05 September 2007

Inside Mr Ideas’ Mind

The full-text of the interview can be read in the Aug-Sep issue of 'M' Magazine, a New Delhi-based men's bimonthly.

If you have read or even flipped through Corridor (Penguin, 2004), India’s first graphic novel, or the more recent, The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers (Penguin, 2007), you will have to conceded that whether or not you relate to the graphic novel form, there is a prodigiously fertile mind and a keen eye behind these works. The artwork seem to doff its hat in acknowledgement to Western and Indian art histories, yet proud of its own uniqueness. The writing, if at all it can be viewed independently of the images, is informed, witty, urban, contemporary and very hip that unstutteringly spouts references to low, middle, and high culture -- Foucoult, Django Rheinhardt, Roland Barthes, Lalita Pawar, South Ex Barsatis, and Sande Ka tel. Hemant Sareen talked to Sarnath Banerjee in his Chitaranjan Park apartment, in a moving taxi, and in Café Turtle to try to understand the parts that make up this man of ideas and his comix.

M: Curious for someone who gave us India’s first graphic novel you are not happy with the term ‘Graphic Novel’?

Sarnath Banerjee: Rumours. I’m happy with all terms. I just feel that a disproportionate amount of interest has developed in finding the right word. Whether its ‘graphic novel’, or ‘comic book,’ both are forms. Its all under the superset of ‘comics’ There is graphic novel, there is Manga, there are Mexican comics. These are all comics. And in this, graphic novels are a segment which is basically a convention needed by marketing people in publishing houses to classify the comics which have a certain literary ambition.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that graphic novels are the better comics. But there are crap graphic novels and there are brilliant comics which they still prefer to call ‘comics.’ Comics have become such a huge trend in Europe and in America, particularly in America and Britain, markets that were earlier hesitant about mixing visuals and words because they are a little more entrenched in the platonic notion of the hierarchy of the word over visuals, because they were not [sold as] comics there.

A comic is culturally placed better when you call it a graphic novel, particularly for a readership which is not sympathetic to the whole notion of a comic because they think comic is superheores, children literature etc.

M: Or perhaps the word ‘novel’ in graphic novel suggests depth, scope, gravity ...

SB: I personally feel that comics are an entirely different language. You should not pit it against other forms. Also added to the fact is that, comics are also a language that is constantly being made. So anything which anybody writes in comics is extrapolating the language, making the Wren and Martin of the comic thicker, contributing to its idioms, its punctuation, its grammar. Except this language also has image, diagrammatic aspect, into it. Comics have page design and layout. Drama happens in the way it is laid out. Comics have non-linearity so people are constantly working with the narrative. You might have a single party happening somewhere, or a bus ride in London, say Route 36, which is one of my project. In the bus there are ten people taking the late night bus back home. And all these ten ‘inmates’ were in this sort of bordered space which they can’t escape. And in their heads are ten stories. The approach of a novel would be to get from one story to another story. Motee, motee baat is that, in comics you can have all those ten voices happening simultaneously. All you have to do is to lay your page in such a way that a story emerges from Senegal of the man three seats away from you. And the person who is sitting on your right is at that point of time thinking about Bombay, about a missed opportunity. And the Greek guy sitting on your left is thinking of the Mexican girl sitting three seats away who could have been his soul mate if there was a possibility of having a conversation.

M: That’s cinematic. Do you consider cinema as an inspiration in the making of your comics or graphic novels?

SB: No, cinema is durational. Cinema is linear, unless you technically bring non-linearality into it where you are cross cutting each of these aspects which is a style seen in Amores Perros and 21 Grams. You clip an action and put in another action, and then cut in with the first bit of action later on. In comics you can do all the actions simultaneously because the page is sacred, and your eye can more anyway you want it to move. So you have the finest element of a well-made CD-ROM. What we are talking about is a monstrously powerful medium and that its practitioners are merely coping with it.

M: You are a graphic artist and you are a writer. Do you think as a novelist about stories, plots, characters. Are you a novelist?

SB: Consider it like a chemical change. The final product is completely different from the initial chemicals that combined. So in comics words and pictures combine create something that resembles neither.

M: So you don’t think or act separately as a writer and a graphic artist?

SB: I don’t segregate, became if I segregate I disappear. My role disappears. I don’t even consider comics as a hybrid art. I just think it is a fairly pure art. It sounds very grand when I say that we are in the process or business of writing a new language. But that’s what comic book writer everywhere are doing -- creating a new language.

