Money & Careers

By George, I think he's got it

George Mathen / Appupen,is a Bangalore-based comics creator Photo K Murali kumar.   | Photo Credit: K Murali kumar

Graphic novelist and artist George Mathen is disturbingly familiar. He is the roguishly charming fellow from the back bench in college, who cracked inappropriate jokes, carved his name on desks, and is always part of a group in the foyer. And since we are discussing clichés, let us make him part of a band as well.

But George trumped the cliché when he did not give all of that up to chase a corporate paycheck — he dabbled in advertising, animation, activism and he discovered, “The basic idea is to stay out of an office, the point is to try it out for sometime, see if it clicks, and then never go back to it. The band keeps me in Bangalore and the city is good; not so rushed, and I have my breathing space,” says George who is the founding member and drummer of Bangalore-based band, Lounge Piranhas.

Bearded and bespectacled George was no surprise — he looked every bit the artist he is and when he spoke, there was a spontaneity and wit that you might expect. “All along I wanted to tell stories,” says George, who even tried his hand in movies, which of course was the most obvious choice. But all along he continued doing his art, which earned him his spare change in college. His random doodles and musings that took form in graphic panels on his website found a niche audience.

The world of Halahala took two-and-a-half years to create and was presented in “Moonward”, his graphic novel written under the alias Appupen. “It was when I was reading Amar Chitra Katha that I came across “halahal”, the poison that is in Shiva's throat, and I liked the sound of the word. It has a sense of the dark about it, but I usually try not to connect it,” says George giving some text to his imaginary world.

“Moonward” has some very fine art, which speaks different ideas and George has consciously avoided text. To be funny he says that he cannot write to save his life but then he follows up with “Just like being smart at writing you can be smart in pictures. You know at the back of your mind what it could or could not be and if you trust your reading of the book, the ideas in the back of your mind take shape and come across.”

“There are many stories to explain my pen-name Appupen. In Malayalam it means grandfather and I wanted a voice to narrate ‘Moonward', a voice that was not George Mathen, to make it sound more authentic. Also they call me Appu at home, so all of it just fell into place,” he explains.

George's work is split between him and his alter-ego Appupen. So where does one personality end and the other begin? “Appupen refuses to do any commercial work and George Mathen has to earn the money,” he grins. Appupen is now looking to break out from Halahala, “I will now put in more colour in my work; also I want to keep evolving and in that sense Angouleme was the best thing to happen to me.” George was invited to visit the 38th International Comics And Graphic Novel Fest in Angouleme, France.

“As it is, the scene in India is quite sad, and sitting in Bangalore it is quite isolating. It has gotten a lot better in the past couple of years, but Angouleme was the here and now of comics,” he says with excitement that he could barely conceal. “Stores have gotten subsequently better in promoting comics, and we have Comic Conferences being organised in Delhi and Mumbai, but the effort is scattered. We will have to wait and see which one sustains itself.”

According to George, India has all that the international buyers are looking for, “Bring India into your concept and you have a buyer.” He is also the brain behind the silent rocks that feature every month in the Rolling Stone magazine comic strip, “Now the rocks will start speaking,” he says when asked where that was going.

George Mathen, who does art work and murals for corporates, says, “I'm not doing advertising as such, it is going to add to their brand but it also gives me a lot of money. I do my independent work, I get money and it keeps me going,” he says matter-of-factly.

“There are so many stories I have to tell and I want to create them all. Halahala is just one theme. ‘Moonward' deals with ‘from the beginning', and in the end we can argue the world has ended. Now I want to go up and down the timeline and focus on individual characters and their stories,” he concludes.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 10:00:36 PM |

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