Substance and shadow: The tenuous relationship

between cartooning and fine art

by Bharath Murthy

‘The Chronicles of Inder Bhan Madan’,  is a collaborative project by BlueJackal and FICA. Madan’s entire oeuvre, which comprises of more than 10,000 cartoons has never been published or shown before in any form during his lifetime (1909 - 2007). A body of selected cartoons were exhibited in Delhi in 2017 in a show curated by Vidya Shivadas (Director FICA) and simultaneously BlueJackal published a series of his cartoons on our website. Following that we have invited significant scholars, artists and interested fans and admirers who have a deep engagement with the history of cartoons and comics or feel passionately about Mr. Madan’s work, to take his cartoons as a point of departure for further reflection in the form of essays/articles/film/comics or other creative forms. With these articles and engagements, some of the areas we hope to open up a dialogue on, are-the wider history of cartoons in Indian and the international context, the cartoonist as a daily diarist and commentator on society, cartoons and/as art practice and many other terrains that the medium of cartoons traverses with happy ‘indiscipline’!

'Substance and shadow: The tenuous relationship between cartooning and fine art' is the first article in this series is by Bharath Murthy. 

"Substance and Shadow. — Drawn by John Leech."​​Punch; Or, The London Charivari​(15 July 1843, p. 23):

17.7 cm high by 24.3 cm wide.

Cartooning and art

 

Indian comics have gained in respectability over the last ten years or so. The recognition that comics are an art form is demonstrated by its acceptance in the art gallery, and by mainstream publishers according it the status of literature. The politics of nomenclature plays a role as well –– the word ‘comic’ is demoted as an old pop culture phenomenon that can no longer contain the diversity of expression in the form. ‘Graphic novel’, ‘graphic storytelling’, ‘sequential art’ are some of the terms doing the rounds. A recent art exhibition (Jan 2019) at Gallery Ark in Baroda was even more vaguely titled 'Graphic Content', a term borrowed from a May 2014 issue of Art Forum magazine that focussed on comics. What has changed? What observations can be made about this newfound status that comics have acquired? What kinds of comics work are given this status in the Indian context? In the following article, I would like to share a few thoughts on the relationship between comics/cartooning and fine art as a practitioner of comics.

Artforum International, Summer 2014, Vol. 52, No. 10

As far as we know, the first modern usage of the word ‘cartoon’ in the English speaking world was in the pages of the British Punch satirical magazine. In the edition of 15th July, 1843, there appeared one satirical sketch showing the poor and homeless staring at paintings at a salon, part of a government sponsored art competition. The artist John Leech captioned it ‘Substance and Shadow’ and on the right also labelled it ‘Cartoon No.1.’ Earlier the term cartoon meant the underlying sketch made primarily for mural painting. The exhibition included showcasing cartoons of mural projects for government buildings. By calling this type of printed satirical sketch a ‘cartoon’, Leech effectively subverts the original meaning of the word. But there’s more to it I think. Perhaps it is no accident that high art is brought in as a target of attack. In a polemical fashion, what is depicted is the injustice of the government of the day putting up this pompous show of high art while the masses go hungry. They can only stare incomprehensibly at the paintings. In this juxtaposition, the poor and the homeless are accorded the status of ‘reality’ while the paintings, mainly created for the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, stand in for the illusory world that they live in.

 

The ‘cartoon’, the underlying sketch that is supposed to be painted over, now reveals itself as the real

‘substance’ over the ‘shadow’ that is painting. By this bold move, the future cartoonist claims a critical space that is at once outside of ‘fine art’ practice while maintaining a tension with it. The new cartoon form claims to reveal the truths (‘substance’) through its foregrounding of the cartoon, while it criticises the seductive lies that fine art produces. Many cartoonists have since elaborated on this tension between the fine arts and the cartoon or comic form. Saul Steinberg, for instance, who revealingly called himself ‘the writer who draws’, stands out in his consistent engagement with what the cartoon form can do in relation to the inventions of modern visual art. His work was eventually embraced by the art establishment of the time, with a critical essay by Harold Rosenberg.

Saul Steinberg. Comic Strip, 1958.

Saul Steinberg. Speech, 1959. Ink, pencil, conté crayon, and rubber stamps on paper, 15 x 20 in.

Saul Steinberg. Techniques at a Party 1 1953.

Ink, watercolor, graphite and crayon on paper. 14 1/2 x 23 inches (36.8 x 58.4 cm)

R.K.Laxman. Pen and ink sketch. 1999. Framed in the office of the curator, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad.