M: Its strange, you made a transition from biochemistry to graphic art. You went to London for an Image and Communication degree. Surely, one suddenly cannot become an artist?

SB: The classic case of middle class protective upbringing. My childhood was very restless because of fairly protective background where everything is provided for. A very normal straight forward Bengali childhood, with a banker father. There were certain prerequisites. That you need to, at a sustained level, do well in exams. That earned you enough points to do a lot of things, including the flaneuring which happened really early.

I was really a great quitter. I would begin things with a lot of passion and though I did not abandon them at a conceptual level, somewhere down the line things would lose steam and I would abandon the practise. For example boxing. I spent two years of my life doing it because my Anglo-Indian boxing coach convinced me that boxing is the game of the mind. So there is this myopic Bengali boy, noodled-armed, flyweight category, boxing purely on the basis of his coach’s reasoning, that since he was good in chess, he would be good in boxing too. I boxed for two months. I don’t remember hitting anybody. My footwork was amazing.

M: He must have been taking the Mickey out of you?

SB: No, he knew I was passionate about boxing. He didn’t want to discourage me. So he concentrated on my foot work. My conceptual framework and my theoretical understanding of boxing were probably the best in Calcutta. Except that I got knocked out in every possible fight by people who had no regard for the notions of boxing being a mind game. And these Nepalese boys were bloody stronger.

M: Did you break your nose?

SB: Somehow it survived. I still have a hooked nose [not a punch-flattened pug nose]. And my morale survived as well. Every time I had these hallucinogenic punches, they brought in clarity and epiphanies. I religiously went every Saturday to eat beef because I was told that Bengali Brahmins don’t win boxing matches because they don’t eat beef. So I had to go to Nizam to eat beef and drink.

There were lots of things I picked up and left, like rock climbing. But what stayed was actually biochemistry. I don’t know how I became obsessed, it probably was reading the discovery of Krebs cycle, or an autobiography of a biochemist fairly early in my life. And I was convinced that I have to do biochemistry. I was probably twelve.

M: You must have had some connection with fine arts?

SB: Again, it’s the whole baggage of growing up in Calcutta. Just as there is this whole grand tradition of the warrior-saint in Punjab, the parallel of that in Bengal was of the doctor-poet. Or the chartered accountant who was also a chess player. Basically, there was this emphasis given on the extracurricular activity. You were free to choose your interest and become good at it. So that, your mother, when you are forty years old, takes your wife from room to room, gently shows the piano and says, ‘Had he not been a lawyer, he would have been such a fabulous pianist.’ Its a very Jewish thing.

M: There is lot of science in your work?

SB: I guess it creeps in. Your expertise whether it’s economics or surgery, it somehow creeps in and out of your consciousness. And I think that makes the writing much more interesting. I am not against, but I am a bit weary of manufactured writing where people go to creative writing schools. The writing becomes similar, it follows a kind of trend. There are certain advantages though. Agents come and pick you up if you are from a writing school. But that whole manufactured writing, is to me a bit un-enriching. Also, comic book is a form that is developed out of many forms – like the Great Dane, you have to put many varieties of dogs together to create the breed – so with my ‘Great Dane,’ I feel that any other field that comes in, enriches it.

M: When did you become aware of the power of the graphic novel. Was it at the degree in Image and Communication you went to London for?

SB: No, no my practise was firmly established before I went for the course. What education abroad did was put the practice into clear perspective, because as part of my Masters in Image and Communication, essentially I had to study the nature of image, the theoretical part of it, so you understand the process of image making, how it communicates, advertising photography, visual trends etc. It is really gearing you up for think tanks or advertising companies which do policy work etc. At the same time, you are familiarising with different tools. So you are basically negotiating through the entire visual world. And that definitely gives you sharper perspective to your visual notion, to your idiom, to your visual language.

And, if done well, gets you closer to that level you are trying to achieve. Basically the whole oral storytelling tradition. Now if all my knowledge helps me to recreate that state, I have reached my destination.

M: Does the image come first or the words?

SB: Together, like the voice of the Lord. It all comes together. I don’t write a script and start drawing it. Or, I don’t make a set of drawings and start filling it with a set of words. It all comes together.

M: When did you seriously start considering graphic novel as your chosen form?

