Aarthi Parthasarathy’s existential angst became a web comic that targets society and its many quirks. Caste, hierarchy, gender and world issues are all discussed by seemingly royal men and women speaking through vintage miniatures and imagery. Royal Existentials, a weekly webcomic that has gathered many a fan online, is a look at the present through the past.
Royal Existentials is a product of Falana Dimka films, which Aarthi co-founded with Chaitanya Krishnan. While Aarthi writes the comic, the layout and additional art are by Chaitanya. “The opulent setting of these old Indian paintings lends itself to talking about issues like inequality. It’s a way of processing a lot of what you see and read and how these kinds of inequalities play out on a daily basis,” says Aarthi. The series is also about confronting these inequalities, “That journey of mine comes out in this form.”
The inspiration for Royal Existentials was a similar webcomic that played on Victorian images. “About five years ago, I came across a webcomic called >www.wondermark.com where the artist used illustrations and images from the Victorian era to create jokes that were absurd, surreal and bizarre. I enjoyed the comic and thought that someone must do an Indian version,” says Aarthi.
The first thing that came to her mind was the Mughal-era paintings. “They are so popular and, at the same time, so anonymous. Often, you don’t know who the people in the paintings are. That quality struck me immediately.”
Each comic concentrates on a particular issue, “Having a humorous take helps make it more accessible,” says Aarthi. “The paintings are not in sequences. I imagine the characters in the painting and what their interactions might be. The image is just there to carry the dialogue forward and set up the punch line. Sometimes, we change the comics and play with it, but mostly, we stick to the original image.”
Five months on, one of the biggest challenges is consistency. “I guess there are times when I feel the punch line could have been sharper. The other challenge is staying relevant. A couple of comics directly play off events that happened at that point. There is one where two women discuss issues that directly talk about Charlie Hebdo. But usually it’s whatever I’ve been thinking about at that time.”
Royal Existentials has garnered a hugely positive response so far, due to its wit and relevance. “People have been saying that it’s funny and touches certain notes on issues. When I studied arts in college, we would give captions to the kinds of paintings we were studying at that time. I guess that I sort of picked up from there. At the end of the day, it’s a great way for me to rant about the things that affect me,” laughs Aarthi.
Why the name? “I have a lot of existential angst and the paintings are about royalty. So, the name sort of lent itself to the whole idea. So that’s just it.”
Royal Existentials is updated every Friday on >www.royalexistentials.com .