.– Photo: J.S. Ifthekar  

Practically every cartoonist has taken a shot at the elitism of modern art, as seen from the perspective of the naive but sincere middle-class man. This one above by R.K.Laxman is to me a direct descendent of ‘Substance and Shadow: Cartoon No.1’. On the other hand, R.K.Laxman himself made works (notably, the crow paintings) that were shown in art galleries and his cartoons have been displayed many times. His failure to get admitted to the J.J.School of Art, Bombay, as a young man was turned into legend by Laxman himself in his public speeches, one of which I attended while studying painting at Baroda in the late 1990s. Even a successful cartoonist like Hérgé of Tintin fame tried his hand at abstract painting quite late in his career. There is also the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Cartoonists (a name echoing the elite Indian Institute of Science in the same city) which runs an art gallery dedicated to exhibiting prints of cartoons and comic strips. More recently, one can look at Sarnath Banerjee’s career, who began with comic books and is now a respected gallery artist. Should we read this as a desire to gain a kind of respectability that only serious fine artists could command? Whatever the case, it certainly attests to the need of the cartoonist to be taken seriously by the establishment while at the same time wanting to retain the freedom to ridicule it.

E.H.Gombrich, writing in a piece titled ‘The Principles of Caricature’ (1938, with Ernst Kris), traces the origins of caricature to not earlier than the late 16th century in Europe. Gombrich links this development with the change in status of the artist.

‘The end of the sixteenth century, the period when caricature first appears, is marked by a complete change in the artist’s role and his position in society. This refers neither to the artist’s income not to his prestige as a member of a concrete social group, nor to whether or not he carried a sword – but to the fact the he was no longer a manual worker … but he had become a creator.’

 

‘This state of mind is best illustrated by the paradoxical remark of a guide book to Florence published in the late 16th century, which expressed the opinion that Michelangelo’s unfinished marble blocks of the ‘Slaves’ are even more admirable than his finished statues, because they are nearer to the state of conception.’

 

‘The work of art is – for the first time in European history – considered as a ​projection ​of an inner image.’

 

‘Thus for the first time the sketch was held in high esteem as the most direct document of inspiration.’

Gombrich makes the case that the caricature, as a special type of sketch, has its basis in this change in thinking about the artist’s work. He extends this idea in psychological terms by saying that ‘instead of an objective portrayal of the outer world he substitutes his subjective vision, thus starting an evolution which leads by a winding road to its culmination in modern art.’ Two modern art movements he links it to are Expressionism and Surrealism.

Louis Philippe as a pear, drawn by ​Honoré Daumier after the sketch by ​Charles Philipon and published in ​La Caricature ​in 1831

What is clear is that caricature and the idea of simplification as seen here in Daumier’s famous 1831 cartoon became the foundation of the new medium of comics. However, once cartooning started gaining ground, it gradually severed itself from developments in fine art. All the key developments in comics form such as the use of speech bubbles and various kinds of symbols to express movement and emotions develop outside of the art establishment, and mainly in the mass media of the newspaper and the comic book. By the 1920s and 1930s, when Superman appears in print, there is already a sort of backlash against this form with the accusation that they are now corrupting the minds of children. From then on, cartoon styles are not considered worthy enough for appreciation by the majority of art critics. Comics artists in the counterculture sixties, people like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Trina Robbins deliberately paraded their ‘bad taste’ in both art styles and content. The divide between comics art and fine art was never greater than in the post-war period. One instance of this from the fine arts side is the hugely negative critical reaction to the American painter Philip Guston’s late figurative works that he exhibited in 1970, which were inspired by caricature. It was only decades later that those late works got a critical reevaluation. It is worthwhile to contrast this with the warm reception the art world accorded to cartoonist Saul Steinberg. There is also the lesser known attempt at engaging with the comics form in Gerhard Richter's 1962 sketchbook that he titled Comic Strip which was unpublished until 2014. The drawings in that series are done in a style quite different from the paintings he was doing at the same time. It is clear from the notebook that he was trying out a sort of visual narrative inspired by cartooning and comics.

Page from Comic Strip, Gerd (Gerhard) Richter, 1962.