SB: It came out of frustration initially because the popular methods of dispersal of visual ideas – advertising, cinema, television, music videos – all these which I dealt with never really did it. Somewhere down the line dissatisfaction came in because lot of your material is chopped out and funnily those are your best parts that are chopped out. The random parts stay. I hate team work. And all these popular forms of more communication are consensus based. But with comics I felt suddenly that I was liberated. Comics are like handwriting. They are yours. Entirely your personality comes out in a comic. As you get more and more confident, it becomes more and more individual. And hopefully the other person [the reader] understands how individual it has become.

Each time I went and worked with a channel, working as an editor or a promo designer, these are the jobs I did, I did not try to make it beyond the brief. I was not having an artistic dissatisfaction. The World Bank gave me film to do on watershed management. I knew they wanted these mug shots. I just gave them their mug shots. I kept all my bizarre thoughts and weird ideas, independent trajectories, for my comic books.

The more I got into comics I started, the more distanced I felt from my day job. Graphic novel or comics is a very high maintenance mistress. It’s a low-lying Italian car. It is a lot like your father had a Fiat, you know he would be spending they weekend at the neighbourhood garage. Comics are like that. they require the attention of a Bonsai. You constantly need to be feeding it, nurturing it. And then you start enjoying its so much, that other things become so meaningless, that despite knowing that it might become a financial disaster, you just can't get back to those forms. So I can't go back to making films. Both Barn Owl and Corridor were scoped for cinema and in none of the contractual agreements I have anything to do with directorial decisions.

M: When did Corridor, as a book with two covers and pages in between, form in your mind?

SB: I did a strip for Gentleman called ‘Harrappa Files,’ little, thrown away stories. It was moderately successful. It came out nicely. Then I got this MacArthur Fellowship which is like the mother of all fellowships. It's like hard core. We are talking about serious money. And I got it. I was lucky I got it when I was twenty-seven. And that sealed my fate. I could not work any more. That totally spoilt me. My proposal was about understanding the urban, contemporary sexual landscape of India. It sounded a bit like an anthropology research project, but it got naughty. But those were like innocent days and people were kind. And [people at the foundation] apparently liked the naughtiness of it. So I started by researching Old Delhi. At that time I was very friendly with a group of wrestlers in Old Delhi, and I used to hang around with them. I had promised them that someday I was going to manage their Akhara. So they became good friends. They had all these discussions about their sexuality, wearing the langot, women, homosexuality, and the rest of it. I got a fairly good idea about a certain bunch of people's concepts of sex which were very different from mine. And then I also got to know people who shaped those concepts who were like the false prophets of Old Delhi. They are must an amazing bunch of charismatic people whom I love completely. And then I started visiting them one after another as a researcher. Deriving a lot of pleasure. Except that they would not open beyond a point. They are also very media savvy because lots of creative people have made films on masculinity approached them. So, I decided to become a client, I decided to choose a sexual weakness, and I went for ‘premature ejaculation’ because it sounded little less painful.

I told them I get a boner but the boner is a bit like a nazam, very short and I want a ghazal. I don't want a haiku. They liked my use of language and sort of took me under their wings and tried to correct me. So after a while it became addictive to a point where I just went from one hakim to another discovering new problems. And I used to pay them because MacArthur had given me so much money that I didn't know what to do with it. So I spent the money on these guys. And they became great friends, except that since I have written the book I can't visit them. I just can't. And what came out was Corridor.

M: You seem to take on kitsch and parody provinciality and small-town mentality.

SB: I parody very lovingly. I have been accused on various occasions of having a hidden sexist agenda, being gender insensitive, insensitive to minorities, like the Parsis. There is a fat book, that came out of Hyderabad's Centre for Language Research, which has theorised my work. It was based on a couple of students’ PhD work. Very complimentary. But I don't do anything unlovingly. The biggest of the luchchas and lafangas in my book are seen through with a lot of love. And it’s a voice from the crowd. Its me sitting in a crowded bus and I start talking about the crowd in the bus. I write very much from the inside, which is why I always had difficulty penetrating into the Anglo-Saxon market, I don't have that problem with the European market. I don't see the outsider's point of view. My works are written from the inside.

M: What about your visuals?

SB: I don't mock the Ideal-Boy graphics. I love it. I want to use it. I am not doing it because suddenly is fashionable to use kitsch. For me this is not kitsch. This is low cultures which I come from.

M: You never use it ironically?

