"Silent graphic novels have its roots in basic, ancient cave paintings"

Mar 01, 2013, 23:54 IST | Fiona Fernandez

There's drama, fantasy, escapism, satire, and above all � love, which is reflective in each of the five stories that you will come across in Appupen's Legends of Halahala. India's first silent graphic novel teases you to read between the lines, literally. We tried, and somewhere along the way, had to bring in its creator to take us into this magical universe

Why a silent graphic novel?
Silent sequential art is a universal language. It is a parallel language with a visual vocabulary. If you are fluent in it — and anyone can be with some effort — this offers a new way to express and understand. Legends of Halahala is being read and enjoyed by many non English-speaking people from across society. It is a very basic form of conveying an idea. I see its roots in ancient, basic cave paintings.

A panel from The Accordion Manoeuvre.
Art work courtesy/ Legends of Halahala, Appupen, HarperCollins India

The silent comic makes the reader interpret the story. His interpretation may not be exactly that of the artist, but with the provided visuals as guides, he builds the story in a customised manner. The readers’ participation makes the story. They help suggest ideas subtly, without distracting the viewer from the flow of the story. And, ‘reading between the lines’ takes a whole new meaning with visuals.

All this means the artist has to work hard to convey only the desired idea, and be consistent to win the trust of the reader. This is the tough part, but I see myself as an artist working on a painting, rather than a writer behind sheets of paper. I’m trying to experiment with this form of art, and see where we take each other.

A panel from Oberian Dysphoria

Also, I think very visually. I scribble down ideas in picture form, mostly. I call this my silent phase, and I need to be able to tell all kinds of stories without words. There is much exploring to be done in this scene with the next book, Aspyrus and Legends of Halahala 2.

What was the inspiration to work on a collection of graphic love stories, instead of a single story?
It’s easier. Also, I want to play with the image of Halahala in the readers’ minds. If you are a Moonward reader then Halahala has appeared grey and dark to you, but only because the ideas demanded it. Now, it’s important to show other sides of Halahala, which is a parallel world where all kinds of lives are being lived. With Legends of Halahala, we travel from a seemingly medieval setting with kings and castles, to a noir satire, and then into a timeless lush magical jungle, with strange creatures.

A panel from 16917P’s Masterpiece

Then, there’s a post-apocalyptic setting with cities under domes and wasteland outside, and then, an urban folktale. These stories should convey that Halahala is a vast place with a rich history and culture, and a collection of its own creatures and realities. They are all Halahala love stories, and therefore not typical earth stories. For me, it is also about different types of love stories — say, between an artist and his work or his own name as I’ve tried to suggest in one of these stories.

How would you describe the world of Halahala to the typical graphic novel fan?
It is a mythical magical world growing with each book. Even though parallels can be drawn with our own world, realities are different in Halahala, and stories can take any form. Moonward dealt with the beginning of Halahala — the origin of the world and in many ways, the forces that determined its life.

A panel from Stupid’s Arrow

We also move through in time to a seemingly futuristic point in Halahala time, with super cities and exploited grey wastelands. With this timeline set, we now have stories from across time and various regions being explored in the Legends of Halahala series. There are fantasy creatures and landscapes, smoking dragons, love and adventure, all in original Halahala fashion. A string of super heroes and villains are coming soon, after Aspyrus, the next book.

The colour palette varies with every story. Was this deliberate and meant to reflect the different mood?
Absolutely. I want to explode the concept of Halahala into a collection of many looks and styles that are flexible to suit the story. This reflects the tone of the stories, where some are outright comic and some have a more serious message, and also help in refreshing the reader to start the new story in a new place. This is something comics can do so easily over prose, and along with the silent experiments it just goes without saying.

A panel from The Saga of Ghostgirl

Your favourite/most challenging pick from this collection...and why?
Nope. I like them all the same. There are things that make each story stand out. I have chosen these from a list of ten, for being ripe, and ready for telling. Oberian Dysphoria and 16917P’s Masterpiece are my picks, if I must choose. The first has no humans. It is in a lush magical jungle. It was challenging to create creatures that are not human but still could convey all kinds of feelings and facial expressions, since they don’t talk.

The latter, because it is a one-man story. 16917P comes out of a dome city where he doesn’t even have a real name, into the wasteland outside. The story wanders into more interesting territory for me — the artist and his signature. Of course, the stories have many layers to delve into, and each person should have his own take; this was mine.

Was there a point when you were tempted to revert to using words, or was this always going to be a silent graphic novel?
These stories were scribbled down as silent stories on a beach after Moonward was published. It was, a reaction to realising that I had just been published. And suddenly, the dreamy idea of Halahala in my head was getting an outlet and maybe some acceptance. There was so much to report from Halahala, and I feel more comfortable without words right now.

Legends of Halahala, Appupen, HarperCollins India, Rs 499. Available at leading bookstores 

InspiIration for the artist
“A few European artists have shown me that the silent format can be very effective in storytelling. I love the woodcut novels of Lynd Ward from 1920s and ’30s, and the more recent work from Lewis Trondheim and Guy Delisle. Eric Drooker is an American legend in this scene.”
- Appupen

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