Interview: Joshy Benedict, author, The Pig Flip - Hindustan Times
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Interview: Joshy Benedict, author, The Pig Flip

BySyed Saad Ahmed
May 31, 2024 10:47 PM IST

On creating his graphic novel about a gambling addict trying to change his behaviour, initially self publishing it in Malayalam, its subsequent journey, his visual influences and his spectacular depiction of landscapes

The Pig Flip features a gambling addict trying to change his compulsive behaviour after marriage. Where did you get the idea for the story and why did you decide to write it as a graphic novel?

Author Joshy Benedict (Courtesy the publisher)
Author Joshy Benedict (Courtesy the publisher)

I live in a village in the foothills of the Western Ghats in Kerala. I observe people and incidents here, which often spark ideas. Some I quickly forget, but some grow over time. Once the story for The Pig Flip took shape, I thought of making it as a live-action film. However, that required a producer and a crew, which are not easy to come by. Besides, I enjoy the freedom that comes with working on things alone.

In 2013, the company I was working with ran into financial problems, so I returned home and didn’t have much to do. That’s when I thought of turning the story into a graphic novel — I can write, draw, and I’ve been a reader since childhood. I first wrote it as a short story, which took three months. I still remember the joy I felt when I wrote the first sentence. I then started drawing, which took six to seven months. The process was fun, but also painful.

120pp, Rs369; Harper Collins
120pp, Rs369; Harper Collins

You’ve worked as an animator and made short films. How did that impact your storytelling?

My animation experience has influenced my drawing, but not my writing. Some changes in expressions, action sequences, and surrealistic interludes draw from my background as an animator. But also, simply illustrating what is written does not constitute a graphic novel. The text and image combine in ways such that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. That’s why I love this medium.

You first self-published The Pig Flip in Malayalam (Pannimalath). Could you talk about the journey of taking the book to readers?

When I started working on the graphic novel, it was a passion project — I did not think about where and how to publish it. The publishing process was more difficult than its creation. An editor of a major Malayalam weekly said he would feature it, but he backed out. After some effort, it was published on the website Manorama Online. I then tried to bring it out as a book. The text in the graphic novel was initially hand-written, but on a prominent publisher’s request, I made a print typeface. They too backed out of publishing it.

In 2018, an indie comic festival came to Kochi for the first time. They contacted me and asked me to participate with this graphic novel. I told them that I hadn’t published it as a book, so they asked me to bring a couple of digital prints. At the festival, people asked to buy it, but since I had only two copies in hand, I took their address, printed more copies, and sent it to them by post. Word about the book spread on Facebook, so I got a couple more orders.

What was the process of getting the book translated? What was your role in the translation?

I don’t know much about marketing; I just posted about my book on Facebook. I thought of getting the book translated into English to reach more readers. My friends encouraged me too. One of them, Baburajan, introduced me to KK Muralidharan, a Mumbai-based production designer. He’s from the same part of Kerala as me, so he knew about the story’s setting. He was interested in translation and took it up. Although I don’t know English well, I shared my opinions and we discussed some native usages. The translation took about four months. After that, I started searching for publishers for the English version. Some friends helped me connect with Priya Kurien and E Suresh, who introduced me to Harper Collins.

I like your distinct visual style, especially the use of watercolours. How did you develop the visuals for the book?

I started with a rough sketch of all the pages. I then went page by page, drawing the images and adding the colours. I scanned them and used Photoshop to make the page layouts, but the graphics, and even the text initially, were done by hand. I had decided from the beginning that I would depict the characters’ bodies and clothes in the same colours. I also focused on showing the gradations of light.

Which artists or storytellers have influenced you? And in what ways?

Some of the authors are Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and Anand. Among graphic novels, I like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Dimitri Vey and Man Arenas’s Yaxin the Faun, and Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha. However, I wouldn’t count them as influences because while working on The Pig Flip, I started with a blank slate — I didn’t take stylistic inspiration from other graphic novels.

Your depiction of landscapes in the graphic novel is spectacular. What impact has Kerala’s landscape or you living in Kerala had on your art?

There are many landscapes in Kerala — beaches, paddy fields, lakes, and so on — but my story is set in the foothills of the Western Ghats. Like everyone else, I observe the world around me. It also comes naturally to me as part of my work. The landscapes and backgrounds in The Pig Flip also contribute to the narrative. I tried to create characters who harmonise with their surroundings. However, these are not based on Kerala’s natural landscapes alone; they encompass many other visual references.

How do you view the Indian graphic novel scene? What more needs to be done to support graphic novels, especially in languages other than English?

Compared to English graphic novels, there is barely an ecosystem for Malayalam ones. I’m not even sure if most Malayalam readers have an understanding of what graphic novels are. A Malayalam publisher told me that graphic novels are more likely to run into losses because the extensive use of colours makes them more expensive to print. I wish they would do more to support graphic novels because their production is time-consuming. It took me six to eight months of full-time work to create The Pig Flip; I didn’t do anything else then.

Syed Saad Ahmed is a writer and communications professional.

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