan. The stories deal with every possible aspects of life. Like any other publication, the manga is marketed keeping the gender and age in mind. For example, Shoujo manga is targeted at the female readers. The stories in recent times are mostly about love and the achievements of super heroines. Similarly, Shonen manga caters the male readers between 10 and 18 years of age; loads of adventure and action-packed graphics are the highlights of this category of manga. The Seinen manga is targeted at adults; the content is often sexually implicit following the relaxation of the censorship rule in Japan in the early 1990s.

Interestingly, some female manga artists formed a group in 1969. They called themselves Year 24 Group (also known as Magnificent 24s) and debuted as Shojo manga artists. Among the group were Hagio Moto, Keiko Takemiya, Riyoko Ikeda, Ryoko Yamagishi and Yumiko Oshima. Manga form of comics have become popular in the West, especially in the USA.