Malayalam graphic novels are rooted in Kerala and its culture

Thakara, Pannimalathu, Premalekhanam, Kallan Pavithran, Koprachev and now Idivettu are all Malayalam graphic novels/comic books set in Kerala. “Since it is a story based in Kerala, it had to be in Malayalam,” says Tina Thomas, of Kochi-based storytelling and publishing house Kokaachi, of Idivettu, its first Malayalam comic book series, explaining why she chose to work with the language, even if it means only reaching a niche audience.

She is not alone. When Idivettu, the first of her eight book series, comes out in April, it will be one of a handful of graphic comic books in Malayalam. Tina confidence is rooted in the slowly growing, but loyal community of comic book readers. Exposed to new mediums of storytelling, via OTT platforms and social media, readers are increasingly looking beyond stories in just prose.

Graphic novels/comics are niche; working against the genre is the perception that illustrated stories are only for children. Highly stylised, the stories are essentially for a grown-up/young adult audience. The ones that spring from Kerala are hyper-local, dialect and relatable characters - mundu clad men in typical Kerala settings and women in set-mundu, beaches, coconut and jackfruit trees.

Malayalam graphic novels are rooted in Kerala and its culture

Some of the stories are original, and located in Kerala. Like Idivettu, the story of three thieves, written by Prateek Thomas, one of the founders of Kokaachi. The stories are of regular folk and some familiar stories such as Premalekhanam, based on Vaikom Mohammed Basheer’s story by KP Muraleedharan.

His first graphic novel Thakara, published by DC Books in 2014, was inspired by auteur Padmarajan’s eponymous film, made in 1979. Then, Muraleedharan, now a freelance animator, decided to retell Thakara in graphic novel format. “Padmarajan’s work is already there. I wanted to reinterpret the story, create a different mood,” says the Kayamkulam-based artist, who has worked with Toonz Animation in Thiruvananthapuram.

Making Idivettu
  • Kokaachi’s Idivettu is set in Kottayam, “it is the story of a kallan, a kalli and a perumkallan – all thieves. It has pulp, colour and is accessible. We are targeting an audience between 16 and 40 years of age,” says Tina. The team has a detailed marketing plan, since accessibility tends to become a problem when it comes to graphic novels/comics.
  • They intend to display it in places frequented by this demographic. Planning it as a series would keep interest and curiosity alive when the series is complete they intend to bring out an English translation. The dialogues are by Tina and Pratheek, art by Mohith O and the cover by Upamanyu Bhattacharyya.

He adds, “I wanted to retell it in terms of interpretation and characterisation. For instance Nedumudi Venu’s Chellappan asari, is very different in my version.” Thakara was serialised in 2013-14 and published in a Malayalam weekly magazine over three months, then published as a book.

Malayalam graphic novels are rooted in Kerala and its culture

Joshy Benedict’s Pannimalathu and Koprachev too are rooted in Kerala, in ‘village stories’ as he calls them. Also a former employee of Toonz Animation, Joshy read graphic novels from France, Germany and other European countries, each unique and so experimental that he found them inspiring. When he created Pannimalathu he deliberately worked on finding an individual style. “I wanted to make it for myself. I didn’t think of publishing it,” Joshy says. In 2015 it was published online and he later decided, for posterity’s sake, to publish it in book form. Koprachev followed a couple of years later.

Joshy approached a publishing house, with Pannimalathu in 2016, which put him on hold for a couple of years, since the market was not viable. He finally decided self-publish, in response to requests on his social media accounts. Since he prints only a few copies, on demand at a time, he has to use expensive digital printing which makes up for 60% of the selling price and leaves him with a profit margin of barely 40%. Yet, Joshy is not ready to give up, and plans another graphic novel. “Why? Out of passion. There is no other reason!” he explains.

To tell a story
  • “People want to tell such stories. But how do we sell it and where?” asks Tina. With technology and a vibrant Indie comic scene there is no dearth of talent or ideas, but the issue is marketing. Since these are niche, the readership is limited making it unviable for publishers to take on.
  • Lack of awareness is a factor, “People are unfamiliar with this genre in Kerala. Also they don’t understand the prices, since these are thought of as comic books which they are not,” says Joshy.
  • The unfamiliarity percolates to the publishing industry for which the genre is not viable. However comic fests such as the recently concluded Indie Comix Fest (ICF) offer these creators the elusive platform to gauge interest and meet prospective consumers of their product. These books are priced from ₹150 upwards.

Joshy and Muraleedharan both draw each picture by hand, colouring them, using technology (Photoshop) only for page layout and printing requirements. Each artist has his or her own style, not all hand draw there are others who prefer to work with tablets and software.

Malayalam graphic novels are rooted in Kerala and its culture

Comic collector Tony Davis says, of what draws him to these, “It is the familiarity of one’s own language, landscape, and culture - this is a huge factor. With these the reader base of graphic work increases drawing more people to it so that it is no longer limited to an urban demographic.” He however cautions against sticking to formulae such as mythology of fantasy. “The story has to be relatable. Content should be contemporary like vigilante-type stories, satire, or adventure. Sticking to the tried and tested such as mythology or fantasy is safe, but creators should take a risk.”

The work that goes into a graphic comic is often more than a regular comic book, some compare these with films for their detailing and narrative style. The comic book format has great potential, says Muraleedharan, but he adds, “it is not considered mainstream and has not been acknowledged as a form of literature. There is more to this form than just pictures, it is interpretative and imaginative as it is art.”

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 10:48:16 PM |

Next Story