If by providence I was an editor and Amruta Patil had narrated her graphic novel Kari to me, I would shrugged and said: 'It won't work - its too passe'.
But embellished with Amruta's intimate art and lyrical prose, Kari is a graphic novel so absorbing, that upon reading it I would have resigned from my position and spent the rest of my days in the Himalayas repenting.
Fortunately most of that didn't happen and I was able to invite Amruta to stop by the Drift and talk about her work.
AspisDrift.com: Hi Amruta, welcome to the Drift. Loved your work in Kari. There is a ton of stuff I’m dying to ask you about.
People seem to have different interpretations of Kari’s knit eyebrows and her resulting personality. How about we start off with that? My 10 year old Motorsandal says “she looks mysterious!” My 7 year old Youngling says “Dad, that guy looks pissed!” What is Kari like and what DO those knit eyebrows signify?
Amruta: The eyebrows are just so fierce and heartbreaking. "I'm tough", they say. "I have everything in control."
But for all the bravado, she is just twenty years old; beginning to grapple with things she will be grappling with all her life - love, life, death - and the only thing you want to do is give her a squeeze.
AspisDrift.com: What was the process of Kari’s character design like?
Amruta: Kari is the ultimate fly-on-the-wall. Teeming inner life that contrasts with her solitary outer life. She is introverted and genderfluid. A silent engine. I thought she would make a necessary and much-missed counterpoint to the sociable, shrill, hyperfeminine protagonists one meets all the time.
AspisDrift.com: Kari turns 21 in the book. How old were you when you wrote the novel?
Amruta: 28. Which as anyone knows, is eons away from 21.
AspisDrift.com: You’re in Angouleme these days. What are you doing there and for how long? Pick up any French?
Amruta: The city hosts an International Comic Books Festival every January. I'm here on a year-long writer's residency - steering the tail of an elephantine graphic novel project based on the Mahabharat. I am rocking the supermarket French and the 'Ou sont les toilettes?' French. Social interactions are a stretch, but I listen hard - and am happy to find that sounds are slowly percolating into meaning.
AspisDrift.com: Amruta, a little bit about the drawings: What kind of paper did you draw on? How big was it? How did you digitize it all?
Amruta: I draw on all sorts of papers - sometimes on pages of magazines and found things. The originals are a little larger in size than the actual printed image. Each drawing is on a separate page - nightmare for the preproduction people. The drawings were scanned and laid out in a page with QuarkXpress.
AspisDrift.com: In the illustrations, you switch between markers, pens, pencils. I noticed you shade by rubbing graphite and charcoal on paper, but sometimes you’ll cross-hatch for texture. Why the broad jumps in technique?
Amruta: In Kari, I kept the palette grey & black; and used an assortment of styles to match the emotional landscape of the tale. This may not always have come through, but the effort has been to push against the existing visual grammar in visual books. I do not enjoy the conveyor-belt evenness and photoshopped perfection of mainstream comics.
My new work looks very different than Kari, but the effort continues to subvert visual grammar and standard ideas of 'how much text should there be in a graphic novel'.
AspisDrift.com: I have a complaint about the book. You have created some drop dead sexy women in the book but all the men you draw look kind of...unappealing. What’s up with that? Don’t you have any god-like men you can model from?
Amruta: Can I redeem myself by saying that the new work has none but godacious men? You will be begging for ladies in that one.
AspisDrift.com: Was it a tough sell to get a graphic novel published? What is the landscape like for graphic novels in India?
Amruta: I have had a very smooth run. Right place, right time, first mover's advantage. That sort of thing. VK Karthika of HarperCollins (who also, incidentally, commissioned Sarnath Bannerjee while she was working with Penguin) was one of the first people I showed the work to, and she was keen on seeing it through. The segment remains niche, but I think most publishing houses would like to have atleast the token graphic novel in its list now.
AspisDrift.com: Any graphic novels or books you’ve read lately that you would recommend?
Amruta: Have to confess that although I work in the medium of graphic novels currently - I am not its best spokesperson. I do not even see myself as a graphic novelist, but as a writer. The larger inflences have been from history, from literary fiction, from art.
AspisDrift.com: I ask this question of everyone I interview on the Drift so please indulge me: can you fold a fitted bed sheet properly?
Amruta: Absolutely cannot. Precision ends at the writing desk.
AspisDrift.com: Kari’s sexual identity is very much a part of this book – I’d like to ask her a question. Could you please get me an answer from her?
Here is the question: I’ve noticed men in India these days pretend to be gay and Dostana-like by joking about it while keeping proof of their liberated straightness close at hand – for example, they’ll make sure you hear about their wife (like as if that’s any kind of proof). What do you think of this gay-chic phenom in India?
Amruta: Aspi I am so uncool, I hear of most chic things five years too late. I think the most appealing state for Kari is an Orlandoesque genderfluidity. Maybe that is what people secretly aspire for, but to live it out is frightening. And hence the tittering, the awkward jokes, the homophobia. Gender and sexuality have their place - but in Kari's book, and mine - it is not at the centre of the universe.
Amruta blogs at Umbilical
She is working on Parva/The Epic. Preview it here .
Some graphic novels worth reading whether you are into comics or not (recommendations are mine, please no blaming Amruta for these)
Aya of Yop City - Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie
If Ekta Kapoor could draw and spent her youth in a vibrant, buzzing Ivory Coast, she'd make this graphic novel.
Exit Wounds - Rutu Modan
If Ekta Kapoor could draw and spent a tortured youth in Israel, she'd make this graphic novel
Life Sucks - Jessica Abel, Gabriel Soria, Warren Pleece
If Ekta Kapoor could draw, got bit by a vampire and wasted her youth in Smalltown, USA, she'd make this graphic novel
The Plain Janes - Cecil Castellucci, Jim Rugg
If Ekta Kapoor was an arty, self-propelled chick who didn't necessarily obsess about boys all the time, she'd make this graphic novel
Off Road - Sean Murphy
If Ekta Kapoor could draw, had never watched TV and was a groin-scratching dude who'd gotten kicked around in life, she'd make this graphic novel
Pride of Baghdad - Brian K. Vaughan, Niko Henrichon
If Ekta Kapoor was a lion inadvertently freed by American bombs from a zoo in Baghdad along with his family, she'd make this graphic novel