In a world obsessed with words, these comic creators use only imagery to tell their stories and yet the message could not be clearer
As you flip through these pages, you find that the silence is intense but not uncomfortable. A girl in her school uniform with troubled eyes holds a gun in front of her. A cloud of smoke is snaking out of it. People in the background are shocked, their hands over their mouths, their eyes wide with fear. In the next frame, there is a crack on the board, a bloody gash on a pair of legs, the rest hidden by a desk in front. There are no words on the page and yet, the message could not be more clear.
In a world obsessed with words, a small group of silent comic creators are going about telling stories with just pictures. While the idea of silent comics has been around for a while in the West, the market for them is just beginning to open up here. Manta Ray, an independent publishing firm based out of Bangalore, came out with Hush, a silent graphic novella in 2010. Says co-founder Pratheek Thomas, “The novella explores, in 17 pages, the subject of Child Sexual Abuse — the tagline, fittingly, is ‘some things are not meant to be talked about’. We thought words would trivialise the girl’s emotions. I also didn’t want to force my voice into the reader’s head,” adds Pratheek.
Hush, after its release, brought its creators much acclaim, especially for narrating a powerful story with no dialogues. “When you are scripting a story without relying on dialogues, there are two levels of communication you have to look that. That the reader understands what you are trying to say and the artists create exactly what you want in the frame. While the writer isn’t the best person to imagine how everything should look, a story is only as good as your script,” explains Pratheek. “I’m not a very verbose writer and so I enjoy working on silent comics. Dialogue is merely another layer, the pictures must tell the story by themselves.”
Another graphic novelist who believes in this principle is Appupen, who enjoys communicating through strong visuals. His first book, Moonward is not a silent comic but had a few pages that had no dialogues. His next, Legends of Halahala, is a 150-page collection of five silent short stories. “Even with Moonward, I enjoyed working on the portions that didn’t have dialogues. As a guy who draws comics, it allowed me to concentrate on the visuals and story flow,” he says. “But,” he adds, “I’m one of those guys who never makes notes while I’m thinking about a story. I like the fact that ideas can be conveyed purely through pictures.”
Legends of Halahala explores the world of Halahala as a fun, colourful place. “In a silent story, the reader assumes a story in his head and as an artist, you are only guiding him. The medium doesn’t always allow you to explain something completely different (like a new medical concept), but there are ways of getting over that problem too. But, think about it this way. Why do you add dialogues in a comic? When you are trying to explain something that can’t be explained with just pictures,” he says. “Actually I think I like silent comics because my friends tell me I can’t write to save my life,” laughs Appupen.
One of the major advantages of making silent comics is its universality. “There is no language barrier,” adds Appupen. “And it has the power to hold your attention to a page. The artist provides the clues and the reader takes his own stand on the story. Sometimes, as a storyteller, you even hide some details and readers can dig them out.” Pratheek believes that such comics offer value for money. Pratheek has worked on two other silent short stories Rather Lovely Thing and Voyeur. “They are very readable and don’t confound the reader. They’re also more value for money because the reader can keep going back to the story. Silent stories tell a lot within a short time.”