Nidhi Chanani, a India-born US-raised illustrator and author takes us on a journey of her birth country through her debut graphic novel, Pashmina. Seen through the eyes of Priyanka, a US raised teen, Pri (as she is called) has never visited India and her idea of the country is only in her imagination. Until she finds a tucked away Pashmina. In a chat, Chanani tells us more about the story and her upcoming novels.
What was the inspiration behind the book?
My inspiration for Pashmina came from a variety of sources: my mom, growing up in the US, my first trip to India, and women’s choice — all of these things are woven into the story. When I was younger, my parents would travel to India often. When they returned, their suitcases had a pungent, almost magical smell — from a place that seemed very far away. I was probably 10 years old the first time this happened. Opening their suitcase made me feel close to this other world.
In a way, I believe this story has been with me since then. Combined with my desire to escape a tumultuous household, the idea of India was incredibly alluring. I wanted to explore a different path to India than I had experienced. My teenage understanding of India was tainted by poverty-stricken, third world imagery.
How wonderful would it be if a young person learned about their culture through only positive representations? That’s the root of Pashmina; opening a suitcase and travelling to a fantasy version of India where a character can learn about their heritage in a favourable light.
Is Pri’s quest to know more about India and the culture somewhere a reflection of yourself?
There are many aspects of the story that are directly pulled from my life. I do love samosas and comics! However, unlike Priyanka, I grew up close to my family in India. I was raised by both my parents and a large extended family. Priyanka seeks understanding in a way that’s very specific because her experience is very isolated. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t so alone.
What made you write a book for the young audience?
I wrote the book I wanted to write. The suggested audience is a marketing decision. I believe that Pashmina is all ages. I’ve had seven year olds and adults read and enjoy it.
Can you explain the process of writing a graphic novel? Does the story come first or the art?
My process was very linear. Full script, thumbnails and then final art. I reworked my script eight times, thumbs at least three times and final art was very minimally changed. From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to have the fantasy portions in colour and the reality in black and white. Colour is one of my favourite parts of creating art. Within a visual medium like graphic novels, I want to use colour to augment the story. I love comics and utilising colour (and the lack thereof) is a unique tool that can only happen in a graphic novel. As a storyteller, I want to push myself and as a comics creator, I want to do so as well. I believe that colour is a strong tool for a nuanced story along with page layout, panelling and word choice.
Generally, illustrated books feature superheroes or a mythological character. Not many everyday stories are presented in the form of illustrations. Do you see this trend changing anytime soon?
I predominantly read fiction comics and books. The trends I’m seeing within comics are exactly the opposite — more fiction with compelling stories that contain no superheroes. I think a mix of all these things are important because we all have our unique interests.
Any words of wisdom for budding graphic artists?
Draw and read a lot! Start small. Try a 3, 6 or 10 page comic before you dive into your big book idea.
Any new books planned?
Later this year, my bilingual board book, Shubh Raatri Dost/ Good Night Friend will release with Bharat Babies. I also have a children’s picture book that I’m illustrating, I WILL BE FIERCE that will release next year. My next graphic novel, JUKEBOX, is one I am writing with my husband Nick Giordano. It’s about two Muslim-American cousins, Shaheen and Tannaz (or Shahi and Naz), who find a jukebox that takes them back in time. It’s slated to release in 2020.