Thursday, March 15, 2018

Overnight success: Irritating trope

This is the story of a basti of qawwals in Jalandhar and a new smartphone game.

The new game is called Florence and it's literally a comic. It's by the designer who created the beautiful MONUMENT VALLEY. This one has beautiful illustrations, is a romance, is minimal and is extremely beautiful. Check the trailer.

The illustrations are the kind that's more or less of our time. How do I explain that, I mean, look at all the comic book art in Marvel and DC in the 80's it looks similar despite the artist right?

Its like that. If you look at how almost all design school graduates draw - its like that. rough sketchy brushes and sometimes just color somewhere and not full colors but coloring in varying tones of the same colour - purple, light purple, dark purple and a mustard yellow thrown in for highlights. Very few stand apart from this formula, very few have a style that's unique.

What triggered this blog was the ending of the story in this digital game comic app romantic story something. SPOILER ALERT. The girl who wants to be an artist but stuck in a boring job takes a leap of faith and is suddenly an overnight success. This is the fairy tale of today. People eat it up. Its in films, in books, in graphic novels (see POLINA where a ballerina suddenly becomes part of a successful troupe). Today, everyone wants to be an immediate internet sensation - including me.

But where does it stop? As I understood from a trek recently -

1. I saw a mountain from far. it was the biggest around.
2. I climbed it.
3. There were 10 bigger mountains around.

It never stops. And that's the irritating part.

As a full time cartoonist I get both sides of the mountain a lot. I am the author of two decently selling graphic novels and many webcomics. I do this full time. Its a struggle. But its alright. Some tell me great so good you are living the dream. Some feel sad for me - why haven't I become a "success". They mean the overnight kind where I have 1 million followers.

I have been making comics for a long time now. Full time. Did jobs in the middle. Never left comics though. I write and draw my own comics. My cartooning space is a small business. I have clients that give me work, which helps me run my webcomic Bakarmax.

Now, I will take a brief moment and tell you about the basti of qawwals in Jalandhar. I never knew about it, until I heard in an interview of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan that before migrating to Pakistan his family used to live there. Its called Basti Shekh Darwesh. He is from a family of qawwali parties that made money however they could, practicing endlessly everyday. Set in stone. A routine. Hear the interview if you get the time.

There are many stories like that, especially in music. Daler Mehndi is part of this big family. There are people in sciences who continue to work in their silences. Working everyday. Its like this endless riyaaz. There is no worry about reaching a peak. Its about perfecting your craft, studying it, fixing it, dusting the old things, adding new ones.

And that's the side of making art or literally doing anything - what we call today - FOLLOWING YOUR PASSION - that is not told. Its really not about overnight success. Its about Riyaaz. and doing Riyaaz despite everything. That's something that is easy to understand but very difficult to put into practice. Its like tweaking an engine everyday. Its reached that point that I have stopped worrying about anyone funding my comics. I don't wait for anyone.

I am really getting into this Riyaaz mode. Not sure if that's good or bad. But that's the frame of my mind right now.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Girl Child Education and Child Marriage illustrations for Breakthrough Trust

Breakthrough is a trust which works in the third sector, specifically in the issues relating to Gender. They have a history of successful campaigns and heavy use of illustration and animation.

I was more than pleased to work with them on a series of illustrations. These were to be billboards to be used in Bihar, on the themes of Girl child's education and prohibition of child marriage.

They had made these illustrations. Which the project partners had rejected.

Some used Vector illustrations.

Some were illustrated in detail. The one below is done by Jasjyot Singh Hans. He had done lot of other illustrations on this project too. I don't know how they had been used. One thing that jumped at me from his illustrations were how young he had shown the girl to be, or maybe how old the groom was. When I made my illustrations on the same visual, I had to rework the groom too.

My assumption is that in Child marriage, both participants are children. That's not always right though. We have Bandit Queen as an example. She was married to a full grown man.

Jasjyot's illustration

Anyhow, when I got the themes I had to work on, and my deadline, well, the work was lot and time was little. Well, that goes without saying in our line of work. I began working on roughs and asking for references. Breakthrough is good at communication - and I received references, color guides, videos. I was ready.

The saree is tied differently across India is something to mind, also their colours and prints define the region

For the faces, I have always kept the face of the Adiwasi people distinct - basically people from Bastar region, which are scattered around in all states.