Comics and the use of other artistic traditions

 

With the invention of the term ‘graphic novel’ in the English speaking world, this relationship began undergoing a change through the 1990s and 2000s. In the Indian context, as far as I know, even ten years ago, the art establishment had little or no interest in comics as an art form, but the literary establishment had begun taking note and started publishing works by Sarnath Banerjee, Amruta Patil etc. What I find similar in these works is the use of idiosyncratic graphic art styles that might have been seen in fine art earlier, but were now put to use in comics. It signalled that any kind of art style can be used in comics, and that comics art need not necessarily be based on the cartoon or caricature. This distancing from cartooning suddenly made comics achieve a sort of bourgeois respectability within the art world, something that was not accorded to them when they used cartooning and caricature. So with the change of terminology (comics to graphic novels) there is also a change in the status of what constitutes comics art. For comics to gain a foothold inside the art world, it has had to shed its most unique characteristic - that of the cartoon.

 

A curious consequence of this in the Indian context is the appropriation of folk and tribal art traditions for comics art; for example, ​Bhimayana, 2011, (using Gond art), ​I See The Promised Land, 2013 and Sita’s Ramayana, 2012, ​(using patua scroll painting), and Lie: A Traditional Tale of Modern India, 2010, (using Rajasthani folk and miniature painting). Publishers of these books typically commission folk and tribal artists to illustrate scripts written by urban middle-class writers. In the choice of tribal or folk art styles, it is interesting that publishers tend to choose those which come as close as possible graphically to the cartoon. To me, this kind of intervention is a sort of ideological manipulation, based on relationships of power. ​Bhimayana​, ironically, even gets endorsement by John Berger, a writer and art critic with Marxist leanings, whose own book and TV series ​Ways of Seeing (1972) tries to make visible the ideological conditioning that is an important part of our engagement with cultural products.

 

Looking at the comics that use patua painting traditions, one is immediately reminded of the artist Jamini Roy, who, along with others such as Nandalal Bose, were part of an emerging modernism in Indian art in the 1920s-40s. Jamini Roy consciously moved away from the kind of ‘fusion’ that he inherited from the Bengal school artists like Abanindranath Tagore, who was one of his teachers. Folk and tribal traditions, particularly African traditions, were being appropriated by European modernist artists of the time. Patua painting gave Jamini Roy his folk tradition to adopt, and it became the dominant feature of his aesthetic for the rest of his career. In the post-colonial era, the urban educated classes’ engagement with folk and tribal traditions ended up influencing practically every art and design school in India, including the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and the Faculty of Fine Arts at M.S.University of Baroda. How do we understand the difference between Jamini Roy’s appropriation and the appropriation of these comics publishers? Is this another form of ‘orientalism’? In Jamini Roy’s search for a modern idiom, him finding an Indian folk tradition and then transforming it into a personal aesthetic; and through that wrestling with the vexed question of what an ‘authentic’ modern Indian art might look like, is a genuine artistic act regardless of its place in art history; but the so-called collaboration of these writers with folk and tribal artists in order to produce a printed narrative book that has nothing to do with the folk traditions in themselves, seems to me ethically suspect. The question to ask here is – What are the real motivations to do this? Is this appropriation part of a design trend where you spuriously produce an ‘Indian’ comic for a globalised book market by picking up folk and tribal traditions? An analogy to such a practice may perhaps be found in popular Indian film music, which regularly raids folk music forms and through erasing or sanitizing its cultural contexts, repackages the music for mass consumer consumption.

 

I tend to see this development in Indian comics as an artistic dead-end. It is a kind of forced coming together of contradictory artistic practices in a dehistoricized manner, through the intervention of market forces in the figure of the hands-on publisher who commissions such projects.

Battle between Rama and Ravana, Jamini Roy, 1940s. 108 cm x 43.5 cm.

Sita’s Ramayana, Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar, 2012

I see the promised land, Arthur Flowers and Manu Chitrakar, 2013

Coca-Cola Diwali 2010 Digital Advertising Campaign

Cauk, ritual painting on wall, Thane District, 1998

This practice of using folk and tribal art out of context is of course rampant in advertising. For example this Coca-Cola ad, which, without pausing for irony, uses Warli tribal art to celebrate Diwali, that most Hindu of Hindu festivals. This ad was cited in a Georgetown University blog on global digital marketing conducted as part of their Masters in Communications course, where the case is made of it being a ‘good’ example of taking cultural considerations into account while creating ad campaigns.

