A rainy Bengaluru evening saw a new batch of writers achieve a milestone at the Rangasthala theatre at Rangoli Metro Art Centre. The graduation event for the sixth season of writer Anita Nair's creative writing course and mentorship programme, Anita's Attic, had popular comic artist Appupen deliver the third Attic Lecture on The Magic of Dissent.
The event started with Nair talking about the difficult, and sometimes unrewarding, craft that is writing, and why it is important to respect one’s own work. “An uncle of mine was an artist,” she said, “he always said to never do anything for free, because then the recipient will never respect the work. Writing is a lottery. Sometimes bad writers make huge sums of money while good writers remains in anonymity for their lives."
The 12 graduates of the sixth season and other attendees were then given a visual presentation by Appupen, where he mentioned that despite the publishing industry trying to rebrand comics as graphic novels to appeal to a more mature audience, people like him still struggle to sell copies, leading to him putting out a lot of free material through his collective Brainded, which also features a lot of satire that reflects the current political climate in the country.
Appupen also touched upon the topic of artistic integrity, giving his third work, Aspyrus — which was born out of his frustrations with the advertising industry — as an example. “In advertising, we use our creative skills to fool people into thinking their lives are inadequate. The dream you have, who put that in your head? You see it projected on the billboards. So is that dream really yours or is it something someone has subliminally put in your head?” He goes on to add that the art is important to him, as is its impact. “It is up to the artist to figure out what to say with their art, and I take that seriously. With some power, comes some responsibility,” he explained, drawing chuckles for the watered-down Spider-Man quote.
Elaborating on dissent, he pointed out that it may feel like dissent has more of a voice these days, but things are not spoken about enough or when it matters. “Often, we hear a lot of things spoken about strongly and it sends a message that this is the norm. But it just might be the opinion voiced by the loudest voices, not the majority. That is where dissent comes in and is important. This is a strategy where you see anything critical written by the media will have loud and abusive messages posted underneath that dominate the discussion board. People who may agree with what the piece says and do not then put forward a counter opinion, end up colouring the discussion as well.”
He explained that comic artists always highlight and comment on societal issues, and this is now often seen as dissent because it does not go with the mainstream.
“I kind of like it though,” he says casually, “If no one reacts, I feel like the point was lost and we did not hit hard enough. Art is suggestive. I can make you laugh and make you think at the same time rather than confront you with something hard-hitting. That is what I like about it.”
Appupen's lecture was followed by the graduation event, titled Hearsay on the Metro. The 12 participants performed a collaborative writing piece that broke down the gossip circulating around an apartment complex over the disappearance of a female yoga teacher and a married man, told from different points of view and in multiple narrative styles.
At the end of the event, having witnessed words on a page take form in many different ways, another one of Anita Nair’s opening remarks remained a key takeaway.
“It does not matter what you write, but the written word has an artistic integrity, and it has to be kept at relentlessly.”