Comics... and development? What's the
link, you might just as well ask.
But a small band of campaigners and cartoonists are seeing the
connection between these two seemingly disparate fields.
Delhi-based cartoonist Sharad Sharma sees
strong possibilities. After getting inspired by the example of
countries like Finland, Sharma is now going ahead to tell the story in
bold brush strokes. Charkha, which has been providing training to rural
journalists since 1994, started using cartoons and comic strips in
development communication in 1997. Bangalore-based Communication for
Development and Learning recently came out with a slim book titled
'Devtoons: Cartoons for Development'.
Sharad Sharma of Delhi explains how a Finnish cartoonist Leif Packalen
passed on the idea to them in 1998. Since then, his network called
World Comics India held workshops in the remote areas of tribal
Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and the North East.
Problems in communicating a messages in an effective way has caused a
lot of frustrations to development workers. How can people be taught
new skills at a low cost? What would be a good way to deal with
sometimes quite sensitive, such as health issues? How can complicated
new research, like in agriculture, be simplified so that ordinary
people can benefit?
"One alternative is the use of comics. Obviously, in order to give
desired results, these comics should be created locally. Comics involve
visual storytelling, which must follow local perceptions and visual
culture in order to be understood correctly. Engaging local activists
and artists to create the comics therefore makes sense, in getting
across information to
grown-up readers," explains Sharma.
Sharma started his career as in painting. But he found this "quite
expensive for a middle-class family" and joined a local newspaper
during his first year in college. He started both cartooning and
reporting, then moved to Jaipur, the capital of North India's Rajasthan
state where he worked with state-level newspapers as a political
cartoonist. In 1995, he moved to the national capital of New Delhi,
visited many north-eastern states, and did "lots of stories and
cartoons". Since then, he has also been with Zee News as a
cartoonist/animator in 1999, and produced political animation for their
channel, and also contributed political cartoons for their website.
Since then, he explains, he and like-minded persons "conducted a series
of workshops with different organisations, during all this period we
felt need of one organisation dedicated for visual communications
especially for comics. This is how World Comics India was formed."
World Comics India (WCI), a registered non-profit, was formed in June
2002 by a group of artists, media persons and social activists, who
wanted to promote the use of comics as a medium in social change.
What kinds of issues are comics best suited for?
Sharma explained in a recent interview: "In our workshops we never ask
participants to select any specific issue for their comics. We just ask
them to write a story which is close to their day to day life; all
stories cover all such developmental issues. In Jharkhand, stories
coming up mostly touch migration, displacement, tribal rights, 'witch'
hunting, alcoholism and corruption. In Mizoram, it's HIV/AIDS, jhum
(shifting) cultivation, and the environment that often figure. Even
sensitive issues like sex education and insurgency can be told through
the medium of comics."
The response, says he, was intense. He believes that the success of
wallposter comics in Jharkhand and in Mizoram shows "the path for
future". Now they are concentrating more on A-4 size comics and wall
posters as both
the formats are "cost-effective".
Comics make sense in a cultural context like India's. Explains Sharma:
"People are focused on issues in India. Also we have rich story telling
culture, which is a plus point for the comics. But in the comics field,
the Finns are much ahead. You will find lots of comics' artist there;
it even forms part of the college curriculum. Comics artists get
the government. Political cartooning isn't dominant (unlike in India)."
But whether it's in Nordic part of the planet, or in tropical South
Asia, Sharma sees comics and cartoons as having "lots of scope".
Says he: "The problem here is that we are again stick to its stereotype
image of realistic drawing and square panel format. In Europe artists
have done a lots of experiment in comics-making styles. People here
usually says that there is no scope for such formats in India , but
without testing those formats we can't jump to conclusion."
So far, this group has made a few strips out of their comics. When
these were reproduced in a "newspaper-friendly" format, they were, very
India's mainstream English-language newspapers currently tend to import
syndicated material from the West, particularly the USA. "But think
about the regional press. They don't have access to getting anything
like that," says Sharma. Hence, World Comics India has been working on
a service for regional press. "The important thing for these comics
strip are that they are made by the people on their own issues in their
own language. So, readers find it more close to their day today life.
This is lacking in syndicated strips."
WCI would like to publish a journal that would feature the works of
local artists from across India. Maybe containing news on the
international "comics movement" and also including a serialised form of
their workshop module and other technical tips. From India, World
Comics dreams of expanding its activities to South Asian and South East
World Comics India (www.worldcomics.india) is just one initiative;
there are others too. Bangalore-based CDL recently noted how workshops
and other initiatives have led to the forming of a 'movement' of sorts
One retired manager of Bhilai Steel Plant launched an Amateur
Cartoonists Association. The Karnataka Cartoonist Association is over
25 years old. Young cartoonists have an association called Cartoonists
Unanimous. Hyderabad has its Political Cartoonist Association.
Bangalore has another network called the Indian Institute of
Cartoonists. Noted South Indian newspaper cartoonist Ponnappa has been
the coordinator of the April 2002 'Bangalore Wall' attempt at making
cartoons on a large wall space.
CONTACTS: For more details about World via email email@example.com
or from http://www.worldcomicsindia.com
Telephone +91-11-22795015 or mobile
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