After Anita Nair’s Idris with the Mamangam and Chavers who challenge the Zamorin, comes Odayan II-Yuddham , which is set in the same time and space. The graphic novel published by Pop Culture Publications tells the story of a vigilante named Odayan, who is amassing power to challenge the Zamorin.
Talking about the genesis of Odayan , writer Suhas Sundar says: “We were looking to tell a vigilante story not just set in India but also grounded in Indian tradition, culture and folklore.
“At the same time we had absolutely no intention of doing an umpteenth iteration of a mythological epic. That is where we decided to go with a setting which had not been touched before and yet at the same time gave us an opportunity to play around with the storytelling and the visuals. Sixteenth century Kerala was such a period.
“Vadakkan Pattu, the traditional songs of northern Malabar region, which were sung by women working in rice paddies, spoke of heroes from this period. This was when the Europeans had just landed on the Indian shores and the hitherto feudal and martial life in Kerala was going through a huge political and socio-economic upheaval. Sadly very little detail regarding the life of people during this time exists but it also gave us an opportunity to fashion some very interesting characters set in an interesting and very tangible world.”
Giving a personal reason for the setting of the graphic novel, the Bangalore-based Suhas elaborates saying, “I am from Kerala and I feel the Nair warrior classes between the 14 and 16th century were pretty much like the Wild West and the Samurai.”
The 32-year-old went to school in Baldwins followed by engineering in BMS and an MBA. However, he found his calling in the graphic novel space.
“I love this space of telling stories. I stayed away from kid’s comic space. Like many people my age, I grew up reading comics — Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, Phantom and the like. So there is a space for adult comics in that demographic.”
Talking about the mechanics of creation, Suhas says he gives the script to Deepak Sharma, the artist. “We started out publishing a monthly comic book anthology called Comic Jump,” says Deepak who is originally from Kolkata but has made the city home. “Suhas wrote the first Indian zombie apocalypse story set in Bangalore, called The Rabhas Incident , which was critically acclaimed. I co-created and illustrated Shaurya , another title for the same magazine, which revolved around a group of teenagers with superpowers living in Mumbai.”
While the duo admits to having full-fledged arguments, 30-year-old Deepak says, “it takes two to tango. We work better as a team.” Elaborating on how he arrives at the striking visuals, the economist-turned-artist says: “I work on Odayan the traditional way with ink and paint, which is rather tough as there is no scope for erasing. I draw the whole page on an A3 size sheet and reduce it so we don’t lose detail.”
Keeping the story in black and white was a conscious decision says Deepak. “First, it is a violent story and second, research showed that that world was an insanely colourful one. If we had made the book in colour, the character would be lost. We kept it in black and white to keep the focus on Odayan. ”
The book is mainly in black and white except for red to denote violence and Odayan’s green face paint. “Odayan's make-up and appearance is influenced from Kathakali, one of the oldest dance forms of India,” says Suhas. “In a typical Kathakali performance, the hero of the story is always portrayed by the performer in green face paint.”
Describing the Odayan as a collaborative process, Suhas says: “We wanted to give our lead character a look which would suggest that it was fashioned by himself, yet at the same time be functional enough to allow him free flowing combat moves of Kalaripayattu. Also theatricality and anonymity had to be a part of this persona for him to appear outlandish enough for the time period it was set in. The backgrounds, settings, and other character designs were a product of extensive research as well as a lot of improvisation in the art, architecture and culture prevalent in those times.”
Choosing Odayan as “it is derived from Udayan, the Sanskrit suffix for rise, as in sunrise”, Suhas says the word also symbolizes change. The graphic novel has sound effects in Malayalam. Deepak and Suhas grin when asked about it. “We wanted to incorporate the language of the region we were telling the story about as a part of the visual design. That is why we decided to put English sound effects in Malayalam.”
Odayan is one of the stars in next month’s Comic Con, while the duo work on completing part III in the series of five volumes, which Suhas says would be a flashback ASAP.