Be it someone like me who got familiarised with the world of comics through the works of artists like Sarah Scribbles, Poorly Drawn Lines and Cyanide and Happiness on the internet, or be it a regular reader of superhero comics, Longform: Volume 1 is nothing short of delight, because it is a great piece of collective art including individual stories.
Judge the book by its cover and you’ll see a boy running by a lake with his reflection in the water, which immediately gives you a glimpse of the serenity and depth the book is ready to provide. While skimming through the pages, I saw colours, even shades of grey, spread across splendidly and faces of people popped out with countenances that demands scrutiny.
It is an eclectic, yet cohesive and very expressive anthology, consisting of representative work from a number of Indian and international artists. The torch of longform graphic format in India was lit by Orijit Sen’s River of Stories in 2011 (considered the first Indian graphic novel) and carried forward by artists like Sarnath Banerjee (Corridors) and Amruta Patil (Kari). With The Pao Collective Anthology and First Hand being the only likes of Longform, a book this diverse was much needed in the Indian graphic-novel scene today.
A collective brainchild of Debkumar Mitra, Sarabjit Sen, Sekhar Mukherjee and Pinaki De, who curated and edited the 400-page tome published by HarperCollins, Longform does not have any big names.
Students from NID, present and former, as well as, students and alumni from Jadhavpur University, have produced comics for the collection.
These stories are personal and one look into this ‘pensieve’ and you will find yourself immersed in the day-to-day life of people living in Ahmedabad or the horrors faced by those living in that small town around the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea; the very satirical sartorial tips when travelling to an Islamic country or those monotonous metro journeys; Bhutan’s local legends or the mythical tales of caste oppression about a young boy who transforms into a leopard; discovering food fetishes in the streets of Kolkata, stepping into the work journal of iconic Satyajit Ray or a girl’s deteriorating mental health with no one around to understand...each one of us can find refuge in one of these stories by 33 artists.
My favourite is the 12-page narrative titled, Swamped by Anirban Ghosh about the difficulties faced by trans identities in India. Based on a true story of someone who was born male but identifies as a female, her colleagues ridiculed her for her long hair, which she refused to cut. Then the day comes, when she is asked to resign and her colleagues run towards her with scissors and she just opens her hair and the whole town is swamped in it (while she stands all cool with her cat in her hands), drowning every bit of narrow-mindedness in the town.
Whether it is just simple line drawing or the more complex art form, the reader can choose what to focus on, which is probably why it took me just two days to finish the book.
Longform also consists of snippets of interviews, back stories of artists and authors and the ideation process, which of course, only adds to the magnificence of the book. Nonetheless, graphic narratives are still at a novel stage in India and the readership is yet to grow, which is why books like these are the need of the hour to promote artists.
The price of the book might seem higher than the usual works of fiction/non-fiction. However, if you take into account the economics of the book, the production that reflects the energy put into making those comics come to life on paper, then this book is worth the investment.
Concluding in the words of Barroux: “A unique contribution and a gentle reminder to budding graphic storytellers that, if you don’t draw and write every day from your context and break boundaries, you will be lost in the fakeness of Photoshop quicksand!”