SB: No, there is no irony in my fondness for these styles which I developed from the streets. The Kalighat style which has now become very fashionable. When it came out, it was just a popular yellow plebeian style of drawing. I don't believe in that kind of thing where just because suddenly some French guy thinks it is cool, we too start thinking it cool. It is very much us, like the detective plays on radio Calcutta ‘A’ which like Calcutta ‘One’ plays, or the advertisements of Phenyl X, Hammer Brand, or constipation tablets, or handmade ointments, people have enormous amount of enterprise selling on local trains. This is me, and these are my people.

M: Is this something about being a Bengali? You are very erudite and street smart and have this ability to mix the low with the high.

SB: Pull down the high to the low [laughs].

M: I am thinking of Satyajit Ray. Mixing low with high is very much Ray's art too. You use your roots in a considered way.

SB: Being chunt about your practise is important. I don't know if it's Bengali or contemporary art practise. The whole concept of a silent sculptor working in Anandagram who doesn't speak to anybody, is a bit '80s sort of a thing. You need to articulate your work. You need to push it. Because there are less people to push your work than were there before. There was an era of sycophancy. Earlier, there was an era of hero worshipping. There was an era of having cult heroes in the '60s political culture. Now people are much more, I don't like the word cynical, but more critical.

Two kinds of people network. One that thinks that by virtue of their networking the work will be up there. And they know their work is mediocre or they have the notion that it might not be up to the mark. But virtue of just elbowing their way into the cultural scene, they can somehow put it up. The other bunch of people clearly think that their work is so good that it has to go somewhere. It has to be published, it has to be seen, has to reach people. I am neither. I have solid amount of self doubt about what I produce. Somewhere down the line, I am quite driven to bring graphic novels in so that impels me to push books -- Phantomville books, and my own graphic novels.

Networking itself has because a skill. You have to be charming. You have to wait. You can't just be too front about it and barge in and say, 'Give the money'. People won't. You have to tell them, ‘You rascal, you are sitting on so much money, why the hell can't you give me some.’

M: Calcutta has become a character in the books.

SB: But in the next two books Delhi and Budapest become the characters. I am fascinated by Delhi. It is my favourite city. It makes me creative in every aspect. It’s a very under-articulated city, people don't necessarily write about Delhi, when Delhi really has a narrative lying beneath the obvious unfriendly autowallahs who are constantly trying to rip you off. Or the North Indians, an entire civilisation found on the elbow. Or alternately, these boisterously rich kids driving huge cars and partying. Beneath these obvious things, lies an exceedingly mysterious city.

M: But Delhi is too normal for your kind of work?

SB: No, not at all. Delhi has clarity. Delhi has enormous mood swings. With the change of seasons, the personality of the city changes. Look at the beauty of a winter in Delhi. Look at the edginess of a May in Delhi and the people going a bit wonky at that time. It houses all the important writers also. So, obviously, there must be some season why people line in Delhi. I need to explore this city a lot more.

Not in a romantic sort of way. Lot of dirt also excites me. Attitudinal dirt. Calcutta might have been featured much more in my books than Delhi is, but clearly, I am fascinated by Delhi.

M: You are also fascinated by the paranormal? Did you personally experience it?

SB: Paranormal? [Laughs]. Of things going slightly tilted? Slight change of reality. Many times. Two are written in the book. The lift episode and what happened in Digital [Dutta's] room that suddenly [he feels some one else's presence in the room, and finds his own image in the mirror transformed], happened to my wife and I. We had rented a little apartment in Vienna which belonged to an old Viennese guy who had died at eighty. He used to manage the stables the stables of the king of Eritrea in Ethiopia. The house was full of pictures of horses. Once, I was sleeping and I had this dream. In my dream I am snoring and my wife is getting disturbed and can't sleep. So she takes a pillow and suffocates me. And then I die. She then turns around and goes off to sleep. This happened every hour that she would strangle me, I would die again. It was a very weired dream. The night after, I was lying on my side and wanted to turn. I could not turn. And then I realised that I was passeena, passeena with fear that if I turn I will still have my wife lying next to me, except that her face would be the dead flat owner's face. That feeling stayed for the entire night till day break. Things really happened to me or to my mind.

M: Your next book you said would be about Hungry, Budapest and involves researching a family-owned pornography production house. Will you be taking your pencils and sketching pad with you there.

SB: Yeah, it’s a family-owned, Hungarian pornography production house. They make films and photo comics... and pornography. I am actually not doing it like the well-known graphic novelist Joe Sacco, introducing myself as a character in my own book. Although I am greatly interested in pornography, this project does not come from pornography. It comes from how small, family-run businesses operate. At least one of them I know in Budapest. The father does the direction and production, mother does the costumes and the sets, sons do the cinematography, and the daughters act.

