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Everything makes Comixense

The latest edition of ‘Comixense’  

If you’re a child of the 80s and 90s, growing up in India, chances are you spent your younger years on a diet of Tinkle, Champak, Amar Chitra Katha, and Chandamama. The stories tended to be slapstick or heavy on morals and mythology. “Shouldn’t you be reading something more serious?” was a question I often found myself fielding.

That’s not a question one would ask a young person reading Comixense though. The new, quarterly comic magazine published by Ektara Trust aims to feed the ‘intelligence, imagination and empathy’ of readers between the ages of 12 and 17 with nuanced stories that touch upon science, technology, the environment and social justice.

The first of its kind in India (for this age group), the magazine is the brainchild of acclaimed Goa-based artist and designer Orijit Sen. “From being a reader, collector and maker of comics from a young age, they taught me so many things that textbooks just couldn’t,” he tells The Hindu Weekend. “They provoked my imagination and the stories stimulated so much in me as a reader. Comics allow you to go back and forth in a way no other narrative medium does. The reader can break time and space in their own way to construct and deconstruct the narrative.”

Love for Dummies — Venita Coelho and Pia Alizé Hazarika

Love for Dummies — Venita Coelho and Pia Alizé Hazarika  

Calling all comic artists

Launching a print magazine at a time when publications are downing their shutters or going digital-only might raise eyebrows. Sen argues that the pandemic has forced young people to shift almost every aspect of their lives online: from school to socialising to extracurricular activities. “We wanted to give them a reprieve from this digital life.”

At a larger level, Sen believes that while countries like Japan and France have long-standing cultures of manga and bandes dessinées, the comics scene in India needs to have more artists and writers who know and understand the medium. He sees Comixense as a possible breeding ground for this. In fact, many of the contributors to the first three issues have never worked in this format before, and answered open calls for entries, or were given a one-line brief.

Clockwise from top left: Venita Coelho, Orijit Sen, Lokesh Khodke, and CG Salamander

Clockwise from top left: Venita Coelho, Orijit Sen, Lokesh Khodke, and CG Salamander  

Rooted in lived realities

I was out when the first two issues arrived at home. I returned to find a torn and crumpled envelope lying on the table, and two children furtively reading an issue each under their desks while online school was in session. When I finally got hold of the magazines, I could see why they’d been so enthralled.

The richly-illustrated stories leap boldly across time and place and are rooted in lived realities and experiences, linking our past to the present and the future, giving the reader a deeply-immersive reading experience.

The Plague Doctor’s Apprentice (Indrajit Hazra and Paule), starts in Florence, 2020, as riots break out against government-imposed Covid-19 lockdowns. The story then steps back in time to 1630, when Florence is in the grip of the Bubonic Plague. Hazra draws parallels between the two periods: from differing scientific opinions to the racism certain communities faced.

The Plague Doctor’s Apprentice — Indrajit Hazra and Paule

The Plague Doctor’s Apprentice — Indrajit Hazra and Paule  

From 1630, the reader travels well into the future in Love for Dummies (Venita Coelho and Pia Alize Hazarika). The Earth has finally rid itself of humans, and the machines we have created are in charge of cleaning and maintaining our cities on loop. In this landscape, two crash test dummies take a stroll through an immersive art museum, studying works of art by Klimt, Picasso and Koons and musing about love. “Because I was writing for a comic for the first time and was very excited by the idea of images equally important to words, I decided to throw in an homage to artists I loved. After all, what was it that robots were unlikely to understand? Art and love,” says writer Venita Coelho, who hopes that Comixense will show young readers there is more to life than Amar Chitra Katha. “I am a great fan of ACK, but I do think that comics have come of age and so should our readers!”

Science meets age-old wisdom

While The Irritability of Plants (Sarat T Rao and Pakhi) looks at the life of scientist and polymath JC Bose and his groundbreaking work in the field of plant neurobiology, The Razor and the Scalpel (Sheela Jaywant and Hasine Casukhela) pauses on an unsung hero of the medical field and the implement he wields.

The first two editions of ‘Comixense’

The first two editions of ‘Comixense’  

“Even though they’re rooted in science, these aren’t topics and themes that our education system deals with,” says CG Salamander, whose story Roots in issue 2, looks at the Pazhaverkadu, or mangrove forests of Chennai’s Pulicat Lake. Young Rahman plants saplings in the water with his grandfather, in an attempt to protect the coast from the Thimingala, a folkloric monster that ‘swerves and swells, slithers and sides, swallowing shores’ and is a manifestation of the sea itself. In one panel, Rahman’s father brandishes a school book saying “This! This is how we make something of ourselves!”, acknowledging that there’s a certain kind of knowledge we value above the age-old wisdom that lives within communities.

Lokesh Khodke’s illustrations spillover between the pages and panels, mimicking the water and it’s will to move where it pleases. “This is not just a personal story about the environment, but talks of a wider social movement and the struggles people are fighting,” he says, adding, “Children often grow up with a skewed perception of certain communities. Stories like Roots and The Adivasi Will Not Dance (Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Priyanka Purty and Neha Alice Kerketta) widen their perspective.”

‘The Adivasi Will Not Dance’ — Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Priyanka Purty, and Neha Alice Kerketta

‘The Adivasi Will Not Dance’ — Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Priyanka Purty, and Neha Alice Kerketta  

Expanding the mind

Social justice and politics are the very foundation of Sen’s own personal work. “Our school syllabus doesn’t address social justice, and whatever you grow up to do, a sense of empathy and social justice must be a default setting.”

Tales with substance
  • Some non-fiction graphic novels that span history, science and politics.
  • Persepolis: Marjane Satrapi’s wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. My 13-year-old loved it.
  • Hey Kiddo: Jarrett J Krosoczka’s memoir of growing up in a family afflicted by addiction, and the redemptive qualities of art.
  • Relish: Lucy Knisley’s memoir is for readers who love food and reading about food.
  • Sapiens: By Yuval Noah Harari, David Vandermeulen and Daniel Casanave, the graphic novel version of Harari’s 2011 non-fiction book is stunningly illustrated and brings the original alive for young readers.
  • Human Body Theatre: Maris Wicks is a former science educator from Massachusetts who knows how to get young children interested in science. Goofy, entertaining and informative, this book ticks all the boxes.

Sen hopes the magazine will be an antidote to the social media content that is created, consumed and forgotten with ease. Something that invites young people to read, pause, linger and revisit these stories, perhaps discovering something new each time they do.

“We concern ourselves with making the story and art excellent, and having a theme that’s broad enough to accommodate a variety of perspectives. I think if a reader doesn’t understand something, but likes the story they’ll make an effort to find out more. That’s how you learn — when you’re curious,” he says. Who ensures the content is age appropriate? “Two [out of three] of us in the editorial team have several years of experience with creating stories for young readers and we rely on that when making decisions on the content. Overall, we explore themes and topics that we feel are relevant to young, curious readers.”

And the response to the magazine has been positive and encouraging so far. “We’re constantly surprised to hear which stories readers respond to. A friend’s 11-year-old enjoyed The Plague Doctor’s Apprentice, even though some may say the content is too mature for a child that age.”

Future issues will examine themes such as spies and surveillance and a sense of duty. It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to dismiss Comixense as childish or silly or a waste of time. If they do, they clearly have some growing up of their own to do.

₹200 on ektaraindia.in. Subscriptions are also available.


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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 12:20:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/everything-makes-comixense-orijit-sen-graphic-magazine-comics-books-ektara-trust/article37010964.ece

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