In the world of superheroes and graphic novels, with great power comes great responsibility. But author Samit Basu begs to differ. Of course, the four protagonists in his latest graphic novel, Local Monsters, have much to sweat over, but that’s more on the lines of paying electricity bills and making sense of the madness in a new city. Saving the world can wait.
In Local Monsters, the four heroes are not, well, superheroes to begin with. They are monsters who have rather whimsical ‘superpowers’ - Latha’s scream is fatal and Bela is a vampire, for instance. Professor Indrajit Vyas brings them together with Tashi and Indra to fight his nemesis, Subramanian.
The concept of Local Monsters took shape when Basu finished his book, Turbulence, last year. “In Turbulence, the superheroes know exactly what they want, they are quite serious about it, too. It was fun to overlay the real world with an extra layer. But somewhere it got me thinking - if I found out that I had a superpower, I think I would still be worried about paying my bills and wonder about where my career is going,” says Basu.
Local Monsters is peppered with irony, satire and jokes quintessentially Indian. Basu begins the graphic novel by introducing Munna Molestor, who ensures that Delhi women are not safe even on a Tuesday night, for instance. There’s a reference to Kolkata, where bizarre incidents are norm because, well, the city knows no rules. Then, there is a joke about how a character cannot access government files because they have been burnt. They always are.
“We, Indians, have been consuming what the West is trying to show us, ravenously. We are sharply acclimatised to their jokes. We even know what’s happening in Japan because of Naruto. But let’s admit it, do we really know what an authentic Indian joke is like? Entertainment in India is not universal - look at our television content. It is infantile in humour and storytelling.”
Basu is candid enough to admit that, unlike in Turbulence, which has released in the UK and the US, he is not trying to woo an international audience through Local Monsters. “I am not trying to break new ground, or achieve something more with this graphic novel as compared to my previous work. I am just trying to have fun and entertain readers with humour that mirrors the Indian way of life.
This novel is for newer readers of graphic novels. There’s nothing revolutionary about it, really,” he smiles. Local Monsters, admittedly, is not the most well-drawn graphic novel and could have done with more breathing space. Basu’s writing, however, is wry and witty, with shrewd observations of the state of affairs in the country.
What the graphic novel does well is coolly usher monsters and superpowers into your bedroom or living room. “I was not even too finicky about the art. It is in black and white, and I did not want it to be under production for three years. Local Monsters is about the reality of four 20-somethings who just want a sitcom life. They want to hide, have fun and not be responsible for the world,” says Basu. His next book, he adds, is a historical fantasy for young adults about Mowgli’s son as a secret agent on the Titanic, who must hold the world together.