Low Art #1: Cartoons and delusions of grandeur.

Foreword
No blog post should need a foreword but this one does because I’m rubbish at blogging.

Day before, I thought I’d kick things up a notch. So I started Bear Necessities. While The Bipolar Bear focuses on things that occupy my long term memory (or at least stay at the back of my mind for more than a week). Bear Necessities is a space for penning down daily musings and inconsequentials that I intend to forget about the very next day.

With the same spirit, I’ve decided to undertake the task of starting a ‘series’. Yep, This post is meant to be the first of a series. The attempt? To focus on the art found in small nooks and crannies. Even within these constraints, where art that had been restricted to a small frame of time and space, you can sometimes (More often than one would think) find feats of austere creativity.

Forewarning
No blog posts should need a forewarning either but I’m like I said, I’m absolutely rubbish at blogging.

This discussion veers off into a chaotic tangent. I tried to fight that for a while but it seems that the ghost of Karl Pilkington, head the size of a fucking orange has possessed me. Which is weird because he’s not dead.

A movie holds you captive, commanding all your attention. The deal? In exchange for a willingness to suspend disbelief, you get two hours of another world. But a few frames relegated to a corner of the leisure section of a newspaper shouldn’t even aspire to do anything of the sort.

And aspire they didn’t. That is until  Mr Watterson came along and wrecked havoc in a previously lackadaisical comic-strip scene. Calvin and Hobbes put all the other strips to shame with its too-good-for-the-medium art. It seemed to animate the frames with a life of their own. They swarmed with pithy observations of the human nature, the fact that they swarmed so in a section of the newspaper that had long been left for dead got C&H the following that it now has. Before these swashbuckling adventures of a boy and his stuffed tiger were brought to life by the ink in Watterson’s pen the funnies were a collection of a few silly punch lines for your empty skull to read while your brain took a much-deserved respite from the news of the world. Garfield was still being a lazy cat while its creator read fan mail and made TV syndication deals. Hagar was still trying to be horrible, yet failing to make us laugh in the gambit. In the midst of this sad state of affairs: The boy and his stuffed tiger took us on awesome flights of fancy. Watterson proved to be the master of concision. Even in this short window of time and space, C&H managed to rise above the mundanity that other strips were susceptible to. Anything and everything could happen in those four magical frames: Transmogrifications, Alien invasions or just two pals sledging away to glory. The wizard of Id pales next to the imagination of our sixth grader, Peanuts had its moments but they are and few in between and Garfield I don’t really get the point of anymore. Nobody blamed Parker, Shultz or Davis. They couldn’t work outside the limitations of their medium, could they?  Turns out there were fewer limitations to their medium than anyone thought.


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Garfield these days. Shoot me.

The thing with movies is that there will always be a better movie than the best movie ever screened yet (Yes, Inception. No, that’s not ‘just my opinion’). The human race hasn’t achieved everything it can achieve in the medium, far from it! We’ve got a long way to go.

But with cartoon strips, I reckon Watterson has pretty much defined the ceiling. The scientists would probably agree with me. “Yes Yash, we can do better than Usain Bolt but Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes? We’ve probably achieved the limits of human perfection with this one. Only our soon to be AI overlords: Android Every Flavoured Bean, Windows 23 and OS X version whatever-the-hell can take it from here.”

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Watterson is a strange fellow, a casual google search will flood your browser with accounts of his reclusive nature. He’s been called the ‘bigfoot of comics’ by Stephan Pastis of the Pearls Before Swine fame. And that’s coming from a guy Watterson collaborated with. Across the years, journalists and writers have hounded him incessantly, begging for an interview but Watterson mostly refused. The only interviews he’s given are through e-mails. He seems to be the sort of person who values his peace of mind more than the fame that he would have received in exchange for it. Only his art mattered, and his art spoke for itself. He famously refused to license  C&H (something that would have earned him a fortune in merchandising) and stopped creating the strip as soon as he felt that he had ‘said everything he wanted to say’. Watterson has been living a quiet life ever since and only resurfaced recently to do a few cartoons and watercolours for charities. This involved him hijacking a week of Pearls Before Swine, a wonderful collaboration that I encourage you to read. And if for some unfathomable reason, if, say for instance, like the Nomad in Beau Peep you’ve been living all these years with a rock for company and you haven’t read a single strip of Calvin and Hobbes. Get out, read a few and come back.

