The Obliterary Journal Vol. 1
Edited by Rakesh Khanna and Rashmi Ruth Devadasan
Rs 695 pp 269
If its 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 books 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 Undurtis (story) and Harsho Mohan Chattorajs (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, its 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 zamindars son in 1971 Calcutta running away to join the Naxalbari movement is maudlin. Barring for the kitsch value, there really isnt 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 birds 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 wont 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, lets be kind (and have fun) and obliterate.