Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Aaakhiri Raasta: Making a UPA style video

for those who don't know, Aaapki Poojita is a small webcomic that Adhiraj and I make, you can read it on its website or if you're charitable, you could read it on facebook.

Although we are following a story arc, we make it a point to try small digressions which may teach us a thing or two. One of them was this small video of one of our characters Bauji, who lands in a costly private hospital, and when the hospital finds out he doesn't have the money  - they choose a different payment option : Aaakhiri Raasta.

At that time I was busy with something else, so Adhiraj and Shikhant worked together on the video. But it still it was not coming out. Some of the initital images were - 

The initial idea at that time was to make a sort of horror video.

But then, we thought we could do better. And as a designer Shikhant works best when he has a clean cut reference. then he does magic.

So if going through the trouble of making a webisode, why not make a better, more classic something, where we get to learn something. 
We decided to create a UPA style video with limited animation. 

We drew the thumbnails all over again : 

 And gave Shikhant the reference, and made him watch all the old UPA cartoons : 

By then Shikhant had his references, So he did his magic : 

Then it was a matter of sitting, making :



And Adhiraj had this grand idea of using music from Hrishikhesh Mukherjee/Basu Chaterjee films. Which went so well with the whole UPA look. Which is funny because at that time, lot of Basu C and Hrishikesh M films used to have cartoonist openings.

Swarnabha helped us with the animation we required. specially the walk cycle. First he made a tweening waali walk cycle, which we didnt like, so we asked him to make one for us with a complete, frame by frame hand drawn proper walk cycle. Which he did. he took his time, but he did it.

We made a new poster:

And a day before releasing, we released the TORRENT, leaked version of the video : 


Aaapki Poojita is a webcomic by Sumit Kumar and Adhiraj Singh, and you can read it here :

and here :

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Grassroot Comics : A inside into the studio

Last year I met Sharad Sharma, the founder of World Comics India at his studio to discuss how I could be a good cartoonist and not become a cocoon.
That same day was his birthday, and today, one year later here's the post on that day. Other than the endless blabber, are the pictures of the studio and a peek into his mind.

Here :

How does he manage to do all this, where does the money come from?"

And Mr. Sharma's usual reply has always been, a very cheerful

"We're still not funded Sumit"

So this Sunday when I was going to meet him I made sure that I'll find out how GRASSROOT COMICS sustains itself, even grows and expands. 

The meeting was set up when I met Sharad sir (I only call two kind of people SIR, those who I find really intelligent or the ones who might give me money later)...So, we met at the 2nd Comic Con India at Dilli Haat. It was his 2nd time here, the first one where he came almost with hesitation, but left completely satisfied with the kind of response he got. Although I was sure of the reponse normal (read ignorant) MARVEL - DC types will have after looking at their work, it sure takes some time to understand the idea, not because of its unusual nature, but because of its uniqueness. Once you understand what this organisation is working at, you are left really really impressed.

So this time around, it had been more than 4-5 months since I had met anyone in comics, so it was really interesting and fun to meet everyone, specially Mr. Sharma, who once told me, after I had been explaining him, how we can not offer him discount at the stall - "Sir, I work for a baniya sir, can't offer more discount, not my venture sir." and He said "Sumit baniyon ke liye kaam karna chod do...mainey bhi 10 saal kiya hai good!"

So, he asked what I was upto, I asked what they were upto, I bought lot of stuff from them. we then sat down there and discussed little bits here and there, and then we decided to meet later on a more comfortable note. 

I wanted to set that meeting soon, but a nugget of gyaan came to my mind - "Meetings zyaada wo log karte hain jinke paas kaam nahi hota", this was someone I had worked with, the son of a rich businessman, who had been given a company to play with. I just added mentally "...aur duniya se aloof wo rehte hain jinke papa ke paas bahut sara maal hota hai"

.....but this was not a meeting, it was a long discussion on a lazy sunday afternoon, hoping for the best, I took my work along and left for Sharad Sharma's studio.

Sharad Sharma's studio is in Mayur Vihar (We have this running joke about Mayur Vihar, that everyone who lives there has to have a Mayur between their first and last names. Remember Sharukh Mayur Khan? so that makes Sharad sir - Sharad Mayur Sharma!)

The place was easy to find and the door was left open - I just walked in.

