‘The ordinary man is the superhuman in the city'

It is interesting that Gokul Gopalakrishnan should deconstruct the superhero in his ongoing exhibition at Galleryske. His day job as an inspector in the Motor Vehicles Department in Kerala involves being a superhero of sorts — catching drunk and speeding drivers.

In his free time, he wields a pencil, drawing sketches of the city around him.

Mundane superheroes

“A city is made by the walker's view,” says the 37-year-old comic artist.

Inspired by French scholar and essayist Micheal De Certeau's Walking in the City, Gokul's comics at the gallery tell two unconnected tales. A Superhuman Existence and Meanwhile, Elsewhere are both set in an unnamed Indian city.

Drawn in black and white and devoid of dialogue, they tell the story of the ordinary person caught up in the banality and everyday struggles of the city. “The ordinary man is the superhuman in the city,” says Gokul, who writes the story and draws the art.

A Superhuman Existence paints the humdrum routine of a call centre worker, using a uniform six-panel format, enhancing the boredom and predictability of his existence, explains Gokul. Meanwhile, Elsewhere uses the physical space of the gallery more creatively; the story title itself is painted on the gallery wall.

It runs between two walls zigzagging from one to the other in a non-linear fashion.

A girl from a call centre gets off work at an odd hour and her cab driver tries to molest her. She calls out to the city's superhero, a pudgy fellow who is way past his prime. On his way down from his perch, the superhero falls to his death while the girl defends herself and escapes.

Here Gokul says he draws from graphic novelist Alan Moore's much acclaimed work Watchmen, where Moore dwells on the Latin phrase, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' (Who watches the watchmen?)

Serious about comics

Gokul has published short stories, comic strips and articles in Kindle magazine, Fountain Ink magazine and Comix India Anthology. He is currently working on a collection of short stories on his hometown of Trichur in Kerala. He wrote and illustrated the comic strip As City Is for the newspaper DNA for a year and continues to write Small Talk for the Sunday New Indian Express.

The artist is also among a few in India, pursuing a Ph.D. in comics from Mahatma Gandhi University. He is married and the father of two children.

The inspector is proud to say he does not lead an academic's closeted life. “Thanks to my day job I get to meet a lot of people from all walks of life. But it is very difficult to find time. My day job starts at 8 a.m. and goes on till 8 p.m.”

Apart from a diploma in automobile engineering, which was a prerequisite for his day job, Gokul has a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in English Literature. For his Ph.D. thesis, he is studying the history of Indian comics. As programme director of Centre for Performance Research and Cultural Studies in South Asia, he organised an academic conference on comics in Trichur.

Waiting for a dark knight

“Indian writers had a lateral entry into graphic novels without much of a struggle, thanks to Sarnath Banerjee who sold the idea of a graphic novel to Indian publishers in 2004 with Corridor,” he says. “Now, publishers are curious about graphic novels and understand that there is an audience, albeit niche.”

But Gokul is waiting for a dark knight to come to the rescue. “We need a really path breaking work (graphic novel) or the whole momentum will be lost.”

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