I just found it so fascinating. One of my characters from the operas I am writing, which is why I am travelling to Germany, and is technically any third project. I am writing 21 short operas called 'Bachelor of 21 Dreams' in which one of characters called 'Monty of Unfinished Screenplays' what he does is write these little brochures in comic-book form and introduce them into condom packs so that the client has a more enjoyable sexual experience.

So, I want to look at the actual business side of pornography, doing something like this, for years and years. On the other hand I am doing this thing about indigenous, hand-crafted, cottage industry kind of thing about pornography. Also, I intend to capture the fantasy aspect of pornography, the East-European sensibility, the avant-garde-ness of this boring and staid world of pornography, the good old in and out.

My Hungarian editor has got me into a situation where I can get in to this porn production house as a person from the industry. But somewhat like a migrant guy who is looking for a job.

M: Like in the film The Guru?

SB: Yeah, more like a chottu of the area, but undercover. Otherwise if they know what I am doing, they won't allow me in. So this is a guerilla tactic to get inside the story. But I am on a grant, so that takes care of my expenses.

The reason I got interested into pornography was that I stayed for a while in the red district of Amsterdam. And the same guys who I would see in the evening in their glass boxes [where the sex workers stand displaying their stuff and soliciting], bought food and alcohol from the same supermarket where I went. So over a period of time, I got to know some of these people. And we got to know each other to a degree where we would occasionally go and smoke a joint in a café. They were really charming. They would ask me, 'How come we never had you as a client? You seem to be fun.’

So I also got bold and asked them what happened when the curtains are drawn, you know how it is. And they would say that, 'Yeah, lot of time we act out our clients fantasies.’ They would be very matter-of-fact about it. So it got me really interested in the whole world of pornography, how the industry worked. The sex industry really has a finger on the pulse of the society. Just like detectives stories are a great way to talk about contemporary society, I think pornography too gives us insights into the society.

The book again would pick two parallel styles. One style would be of these fantasy sequences of sex, and the other would be on the business of sex, simultaneously dealing with the business of pornography.So I want to keep it as much as possible about 'bare the truth' and it might become a literary fashion to take fiction and fact together.

M: There is a lot of sex in your books? Indian writers in English are not really known for writing about sex. One of them won the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. How would you rate your sex?

SB: There is a lot of sex in my book? (Slightly incredulous). Lot of people think that my books are autobiographical. I am not as athletic as my characters are.

M: There is no romance in your sex, it’s very mechanical.

SB: I try to take the myth out of sex. So, there is no seductiveness. It is very practical sex. There is a something about inherently erotic when you are progressing towards a hotel room with a girl. I just don't like to unnecessarily make sex ornamental, that whole candlelight, aromas, silk upholstery thing.

M: Your drawings are some of the roughest when the deal with sex. You can see pencil marks under your inking?

SB: Yeah, they are quickly jotted down. I just don't like too much of unnecessary poetry of sex.

M: There you ever considered erotica?

SB: I hate erotica. I like pornography. Erotica is a... I don't understand erotica. It sounds like a retired judge living in the South of France.

M: Something like the Kamasutra?

SB: There have been offers. But I am not interested. I like normal sex situations which arise from day to day living. For example you got this woman you want to have sex with. You negotiate that at some point you would have to wear a condom. You have this moment of doubt, how to get into that position and do this elaborate drama of saying, 'Oh I might have used one years back. I don't know where it is.’ Except, that when after doing this play of being a goody boy you find you have gone limp. You can't get it up for the rest of the night. I like realistic sex situations. I keep sex real.

And I write as much about people getting laid as I write of people not getting laid. I write about people with whom everything is going fine but like with the Indian hockey team who have great stick work, dibbling skills, centre, midfield, and defensive play but can't convert a penalty into a goal. So I like real situations. The Kamasutra is too bloody exotic for me. Even to have a re-look at it is something which I think is best left to Californian tantric sex experts. I have never read it.

M: Never say never. Your characters seem over-sexed.

SB: [Protests] Under-sexed!

M: Also, the sex is too casual. Like the guy who beds the woman footballer.

SB: When I was in college, I had the opportunity to coach a women’s football team for three weeks. After that I was given the kick, I was demoted to a treasurer. All sweat and grind, their t-shirts clinging to their bodies in the summer afternoon’s heat. The slapping of thighs against thighs and the ‘thuds’ of football hitting against the flesh, and these lovely footballers who looked like houris, was all very heady.

