Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s comics historian Paul Gravett, visiting Mumbai to speak at the Litmus Festival of literature and music.
Twitter has been abuzz over the visit of this 59-year-old Londoner, an advocate of comics as literature, and author of Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK (2014), Comics Art (2013) and 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die (2011).
His keynote address at Litmus is titled ‘The first word’. “Yet the first word, of course, wasn’t a word. It was a picture,” he says, smiling. “Pictures are in our DNA. When comics are at their best, with or without words, their language can communicate far more sophisticatedly than words.”
Gravett is also in India to research his upcoming book, Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Pan-Asian Comic Art.
“In India, you have an interesting development in graphic novels where large publishing houses like Harper Collins and Penguin and independent ones are doing great work. You’ve also got the eternal stories of the Mahabharata and Ramayana being retold,” he says. “These mythic potent stories are much deeper than those of the superheroes, and you can interpret them very freely. You don’t need a big media house’s permission , like in the case of DC and Marvel, to retell them.”
The only concern, he says, is that this could hold back new ideas and new stories, new innovations and new heroes for the 21st century. “We are yet to see much of that here in India.”
Comics are a fantastic vehicle for crossing cultural boundaries, Gravett adds. “Indian novels and graphic novels have the potential to crossover in more ways even than Bollywood movies have been able to, because of the complete range of genres -- from action to superheroes and from fantasy to stories rooted in real life.”
You can catch comics historian Paul Gravett in conversation with Kailash Iyer, editor of the journal Pulpocracy, at Leaping Windows at 3pm on Sunday
To view the Litmus Festival schedule, go to litmusfestival.com.