The Army's go-to graphic artist

Updated: Aug 18, 2019, 07:47 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

How Rishikumar Varma made a career by drawing the lives of India's war heroes

The Army's go-to graphic artist
Rishikumar Varma. Pic/ Nishad Alam

Nineteen years ago, brave Lieutenant Nawang Kapadia of Mumbai, laid down his life fighting terrorists just 39 days after getting commissioned into the Indian Army. His parents, who since then have struggled to make peace with this loss, recently saw his life immortalised in a graphic novel, Nawang, dedicated to the war hero.

The novel is part of a patriotic comic series, created by Delhi-based Rishikumar Varma, who has now become the India Army's go-to artist to tell stories from the war zone. The graphic artiste has already published 37 titles under the banner of AAN Comics. "As a child, I was always fascinated by war heroes. Most of the ideas for my graphic work would come while playing videos games that depicted war zones or watching war movies," says Varma, whose favourite Bollywood war film is JP Dutta's Border.

Though the comic series has great sentimental value for the country, Varma says that he struggled to get a publisher. "When my first comic book, Siachen, The Cold War, was ready for printing, I contacted various publishing houses, but nobody showed interest," says the 37-year-old, who was then forced to use up all his life savings to self-publish the title. However, after the release of that title, he received support from unexpected quarters—the Indian Army. Later, AAN Comics came on board.

In 2013, Varma submitted his first two books to the then Indian Army Chief General Bikram Singh. "A few days later, I got a call from the Army PR saying that they appreciated my efforts. I even got calls from various Army units located throughout the country, who felt I was doing a great service to the nation. Their support meant a great deal," says Varma. "In my case, I was a newcomer in the war comics scene, so I had to work hard to establish my identity. Without their support, I doubt I would have reached this far," he adds.

Ashoka Chakra graphics
A battle scene from the graphic series, Ashoka Chakra

Since then, the Army headquarters has been helping him procure information on war heroes for his comic series. Lieutenant Kapadia's story was one that stayed with him.

"I had read about his martyrdom in 2001, but never realised that I would be doing a story on him years later. I was overwhelmed by Nawang's sheer commitment and dedication to becoming an Army officer. While reliving the combat scene in the artworks, I was constantly thinking how he was a gift to this nation. His death was saddening and heart-breaking. I shudder to think what his family must have gone through."

Varma says that he will continue to make war comics, even five years from now. "But, there could be a diversification in the medium, as I am looking into this phenomenon called motion comics; it's the latest thing. I also plan to do a documentary film on the military."

He is also hopeful that more artistes will venture into the graphic novel space. Varma's advice to young talents, is that they start by training with comic book companies. "If your work speaks out, you can easily make a name for yourself in the industry. However, you need to constantly work at re-inventing yourself. There is stiff competition in the comic book industry, so you have to continuously keep coming up with new concepts. Keep practising, that's the golden rule."

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