Pao draws you into a world you won’t want to leave
Title: Pao: The Anthology of Comics 1
Publisher: Penguin India
This anthology, put together by the Pao Collective — a self-funded group of comic book artists based in Delhi — means business. In a Q-and-A session printed as a sort of preface to the book, the five members of the collective talk about comics: how they should be ‘read’ (reclining at an angle of 37.2 degrees, according to one), how they are constructed, their relationship to other art forms, and their use as a medium, among other issues.
With 12 stories from a mix of creators ranging from the big names to the less known, Pao is the most exciting book of its kind to emerge from India. Its rich, inviting cover, illustrated by Orijit Sen, draws you into a world you really won’t want to leave. And its exploration of different ways of presenting a graphic narrative will have you wondering why comics aren’t used more in daily life.
Some of the stories featured in the anthology deal with topics varying from terrorism to Hindu epics to science fiction, while others deal with narratives on a rather more personal scale. Sarnath Banerjee’s Tito Years looks at the dreams and disappointments of a young boy growing up in pre-liberalisation India, while Sanjay Ghosh’s poignant Print Screen follows around a man in shorts and a T-shirt as he goes about his day dodging questions from bickering parents, shopping for groceries and conversing with a friend on the telephone, wondering all the while about his career as an artist.
One of the most interesting uses of the graphic narrative can be seen in Hindus and Offal, written by Ambarish Satwik and illustrated by Pia Alize Hazarika. It reads almost like a short research paper on attitudes to the consumption of offal — an act “subversive and subaltern” in some cultures, epicurean in others. The illustrations in it may seem inconsistent, but the piece as a whole has the right amount of detail and deals with cultural food habits and prejudices intelligently.
Ending on a high, Chilka by Shohei Emura and Vidyun Sabhaney combines tales from the Mahabharata with illustrations inspired by Japanese manga, promising “something fresh”. And oh boy, do they deliver! Taking liberties with the epic, the creators have Arjuna receive help from an unlikely quarter — the bald and extremely forgetful Baba. Fancying himself a “real warrior”, the endearing old man sets out to save the day, armed with a secret weapon.
Pao has a wonderful selection of stories, each of which is a delight. The hard part is having to wait for successive volumes to arrive.