I got into the football team because of an illicit relationship with a centreforwad and I was kicked out of the team because of my affair with the midfielder. So between the centreforward and the midfielder there was this range of positions which I wanted to seduce but couldn't. That's when I developed a very thick and lasting, strong interest in women’s football. And clearly this one fantasy of mine, which I put in the book.

M: No wonder, you end up making your characters over-sexed?

SB: Not over-sexed, that means you get disinterested. Can't you see this is all the result of years and years of repression. Of not getting enough.

M: So sex in your books is like a public service. You seem to be doing it for this repressed republic of India?

SB: Yes, for me and my people, we are all under-sexed.

M: Your comics are very literary, in a sense that you linger on detail, you try to create illusion of depth, the inner world. Sometimes in two consecutive frames nothing happens. That’s like Satyajit Ray, another literary artist, making Charulata stand with her back to the camera, thinking, for 40 seconds.

SB: I can't deny literature. It is a bit like the butcher's cut. You take the meat and you cut it a certain way and that decides the price of the meat. In a good butcher's shop, how the butcher cuts the meat is primary, in every meat-eating society. It’s also the same in our society when you tell a story, its basically your cut. How you put it and where you put the silences. Italian cooking is not so much about cooking but getting the right ingredients. And then you create the right kind of dishes, stories.

Literary references I can't deny, because I am a product of the literature I have read, along with many other things I have done. I am a product of films I have seen, rejections I have faced, football games I lost, every punch in that boxing ring bears heavy on me. So you are a culmination of stories and narratives. Unfortunately, the only narrative we know or think of are films and literature. In between there is clearly another. I am a product of my stories. You are a product of your stories.

M: Your comics are full of eccentrics. People with strange habits, obsessions.

SB: But the main characters are regular guys. Pablo is a regular guy. He is an observer.

M: But do you see yourself going for more subtler characterisation?

SB: Yeah, a friend of mind was telling me, ‘Why you build your novels on edifices. Like one edifice to another edifice. Do you think you are Scorcesse?’ You are right. This is clearly a weakness. But, it is what I feel is worthwhile drawing, because it is not just writing. You can write and write, but when you are drawing, there is obviously another layer of work around. There are short pieces where I start talking about Old Delhi in Corridors. I am flanuering around the city. That’s my kind of graphic-novel writing, but yes they are very colourful characters. But these are also people who are vanishing. I am obsessed with people who are vanishing.

M: There is a lot of nostalgia.

SB: No, no, no, there's no nostalgia.

M: Nostalgia of a collector, you want to preserve a vanishing milieu.

SB: Yes, but I am not into that woody Allen kind of life-was-nicer, people-were-more-courteous kind of nostalgia. I am not saying we should go back. But there were some very charming characters of my childhood. Like the telephone sanitisers, young graduates from Calcutta University, who used to come to clean the phone, put a little eucalyptus flavour into the mouthpiece, and leave. That was the entire job. Or Ansari Uncle, who did all this hand-cranked, home-made air-conditioning for the entire 16-floor building of a bank where my fther worked. But then all these Voltas and Carrier people came. So these characters are vanishing very fast. And I feel three years down the line my books would be my little contribution to documenting this vanishing tribe. A proof that I knew people like these and record their indigenous skills. I really want to celebrate their existence. But that does not mean I am disinterested in the contemporary scene and the mythologies that contemporary India breeds.

M: Something about your publishing venture, Phantomville. What direction would you like it to take?

SB: Phantomville, I started it with Anindya Roy, and initially we were not trying to do it ourselves. We didn't want to be publishers, we just wanted to be the producers. Facilitate artists so that comics become popular. But publishers have to work under their profit motives. Everyone is not excited about reading comics. It doesn't make them enough money. So we decided to create our own medium. We are trying to create in India our own idiom, our own visual style. Four years from now, when it becomes like cool to do a comic, suddenly we will be flooded by comics from Europe and America. We are not making any profits, but we are not a charity. We want to make a profit. So we are putting in everything. It's like venture capitalism. Now we have two books out. Inshallah in about four or five years we would have many more.

M: Have observed any increased interest in comics recently?

SB: Growing, but not in proportion to other things. Consumer market is growing. It will largely also legend on the growth of book reading. Largely the money is spent on consumer goods. There is money being spent on mobiles, Land Rovers, luxury goods, but that kind of money is not being spent on buying books.

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