“On the other hand, a campaign launched by Coca Cola in October 2010 took advantage of the festivity and mood during Deepawali to launch their campaign “Come Home on Deepawali.” I am a bit biased by this campaign because I lived with the Warlis for a couple of weeks during a program on comparative indigenous perspectives, which took me to India, New Zealand and Mexico. Before going to India I didn’t know much about an indigenous population existing and learned that 7% of India’s population is Indigenous and that the Warlis who live around Mumbai and Dahanu, remain quite unassimilated from the rest of the India; they maintain their own dress style, customs, religion, and ceremonies. The Warlis have gained recognition only recently for their unique artwork that has been incorporated into mainstream folk-art and this campaign, targeted more towards a general Indian public, helps inform and educate about the diversity that lies within the country. I thought this was particularly smart for their particular target audience (not Warli) since Coca Cola highlighted an important Indian festivity that can be well received, and also used Warli art as a way to educate people about indigenous groups in India.

If one were to look for examples of a more genuine attempt at appropriating older artistic traditions in comics, one could cite the names of Hinako Sugiura and Seiichi Hayashi, among others. Contemporaries of each other, they both were part of alternative manga (gekiga) movements in the 60s and 70s in Japan. Hinako Sugiura incorporated an aesthetic borrowed from the popular Japanese woodcut print (ukiyo-e), particularly in her stories that dealt with that era. Seiichi Hayashi consciously tried to link himself with the art movements of the time, mainly pop art, but strongly borrowed from ukiyo-e. In a 2014 interview with manga historian and critic Ryan Holmberg, Hayashi says, “When I started making manga, I thought it would be interesting to use the traditional Japanese method of using line to creating form. By the Edo period, this method had achieved a fair degree of realism. I felt that the tradition of using light and shadow probably does not have deep roots amongst the Japanese. I still suspect this. Probably most Japanese cartoonists at the time depended on copying American comics. I thought maybe it would be possible to create comics instead through the Japanese tradition of rendering form through line.” One could claim that their usage of older Japanese art forms is a knowing artistic intervention, where they were trying to forge a new idiom for comics through a personal engagement with the history of artistic and cultural practices passed down to them.

Page from Futatsu Makura, Hinako Sugiura. First published in Garo, 1981.

Page from Golden Pollen, Seiichi Hayashi, 1971

Comics, doodling and outsider art

 

I propose an alternative way to look at the phenomenon of comics drawing, where I would like to invoke two related ideas – ‘doodling’ and ‘outsider art’. Outsider art, or Art Brut, as originally coined by Jean Dubuffet, refers to art made by untaught artists, which do not seem to fit into any of the art historical or aesthetic categories. In the 1920s, Surrealists became interested in art made by children, the mentally ill, and uneducated working class people. Added to that was the Surrealist notion of ‘automatic drawing’. What Gombrich spoke about in relation to caricature’s ‘innermost primitiveness in style as well as in mechanism, in tendency as well as in form’ can be extended to the doodle in particular and outsider art in general, where the doodle serves as a psychological aid to concentration, countervailing the effects of lack of attention by giving the mind a paradoxically inattentive form of attention. Gombrich did write an essay on doodling titled ‘Pleasures of Boredom’ (The Uses of Images, 1999) where he puts forth this idea.

 

‘We tend to be told, no doubt rightly, that any constructive achievement requires the utmost concentration of mind. On the other hand, we also know that it is hard, if not wholly impossible, to concentrate for any length of time on a monotonous task. … Experience shows that this danger is diminished by keeping the mind mildly occupied in another way during the performance of an almost technical task.’

The word ‘doodle’ originally meant ‘fool’. In the same essay, Gombrich informs us that the word ‘doodling’ to denote this kind of activity comes from a 1936 Hollywood movie ​‘Mr.Deeds Goes To Town’ (dir. Frank Capra), where such activity is defended as an aid to thinking. Needless to say, some of the most interesting examples of doodles come from writers’ manuscripts. Below are a few examples. What we see here in common is cartooning. Some, like Sylvia Plath, even use the iconic comics symbol of the speech bubble. Of course, there are variations in the level of intentional involvement in these sketches by writers, but for me the key idea here, in relation to comics art, is that cartooning is a form which carries within it a kind of subversiveness that is the outcome of unarticulated desires that cannot be fully described purely in aesthetic terms. As a reverse process, readers of a printed narrative using cartooning as the basis can project their own inchoate emotions onto the simplified forms.

