Nice, nifty and new-age

Oct 01, 2012, 08:02 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Over the past decade and possibly earlier, we have been witness to the manga comic wave that has captured the imagination of the average Indian comic book reader and collector.

With it emerged the gradual acceptance of a new style of narrative and comic art. While purists and naysayers have always raised their tempo to vilify this Jap-invasion, it’s a given that this form of storytelling will continue to be a regular feature on our bookshelves for some time to come.

cover of Gandhi
Different strokes: The cover of
Gandhi: A Manga Biography. 
By Kazuki Ebine.  
Penguin Books. Price: Rs. 499

That’s why it is interesting to note that celebrated Japanese manga artist Kazuki Ebine has given us a different adaptation of the Mahatma’s life -- from an aesthetic and artistic viewpoint -- in his comic Gandhi: A Manga Biography. Even manga comic fans will notice that the narrative is a departure from the usual themes that one is familiar with, and of course, is minus some of the characteristic fast-paced action, a riotous palette and storyline. One bracket of readers, especially followers of Gandhi’s ideals, historians or fact monsters, might want to skip this one. But if you’re an experimentalist, keen to savour and sift through new-age ways to bring the Mahatma to an impatient generation, go for it.

Brave effort
Kazuki has got the basics right —breezy narrative, smart language, crisp copy, and lack of clutter, all of which will engage the reader, especially if one is discovering Gandhi for the first time. It’s an ideal tool that can be used across classrooms in the West and the Orient, to introduce the life and message of one of the most influential individuals of the 20th century.

However, if you are an Indian and especially one who has been fed on Gandhi and his role in India’s independence for decades – courtesy history textbooks, and other media – later, there will be issues that tend to stick out in the overall treatment. For one, there are misses in the story’s continuity, spellings are inconsistent and certain key figures are reduced to sidekicks in their interactions with Gandhi. Though a black and white storyboard was used for this comic, we would have liked for more depth and character to be lent to its main players. Expressions and facial features are also off mark; though manga fans will be quick to defend that characters and depictions aren’t meant to be identical or exact in the expression of this art form. We’ll put that to creative licenses and liberties.

These negatives don’t take away from the fact that the comic is a brave attempt to highlight a man who lived and breathed a life different from most in his time. More so, since it’s by a Japanese artist who has had no background about Gandhi and his legacy. For this, and the refreshing look at his journey, we hope that this title strikes a chord among younger readers. Che Guevara and the 14th Dalai Lama are also showcased in this series of manga biographies from Emotional Content and Penguin Books. Price: R499.

What is manga?
Manga is a Japanese word that refers to a style that includes both comics and cartooning. The style developed in Japan in the late 1800s and has its base in early Japanese art. It is used to create comics by Japanese artists – in Japan or elsewhere – in the Japanese language. Several genres such as action-adventure, romance, comedy, fantasy and even historicals are treated in the manga style. The stories are mostly illustrated in black-and-white, though a few artists have experimented with colour. As of 2009, the market for manga in Japan was valued at USD 5.5 billion. 

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