Since 2009, a dragon’s egg was in the incubator in the make-believe world of Halahala. Kept warm and safe by Bangalore-based Appupen aka George Mathen, the dragon has hatched as the protagonist of ‘Aspyrus’ (HarperCollins, Rs 599). Third in the series, Aspyrus is about a dream in Halahala, a dream that grows too big for its world.
Slotted to hit the bookshelves end of this month, ‘Aspyrus’ uses minimal words and banks on maximum impact through its comic book-like graphics. First seen in his novels ‘Moonward’ (Blaft, 2009) and then in ‘Legends of Halahala’ (HarperCollins, 2012), Appupen says, “Halahala is a fantasy world which changes with every story that’s born in it; it metamorphises according to the need. I have been dropping characters and things all over the place, the connections will form on their own.”
Appupen, who hasn’t had any formal training in art, says his drawings weren’t “proper,” and it was the need to give them a place for which Halahala was created. Blaft Publications saw his work online in 2009, and HarperCollins followed. As for his pen name, loosely translated from Malayalam, Appupen means grandfather, often a master storyteller; the dots are easy to join. Says the 35-year-old, “When compared with George Mathen, Appupen has better brand recall.”
Inspired by the work of American artist and novelist Lynd Ward, Appupen’s almost wordless narratives are lightly buttered with sarcasm and irony. His advertising background makes him take digs at consumerism and capitalism, and prod grey areas such as creative ownership. For instance, when the dream in Halahala flourishes, the claim of the “original” dreamer is discarded even as the world’s scientists and researchers seek to trace its roots. Dark humour: check, dystopian: no.
Besides his comic-book approach, Appupen’s work also shows the Gestalt technique. For instance, if a box on the page shows a fish bowl, another shows a creature under water, while another shows the creature leaving the water — the mind looks through the boxes, connecting the images and taking the story forward in the process. The plot is spread across three parts as “the dream” travels through time, growing as it feeds on people’s minds.
Says the former ad man, “I’m just appalled and amazed to see how people don’t see what we are headed towards. In advertising, creative skill is being used to manipulate people’s thinking. I had always wanted to work in creatives, and it was only when I had the job that I realised there was no creative responsibility; there was only propagation of mass thought.” But before one gives him an anti-establishment tag, he asserts he’s no social activist, just a storyteller.
Once the drummer for the now defunct post-rock band Lounge Piranha, which haunted the music dens in Bangalore and beyond, Appupen has already started work on his fourth book. In this, the audience gets to know Halahala better, as the creator himself understands it. “The books are not sequels, they are all standalones. Halahala has enough elements to grow, I’m just getting to know it too,” says the novelist.
Bored of the endless retelling of mythology that hogs Indian bookshelves, Halahala is a much-needed getaway into another world. And there’s more of where that came from.