Bihar has little or no Adiwasi population (Jharkhand has) yet I decided to use the nose from the template adiwasi face, adapting it for the standard Bihari face that I was planning to create. It gave the visual feel of the references.

Once I had these things set in my head, I started sending them roughs.

Keeping women in Purdah was my decision, but I was told that we shouldn't do that. That's where the limit of an illustrator is sometimes visible - we might be good at our art, but we don't know every region, state or country. In this context, maybe it was a cultural reason or a creative. We had 2 days to do these and the focus was more on finishing these than lengthy discussions.

Maybe a trip to rural Bihar is in order.

Once the references were discussed and analysed, I started sharing the final images. One by one, over a period of three days, I worked on an immense number of illustrations. But I also found creative satisfaction in drawing the sarees. Although I rarely notice clothes people wear in day to day lives, recently I have started to implement it in the work I do - it gives personality to the characters.

Men as usual are devoid of any style. This is our destiny.

This image took lot of rework, I wanted it to look like an authentic child marriage where both girl and the boy have been pressurised and are teenagers. 

3D non animate objects are always a pain to draw, but once they turn out decently, they look good. Specially when they are black.

This again was tricky. After lot of to and fro we setteled at this young mother. is she too young? I couldn't say.

we changed this father to a more older one, and the girl slightly older

I love policewomen everywhere: They are the most wonderful mix of authority and soft power. Once I saw this gang of lady constables make sure that a local market was safe, at the same time two of them were also trying out earrings. Maybe I am sexist, Maybe I am maybelline. Sorry.

This was an interesting, quick, mazedar project. Fun thing: I am working with Breakthrough again!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Storyboarding for the first time: Amazon, Avon and American Express

Without realizing, I have always been storyboarding - when memorizing things for school, when thinking of ideas or planning how a plot would reveal itself, or even when planning my life.

I am a big fan of visual thinking, and I feel it lays out things quite clearly. I really really hate people who have stopped using pen and paper while thinking - I don't how that works. It feels very dry. Very excel sheet like.

visual thinking

But storyboarding, as a proper craft - I have done for animation when I was making my first animated film with Shivang Chopra. Its called taming horses

And the second time, when I and Adhiraj were working on Aaapki Poojita's animated trailer and the subsequent episode (WIP). Point being, I have done it, mostly for myself.

Aaapki Poojita Storyboard

As a cartoonist, I thumbnail a lot. and really badly. day and night. its bad thumbnails where a good idea comes from - mostly because you are not afraid. And as a self-taught artist its really important for me to not be afraid.
I've also made my clients comfortable with the idea of seeing very badly drawn thumbnails - just to give them an idea of what will go where.
Again - I do not understand designers who work without thumbnails - It's super strange to me.

Badly done thumbnail

Coming back to storyboarding, its heavily used in filmmaking, specifically advertising. And benchmark in that regard has always been Saumin Patel's work. They are pieces of art in themselves.
You can see more of them here.

Saumin Patel's work

Recently for the first time, I was asked to storyboard. I would be storyboarding for the first time - purely storyboarding, not presenting a book, not building a campaign but just storyboarding.

Personally, I can draw and present my badly drawn thumbnails - but when there are more than two people involved, they have to be clean and clear, and that's why I think Saumin chooses stunning, well lit, clear storyboards over rough squiggles.

These were three films for Amazon.

Amazon headphones film

Amazon omlette film

Amazon dancing film

An important lesson I learnt was, that you have to really break your head over shots. I make comics so rarely think about how a camera would move, because my medium isn't constrained. But this is. That was my major lesson learnt.

Next, I was storyboarding for this American Express film. Their design guideline was very particular about even the transitions - headache level particular. So I really really worked on my transitions and made the storyboards. They turned out alright.


Amex Munnabhai

After this, I worked on this Breast Cancer awareness film for Avon, but here the idea was to use my illustrations to create a film. The ad agency had someone who was confused about animating with line drawings and stop-motion animation with cutouts and they just sold the hybrid baby of both to the client. And the poor people at the production house even made it. I just had to do that art. With some pain though. I got brain cancer. They later made the whole film all over again.

All in all, I am professionally storyboarding now. But still with some caution - making sure that I only pick things that I can deliver. Still learning!