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A ‘graphic’ take on serious issues

AGE CORRESPONDENT
Published : Feb 25, 2016, 10:11 pm IST
Updated : Feb 25, 2016, 10:11 pm IST

From identifying abuse to sex education, comics for children today are dealing with a range of serious issues, and seeking to inform as much as they entertain. Here’s a look at a few of the best in the genre.

PRIYA'S SHAKTI.jpg
 PRIYA'S SHAKTI.jpg

From identifying abuse to sex education, comics for children today are dealing with a range of serious issues, and seeking to inform as much as they entertain. Here’s a look at a few of the best in the genre.

Decades after comics like the Chacha Chaudhary series and Amar Chitra Kathas faded from young readers' reading lists, homegrown comics are making a comeback. However, this time round they come with a twist. Championed by some talented artists, these comics address serious subjects such as sexual abuse, the importance of sex education, predominance of violence against the girl child and so on. Larger organisations such as NGOs are stepping in to further the cause thereby adding momentum to the process of reaching out to readers.

The NGO World Vision collaborated with World Comics India to organise an initiative to help underprivileged children from four Indian cities (Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati) a chance to share their stories with the world, using comic characters.

Sherio tells us that the stories some of the male children had to narrate included those about brushes with the police and the pressures of substance abuse. The girl participants drew comic book stories that depicted street life — in which they were vulnerable to different kinds of abuse. Sherio adds that the black and white boxes/panels within which these children drew their stories made their narratives all the more stark and poignant. “The impact of the event could be felt as children gained the confidence to communicate their life’s experiences using cartoon strokes, characters and dialogues, then verbally dissecting the meaning of them together. We have seen that children can advocate on their own behalf and this initiative aimed at providing the platform for children to do so. It helped them understand their own issues within the community,” Sherio explains.

And the comic book format proved to be a huge draw for the children. Says Sharad Sharma of World Comics India, “When we introduced the mode of visual communication, no doubt it was well received, it was easy to understand, and caught the attention quite easily, when you’re pasting it around. People like to go through, say, four frames and they want to see a story with a bit of text rather than 20-40 lines of a story in one column. It is interesting that when we took this medium to Mizoram, which has one of the highest literacy rates, it was our biggest success. So it is not necessarily that visual communication is successful in only low literacy areas.”

Humsafar Trust has been doing something similar — it has been helping youngsters who identify as LGBTQ to express themselves using comic books and graphic art. Humsafar’s Pallav Patankar tells us that the stories the community came up with were excellent: “The idea was to use drawing or graphic art as a method to allow them to express themselves and this was done after we conducted a workshop and then published their works as an anthology.”

Another very well known graphic novel tackling the very serious issue of violence against girls is called “Priya’s Shakti”. Depicting the adventures of a girl from rural India, who invokes the power of the Goddess Durga (who sends her a tiger as a protector) to battle eve-teasers, Priya’s Shakti also carried the stories of four girls who were survivors of rape and their battles for justice. Priya’s Shakti was the brainchild of US-based Ram Devineni, artist Dan Goldman and social impact strategist Lina Srivastava. Devineni has said that the comic book was born in response to the December 2012 gang rape in New Delhi, and the opinions of certain police officials to the crime (alleging that the victim’s behaviour or the way she was dressed was the cause).

A lifelong Amar Chitra Katha fan, Devineni says the choice to use the comic book format to raise the issue of violence against women, was an obvious one. “Comic book characters such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have become modern mythological icons, and other comic book stories such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus address important historical events like the Holocaust. For Priya’s Shakti, we are using existing constructs that are familiar to everyone in India, but presenting them in a fresh and original way,” Devineni has said. Indie publishing house Manta Ray too created a splash with Hush, a gripping graphic depiction of child sexual abuse. Explaining how they decided to use the comic book form, with panels drawn in stark monochrome, Pratheek Thomas (one of the founders of Manta Ray) has said, “The story decided how it would be told. We (realised) colour could be a distraction.”

Mainstream comic book artists too are incorporating serious messages in their work. Vivek Goel of Holy Cow Entertainment is among those. He tells us, “Our target audience is readers 14 years and above, and this is the age when children have a lot of receptiveness and acceptability towards ideas. We have often incorporated social ideas and concepts in our mainstream works. However, the problem is that when a comic is branded mainly for awareness alone, its reach is extremely diminished — no matter how informative it is. This is why I believe it is important to make use of commercial and mainstream elements and subtly feed elements of awareness into children. For example in one edition of Aghori, one of our most popular comics, we dealt with the issue of female infanticide. Since the readers connect with the hero Veera, they also connect with and emulate his ideals and it makes it easy to create awareness by using Veera to fight against such social evils.” — Write to us at feedback.age@gmail.com