• Comics, part 1: Subbu's Tamizh SF Epic

    A storm is coming.

    This one landed on my lap some four or five years ago, not long after I'd quit my job at the New Indian Express and was loafing around Bangalore without work, succumbing by slow degrees to depression and creative desolation. It began with an email from a friend, introducing me to another friend of his. This friend-of-a-friend (yes, this is going to be one of those stories), I was told, was a hotshot journo working for TNIE in Chennai, and he had a script for a graphic novel, which he was going to self-publish, and he was looking for an illustrator, and would I be interested in working with him, because it was going to be awesome and I was jobless anyway so what the hell?

    This kind of thing is usually a big gamble -- accepting a commission from a writer when s/he is yet to find a publisher or editor and the book's future is uncertain -- and I tend to turn down such offers with little hesitation. But this project intrigued me for several reasons: This was to be a dystopian science-fiction comic set in Madras, the town where I grew up. It was written in Tamizh, which was exciting because I'd always worked with English texts till then. I'd looked up a bunch of articles by the writer, Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu, and they were all rather good. His family ran a big local news media empire, so there was some guarantee that the book would be published in some form or the other. And what finally clinched it was meeting Subbu (for thus he is abbreviated) in person. He seemed like a passionate guy, he had some great ideas, and the story he'd put together was brilliant.

    Every one of the above reasons is also why it's such a tragedy that the project never took off. I share a large part of the blame for this, because of my extreme slowness at getting the first batch of artwork off the ground. I was suddenly getting a lot of freelance jobs around that time, and I didn't yet know how to say no to people, and I'd always managed time rather inefficiently. (I'm a lot better now. Or so I hope.) Which meant that this graphic novel project, which had a hazy work process that was conducted entirely by email, and no firm deadlines, was already moving at a sluggish pace. The plot was also being modified as the pages were being illustrated. As it wore on, there was decreasing clarity on what was to become of it and where the story was headed. And one day, the process abruptly veered off course, careened off the side of the cliff it was struggling up, and plummeted to a fiery death. Contracts were torn up, sad emails were exchanged, and that was that.

    Below are the first few pages that I'd illustrated for the book, along with a few rough layouts for pages that were still being planned when the project was called off. I've blacked out the text of the comic, because the copyright for that rests with Subbu and I don't want to give anything away until he eventually gets it going again. I really hope he does, because it's still a great story, and he's a good storyteller, and he deserves a big audience. Who knows, maybe it'll get made into a movie or something, some day.

    This is the only sex scene I've ever drawn, pathetically evident in how little skin I chose to show here.
    Drawing the chap with the melty flesh was quite enjoyable.

    I'd noticed some years ago that the map of Madras looks rather like a face in profile...

    ...so I used that idea here to visually illustrate how the city imbibes immigrants.

    Rough layouts, with black and white areas marked out in pencils

    As you can see, the pages with a lot of dialogue were a bit of a struggle to lay out. I had to use a lot of silly camera tricks to give the pages some visual depth.

    So much for the unfinished stuff. In my next post on the comics I've illustrated/scripted, I'll show you a bunch of pages that were completed and published. You can feel less sorry for me then :P

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