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The city of dreams

Author-artist George Mathen aka Appupen’s third graphic novel, Aspyrus explores our obesession with aspirations that are vividly portrayed via the dream world of Aspyrus

Q. The books in the Halahala series aren’t typically sequels. So, what is the main theme/idea that you wish to continue and connect the books with?
A. I don’t like sequels. It’s this ‘in’ thing. Much like the dream in Aspyrus. Everyone’s asking me if it’s a trilogy, now that I have three books. They are independent stories/books set in the same universe of Halahala. And Halahala is not a city — it is that world, the mood, a mindscape and the stories itself. Appupen tells stories from that world. I connect the books through that world, some characters, brands and places. The thought of a ‘Trilogy’ makes me laugh.

artwork courtesy/appupen, ASPyRUS (harpercollins india)
Artwork courtesy/appupen, ASPyRUS (HarperCollins India)

Q. What first inspired you to build the city of Halahala?
A. I was in my 20s. I was figuring myself out and the world around me. I didn’t want to put my creative skills on hire — as much as possible. So, it started from elaborate drawings of this fantasy world, which became my escape. As I started spending more time there, it was bound to be more fleshed out and detailed. (George) Orwell and (Aldous) Huxley came to help furnish the place and I realised it was my version of a parallel world. I could enjoy this as much as I did Tolkein’s or Herge’s worlds, and perhaps more since I knew this place better.

artworks courtesy/appupen, Aspyrus (harpercollins india)
Artworks courtesy/appupen, Aspyrus (HarperCollins India)

Q. In Aspyrus, the dragon represents the dream, an aspiration. Why did you pick on the winged dragon to represent this thought?
A. The question is, whose dream is it? The dream has been created and now everyone has to buy in. So, it should look really appealing, right? I’ve spent my time in making appeal out of nothing at all. And we are also talking trends here, so the dragon and fantasy seem inseparable now. Somehow, all our fantasy thinkers have at some point landed in dragonland. So, I had to take on the dragon now, and when I saw his first appearance — cute, clean, almost logo/icon-like with decent recall value — I fell in love with him.



Q. The colour scheme throughout the book remains sombre with a combination of black, white and blue…
A. First off, I want to tie the whole book together with something similar in feel, since it’s one full-length story. The colours were chosen for the mood of the story, and to demarcate dream territories from real life. It starts with water; in fact, underwater and has a dreamy flow to the whole story. I knew it would be hues of blue at the scribble stage itself.


Aspyrus, Appupen, HarperCollins India, Rs 599. Available in bookstores.

Q. The idea of chasing your dreams can be positive too. What made you portray it as a devil that grows in your head and kills you one day?

A. Heh. No devil here. Just puppetry. We should question these dreams that are put into our heads. Make sure the dream you’re chasing is a) your own, and b) worth it.

Q. You take up on various aspects of commercialisation (even the art world: the Damian Hirst diamond skull). From an artist’s perspective, what do you feel is wrong in the world of art?

A. Like everything else, it’s too commercial. There’s a nice documentary about it called The Mona Lisa Curse. And to think that our Indian art scene is still only warming up to most of it. I’m thinking of working on a few cool gimmicks soon.

Q. Tell us a bit about the next book in the series. Will you take forward an idea from the current or the previous book in the series?
A. Like the books so far, it will be a new story in itself. It will put things in better perspective. It’s not called White City. It is set in White City, which had its origin from some seeds in Moonward, and I still have to come up with a name. It’s a closer look at the city and people and a big departure in storytelling styles. Aspyrus came out surprisingly good looking, so there’s pressure to better that with the next one. More surprise.

About the book
Aspyrus is the third book in a series that started with Moonward, and Legends of Halahala came next. The title follows the games played by a mythical dragon-like creature that represents our dreams. This creature starts out as a cutesy, harmless being and later, ends up in a city and into the minds of the people who inhabit it, culminating in a large monster who needs some slaying, eventually. Through this almost silent graphic novel, author Appupen takes on various issues such as commercialisation, the bombardment of advertising and the me-too philosophy of people living today, with a touch of dark humour, in a muted palette and an engaging storyline.

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