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A comic inspired by Oscar Wilde’s classic, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

One of the covers of the book   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

An artist stands facing a bloody canvas, holding a razor drenched in blood. Giant mangled fingers reach out of a dilapidated wall, wrapping themselves around the canvas. This is the cover art of the first issue of Vault Comics’ new book The Picture of Everything Else, written by British writer Dan Watters. The macabre cover as well as the art inside the comic, mostly acrylic and watercolour, are the work of Kishore Mohan, a concept artist based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

If the title The Picture of Everything Else sounds familiar to you classicists, that is no accident. The story is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s 1890 classic The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Set in Paris at the dawn of the 20th Century, the comic begins with a series of gruesome murders, suspected to have been committed by the mysterious artist Basil Hallward — the man behind the infamous portrait of Dorian Gray that ages and decays in the attic in response to Gray’s hedonistic life, even as Gray himself stays young.

“One of the things that I find alluring about the novel is that it’s extremely of its time. The world was full of hope for the future; a new epoch was ready to dawn. I think there’s a real melancholy in looking back at that, with our knowledge of the horrors that were awaiting in the next century,” explains Watters.

Kishore, meanwhile, believes that The Picture of Dorian Gray was ahead of its time, challenging prevalent moral sensibilities. “I think it’s wonderful that the very publishing of the novel was an argument in defence of the freedom of art for the sake of art itself,” Kishore says.

Though Wilde’s famous Gothic tale now has cult status in literature, Hallward remains a largely ignored character. As Watters points out, he is quite unceremoniously destroyed by Gray at the end of that book. “That is wonderful for Gray’s story, but leaves him as this very tragically chopped short thread. Dorian Gray himself has become a sort of pop-culture icon, popping up every now and then in things with a Gothic bent; on TV or in comics and novels, usually as a sort of immortal decadent. However, the man who painted the immortal painting — a piece of art that can actually affect the world around it — is never anywhere to be seen. I think there’s a lot more to be explored with that idea,” adds Watters, whose oeuvre of horror comics includes works like Lucifer and Coffin Bound for publishers such as DC Vertigo and Image Comics.

As the artist responsible for bringing Hallward and his mysteries to life, Kishore feels the same: “What’s most compelling about Hallward’s character is that a lot about him and his special abilities is left unrevealed. And for me, this allows a lot of room to imagine how his life post the novel, and outside of it, would have shaped him.”

But he adds that the story is not just about Hallward, as there are other important characters who bring a unique texture to the story.

Ode to an age

For Kishore, who has worked with the likes of Mani Ratnam and Ashiq Abu in movies Ok Kanmani and Gangster, this is the first mainstream international comic book project. “It’s also a very fulfilling project. It allows me to recreate a beautiful era and then experiment to find out how that era would have responded to a different set of stimuli,” says Kishore.

The era of Belle Époque Paris, Watters says, was the birthplace of modern art, and a lens that he and Kishore were definitely looking to use. The shift from realistic to a more abstract style was rooted in the same anxieties that they are exploring with the book. Moreover, he adds, Paris is a city that has such an identity, yet a strong propensity toward change. “Revolutions, revolts, sieges, the city has been through it all. Apparently, a common piece of graffiti in the city in the 19th Century stated that if you stomped on the paving stones of Paris, blood would bubble up between the cracks,” adds Dan.

Most importantly, it was the city where Hallward was planning to move to before the final events of the novel, and where Wilde fled to after his prison sentence, a ruined man. It is also where the author died.

The book’s lettering is by Aditya Bidikar, one of the busiest letterers in the field today, who is a regular letterer for publishers like DC, Vault and Image. He was also the letterer of Watters’ Coffin Bound series, and is currently working on Watters’ new series Home Sick Pilots, another Image Comics project.

Shades of macabre

Although a mixed art project, like most other modern graphic novels and comics, a bulk of the panels from use watercolour and acrylic. Some of the watercolour panels by Kishore, which Vault had put out as teaser for the first issue of the comic, have already generated a buzz on social media and among comic reviewers.

Watters says, “Kishore has a knack for beautiful watercolours that are perfect for this story, and he can handle landscapes and cityscapes and everything else I throw at him. He also makes violence look terrifyingly beautiful, in a way which is honestly rather scary.”

The first of the three issues will be up for sale on December 12 and will be available for purchase digitally, in India.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 4:29:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/oscar-wilde-character-dorian-gray-in-a-comic-book/article33175712.ece

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