Why Suppandi never grows old

In the 1980s, when Savio Mascarenhas was an avid reader of Tinkle comics, never in his dreams did he imagine that one day, he would be creating the same characters for hundreds of curious children. “I followed the two superstars — Suppandi and Shikari Shambhu. Today, when I see my two pre-teen kids read about them with such enthusiasm, it amazes me. The characters have remained lovable decade after decade,” says the man who has completed a quarter century illustrating the two super heroes, first introduced to the pages of Tinkleby Ram Waeerkar and Vasanth Halbe in 1983.

Every fortnight, more than one lakh comic fans wait to grab their copies of Tinkle and read new stories unfold in the 50-odd pages, featuring a village simpleton and a hunter, among several other characters, that unfailingly entertain them with their antics.

It is not easy to keep the spirit of Tinkle’s flagship characters alive for so many years, says Savio, even though the illustrators and designers have moved to the digitised format. The preliminary sketches are, however, done with ink pens by him and his team of four artists and freelancers. The drawings are then matched panel-to-panel and coloured by the artists digitally.

Tinkle Tales Art Director Savio Mascarenhas shares stories about the making India’s popoular comic characters, Suppandi and Shikari Shambhu

Tinkle Tales Art Director Savio Mascarenhas shares stories about the making India’s popoular comic characters, Suppandi and Shikari Shambhu   | Photo Credit: S JAMES

“The challenge in putting together so many pages of comics and working simultaneously on multiple characters each day makes work fun,” says Savio. Usually, a four-page story takes a week to complete but some artists can finish a page a day. “We usually get one page of script from the writer, which has some description of the story. “The rest is left to our imagination and visualisation,” he says.

If there is anything Savio is cautious about, it is the image and look of the characters the young readers carry in their mind. “I will never tamper with the characters or make them age,” he asserts. “With the love and support we have received from our readers, there is too much at stake to even imagine these characters growing old. It is a scary thought,” says the soft spoken artist, who first worked as a freelance cartoonist with Tinkle for two years before joining the group in 1993. He started with single panel gags called See and Smiles but doing Shikari Shambhuwas a dream come true.

He feels that when characters like Shambhu, with his eyes behind his hat, are so ingrained in people’s memory and are identified with, it is difficult to break that power of the visuals. “Though Tinkle comics have seen production transition over the years, it’s characters have retained their timeless appeal by not outgrowing their roles but evolving with the changing times.” For instance, he explains, Shambhu is now more of an explorer than a hunter . He no longer carries a gun and has turned into a conservationist. But Savio receives hundreds of letters from children who want to know if they will ever get to see Shambhu’s eyes, whether his hat will fall off!

Savio laughs but each time he talks about Shambhu, he is reminded of his first drawing that went into print in 1998 after Vasanth retired. “He was the original creator and an artist not easy to follow. He used brush and his style was distinct. When a 12-year-old wrote to me asking why Halbe was no longer drawing Shikari Shambhu, I realised the penetration of the character in the readers’ psyche,” he says.

Savio believes in developing, what he calls the ‘visual harvesting’ in every child. Once that is achieved, the book is a success, according to him. He explains how once at a literature festival, he showed only covers of Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) without the titles and the participants guessed them correctly. “Books are like little windows to a child’s imagination. And photographic memory does not get erased easily, therefore visual development needs to be encouraged,” he says.

Savio’s first break at Tinkle was with Mopes and Purr, a cat and dog detective duo who fought for animals in distress. Written by Reena Puri, the associate editor of ACK, Savio recalls how she would bring her pets in her car; he would draw them after observing them for hours through the rolled up windows. He also created Janoo and Wooly Woo, written by Vanita Vaid, a Delhi-based writer whom he has never met. “It is often a long-standing relationship and understanding between the writer and the illustrator that leads to a brilliant legacy,” says Savio, who now wishes to do his own comic book and also revive super Suppandi — inspired by Calvin and Hobbes.

While some stereotypical representations have been done away with, some favourites like Kaalia the crow have been revamped and animated shorts like little Shambhu created as novelty, Savio says, Tinkle’s story telling has become more chiselled and multi-layered. “But essentially it is the nostalgia value that kindles hearts and keeps the comics evergreen.”

Savio Mascarenhas was one of the participants at the Madurai children’s literature festival last weekend.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 7:39:41 PM |

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