The studio had all the desirable components of a Cartoonist's studio. Obviously the place serves bigger purposes than just a cartoonist's studio, which are normally isolated places, cocoons where no one enters. This one was a launchpad, a residency, a common area. On weekdays, there are people coming in, there is a separate area for small workshops and a room for any outstation guests. When I reached there, a gentleman from Pakistan was there. (World Comics India has a huge network in Pakistan among Nepal and rest of South Aisa, Latin America)

So we sat down and started talking about different things from here and there. I had somewhere read that "Sharad is particularly stubborn about his idea to bring change through the medium of comics..." So this was one more thing I had in my mind, something I wanted to know more about, and find out the strength of foundation on which this stubbornness rests, if it exists.
 (And by the end of it I knew that whoever said that line wanted to indicate only at the positives associated with the term stubborn...)

The Discussion Begins

Our discussion began with the collection of cartoons he was holding in his hand, it was a new Collection of comics from Pakistan, name of which I can't recall now (The last one was called BOLTI LAKEEREN). 
This collection of comics were made by inmates of a Pak women's jail. 
The design was done to basically communicate the same theme, the cover was bound by s stip which looked like a lock, and once opened, the first page was made of butter paper which had prison bars made on them. 

"Many inmates drew multiple times, there are sometimes so many comics from one person that you can't take them all" 

"One of the inmates had her final hearing, and she kept looking at the judge. Her advocate told her not to stare at the Judge,, to which she replied that she was only checking if she had drawn the Judge correctly in her comic."

Sharad Sir also told me how he landed his first cartooning job - 

"I was in college at that time, and I used to cycle to college. One day while going to college I saw this crowd of adivaasi outside the office of the DC. And there were adivaasi women too in the crowd too, you've seen them? they are like these 6 Feet tall strong I got inspired and drew a mural which became sort of a signature of the whole campaign the editor of a newspaper saw my work there and that's how I landed my first job as a cartoonist."

Established Cartoonists Vs The One Day Trained Grassroot Cartoonists

An artist comes with his own baggage, and that is always apparent in his work. 

"There are so many times you see cartoon of this rajasthani man (your standard villager) on some government poster, the same poster which is put in North East and in South india. Obviously you lose the connection you could have made with them."

With the cultural length breadth and density of the country, it is obviously impossible to achieve, unless, you give pencil to the people - give them basic training and ask them to draw themselves or their issues. Even better - ask them to draw the theme you wanted to get a poster done on. select the best comics from these and put them out as posters. 

Your message is spread through not just these wall posters people have made, but also through all those people who have made that comic."

And I agreed. Basic human trait -  If I've worked hard at something, I'll show it around, I'll tell people about it. Even hang it in my house.

"What I don't understand is why established artists perceive our ideology as a threat. you know this whole logic we work on - Everyone can draw. So many artists have told me, how its so stupid and how it just waters down art"

I was amazed too, not because its stupid, everyone has the habit to become the high priest of one thing or the other. But what I found funny was the fact that this guy is creating consumers! He's creating consumers of comics and cartoons at the grassroot level, even consumers of animation to an extent. Because anyone who is creating something is also the consumer of the genre. I can bet that each one of the people who attend WCI workshops later go and read more about cartooning, drawing and comics on the internet, turn around the editorial cartoon at various degrees, trying to understand its mechanics.

How can someone have a problem with that?

And about the baggage, its true. I am part of a creative system where the torn jeans wearing, faux creative, who can speak the DU variant of english have a better chance of making it at any creative job than this small town, no frills counterpart. At the same time, I have shamelessly been part of this club and not. All according to my own comfort and needs.

He also took me on this globe trail, showing me the work of different artists and writers, who he has met, and has worked with. It became so intense that after sometime I was just taking notes.

On Society, Aunties and their Brand Fetish

Our discussion rarely stayed at one point, and we discussed lot of things - How work is only accounted for when there is visual movement, according to which a cartoonist is only a lazy bum. Sharad Sir says "Yaar log pata nai kaise sochte hai, at the end of the day they will come to you and say - bas yahi banaya hai poore din mein! Ab unhe kya pata ke making a cartoon is just 25% of the work, 75% of the actual work is the whole thinking wala aspect...."

And I couldn't agree much. My parents have now understood what I do for a living, but my relatives - they are still clueless. According to them I am either demented or not good enough for a REAL job. What makes me more angry is the fact that this is 2012- According to all major Sci-Fi movies, we were supposed to have flying cars by now.
And I am sure we'll achieve flying cars before we achieve the understanding type of relatives.

while all this discussion was going on, we were joined by two WCI inters - Arjun Saigal and one more Sumit.

