Abhishek Singh is a modest man. This 30 year-old creator of Krishna: A Journey Within will assure that you can finish reading his graphic novel in half an hour and then will add as an aside that he worked on it for four years. As you turn each page ponderously with the awe of a child looking at a god, you realise that the man has lied. For Krishna: A Journey Within is a work that will bedazzle you with its splendour.
The graphic novel is a 300-page masterpiece with the veneer of a bildungsroman that includes the defeat of Kalia, the Raas-Leela and the Kurukshetra — episodes from Krishna’s life that we are all too familiar with. However, the graphic novel nurtures within it a meditative aspect of Krishna and the fundamentals of the Bhagavad Gita. Singh states that he has been widely influenced by Joseph Campbell, quantum physics, folk music and commentaries on The Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda and AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada — all of which are observable in Krishna.
Singh, an alumnus of the prestigious National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, was commissioned as an illustrator by Virgin Comics, Bangalore, in 2004 for their series titled Ramayan 3392 AD. The series is set in a futuristic world (complete with a map reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings) where brothers Rama and Lakshman set out to obliterate Ravana, who in this legend, is a culmination of advancements in nanotechnology. Having worked alongside names such as Shekhar Kapur and Deepak Chopra, Singh went on to work on Kali (published by Virgin Comics in 2007) but desired to find his own artistic idiom.
He quit his job and a personal quest ensued. He reminisces, “For four years, I contemplated the meaning of Krishna. I doodled, travelled, catalogued and sketched and that way amassed a collection of visual material. I wanted to tell a story my way and not force my desires in a commissioned work.”
While the illustrations for Ramayan 3392 AD are raw and dusky, Krishna: A Journey Within showcases artistry that uses resplendent hues and pays attention to detail. It is a mesmerising trip to Vrindavan, Hastinapur and Kurukshetra, as much as it is a journey into the psyche of Krishna.
At the end of his quest, Singh decided to upload the graphic novel online, downloadable for free. “I was not looking for anything to be brought back,” he comments. Many international publishers do not accept unsolicited material, except for few such as Image Comics, who accept online submissions and allow artists to maintain creative rights. Image Comics (defiant and laying claim to the series Spawn) confirmed their interest within minutes of his sending the manuscript and now plan to translate it into French, Italian and Spanish.
Singh is currently the first Indian author to be published by Image Comics. He says that publishing was the easiest part. The challenge lay in the years that went into creating Krishna: A Journey Within. While he wasn’t foolhardy, it was true that he had burnt his bridges and went only with the conviction that his work would be well received. The Nirula Family Art Trust arrived as a beacon of hope when they requested him to exhibit his works in New Delhi in 2010. Singh recalls that he made his art pieces from borrowed money and art material. The trust envisions a follow up series of artwork by him titled Shakti in March 2013 and Sangam. These, along with Roopa, the first in the series, culminate in the overall Dhyana sequence — a marriage of the ancient scriptures, the quest for the self and modern science.
For all this, Singh will not define himself as a graphic novelist. He calls himself a caveman among artists, following instinctively the stories embedded in his psyche. “I do not feel I have arrived as an artist. My art is like the spontaneity of a child.” The nation abounds in ritual, religion and myth. There is the unforgettable fact that mythology and Indian publishers is a road much travelled. The staple Amar Chitra Katha (who published The Gita in 1977), Vimanika (with titles such as I am Kalki and Ashavatar), Tara Books (Sita’s Ramayana illustrated by a folk artist) and Campfire (Krishna: Defender of Dharma) are moguls in this department.
Krishna: A Journey Within will find its place as a visual lyric. It is less pedagogy, more metaphor. Readers will have to pay attention to the nuances in the artwork, such as the play of dualities, a god in the clouds or a meeting of the atomic and the divine. For the novices and the uninitiated, the abstraction and the philosophy will be a challenge but it can serve as a good starting point. While the predecessors are many, Krishna: A Journey Within is definitely a juggernaut of an experience.
Krishna: A journey within
By Abhishek Singh
Published by Image Comics