Yeah, and should I feel bad? Not if I can help it!
I'd heard about this "graphic novel" called "Hush" put out by Manta Ray Comics, the new kid on the Indian comic books block. Word of it was out on the grapevine. I saw some references on Facebook.
Then, I was ordering William Gibson's latest book "Zero History" online one day from flipkart.comwhen I came across a reference to "Hush" in a blog - http://blog.flipkart.com/10-classic-alternative-graphic-novels.
What I saw there really pissed me off.
"Hush" was included among the top 10 "classic" alternative graphic novels of our times!
This dark deed was done by one Sailen!
If this isn't "insider marketing", I don't know what is!It is a blatant attempt at manipulating the sensibilities of those who care about graphic novels, "alternative" graphic novels and Indian graphic novels.
I've traversed Indrajal Comics, Raj Comics, Tinkle (always hated that stuff!), Amar Chitra Katha, Comix India, Virgin Comics India (now defunct), Fluid Friction (Devashard), Blaft Publications, Campfire, Corridor, Kari, Faluda, and more!
And I was never conned by the claim that Corridor by Sarnath Banerjee (published by Penguin) was India's first-ever graphic novel, having read River of Stories by Orijit Sen more than a decade before Banerjee appeared on the scene.
Hype is hype.
And we've got a long way to go, babe! To catch up with the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans.
Well, let's feel a bit more upbeat. The silver lining on the dark cloud that is the Indian comics/graphic novel scene is that at least there is stuff coming out into the market now that is not the mindless recycling of those boring, flaccid, ancestral mythological tales (wonder of wonders! Rama now has Thor's Marvel muscles!!!), nationalistic garbage or the Panchatantra/Jataka Tales.
Well, what am I saying?
"Hush" is partly hype, cleverly shoved down an unsuspecting audience's throat through "roaching" and a variety of other marketing techniques.
So I ordered my own copy on flipkart.com.
What was in it for me?
A cover that in no way thrilled me but awoke a faint resonance of the cover of King Crimson's classic "In the Court of the Crimson King" .
Pretty good print job.
Black and white is classy, huh?
But the comic in itself is just 17 pages. Out of 36.
Price: Rs 195 (Flipkart sells it at Rs 144). In other words,, Rs 8.47 a page.
What about the other pages? Lots of white space for relief, I suppose.
A "gratitude" page. A "Manta Ray Comics welcomes you" page, hyperbolic in nature. A write-up by some journo.
("Leave us alone, hack, true comic readers know how to make up their own minds.")
A page for the "cast". Some "notes" from the creators.
Some pages full of character sketches, explorations, alternative covers, script excerpts. (Project documentation for NID?)
And a couple of cheesy posters I wouldn't put up anywhere, let alone in my room.
Ok. The comic itself.
Story-wise, it might be shocking for those from the cow-belt or the backwaters. But not for hardcore comic readers and collectors. Might be a first in India, but stuff out there produced over the last two decades beats the pants off this one.
In Hush, it is the abuse of a daughter by the father. But there have been some powerful variants on this theme and the ones that comes to my mind immediately are Daddy's Girl by Debbie Dreschler and Why I Killed Peter by Alfred and Olivier Ka.
And then, there is Paul Auster's City of Glass turned into a graphic novel by Paul Karasik as part of David Mazzuchelli's class at RISD, where the idea of "abuse" is frighteningly real, yet abstracted/metaphorised.
Which brings me to a crucial observation. While the art-work is acceptable, pretty strong, the representation is literal. Worse, this literal approach is visual in nature. What you see is what you get. There is little that is hidden for me to unearth or ponder over.
The creators of Hush, of course, project the comic book as a "graphic novel", an experiment, a purely visual (no text used) breakthrough in the history of "Indian" comics.
I admire the passion, the movement forward from concept to printed copies out in the market, and the ambition of these young fans and creators of the graphic novel genre.
But I am also reminded of how ten years ago, Vinayak Varma (a key player behind ACK's Brainwavemagazine) was the first to attempt a graphic novel as his final diploma project at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology.
Since then, there have been a number of talented students from Srishti who have done amazing comics/graphic novel projects - Somesh Kumar, Pia Hazarika, Urmila Shastry, Aashim Raj, Pratapaditya N Deb, Upasna Mehndiratta, Shakti Dash, Girish Ishwarya, Prarthana Gandhi, Viraj Circar, Sharvari Shah, etc.
Shakti Dash's graphic novel Ethereal was lauded by Jeff Smith, creator of the underground classic Bone, who was on his final diploma project jury. Somesh and Pia have been editors of Comic India editions. Sharvari's graphic novel Strange Touch is all of 64 exquisitely crafted pages dealing with the same issue Hush takes up -child sexual abuse. I have no hesitation in saying that Strange Touch, created in three months, is the superior product.
The way the comic publishing industry works in this country, it is impossible for this talent to find its way to the market. The industry's talent scouts do not exist. The young artists have to band together and create their own fora. Which is why I take my hat off when I think of Comix India or Blaft or Manta Ray. The better stuff ought to come out from these impassioned and independent fora and not Penguin! Where are the big publishers who will take these talented youngsters and their products and shape them for the emerging market for comic books and graphic novels in India? Does India hope to create a culture that is its own equivalent of manga? Then, the makers of Hush and other such emerging talent must be harnessed swiftly.
Yeah, well, good luck and Godspeed.
Yet, call me nasty if you like but, if you ask me specifically about Hush, don't buy it. Wait till someone makes a PDF of it and puts it out as a torrent. Download it for free when that happens.
Meanwhile, invest in Jamie Delano's Narcopolis or that book at the top of that "hyped" list on the Flipkart blog - The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Omnibus by Gilbert Shelton or Robert Crumb's Genesis.
I could suggest another 20 must-haves for your graphic novel collection. But I will leave you to do the hunting for yourself based on your sensibilities. Hone them.
You will have no regrets. That's state of the art.