Political cartoons are so boring — politicians do all the work, there isn’t much left for the artist to do,” says Gurgaon-based Atanu Roy, the illustrator for over 100 children’s books. After a brief stint as a political cartoonist, Roy chose those “more challenging” narratives, meant for children. After 45 years of drawing for them, Roy says “it is dangerous for an illustrator to have a particular style.”
Roy, who is showcasing some of his work in Delhi in a show titled “The Maverick’s Palette,” is one of the speakers at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content to be held in Singapore at the end of this month. But recognition and success was not always on the cards. While pursuing a fine arts degree from the Delhi College of Art in the early ’70s, he was working on a book on the history of transportation. It was never published, but that didn’t deter the national level athlete (he represented Delhi in the National Games in 1968.) Many media organisations later, in 2009, Roy’s first book, called Tails, was published by the National Book Trust.
Replete with opulent detailing, it’s easy to see why Roy has been a favourite with publishing houses ever since. His drawing of the moon in The Gijjigadus and the Fireflies (Gopini Karunakar, Katha), shows a wicked version of the celestial figure, and his version of an empathic goddess in the same book is another endearing image. A testament to Roy’s willingness to experiment with varied styles are illustrations from Wingless (Paro Anand, IndiaInc) and The Puffin Book of Magical Indian Myths (Anita Nair, Puffin); the latter includes an illustration of Indra with his thousand eyes. In contrast stands an illustration for a poem called Meditation (William Radice), and there’s The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (Scholastic India) to add to his portfolio.
His single lament is the lack of original stories for children. “In India, writing for children is still considered inferior, unless you’re Ruskin Bond (he has worked with Bond too). We are just rehashing old stories,” he says. Bangladesh-born Roy has also won several awards for his ad-related illustrations, including five Cannes Lions in 2008 for a cell phone brand.
Manuscripts for adult audiences lie gathering dust at his residence. “They are all so abstract. For children, you can stylise, but you can t distort things. You can’t fool them, visual accuracy is of utmost importance.” He remembers the time when a book was going to print, and a child pointed out that he had drawn a priest wearing the sacred red thread the wrong way. He said, “Chacha, ye toh galat hai,” and Roy scampered to the printers to redo the piece. Ever the perfectionist, Roy is presently working on a book for Katha called The Shepherd, a tribute to Rajasthan.
The show is on at IIC Annexe, from May 17 to May 23, 11 am to 7 pm.