January 13, 2014

Story Boxes: Appupen

By Preksha Sharma

In 2003, Drawn & Quarterly, world’s leading publisher of graphic novels, released a pamphlet called ‘A Drawn and Quarterly Manifesto’ with an aim to help confused booksellers who did not know which section to store “graphic novels” in. Around the time of its release, Chris Oliveros, founder and editor-inchief of Drawn & Quarterly said, “Many of the bookstores that do have a graphic novel section are selling Maus next to X-Men, which is just wrong because they’re two very diff erent books for two very different audiences. It’s kind of like having cookbooks and putting them in the gardening section.” Oliveros’ concern probably sums up the problems that the graphic novel “genre” faces even today, especially in India. While graphic novels in India are getting their due recognition for the craft, impeccable storylines, innovations, originality et al, a lot of challenges still persist.

We spoke to some of the best graphic novelists in the country to understand the scenario better. We also spoke to them about their work and projects. These articles were published in the 16th and 17th issues of Kyoorius Magazine as part of the special series on graphic novels named Story Boxes. Here is the first on the creator of Moonward and Legends of Halahala, Appupen.

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Appupen’s mystic land of Halahala is a dystopic dark reflection of our own land, and is a host to his future predictions for our already crumbling society. He does this through his commentary in the form of some incredibly heterogeneous artwork and atypical characters. George Mathen, through his pseudonym Appupen, laid out his first book in the form of Moonward followed by the completely silent, Legends of Halahala.

The prelude to Appupen starts off with him majoring in Economics from St. Xaviers college, Mumbai while moonlighting with painting and tattoo art to fund himself in college. “Basically, art came to save me and fund me in my time of need and it also made a lot more sense to me than Economics.” He also ventured into advertising along the way and treaded off it due to disinterest and it being diametrically opposite to art. Advertising and animation involved time constraints, which proved as blockades to his storytelling. He wasn’t schooled in art so the style was picked up while on his pursuit to share the stories lying dormant in his head. His public recognition was fueled by the alternative rock/post-rock band Lounge Piranha for which he contributed as the artist and drummer, creating the band identity, visuals, album art et al.

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Moonward

Slowly along the way, there were some short comics that were coming together. “I had this idea of building a fantasy world because I was a big fan of Tolkein’s and Tintin’s world; a fantasy world built over many stories which are interconnected to form a larger picture, something like the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.” He started putting those short comics up online to see if anybody was interested to read them and if people could decode them. It was a brilliant move as that was the climactic story of how Blaft Publications got in touch with him for Moonward.

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Moonward

The multi-layered land of Halahala highlights some very serious existential issues like the travesties of consumerism, which reflects Appupen’s train of thought and is meant to kindle deeper thought in the reader too. He initially didn’t think he could draw and express such serious societal commentary with just pictures and that hesitation led to quick stints at Green Peace and other NGOs, which he credits for his way of thinking along with the books he was reading by geniuses like Noam Chomsky and George Orwell. Appupen explains, “What  I am reading and what I see around me, I sort of juxtapose it in my work. It gives me the picture of what these guys are trying to say and how we are experiencing it, especially in our country where we are running around 15 years behind the cycle of what has happened in the west. So we can pretty much predict everything and it all came together in the form of a dark comic. I think the world of Halahala is intended to do that in the form of a warning.”

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Legends of Halahala

Talking about the graphic novel scene in India, he believes that there aren’t enough creators who are dedicated to creating comic books. “We need more people to make comics as we have so much here to explore. The form is just getting accepted now as a medium and is getting some attention. And now that we have the eyes, it is entirely up to the creators to bring out some challenging stuff. And it’s about time we snap out of the bubble of mythological recreations. I want to own a whistle — anyone who takes on the Ramayana or the Mahabharata again, I want to blow the whistle and banish them. We have so much story potential in India, so why do we need to keep going back to that… Yeah, because Bhima’s perspective of the Mahabharata is so essential!”

Speaking of the scene, he also dismisses Comic Con India, as he thinks that it is just a retailer’s paradise devoid of any focus on the artists and the comics.When asked about his graphic novelist inspirations, he recommends Lynd Ward who was a woodcut artist from the 1920’s and the 30’s. “He pretty much incepted the graphic novel format of storytelling and also, it is entirely silent. I’ve been highly inspired by his work as  I communicate my stories the best through my visuals too. Will Eisner was inspired by him too, who also inspires me.” Appupen continues to illustrate a multitude of stories through the various terrains of Halahala and is currently working on his new book Aspyrus, which is about the journey of an idea in the form of a dragon that is starting to manifest and take over the land. And the onus of annihilating it lays upon his new heroine, a little girl.

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 The graphics of the title feature image are by Jasjyot Singh Hans. All other images and illustrations in the text body are work of George Mathen (Appupen).

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Kyoorius is a bi-monthly print magazine on visual communications. Subscribe here. For buying a single copy (or any of the previous issues), write to us at sales@kyoorius.com.  You can order the issue from Tadpole, get the digital copy from Magzter and also buy it from bookstores near you. For any feedback on the magazine or to submit your work, do drop in a mail to us at editor@kyoorius.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. umd

    01.13.2014

    Reply

    Love Appuppen! :) Best, umd

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