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Review: The Obliterary Journal Vol. 1

Pictorial devices wage a war against textual forms in this impressive anthology of graphic narratives

books Updated: Mar 23, 2012 18:30 IST

The Obliterary Journal Vol. 1

Edited by Rakesh Khanna and Rashmi Ruth Devadasan

Blaft/Tranquebar

Rs 695 pp 269

If it’s hard to get butts to move into galleries and for people to go out and see contemporary, edgy works of art in your city, one way of going about things is to bring the proverbial mountain to Mohammad. Which is what this omnibus does by bringing excerpts from longer graphic narratives (not all of them being standard strip cartoons) and panels from art works (illustrations, photographs, paintings etc) between an easily accessible pair of covers.

What is overwhelmingly evident is the serious way in which this volume — the first among future anthologies — deals with being playful. The strip cartooned foreword itself marks this tone firmly as it presents the book’s manifesto: pictorial devices waging war against textual forms. A pictogram radiation warning sign lets out a blood-curdling war cry with a raised arm: “Obliterate Literature! Down with novels! Long live comics and picture books and graffiti and wacky art”. The ‘off-camera’ response in the same frame hints to the battle between image-based and text-based creatures that follows. The last frame shows that the battle has been lost for the ‘obliteracists’ but the war will continue. As it immediately does for the next 260 pages.

The range of graphic narratives on display in The Obliterary Journal is impressive. The standard comic book format is showcased in the excerpt from Jai Undurti’s (story) and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj’s (art) ‘The Hyderabad Graphic’ at the beginning of the book. The artwork is ‘traditional’ — black and white inkwork realism — but what makes it more than a usual story is the high literary tone of the narrative. We read: “There was this French guy who came up with ‘psychogeography’. According to him, it was the “study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” Alone, it’s something interesting, but at the level of being told about a nice, ‘post-modern’ theory. In the frame though, coupled with the busy image of a bustling quarter of Hyderabad — where the eye is immediately drawn to the ‘Zero 2 Hero: Personality Development & Extra-Legal Income; Step in a zero, step out a hero’ billboard — the theory springs to life.

The treatment is straightforward with the complete comic book story ‘Nowhere to Run’ by Anasua (story) and Subrata Gangopadhyay (art). This story of a zamindar’s son in 1971 Calcutta running away to join the Naxalbari movement is maudlin. Barring for the kitsch value, there really isn’t much here.

Far, far more interesting is the breath of fresh air that one encounters in the genuinely poetic single-page art works by ‘Durrrrk Mixer Grinder Serial No. 30277XM03’ and Malavika PC (illustrator) titled ‘One Score and Three From the One Gross’. The description of ‘Durrrrk’ as the ‘writer and medidator’ of 23 single-page works is apt. The zen-like quality of the image of a gigantic bird’s talons holding up an unconscious figure in shorts with his binoculars (‘Root, an adroit ornithologist, was spirited away by a big turquoise bird with flaming orange talons’) or that of two viral creatures shouting ‘Mayhem!’ and ‘Plutarch’ at each other touches on a playful beauty.

‘Autoraj: Caught By Traffic’ is an eye-catcher, where Zen Marie turns Bangalore auto-driver Rajuna into a photo-montage super hero bashing up baddies in frozen frames. What Maries does is set her auto heroes in the same hyper-kitsch zone in which Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak placed Afghan men in his book, Altered Spaces: Taliban Portraits. The effect is hilarious-interesting, a good zone to be in.

The book ends in the truly superlative ‘Emerald Apsara: The Adventures of PR Mazoomdar NO. 19’ by Orijit Sen. The artwork is deceptively traditional panel cartoons. But the narrative is one opium smoke caught in a bottle. I won’t give the game away, but the ‘short story’, showing a figure with his face covered, flying in a balloon-powered scooter and approaching a Rajput palace in the opening panel, is visual narrative art at its finest.

The Obliterary Journal, Volume 1 deserves the serious intent of observing a circus clown. So kudos to the Blaft team for sniffing these works out and putting them on Tranquebar's mainstream publishing radar. Volume 2, I half-hope, half-expect, could deal with the popular aesthetics of the rich desi horror genre. Till then, let’s be kind (and have fun) and obliterate.

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