In the end, it all comes down to the words. Writers, to paraphrase something a man called T.S. Garp says in a book I read and owned many years ago, are usually agonizing in person and articulate in print. Most people would never believe that on the basis of the writing in graphic novels or comics that are published these days. And this writer isn’t even benchmarking such writing against the pistol-shot sharp prose of Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello; the fantastic writing of Neil Gaiman; or the allusion-heavy work of Alan Moore.
Quibbles about the quality of writing (or the lack of the same) may not be such a great way to begin a piece about possibly the first Indian graphic novel that your columnist has read that he really (REALLY, to reinforce the point) likes, but it is hard to overlook words. It is hard, also, to overlook the fact that the writing in Kari ranges from the pretentious to the portentous with lots of nice little fragments betwixt (do people even use this word anymore?).
Girl power: To enjoy Kari, ignore the text and focus on the visuals.
The two Ps are definite spoilers, and a third P, plot, hardly helps—Kari is about a lesbian copywriter in Mumbai coming to terms with her sexuality, and death and life in general—but that doesn’t matter. What does is the fact that Amruta Patil, the author and illustrator of Kari, can draw.
And draw as in really draw: The illustrations have a sense of movement and they seem to work on several planes (literal, metaphorical, emotional) all at once. More importantly, Patil’s style seems to be her own. This writer doesn’t know enough about illustration styles and art to give it a name, but he knows originality when he sees it.
The best way to read Kari, then, is to just focus out the text (this is easily done, especially because the illustrations are as good as they are). The book would have definitely been better without the prose. The last page of Kari says “To be continued”, although that could well mean the protagonist’s life and not the book. Still, in case Patil decides to write (and draw) another—and this writer would encourage her to do so, and pay good money for the output—here are a few words of advice for her: go easy on the text.
Write to Sukumar at firstname.lastname@example.org