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Well, enough said about Calvin and Hobbes. As much as I’d want to go on and on about the strip I’m torn between doing that and doing what Watterson probably expected from fans of his work: letting the strip speak for itself. It speaks louder than this blog post ever will anyway. But we’re on the subject of cartoon strips and I’d hate to miss out on this chance to show you and the rest of the blogosphere (a man can dream, can’t he?) what a big shot cartoonist yours truly, truly is:

 

These specimens of exemplary cartooning, realised over the course of an excruciatingly ponderous lecture, were reviewed favourably by the rest of the class. As much as I’d like to hog the limelight here some of the credit also goes to my collaborators: Srishti Srivastava, Anushka Maheshwari and Samarth Niranjan. Masterpieces like the ‘Phis’ ( polio ridden fish drawn next to the giraffe) won’t have been possible without these guys, who supported me in tough times: times when I was running low on ideas.

Over the years, I’ve often tried to explore the cartoonist within me. Something which contributed a lot towards the fruition of this Magnum Opus. It all started with Buzzy Bee: a daily single frame cartoon that was displayed on our fridge, held together by fridge magnets of course. Unfortunately, for the art world, I don’t have those frames with me anymore. They have been lost to the sands of time. But I swear, these satirical frames depicting the various happenings within my home, within my family of four, were an anthropomorphic delight (for its twelve-year-old creator at any rate). My avatar, a perpetually chillaxed Rabbit named Rappit, could rap as good as any ghetto rabbit worth reckoning with. My dad’s alter ego was Angryphant, an elephant that could keep as much cool as a vigorously shaken hornet’s nest, my mother was a cow named CO/W (a reference that only a fauji or a fauji brat will understand) and my sister, the lead character, was a bee named Buzzy Bee (an intentional misspelling of the name of her kindergarten school: Buzy Bees)

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Meet the Srivastavas! (left to right): Rappit, Buzzy Bee, CO/W and Angryphant

The immense duty of upholding the canons of journalism rested on my little shoulders, carrying as I was the burden that comes with being a political cartoonist, that of exposing every vile misdeed of the ruling class (read parents) and the bourgeoisie (read my sister). To this end, I set out to eradicate the oppression meted out to the proletariat (read me) with the might of a humble pencil. Needless to say, my keen insights were lauded by many (read me).

I can now seem to recall only one frame: The first one. It depicted the injustice that led me to rail against the establishment in the first place. This poignant beginning to my cartooning stint showed angryphant giving me a scolding for ruining his computer screen even as buzzy bee etched hieroglyphs on a CRT monitor behind his back as a placid CO/W looked on indifferently.

Sadly, though, only after a week of strenuous cartooning, I ran out of steam. This was perhaps because I had other things to do, like coaxing my parents to buy me a Beyblade. These Japanese manga spinning tops were all the craze those days and every other boy in the neighbourhood had already called dibs on Beyblade avatars, the good ones (Tyson and Kai) were taken. Meanwhile, all I had in the way of a spinning top was a desi Latoo. The time had come to beg and stomp around for a Beyblade. My lampoons, while effective to some degree at changing some attitudes among the target audience were also a cause for resentment and weren’t really helping my case. I had to get my priorities straight, wrong, but straight.The choice was simple. It was simple in that it was a simple choice to make, ethical conundrum are for grown-ups. Long story short, materialism won over idealism and I gave in pretty easy. A word of advice to Dailies who are thinking of hiring child prodigies: you would do well to know that the journalistic integrity of a twelve-year-old cartoonist is shaky at best. A policy of appeasement (sometimes downright flattery) soon ensued. I started being an all round ‘good boy’. And one fine day, to my mother’s delight, the fridge stopped syndicating my comic. She could now stick her grocery list on the fridge again. Genius is never understood in its own time. The Beyblade didn’t even last a week.

Calvin echoing my sentiment

And so, due to the lukewarm reception of my first foray into the world of cartooning and my questionable character, the second spurt of cartooning genius would come to me only much later, in architecture school. Fuelled by a desire to gift something ‘different’ to my friend I drew was a comic of sorts as a birthday gift for her. It seemed a good way to kill the summer. Also, to kill two birds with one stone: I didn’t have to spend a single paisa on a gift. Of course, the unintended consequences was that the friend in question has been expecting a comic on her birthday ever since. A handmade card just wouldn’t do, let alone a Hallmark.

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The Astounding Proxy Girl: A comic full of inside jokes appreciated only by me and my friend Kshipra Mittal. That’s her alter ego on the cover.

Here’s the anthology:

Proxy Girl #1: The Astounding Proxy Girl
Proxy Girl #2: Humanity Against Glitter

So this is where my soon to be stellar cartooning career stands right now. Humble beginnings, eh? They ought to make for great interviews once I become the next star of the funnies.

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