I follow Darwin's evolution theory up the stairs, and turn beside the bust of an Egyptian goddess (arguing with myself that it resembles Nefertiti) and psychedelic graffiti befitting a mafia catcall to reach illustrator Gaman Palem's cubicle in Loyola College, hidden among a crowd of painted canvasses and clustered comics.
A comic artist for the last eight years, Gaman has illustrated more than 100 Indian children's comics, working mainly on mythological subjects. “All of us grow up with mythology, and there's no pulling you away from it,” he says, adding, “And, I've always worked with children's books, and I enjoy it. The comics are always colourful and bright.”
Gaman's first series of eight picture books, The Golden Mythology Series, won the National Award for Excellence in Printing Children's Books, and the illustrator is now busy with his designs for the Government's Samacheer Kalvi English textbooks for Classes I to IX.
Making education fun
“With the Government's common syllabus coming into place, textbooks are getting more creative and many publishers are jumping into the bandwagon to make education fun for kids. It's a good time to be in school,” he chuckles, drawing back to get a few books for me to see.
Baby Krishna, Hanuman, Ramayan and Stripey the Tiger are some of his creations, and he is soon coming up with India's first adult comic. “I am working on bringing out an adult version of the Mahabharatham, where the story will concentrate more on the violence surrounding the war. It'll be a darker shade of the traditional version. I've begun my research on murals, and have found some fascinating bits of information,” he smiles.
But, how big is the comic industry here? Gaman sounds sceptical. “There is not much scope for new comic artists (though there are many here), unless they go along the path of children's comics or mythology. A book is visible only as long as it is on the shelf. With well-known brands Amar Chitra Kathabringing out books by the hundreds, individual artists with original scripts don't stand much of a chance. At book fairs, we realise that parents don't buy comics they don't already know, and youngsters don't wish to spend around Rs. 500 on a good graphic novel or comic. Plus, there's nothing you can't download off the Internet,” he sighs.
The journalism and visual communication graduate, who teaches in the Visual Communication department in Loyola College, says the toughest task is to find writers. An illustrator can make the colours, shapes and blurbs, but you need a writer to fill in the text… to complete the book. I tried my hand in journalism to experiment with writing, but later found a professional writer for the job. After all, your creative licence lies in how you depict and write an epic in just a few pages, leaving out the branches,” Gaman reiterates.
An artist with an MPhil in graphic novels, Gaman says he never thought of another option. “My father was an artist, and ever since I could remember, I've been sketching too. I became interested in comics as I began to read and collect them. Later, it just became a passion. I did a stint in animation too, but soon realised that my interest lay in graphic novels and comics. I wouldn't say I picked it, but I guess it was so natural it had to happen,” he shrugs.