‘How does one read comics? Reclining at an angle of 37.2 degrees.’ That succinct piece of advice comes from one of the members of the Pao Collective, a ragtag bunch of predominantly Delhi-based illustrators, cartoonists, wildly creative men and women (five, to be exact) bursting with all kinds of ideas. These ideas, along with contributions from their friends and fellow artists, are now available at a bookstore near you.
The crowded cover illustration by Orijit Sen — Creative Director of People Tree, a small independent business that ‘combines a sense of social purpose and ecological responsibility with the spirit of collective creativity’ — sets the tone for what is, inturn, amusingly quirky, sometimes farcical, a little satirical, but always compelling. Making it worth every bit of your money is work like Sen's (again) visual translation of Kabir’s verses, titled Hair Burns Like Grass. As satisfying as his cameo in recently published anthology The Obliterary Journal, it makes one hope for a full-length work from this powerful illustrator who obviously has a lot on his mind.
Another highlight is Hindus and Offal, by Ambarish Satwik and Pia Alize Hazarika. Readers familiar with Satwik’s writing (Perineum) will know exactly what to expect. Hint: He was a vascular and endovascular surgeon, and gravitates to the messy rather quickly. Where the excitement flags is with stories like The Pink, by Salil Chaturvedi and Priya Kuriyan, which meanders to end up nowhere, and Sleepscapes by Parismita Singh. Are they parts of unpublished wholes? Are they meant to be teasers? This critic isn’t sure.
Fingers must remain crossed on whether a compilation like this may lead to a ‘comics culture’ thriving in India the way manga now runs wild in Japan. Irrespective of how that pans out though, you really ought to have this on your bookshelf.