Graphic Novels: An Encounter
|A page out of a WIP draft based on contradictory proverbs|
Two weeks ago, AT was shocked when I told him I don’t know Parismita Singh, the cartoonist, neither her The Hotel at the End of the World. He also added the Singh in her name is like our style (of the Manipuris’?) and not that of Punjabi’s.
Parismita belongs to Assam and she has quite earned a name for herself in the world of graphic novel and art; it’s amazing and perhaps she is the only graphic novelist in the Northeast. First published in 2009, her title is inspired by Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.
Here’s a part of the blurb from Penguin India, the publisher:
In the hotel at the end of the world it’s business as usual, as Pema dishes up rice and pork curry to travellers who stop by for a drink and refuge from the rains. Everyone there has a story to tell, and at times they end up revealing more than they want to.
On their journey to China, Kona and Kuja, bound together by fate, stumble upon the trail of the Floating Island, (a) promised land of plenty. Pema’s story is about lost love, while her husband speaks of homesick Japanese soldiers in Manipur and the Naga hills during World War II...
Splash and Spread
One of the best things about The Hotel at the End of the World is the typical names of the Northeastern people, further accentuated by an original and political narrative of the region. Parismita does it very well by bringing social reality and fantasy together while emphasising on oral story-telling cultures that are quite an intrinsic part of many societies in this corner of the world. Besides, in this debut graphic novel, somewhere along the end of the world, any particular name of a place is not mentioned but it ‘shows’ without telling that it is the Northeast. Even the very hotel in the story is a typical stall-type eating house that one can find ubiquitously in the region.
The Hotel at the End of the World has as well renewed the tales of WWII, or specifically the Battles of Imphal and Kohima, which are nowadays considered as one of the most decisive campaigns of the war. The reference to the ghosts of Japanese soldiers is also literally nostalgic on one hand. In and around Imphal, our elders used to call the war as the Japaan Lan (or Japan’s War). On the other, such a narrative also heightened the sense of magic realism—that other characters build up with their strange tales in the story—and brought them alive in vibrant shades from the black-and-white graphic.
The textual content is fresh, undoubtedly, but set in the Commotion Business font, the text is a bit of a downer even if the cover in a bright yellow and black is okay-ish. I have also recently bought Guy Delisle’s Burma Chronicles that uses original lettering by Dirk Rehm and in terms of design and content it is, in a single word, fantastic. If you read The Hotel at the End of the World and Burma Chronicles simultaneously, you will find the design in the former is so blotchy.
Graphic novels are basically loooong comics and sold at high prices! Regardless of the length, personally, it has been ages that I had read a comic book. This might be the reason I had never heard of Parismita Singh or Guy Delisle. Such a lengthy comic being called a graphic novel is like calling a subeditor a fancy ‘executive link editor’ but who works with the lowest salary.
Tinkles, Archies, then comics on war and cowboys, plus the weekly strips on newspapers, including Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Garfield and Dilbert, have been my favourites. However I was never fond of videogame-ish Marvel- and DC-like comics. I had a preconception that graphic novels are, theme- and design-wise, closely related to these last two kinds of comics but as realised now there’s a big, big world of graphic novels.