After collaborating on the critically-acclaimed graphic novel, Black Mumba, writer Ram Venkatesan and artist Anand Radhakrishnan are now creating Grafity’s Wall. Set against the street culture of Mumbai’s slums, Grafity’s Wall also sees Toronto-based Irma Kniivila and Pune-based Aditya Bidikar joining the team as the colourist and the letterer, respectively. In an email interview, Venkatesan and Radhakrishnan talk about the making of Grafity’s Wall, and why graphic novels are a unique storytelling medium. Excerpts:
What is the premise of Grafity’s Wall?
Ram Venkatesan: It is a story that weaves through the lives of four young people growing up in Mumbai. The titular character, a street artist who calls himself ‘Grafity’, becomes our doorway into these lives. As the story goes on, we have glimpses into these characters, their circumstances, their desires, their obstacles and their struggles. The city becomes a canvas to paint these stories but it also participates in their battles, inspiring, encouraging and impeding in equal measure. And of particular interest to me is the confluence of modern cultural forces and the economic realities that these characters live in. The panels are very evocative and astonishingly detailed.
Anand Radhakrishnan: I have lived in Mumbai my entire life and I have grown up seeing so many different aspects of it that consciously and unconsciously a lot of it has become part of my visual vocabulary. Also what is great about Mumbai and the city’s culture is its honesty and its acceptance by the people. This city is not perfect or pretty or even always great but it is what it is and there is beauty in that I think. We are trying to keep to that idea with Grafity’s Wall too. I have had my own share of running around tagging walls with spray cans as a teenager so yeah there is definitely a lot of nostalgia in there.
How different is the view of Mumbai in this book from your previous work?
RV: In some ways Grafity’s Wall is a progression from Black Mumba. The previous book was heavily infused with a ’40s American Crime-Noir aesthetic. It looked at Mumbai as a creature of the night. Dark and brooding, often oppressive and yet alluring and unexpectedly beautiful. With Grafity’s Wall, I am dropping the genre lens and telling an entirely ‘real’ story about young lives in Mumbai. But in some ways it is also the opposite of Black Mumba. This Mumbai is exploding with colour. It is bright and wild and chaotic. Its beauty lies in its frantic pace and in its overwhelming cityscape. The long shadows and quiet alleyways are gone. The sunlight is unforgiving and there are so many sounds that you can hardly hear yourself think.
What makes the graphic novel a great medium to tell stories?
RV: It has its own language, one that is particularly suited to telling a narrative through what is essentially, still images. But you could go beyond that — a comic book story is a sequence of panels, but it is also a sequence of pages. There are two levels of sequential storytelling going on there. Then there’s the juxtaposition of text and visuals. You can push that — and have an amalgamation rather than a juxtaposition. These are things you can only do in comics. The comic page as a unit of composition and of storytelling is a unique tool.
What can be done to encourage graphic novels in India?
RV: Fundamentally, there needs to be a serious interest in making, promoting and encouraging good work as an industry. Not just look at comics as a step up to selling film rights or look at comics as accessories to films or games. They’re their own thing and until a publisher with a strong point of view and a good understanding of comics comes to the fore, the journey to making graphic novels is going to be a bumpy one. We still undervalue art and stories in India. That needs to change. Some of the people working in Indian comics have astonishing talents but their skills are incredibly undervalued in the current industry. But also, perhaps talking about India as a captive market where Indian graphic novels are being made and distributed is a myopic thing. There is no reason to limit ourselves. Just make a good story and don’t limit yourself when it comes to finding an audience.
Grafity’s Wall is currently being crowdfunded, with support from Helter Skelter Magazine and crowdfunding publisher, Unbound.