Page from Golden Pollen, Seiichi Hayashi, 1971

Doodle from Notebook 2 of Watt, Samuel Beckett, 1941

Portrait sketches (Raskolnikov and Svid-rigailov) in the draft of the novel “Crime and Punishment”.

Fyodor Dostoevsky. 1860-1866. Ink on paper. Central State Archives of Literature and Art. Moscow.

Doodle in diary, Sylvia Plath, 1945.

Manuscript page, Jorge Luis Borges, 1965.

Doodles in school English textbook, Bharath Murthy, 1994.

As an example of my own doodling, here are pages from my Class 10 CBSE English textbook (1994), on which I doodled during class hours while the teacher was discussing one of the poems. I still don’t know why I decided to preserve those two pages from that textbook, which has itself long disappeared. My gradual engagement with comics drawing came out of my difficulties in dealing with painting as a fine art. I studied painting as an undergraduate student in Baroda, between 1996-2000. Unconsciously, my work tended towards the caricature, the comical, the humourous. The responses from my teachers were rather indifferent. What I find interesting today is that one of the words used in a pejorative sense to criticize work in Baroda was ‘illustrative’. If they said, ‘your work is illustrative’, it meant that it didn’t have enough ‘substance’ for it to qualify as art, though it could be passed off as an illustration of an idea. In extending the idiom of ‘substance and shadow’, here we see the flip side of the cartoonist’s position. A fine artist should try to produce the deep ‘substance’ of art, or else it will remain only a shadow, an outline, a cartoon, or an illustration. Unable to reconcile this dichotomy, I stopped painting altogether for a few years. I only started drawing comics while studying filmmaking in the early 2000s.

Student works (oils and acrylics on canvas and board). Bharath Murthy, 1998-2000.

Inder Bhan Madan's cartoons

 

In the last section of this article, I would like to briefly speak about the cartoons of Inder Bhan Madan, which I see as an example of cartooning as an outsider art. Inder Bhan Madan (1909-2007) worked most of his life in the Post and Telegraph department of the Government of India. After his death, a huge cache of his cartoons that he drew as a hobby came to the attention of Vidya Shivdas, Director, FICA (The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art) through Inder Bhan Madan’s daughter Shobha Madan. FICA in collaboration with a comics collective called BlueJackal, put up an exhibition of his selected cartoons in Delhi in 2017 and simultaneously BlueJackal published a series of his cartoons on their website. (Go to  https://www.bluejackal.net/daily-chronicles).


The collection of cartoons that I saw are arranged in time periods –– 50s, 60s, 70s and the rest comprising of those he did late in life. The cartoons up until these late works fall squarely in the tradition of political cartooning in India. Indeed, these works are reminiscent of 19th century political cartoons such as those published in ​Oudh Punch or ​Parsee Punch of the late 1800s and early 1900s. These satirical magazines, imitations of the British Punch magazine, inaugurated the political cartooning tradition in India. The material for these cartoons were daily newspaper reports, based on which the cartoonist would, using witty text and image, create a satirical cartoon. Needless to say, this form of cartooning continues to this day, it’s latest incarnation being social media ‘memes’. Below is an autobiographical cartoon by Madan showing the cartoonist looking for material in the newspaper.

cartoon by Inder Bhan Madan, 1960s

The first thing that struck me about the cartoons is that they are not dated. One is not sure if they have been noted elsewhere, behind the artwork perhaps? In any case, these cartoons seem to have taken on the role of a private diary for Madan. The political cartoons typically feature a caption contextualising the image, or the text would be the voice of one of the characters. His approach is personal, sometimes even opaque, given that he was not a professional cartoonist and never published any of them. The other subject matter he drew was autobiographical – scenes from life in his household, holidays, preparations for marriage, private moments with his wife, observing the women in the house (he had four daughters and a son). For me, these scenes are of much more value than the political cartoons themselves, for here the cartoonist reveals himself, if only the tiniest bit.

cartoons by Inder Bhan Madan, 1960s

But it was when I looked into the folder with his late cartoons that something interesting emerged. In these late cartoons, Madan seems to have abandoned his earlier form of cartooning and settled on an extremely abbreviated style comprising only of a face, along with a sentence which is the voice of the character. A face and a voice. Political satire and the observational joke is gone. Instead, what we get is an extremely compressed evocation that illuminates the lives of these anonymous faces. Given that Madan worked all his life in the Post and Telegraph Dept, I am easily tempted to use the metaphor of the telegraphic text to emphasize its brevity and economy, relying heavily on what can be evoked with the minimum use of image and text–the cartoon as a telegram.

cartoons by Inder Bhan Madan, 1960s

The one with probably the least number of words is where a boy says ‘What has happened’ to a girl. In the image, all background and context is removed. It is only the speaking voice and the choice of words that seem to turn these roughly drawn faces in ink into mysterious and enigmatic people, with an inner life and untold stories hidden behind the platitudes that see them through the day. In one, even the devil makes an appearance.

