Manta Ray’s comic anthology, ‘Mixtape 2’, shines the spotlight on stories worth telling and the artists who create them

Pratheek and Tina Thomas, core team members of indie publishing house Manta Ray (MaRa), were at a cafe when an artist friend, Roshan, gave them a few well-worn, dog-eared pages. There unfolded a poignant story of an unassuming mother and her baby, set in Thiruvananthapuram railway station. Between the mess and squalor of frequented platforms, between policemen and immigrants, old Hindi music and fresh newspaper cuttings, lay a Malayalam tale of enduring love named Amma. Creator Anil K.S.’s first published work, Amma features in Mixtape 2, the second volume of MaRa’s anthologies which seeks to amplify new, unknown and unusual voices in the Indian comic scene.

A step ahead

Besides Amma, Mixtape 2 contains four other stories penned and illustrated by creators almost all of whom are from Kerala. No wonder then, that the Bangalore-based publishers chose Kochi to officially launch the anthology. In true MaRa style, each of Mixtape 2’s stories is radically different from the next. “When we first came out with Mixtape 1, it was an experiment which we were floating. It was well-received and we were determined to raise the bar with Mixtape 2,” says Pratheek. While the first volume featured four stories, each between four and 10 pages, the second has five of varying lengths, some quite elaborate, with the artists given freedom to choose their depth of detail. What has remained constant though, is MaRa’s determination to tell real, human stories — “In our world, no one leaps over buildings, walks through walls or saves humanity from destruction,” reads their website.

Mixtape 2 opens with a police-and-don chase, The Pursuit, written by Pratheek’s brother Vivek Thomas and drawn entirely in violent, black-and-white pencil sketches by Rupesh Aravindakshan. The second story The Sea Within is a single poetic sentence written and inked by police officer and artist Gokul Gopalakrishnan. Anti-social Networking is Roshan’s stark take on our uber-networked lives, and Sunshine is a bizarre story by Anupam Arunachalam, with art by Manoj Menon. Says Tina, “Mixtape is edited by Pratheek and I, with core team member and artist Prabha Mallya. While I prefer stories with a more personal touch, Pratheek enjoys more noir, dark narratives, and Prabha likes non-linear ones which push artistic boundaries as well. So between us, we manage a volume that has something for everyone,” says Tina.

Thus far both volumes of Mixtape have contained stories that MaRa has come across through the comics network, by word of mouth or through friends of creator friends. There have even been contributions by appreciative readers, but MaRa has yet to officially call for submissions. “For the first few editions we would like to establish a certain standard of story-telling before we throw open the floor,” says Pratheek. Their stories have also not centred around similar themes but Tina says, several issues down the line, they may launch themed editions, like a science-fiction-only edition. “Besides fronting new talent, we also wanted Mixtape to be a platform for familiar names like Anupam and Roshan. Sincethe comic scene in India is still young, unless you publish entire novels, opportunities for short stories are few, since anthologies like these are rare,” says Pratheek.

Mixtape 3 is currently in the making but the MaRa team is now working toward publicising their existing body of work, which includes, among others, a mini graphic novel Hush, a graphic novel series Twelve, and over two years of a weekly full page comic named The Small Picture written for a financial newspaper. “Most publishers of comics reach audiences in India’s metros, and that too primarily Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. What we’ve realised though, is that India’s tier-two cities are growing hubs of comics readers and creators. There are top art and design institutions in such cities. And even if their students are interested in working with comics for life, as alumni, they invariably join advertising firms and the like, because there aren’t enough forums to encourage and publish their work. We hope Mixtape will be able to fill that gap,” says Pratheek.

What Mixtape has achieved for MaRa so far, is to make it a household name within art and comic circles for quality work that is unafraid to experiment. ‘An Evening with Manta Ray’ in Kochi will showcase over 40 prints of MaRa’s art work thus far, alongside a sale of their books and the official launch of Mixtape 2. Many of Mixtape 2’s creators will also be there and five of them will present a live art demonstration. The event will be at Cafe Papaya on September 22, Sunday, at 6 30 p.m. For details, contact: 98950-19900

A word from the creators

Rupesh Aravindakshan

Automobile designer Rupesh Aravindakshan’s work in The Pursuit breaks all rules of traditional comic panelling with characters leaping over and across panel frames. “Vivek’s story required that kind of tough, gritty, hand-held and rough feel to both the characters and the layout of the page,” says Rupesh. The entire comic was created with pencil and paper with no digital work involved, which Rupesh says was a relief in the digitised art world. The appreciation for his work, here and in The Small Picture, has opened up other avenues for him, which he says was a pleasant surprise.

Anil K.S.

Anil has been drawing right from childhood and his day job in the animation world has ensured he continues to do so today. Amma was drawn from a true-life incident during Anil’s night travels in Kerala. “I wanted to create the multi-cultural texture of railway stations, so Amma blends Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali and English over 10 pages that even require you to read them upside down!” Besides Manta Ray, Anil has worked for Penguin publishers and is currently working on a series of comics paying homage to Fort Kochi.