I told them about this common thing I see happening everywhere - The perfect answer to an auntyji's query about your career is - a brand name she knows (ACCENTURE, IBM, HCL, TCS, KINGFISHER, NIIT), As soon as she gets one of these there is no query ahead about anything else you do. Discussions on career end there.

And as soon as I had said that, there was a knock on the door. someone from the family which lives in the flat above had come to pay a visit. 

He looked a little uncomforable in the colorful setting, but he still settled down at one end of the Sofa. Sharad Sir started talking to him, while me, Sumit and Arjun continued our discussion. 

Suddenly Sharad sir asked him "To aap kya karte hain" which he said "HCL"...and then there was silence...

What? was Sharad Sharma bitten by a rogue aunty on a full moon night? how could he stay silent?

So I intervened "Sorry sir, but I think you should ask him what he does at HCL" Arjun and Sumit giggled.

He looked at me, and then at Sharad sir, cluelessly 

"Arrey wo actually, ham log abhi yahi discuss kar rahe they...about how people don't ask further once they get a company's name. So, Sir, aap HCL mein kya karte hain"

"I am a Supply Manager at HCL"

"Oh, Okay, thanks"

Today is the Birthday !

As the discussion continues, Sharad sir shows his books, tells me about Polyp - the UK cartoonist and about lot of other really great craftsmen, whom he has happened to know. Between  all this Sumit and Arjun disappear and come back with a birthday cake.

March 25th is Sharad Sharma's birthday.

Respect multiplies - I know its a very Hindi Filmish quality to be very casual about your birthday, it is basically an assumed trait of Business owners, who are called KARMYOGI in their obituaries. But this man actually treats it that way.

So, I hear that the man has turned 40. We cut the cake. There's some controversy about there being egg in the cake or not. That ended with, Sharad sir rejecting the cake, and us accepting the cake and giving it the place it deserves - deep inside our bellies.

My Purpose for this discussion 

We share each other's work - Sharad sir shows me a book he illustrated (better said - simplified through cartoons) "Communalism Explained", even gives me a copy of it. (I've read it and its a must read for its rooted and NCERT type clear and jargonless tone.). I also found out that many local WCI chapters bring out newsletters at the grassroot level - all compilation of WCI cartoons from people nearby.

No need to show him my work for Newslaundry. He has already seen it and likes it very much. specially the vertical format, which I had adapted after I heard Saad Akhtar (Owner of the webcomics  Fly You Fools) said, that most of the Scott Mc Cloud bullshit about the internet offering the artist an infinite canvas is bullshit. He said that the vertical scroll is what Internet comic reading is all about.

Since then I have tried to use this almost as a rule in whichever comics I do for the web. Yes it makes it difficult for translation to print later. But it makes reading really easy for now.

Anyways, after mutual backscratching, I told him my main reason to meet him today.

I shared with him one thing which I had been on my mind since I started freelance cartooning. That I will slowly get blocked in a cocoon of my own mind. Inside my studio working till I am 90. 

I have to meet people of my profession, and of my interests, and do things which help me explore new ideas, styles and perspectives. 

For this I worked a bit on creating this co-operative organisation with few illustrator friends. Which is hung up right now, due to the grey areas in the idea, which are many. Another idea which was worth working on was this one by Adhiraj, called Comic threesome, where three artists come together and write a script around that evening and pass it to the person adjacent to them. Everyone ends up drawing one script and writing another. We have tried this once, but we haven't yet finished our comics, but that doesn't mean the idea has failed.

As soon as I tell him this he tells me about a similar thing he and his friends did a long time back called  COMICS CAFE 

"What we did was simple, we wanted people to come and discuss Comics. So, in a south ex motorcycle showroom (Which a friend owned) we started this thing called comic cafe. We used to remove the motorcyles in the evening, make space, hang our comics there and have coffee and things to eat there. So we used to see artists, filmmakers etc. coming in and discussing Comics with us. You know learning about our work, sharing information."

"Mere hisaab se Sumit ye tumhara idea yahin se shuru ho gaya, consider this the inaugaral session and lets continue"

so we proceeeded and made a doodle

after discussing little tits bits of the idea further, I left...

before leaving I show Sharad sir rushes of my next idea, which he likes. Although I mention that it might not earn any money, to which he says " Money is never a problem, trust me, It all works out."

And that's good enough for me.