From an art historical perspective, as I said earlier, these works can be seen as an example of ‘outsider art’ or ‘naive art’. A parallel would be Madan’s contemporary, the well-known Nek Chand, who like Madan was a public servant and built his ‘Rock Garden’, ironically in Le Corbusier’s modernist utopia of Chandigarh. I see here an opportunity to extend the 'substance and shadow’ motif in the realm of architecture, with the Rock Garden being the shadow, a caricaturish mockery of Le Corbusier's clean, calculated structures in exposed concrete laid out in a grid-like city of the future.

 

Two views of Nek Chand’s Rock Garden (created 1960s-70s), Chandigarh.

The Palace of Assembly, Capitol Complex, Chandigarh. Le Corbusier. 1960. Photo by Benjamin Hosking

Roof of the Palace of Assembly, Capitol Complex, Chandigarh. Le Corbusier. 1960. Photo by Roberto Marcatti.

Vandana Jain. Sketch pen on paper.

Yet another parallel I came across are the faces drawn with sketch pens by Vandana Jain, who happens to be the sister of noted art historian Jyotindra Jain and married to the poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. Vandana showed me her works at their home in Dehradun, at the insistence of Arvind, who thought I might be interested in looking at them. He himself told me that it was 'outsider art’, though he wondered aloud what exactly that might mean.

Coming back to Madan’s works themselves, for me, it is this combination of faces and snatches of everyday speech that creates a sort of compression of the cartoon into a poetic form. It is telling that many of these sentences are everyday cliches– ‘I believe only in ease, comfort and reliability’, ‘You should know the type of man you’ve to deal with’, ‘I know what it means to be in prison’. This is the sort of speech that animates our daily lives. The reader can almost predict what might have preceded or followed such utterances. These anonymous characters appear to the reader as something familiar yet unknown. The reader is drawn into an ambiguous relationship with this unknown person talking to us. Frequently, these characters also use the second person. For example ‘Don’t try to harass us, you will regret it’, ‘You looked grand, you never told me you were a pauper’, or ‘I don’t want even to see your face’.

 

This last cartoon could aptly represent the whole series as it reflexively comments on itself, acknowledging the ‘face’ of the reader even as the face we look at expresses the wish not to look at us. I would say that these faces form a counterpoint to R.K.Laxman’s cartoon series ‘You said it’. In it, Laxman presents his cartoon character as both a surrogate of himself and of the reader, who is imagined as a silent middle-class ‘common’ man watching the absurdity of modern Indian life with incredulity, while other characters speak, either to the ‘common man’ directly or to other characters that the 'common man’ eavesdrops on.  The title 'You Said It’ is in fact words spoken by the apparently silent ‘common man’ in response to the speech he hears. The reader can only enter the scene through the 'common man’, and therefore is one step removed from the scene being depicted. By doing that, Laxman allows his middle-class readers to conveniently wash their hands off the sordid reality that they live in and over which they have no control. They can only repeat “you said it” just like the ‘common man’.

You Said It, R.K.Laxman

In Madan’s cartoons however, these anonymous, ordinary, common faces, all brought alive with a speaking voice, implicate us, the reader, as complicit in their lives, drawing us into an uneasy relationship with them. Unlike in 'You Said It', here readers do not have that privileged position from which to observe them. In other words, they cannot have a non-committal attitude. I think it is this quality of confronting the viewer which elevates these works and makes them worth showing to a larger audience. They also demonstrate the ability of the cartooning and comics in addressing the minor, the intimate aspects of our social and emotional lives that don’t fit into larger narratives. In this sense, comics and cartooning perform the role as art’s ‘other’, existing in a dialectical relationship with art, power and the truths of our lived experience.

Bharath Murthy is a comics artist and filmmaker. He edits and publishes Vérité, a comics magazine for adults. His personal blog is http://bcomix.wordpress.com

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The views expressed in the article above are entirely of the author. 

The copy right permissions of all the images of Inderbhan Madan are with Prof. Shobha Madan.

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