Sunday, 14 February 2010



It’s not that graphic novel is doing great in India. “But it’s a cool new thing to many youngsters,” says George Mathen who has joined the growing group of Indian graphic-novelists with his debut work titled Moonward.

Using the pen-name of Appupen, which in Malaylam means ‘old man’, the 30-year-old Bengaluru-based art director has been into “lot of things” before becoming a graphic artist. “I was into films and animation before realising that though I don’t have any training as such, I like to draw and paint,” the Economics graduate reveals.

The first few pages of Appupen’s graphic-novel don’t have any text. “It allows the reader to interpret the way he wants,” he says. Printed entirely in black-and white, the book draws stories from a fantasy world called Halahala where things evolve — “from the beginning to recent times” — after a shooting star crashes on a primordial tree in that world. “The tales are somewhat dark... not colourful and not entertaining. So I didn’t want the book to be in colours,” the graphic-novelist says.

“It’s almost like a social commentary on what happens in our real world,” Appupen explains. “A protagonist named Mahanana of Oumbe links different stories through the ages. He’s like a corporation with no emotions. He wants to reach to his ‘future self’ from the ‘present self’,” the artist-novelist adds. “And to do that, he follows a guiding hand”.

That sounds like as if there’s a tinge of satire in the stories, somewhat like the great O V Vijayan who mastered in political satires and cartooning. When mentioned, Appupen recalls reading Vijayan’s works, but doesn’t quite agree that he was influenced by the late writer.

It took around two-and-half years for Appupen to complete the book. “I could draw only two pages a day. The stories were not written in any order. I first had some of the dialogues. And there were several issues — power, environment, genetically-modified crops, mining, brand promotions, commercials — that I am aware of owing to my stint with the Greenpeace and the advertising agency. Gradually, I used all of them and played with the metaphors to give shape to the stories,” Appupen informs. “For me, the stories came first and then the graphics, though my strength lies in the drawings”.

Given the “serious things” he deals with, Appupen could well have written a non-fiction book. I mention that to him and ask why must we then read this graphic novel? “It’s because the serious issues come alive through the graphics and it reaches out to those people who otherwise might not be interested in the printed words of a serious non-fiction. And if the issues strike a chord with these people, then they will think more about them,” Appupen replies.

A drummer for the music band Lounge Piranha, Appupen hopes to continue as a graphic novelist. “I hope that few years from now, graphic novels will gain strength. And then I can advise young entrants into this field,” he says. “It’s important for anyone in this field to develop their own style and then stick around,” Appupen adds. “The stories must have a message, and must not be just for entertainment. For any storyteller, it’s necessary to look for interesting things”.

Appupen is now working on a collection of “silent” short stories. “They will be light-hearted, colourful with traces of romance and lots of fun. I will try new styles in them,” the graphic-novelist signs off.