Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Indian Comics Scene Part 2

Apologies for not posting much recently, but I have been gallivanting off around the world. Having headed out to Nashville to present the latest titles from the Ilex Gift range, I then popped back to Goa for a few weeks’ break.

While there I learnt about the state’s best-known cartoonist, Mario de Miranda. If that name sounds Latin to you, that’s because Goa was under Portuguese rule until 1961 (some 14 years after the rest of India achieved independence). Subsequently many local Goans continue to have Portuguese names.
Born in Daman on 26 May 1926 De Miranda, came from a privileged Brahmin family background (part of the batkar class), and was a natural born cartoonist and self-taught—“I went to art school for a day only. I didn’t like it, so I left.” He began drawing humorous scenes of Goan life, his trademark to come. Like many Goans his background was a comfortable mix of Hindi and Roman Catholisim and he studied at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, and earned money on the side creating postcards. He dropped out of studying archticture and went into advertising for four years before joining The Illustrated Weekly, working as a cartoonist full time. He was soon poached by Current magazine and then the Times of India, where he launched his popular characters, Miss Nimbupani, Bandalas and Miss Fonseca. His work also appeared in Femina and the Economic Times.
He travelled widely in Portugal and the UK (where he lived for five years) and his work appeared in Lilliput, MAD, and Punch. He met Ronald Searle, who mentored de Miranda, and you can certainly see the former’s influence in the Goan cartoonist’s work, “He said, ‘keep cartooning, but stop copying me,’”(!) recalled de Miranda. He also visited New York, meeting fellow cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (Peanuts) and Pat Oliphant.

de Miranda was awarded the Padma Shri in 1988 and Padma Bhushan in 2002, India’s fourth and third highest civilian honours, and in 2009 the All India Cartoonists' Association, Bangalore, honoured him with a lifetime achievement award
Today is the first anniversary of his death and you can find out more (along with an excellent video interview) on his official websiteHe seemed like a lovely chap and I wish I could have met him.
Above: The 'Cafe Mondegar' in Mumbai features walls painted by de Miranda. His work also appears in train stations in Goa.

As I was leaving Goa I picked up The Herald newspaper (“The voice of Goa since 1900”) and they had an article about collectors of various things including toy cars, salt and pepper shakers, and, of course, comics:

“Most children outgrow comics, but with Gordon Lobo (42) the passion for these graphic novels is undiminished, since he started collecting them at the age of 10. Fascinated by the graphic illustrations, which are akin to watching a movie for Gordon, his collection which numbers around 8,000 feature the Marvel series – Superman, Batman [sic] Spiderman [sic] among others, Frank Millers (Terry Pratchett) [sic], Beano Beagle, Archie, Asterisk, Tintin, Indrajal and many many more. Computer graphics have made it possible for him to read his favourite comics on net, but a hard copy is always a welcome addition to his massive collection at Aldona.”

Ignoring all the inaccuracies in the piece, it strikes me that comic collecting is still a relatively rare and novel thing in India and the article reads like something that might have appeared in the UK press 25-30 years ago. Actually the article reminded me of the one I’d reported on earlier reagarding Aalok Joshi and his collection of 7,000 comics.

Sadly, this trip I missed out on seeing some India creators I wanted to meet, and I didn’t even get the chance to pick up the lastest publications. Ah, well, there’s always next year. Unless anyone wants to invite me to Indian Comic Con on 8-10 February in Dehli or the Mumbai Film and Comics Convention in October!

I did get to visit the Muslim city of Bijapur (see below) and on the train there I was harassed by a fearsome Hijra (male eunuch) demanding money, "YES! YES! NOW!" thrusting her hand out. The experience reminded me of Craig Thompson's graphic novel Habibi, when the eponymous hero is taken in by a group of Hijras:

Another aspect of Bijapur that reminded me of Habibi was Thompson's love of Islamist calligraphy, art and design, and there was tons of this beautiful script all over the various mausoleums and buildings I visited (see below). I was just frustrating that I don't read Arabic.

Bijapur takes an effort to get there (10 hours from Goa by local bus) but is worth it for the architecture, including the world's second largest unsupported dome, with it's own whispering gallery, just like St. Paul's in London. Because of its remoteness I only saw three Westerners, although it's a popular destination for Indian tourists.

It’s interesting to note that the Indian Comics Scene is my most read article on this blog, and is visited predominately by Indians. So to all my readers and friends over there I have an impassioned public plea to you:

Please, please, PLEASE clean your beautiful country up! You have such an amazing land and it is completely ruined by the fact that the majority of you drop your litter everywhere. Not only is it ugly it is dangerous to animals and a health hazard to humans. I saw so much wanton rubbish being dumped in the streets and in wonderful water tanks it was horrific. I know that Bangalore has just started a major recycling scheme and you have to start doing this now, right across the nation, in every state and city.

If you don’t sort out your recycling and rubbish problems now, and fast, India will drown under a sea of crap. As one businessman in Bijapur told me, regarding the rubbish problem, “We are about 200 years behind you”. Actually, you’re only about 50-60 years behind the UK, as we had similar issues until the mid-1950s when we introduced the Keep Britain Tidy campaign. India needs a similar campaign and to instil a national pride in clean streets and improved hygiene. And there's money to be made in recycling! Some Indian entrepreneurs are making a good living recycling plastic bottles (one of India's biggest pollutants). 

It’s your responsibility, it’s your neighbour’s responsibility and it’s your friends, family, work colleagues’ and every-single-person-you-know’s responsibility to clean the mess up. Don't wait to be told by the government to do this, be the change you want to see and make your country beautiful again. I only rant because I love your country so much! ;-)

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