They are the caricaturists of workplace anxieties and the lightweight chroniclers, if you will, of quotidian mores. India’s Web comic artists revel in their attempts at teasing out the humour that remains hidden behind the smokescreen of the commonplace.
“The irritations of daily life have always intrigued me. In my comic, I exaggerate a trivial event and make it funny. Even the battery alarm on a UPS finds its way into my work,” says Saad Akhtar, who runs Fly, You Fools! (www.flyyoufools.com) and works with Naukri.com in New Delhi. Akhtar will be conducting a Web comics workshop on the second day of Comic Con, a two-day comics conference in New Delhi starting 19 February.
Don’t be surprised if you discern a faint echo of the idiosyncrasies that characterized R.K. Laxman’s Common Man in these comics, even if the eras and locations are entirely different. Jai Iyer, a 33-year-old Bangalore-based entrepreneur, calls his comic “a sort of R.K. Narayan meets Frank Miller”. On his comic blog, http://iyermatter.wordpress.com, his nostalgic connection with old buildings and typewriters is visible. He prefers to locate his stories firmly within everyday India and lends them a retro look through his monochrome artwork.
The emotional density of the monochrome also provides the perfect foundation for the macabre tales of 25-year-old, Kolkata-based translator Aditya Bidikar and 36-year-old, Pune-based freelance artist Nitin Veturkar on http://lafcomics.wordpress.com
What unites these Web comic creators and many others like them is a love for storytelling and an urge to express themselves through a medium they have grown up with, an obsession that is bound to be on display at the Comic Con. Coursing through their day jobs, fingers fiddling with pencils and styluses, their minds are perpetually alive to the nuances and absurdities of their immediate worlds.
“Dark humour is our major zone. We play with different points of view and always like to place an awkward protagonist in an ordinary situation,” says Bidikar, the writer in the writer-artist duo. A self-confessed fan of the fantasy genre, past editions of his comic have seen him transform the life of a serial killer into a reality show and lead us into the psyche of a man whose sole ambition is to witness an accident. The team works like a well-oiled machine, says Bidikar, and has churned out comics on a fortnightly basis ever since they began in October 2009.
Unlike Iyer and Bidikar, Akhtar resorts to a wider colour palette. He employs an elementary RGB (red, green, blue) palette to give his comic a 1950s look.
“I began experimenting with blogs in 2008 by putting text on images. I used old photos in the public domain for the purpose,” he says. “Initially I didn’t expect any traffic on my site. But it soon caught on.” Flyyoufools.com now boasts around 20,000 hits every time Akhtar puts up a new comic.
The prospect of reaching out to a wider audience leads these young Web comic creators to the annals of Facebook and Twitter, social networking sites that help spread the word. Many even host advertisements on their sites, though the revenue thus generated is measly at best. Some, like Iyer, prefer to keep their blogs non-commercial.
For Anshul Maheshwari and Sahil Rizwan, it was a preference for the simplicity and brevity that characterizes minimalism that formed the basis of their www.brainstuck.com. Maheshwari, 26, is in the logistics business, based out of New Delhi, and his website houses a repertoire of spare takes on everything from technology and management to education and politics.
“I have what I call an Ideas Vault, which is always teeming with ideas. It doesn’t take me more than 5 minutes to create a new comic strip. What is of utmost importance to me is that the soul of my characters remains the same,” says Maheshwari. Most of these Web comic artists lament that they are unable to update as regularly as they would like. “I do get ideas often but when it comes to Web comics it is often difficult to sustain the initial momentum. This is probably because most artists have a demanding day job or a regular travel schedule.”
Rizwan is a Noida-based freelance writer whose immensely popular www.thevigilidiot.com has won widespread acclaim within the Web comic artist community. “The silliest movies to come out of Bollywood” provide the fodder for this 23-year-old Keralite’s mill. His matchstick figures have been parodying the stars of tinseltown since June 2009.
“Stick figures are, literally, the extent of my graphic design and artistic prowess,” says Rizwan. “I guess the moral of the story is that if the content is appealing, it doesn’t really matter how unglamorous the packaging is. Something that is lost on most big studio banners today.”
Hyderabad-based Google employee Sasidhar Akkiraju’s http://ageekstory.com revolves around his bearded protagonist’s social awkwardness and attempts to catch up with the furious pace of technological innovation. The 28-year-old’s comic has been a regular feature since 2008 and gets around 30,000 visitors in three months.
Arbitmba.com’s Hemantkumar Jain, employed with Fujitsu in Dubai, pastes the artwork and text supplied to him by artist Shubham Choudhury on real backgrounds to conjure the world of Arbit Choudhury, recognized by Wikipedia as the world’s first MBA comic character. The fortnightly comic strip began as far back as 2004 when Jain and Choudhury, then students at the National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai, decided to create a character to talk about the intricacies of the management world.
“We take humorous digs at things happening around us and also release comics on topics as diverse as sports, economy, etc. We like to come up with funny ways of explaining business jargon,” says Choudhury, who works with Cognizant at Hyderabad. This Arbit-rariness has helped the site notch up around 2,000 hits a day, in addition to numerous awards and recognition such as the Manthan Award for e-Entertainment in 2007.
Comic Con will be held on 19-20 February at Dilli Haat, opposite INA market, New Delhi.