From stopping in between reading headlines of a broadsheet to checking the same corner in a tabloid every day, cartoons have become an important part of the time I spend turning those grey pages. There is a charm in the way these little boxes enclose a world within them, something that’s definitely drool-worthy. As I talked to a few more souls, I realised that I am not alone. This article is dedicated to the love that these cartoons bring in our lives.
Disclaimer: None of the artworks displayed is mine.
The more I see the cartoons in newspapers and on social media, I wonder what is it about them that makes them such an efficient way of sending out a message? Independent Graphic Designer and Illustrator Ashvini Menon explains, “Cartoons and visual posters can send out stronger messages as they are short. In case of longer texts, the content tests the attention span of the viewer and there is a chance of the impact being lost on the way.”
Can this way of putting across a larger meaning using the least possible words, sometimes none, be called oversimplification of content? Ashvini feels that it might be true but cartoons were never meant to change the world anyway! “Cartoons are supposed to run parallel along with other means of communication, like an advertising campaign. It is wrong to expect a reader to change or take an action based on a cartoon.” However, she adds that if the right chord is struck, the reader is bound to give the topic a thought. “That, for me, as a cartoonist, is always the aim,” she adds.
The cartoons that make us chuckle as we sit by the window and sip tea, subsequently make us think as well. But do they take a toll on the ones who make them? Ashvini shares her experience, saying, “Adding a humorous twist to serious issues is sometimes a painful task for me. But, then again, adding humour is what makes these cartoons enjoyable and memorable.” Ecotism, a weekly cartoon column that appears every Sunday in The Hindu, features Ashvini’s sketches that will first make your lips curve into a chuckle followed by an ‘O’ as you realise the message they convey.
Having started noticing cartoons only recently, I wonder how they have evolved over time and if people have special memories associated with specific characters. Mrinmayee Ranade, a journalist with over 25 years of experience, shares her tale of how Chintoo, a character that appears in a famous Marathi comic strip of the same name, is special for her because it reminds her of the way her daughter would read this comic while brushing her teeth, before rushing off to school. She says, “This was when my daughter was around seven or eight. Whenever she wasn’t well, Chintoo was the perfect remedy to make her feel better.”
Mrinmayee further tells about how it has been years and yet every morning when she reads Calvin and Hobbes in The Indian Express, it leaves her in splits. “They have changed quite a bit but still have the ‘forever’ mark of quality about them.” In terms of technology too, a lot has changed over time. Ashvini tells me, “Not just cartoons but visual design as a whole has seen a huge shift from handmade work to digital work.”
Agreed that digitisation has eased out several things for artists and designers, the handmade artworks will always have a special charm, says Ashvini. “I work with both handmade tools (watercolours and inks) as well as digital tools (Wacom Pen Tablet and Photoshop) depending on the nature of the project. My Ecotism cartoons are made digitally.”
Studying to become a Charted Account can be stressful and cartoons seem like a breath of fresh air and relief for Vaishali Narayan as she walks that path. She says, “Most of my Instagram feed is full of comics!” Among her favourites are The Awkward Yeti for their heart and brain comics, Adam Ellis for the quirky and inclusive content, and Poorly Drawn Lines for being witty. Baba’s Fieldnotes by Jonajooey, comics about the artist’s life as a dad for the humour and Brown Paperbag, for bringing out relatable Indian content, are the two online comics that she perhaps loves the most.
Manasi Chandu, a media student, too shares her love for Poor Drawn Lines, saying, “I love it for the 100 percent retable content that comes with a coat of over-the-top sarcasm and edginess.”
Amrita Shenoy, a post-graduate literature student says, “I love Sarah’s Scribbles because the series is an honest presentation of a 20-something millennial girl’s life. Cyanide and Happiness are a part of my list of favourites for being funny, dark and brutal.” When it comes to newspapers, Amrita’s favourite is the Mumbai Meri Jaan by Manjul column in mid-day as she feels that he sums up all the national and international news of the day in a single cartoon. “Manjul’s cartoons are not just creative and aesthetically pleasing, but also makes one think,” she adds.
Meghna Ayyar, a final year engineer student has a list of cartoons she never skips reading. It includes Lunarbaboon, an online cartoon she loves for featuring a man trying to be a responsible adult by being a good role model to his kid, a supportive partner to his wife and for getting back right up every time he hits a low. “The cartoonist, in just a few panels, says how the tiniest things go a long way and in a world filled with dark humour, this comic is a wee ray of light.” While turning the pages of The Times of India, Meghna makes it a point to stop by and read Dilbert comics. “I enjoy reading it because, it contains satirical humour about an office where each character just wants to act as if they are working, while actually doing nothing. It’s hilarious because of the ridiculous decisions taken by the characters,” she explains. Owlturd is another comic on her list for being relatable. “All I do is read these comics and puns on Facebook!”
Addressing concerns and speaking to people in Vernacular languages is perhaps the most effective way to reach out to the lowest common denominator in your target audience. The Bong Sense, an online comic with the Bengali community as its target audience, tops the list of Trisha Ghoroi, a feature writer’s favourites. She says, “Most of their comics are either a humorous take on every day Bengali stuff or things that the community takes pride in. They even feature a Bengali dog in many of their comics, portraying it as a highly intellectual being.” Also, the fact that the written part is in the Roman script helps them get a larger audience.
But, how are these comics made? What is the most interesting part of making them? Ashvini tells me that getting a nice idea is how it starts and how that’s her favourite part of the process. “Brainstorming over ideas can sometimes take a lot of time, sometimes they appear quickly. But once I get an idea, I am thrilled and usually can’t wait to put in onto paper!”
On that note, I guess it is safe to say that cartoons, caricatures, comics, no matter what you call them aren’t a child’s play and definitely stay with you at all stages of your life — and you can even make a living out of it!
Here’s a small graphic presentation of this story: