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Workshop explores comic art's influence on urban architecture

Lawyer and scholar Lawrence Liang reveals yet another unusual facet — that of comics aficionado — at a workshop that examines urban experience through graphic art

For those of us who swear by Batman (and thus snigger at film mash-ups with Superman), lawyer Lawrence Liang has something to add. “What is Batman about?” he says, adding, “It is the idea of a city struggling between dystopia and perfection. Gotham, which draws several parallels from New York City, is as much a character in the series as The Joker.” Liang has struck a chord with us as we are transported to the Art Deco towers and Gothic gargoyles of the fictional city and its grimy underworld made famous by the Batman comics.

Lawyer and comics fan Lawrence Liang. Pic/Ajeesh F Rawther
Lawyer and comics fan Lawrence Liang. Pic/Ajeesh F Rawther

City and the comic book
It is but an all too familiar setting; you just have to recall elements of South Mumbai's architecture and our mafia warlords that have inspired reams of literature. Like a mind-reader, Liang effortlessly careens to Doga, the Bambaiya superhero from Raj Comics, who dons the mask of a hound. “[Author] Gyan Prakash says how Doga fights against the nexus between politicians and builders in the post mill-workers’ strike era. Doga is a Batman-like vigilante figure,” he says.

Panels from Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland evoke urban anxieties
Panels from Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland evoke urban anxieties 

As we mull over how Batman and Doga have their origins in the same storyboard, one thing is clear: Liang is what happens when comics meet critique, when The Riddler is mashed up with Little Lulu; when he talks comics, it is with the passion of his childhood craving and the accuracy of a lawyer. It seems almost incongruous that this legal researcher with a keen interest in the politics of copyright, who co-founded the Alternative Law Forum in Bengaluru, should have so much to say about a form that is yet to be given its due in the country.

New York The Big City by Will Eisner
New York The Big City by Will Eisner

Take the course
His interest has translated into a course — Scaffolds, Layouts and Palimpsests: Comics and the Urban Imagination — which he will conduct at the School of Environment and Architecture from June 29 to July 1. A couple of years back, Liang had delivered a lecture by the same title at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bengaluru, following which he expanded the talk into a longer programme. The three-day course will take participants through ways of understanding the urban experience through the medium of comics, both from India and abroad. It is broken down into six parts, each with a set of comics and reading material.

Corridor by Sarnath Banerjee
Corridor by Sarnath Banerjee

Liang says that for long, we have understood the urban-scapes and lives through cinema. “While cinema is a temporal form, comics are spatial; they are laid out very much in the manner of cities,” he says. The title of the course, therefore, relates to both architecture and comics; panels laid out on a page are reminiscent of a scaffolding, aren’t they?” he asks.

After an introductory session to the form of comics, the course will explore aspects such as allegorical cities, comics as archives of urban experience and comics as reportage. Participants should be thrilled to encounter titles such as Will Eisner’s New York: The Big City, Sarnath Banerjee’s The Barn Owl’s Adventures (based in Kolkata) and, Cities of the Fantastic by Benoit Peeters and Francois Schuiten, who preferred to be known as artists instead of architects. Our pick: Little Nemo in Slumberland by Windsor McCay in the section on allegorical cities. “Little Nemo’s dreams have urban anxieties such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia. It blurs the lines between dreamscapes and landscapes,” says Liang. Then again, wasn’t the best of architecture but a dream in an artist’s mind once?

On: June 29 to July 1, 10 am to 4 pm (daily)
At: School of Environment and Architecture, Eksar Road, Borivali (W).
Registration fee: Rs 7,000 (professionals); Rs 4,000 (students)
Call: 65002156
Email: anuj@sea.edu.in

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