Travelling library of self-published comics exploring various themes to arrive in Mumbai

Nov 21, 2016, 11:41 IST | Joanna Lobo

A travelling library of self-published comics, which arrives in Mumbai next month, explores ideas of feminism, identity, gender and belonging

Growing up intersex and its meaning in present-day Brexit Britain; constant shifts that a modern Indian woman faces; the relationship between hair length and identity; transgender men and women and their experience of exclusion with respect to the politics of caste and religion. These are but some of the stories you will find at the Kadak Reading Room, a travelling library of self-published comics and zines, which makes its debut in Mumbai in early December.

The Reading Room was started as a response to Gender Bender 2016, by the Kadak Collective. “We are a graphic or comic collective for experimental visual storytelling, spread across London, Los Angeles, Mumbai and Bengaluru. When we have something to say, a story to tell, we use comics to say it,” says Garima Gupta, a freelance illustrator from Mumbai.

The Kadak Collective consists of Akhila Krishnan, Janine Shroff, Aindri Chakraborty, Mira Malhotra, Pavithra Dikshit, Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, Aarthi Parthasarathy and Gupta. The women came together to showcase their work at the East London Comics and Arts Festival (ELCAF) 2016. “Everyone was creating comics on their own, looking at issues that touch upon the idea of feminism and the questions of gender and identity,” adds Gupta.

The Mumbai event will begin with a presentation on A History of Women in Comics by Parthasarathy. “It is my research on the history of female comic creators and representation of women in comics, in history and today. There are more women in comics now, but it has been a slow change,” says Bengaluru-based Parthasarathy, a filmmaker and comics book writer.

On: December 3 to 6, 10 am to 10 pm; the talk is on December 3, 2 pm to 4 pm.
At: The Cuckoo Club, Bandra (W)
Entry: 200 (the talk)
Log on to: www.insider.com

Everything Drag
UK-based illustrator and designer, Janine Shroff (far right), explores the meaning of drag using colourful illustrations. She digs deeper into the stereotypes associated with the gender — the over-the-top hair, makeup, hyper-feminine or hyper-male outfits and the superstitions.

She contrasts this by questioning the adornment that’s part of a woman’s life. “To be feminine means to be comfortable with discomfort. And then to deny the discomfort even exists,” she writes. “No one likes a drag queen not pulling it together.”

Personal Cyber Space
This gif-laden series was created by Aarthi Parthasarathy with art by Mira Malhotra (below). It shows a woman constantly scrolling through news online and coming across headlines that talk of sexism, rape and sexual harassment and one-off stories about the possibility of a female president and women Olympians. It is a daily cycle, where access to internet has led to an increase in opinions, which in turn are made into statistics. It may be easy to access information and comment instantly but when feminists are branded as feminazis and threatened with rape, how do you offer an opinion. The last panel is a stark one — cursor hovering over an open box begging for a comment.

Boycut
This series by Garima Gupta (below) explores the identity politics of hair length and how that translates into issues about body image and self­ perception. “I was travelling across South East Asia, and had chopped off my hair. This comic makes note of all the sexual and disparaging remarks I got just because I had a boycut,” says Gupta.

Shifting
This visual essay series by Pavithra Dikshit (in pic) uses personal experiences to talk about having to change personas because of her gender. For example, she speaks about being respected at her workplace, but once out on the street or in a local, she becomes a human that can be leered at and objectified. It is a similar situation when she is out running or driving.\

IN-OUT: Gender Through The Brexit Lens
This is the story of a young woman, born intersex, who considers herself neither In or Out (gender-wise); this is reflected against the Brexit In-Out referendum. The story, featuring illustrations by Aindri Chakraborty (in pic), urges people to see beyond definitions of binary categories, and beyond the divisive language of politicians.

Misfits
The standalone short comics by Kaveri Gopalakrishnan (in pic) offer insights into societal expectations that are placed on women’s bodies and appearances. One scene has women toasting each other with their faces and other body parts replaced as vegetables; one details the (often painful) preparation involved in looking good before a night out; and yet another takes on the scourge of pimples.

Aloe Vera and The Void
This is a series of conversations and reflections about belief, god and exclusion, with illustrations by Renuka Rajiv and words by Aarthi Parthasarathy (in pic). “It is conversations with different members of the transgender community. I was curious to know that if a person is excluded from so many social norms and customs; how does that impact their belief systems?” says Parthasarathy. In the first chapter, we meet Purushi — a transgender woman who lives in Bengaluru, India. The honesty is refreshing: in one panel they ask Purushi, “If there is a problem, do you go to a temple?”. The response is, “My problem is money, for that I don’t need to go to a temple.”

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