Graphic novelist Appupen gives CATHERINE RHEA ROY a glimpse of the world that lies on the other side of the portal.
His eyebrows make a furrow on his forehead when he is thinking. Graphic novelist Appupen is thinking about Halahala, the lopsided world of his imagination, an absurd place, teeming with all sorts of sounds and stories. “Halahala,” he played with the alliterative syllables, “Halahala,” first a clamour and then an echo, disturbing the air before it disappeared, leaving behind stillness. “Halahala, it has the sound of chaos and laughter. It is the sound of a dark world where people are not good looking, a world that is awkward and weird. When I say Halahala I can sense some of that poison (from halahal the poison lodged in Lord Shiva’s throat), like a dark coating. Also I like the name, it has intrigue and it’s not like anything you have heard before much like Appupen,” smiles George Mathen.
Those were dark times, when we first stumbled into Halahala through Moonward, Appupen’s first book published by Blaft in 2009. It showed a world that was unaffected by its lack of colour, a black world made marginally hopeful by grey. “Till Moonward we had only gone to one city and followed one series of events, in the new book I have started exploring other threads. Legends Of Halahala has more about the people and life rather than just one journey in time.” Released earlier this year, Legends of Halahala (Harper Collins; see review below), is a collection of five silent, short stories that probe many twisted manifestations of love.
“Each story is different in style, setting and is part of the folklore of that world. These are the stories people in Halahala have grown up with, the tales that have gone on to become legends which we will continue to hear through Appupen,” he says.
The cover of the book is hardly warm or welcoming. A totem with eyes that bore into you and frozen on a mouth that snarls wildly, cutting short any spoken narrative. “The totems, they are story telling totems and continue to appear through the book — they hold the stories together.” From there on the reader works with visual cues and clues in colours, black and white and trace a journey through different eras, regions and realities.
Follow the breadcrumbs into a forest in Halahala, around the time of the Oberian Age where obers and other fantastic creatures thrived. Cut to medieval times where castles and squabbles between neighbouring kingdoms are the props in a story where love triumphs all. “These are examples of how the world has to be fleshed out — I continue to work on these stories, and my skill as a story teller also grows alongside, to a point where the story threads meet,” he adds confidently.
For instance, there is a rough map of Halahala and three cities have been marked out, of which White City is also where Moonward is set. It is this place that goes on to become Dome City and on the outskirts of Dome City is a wasteland, a barren expanse that is the setting for “16917P’s Masterpiece”, a story in Legends of Halahala. A man has been chewed and spat out of Dome City, he has been flushed out of the drainage pipe, half dead, no name and only the memory of an existence. With no words and effective art we understand and interpret the story of 16917P’s rise, fall and miserable death. “It’s about the importance of a work of art without the artists’ signature, it’s about the role of the ego in the artist’s work,” he explains, but that’s the text he gives the story; you have the liberty to write your own.
He protests vehemently against the ‘dumbing down’ of classics and epics to graphic form for those with reduced attention spans, making comic books lazy and lacking in effort. Challenging this is the silence in Legends of Halahala, which has a quality and dimension of its own — it draws you further into the world and strengthens the author’s authority as a story-teller. “With my silent comics I expect people to spend more time with the stories, making their own interpretation of it. You have to trust me as an artist, and believe that what you got is what the artist said. Even if it is not, you will build your own story and that is the area we are playing.”
Through the keyhole you can see a half finished world, a work in progress. “That’s the whole idea, I want to build something on a pretty big scale and I intend to do it with stories as I go along. In fact, the world is already complete but I am still exploring, discovering and mapping it out inch by inch, filling it with more detail as and when it is revealed to me,” he says. From Moonward where Appupen’s author profile showed him sitting at home setting speech bubbles on fire, in Legends of Halahala a snapshot at the end of the book shows him climbing through the portal into Halahala. “Well, I have no wife or pets I live with and it seemed like a better idea for an author profile.”
Appupen is now getting ready to tell us the story of Aspyrus. “He is a very appealing creature with wings, always at an arms distance, teasing. Aspyrus is an idea and a comment on things going ‘viral’, of something that grows on hype and overshadows everything else. Aspyrus is a dream.”