Monday, May 09, 2005

Double Talk: more Indian comics please!

One of the most enjoyable things I read this weekend was Manjula Padmanabhan’s Double Talk, a collection of some of the comic strips that appeared under the same name in the Sunday Observer, Bombay, between 1982 and 1986. The strips were built around the character of Suki, a free-thinking, 20-something young woman, who, as her creator puts it, “started life as an alter-ego but soon developed a persona of her own”.

One tends to be patronising about the (lack of) with-it-ness of previous generations, about how we’re so much more clued in today than people were earlier. Which is why I was surprised to find that a comic strip like this was possible in the early 1980s; “Double Talk” is wryly irreverent (and consequently insightful) about topics like work, feminism, atheism, vegetarianism and political correctness in general, and it’s easy to see why it generated so much hate-mail (the book’s back cover includes a collage of the letters to the editor, variously accusing Padmanabhan of self-indulgence, swollen-headedness and a good many other things).

While the collection tapers off towards the end - some annoying characters, like a lovesick frog and an extraterrestrial get too much space for my liking - it’s still great fun on the whole. I also liked what the author says in her Introduction:

“Unless local strips are actively critiqued and appraised by their readers, local cartoonists will remain minor curiosities, never becoming the pop-sociologists that the best international strip cartoonists are. More than anything else, cartoonists need engaged and intelligent readers.”

It is a bit strange, this lack of quality indigenous comic strips, especially considering the large fan following here of international strips like “Calvin & Hobbes”, “Dilbert” and “Non Sequitur”. Quite likely it’s because this country has so many sacred cows that talented writer-illustrators prefer to stifle their creativity rather than risk getting into trouble with the moral police. And of course, I’m not sure how much encouragement would be forthcoming from the editors of mainstream newspapers anyway.

A final word of endorsement: Double Talk took me less than 30 minutes to get through (though of course it will be reread soon, as all good comics should be). That isn’t the best thing about the book, but it’s a major bonus where I’m concerned.

P.S. Manjula Padmanabhan’s blog is here.


  1. I used to love Suki as a little kid. There was this one set where they were discussing Barbie dolls--I think I cut those out and put them somewhere. And once my mum and I went to her house fo lunch and she lent me this huge book of Suki comics and I curled up in a wicker chair and read till it was time to leave. *sigh*

  2. Have you read "Getting There"? Most admirably "with-it', I should think. Seriously, it's a unique memoir and a great read.

    I imagine this tendency to patronise previous generations is a bit, you know, thick at the best of times; and especially ludicrous when the subject is someone bright who has been processed through the Sixties in real time.

  3. Ok, these are not strictly comic strips.
    Check out Nina Paley's Sitayana. Too goodie cartoon animation :) there are some more clips which were available on her blog, which seems to have been BoingBoinged and behaving erratic.

    And for some nostalgia about Bahadur, Mandrake et al. head to The Comic Project for archives.

    Personally I am not too much given into space-age types of characters. I am more fond of Suppandi, ChachaChowdhari Shikari Shambu etc. And in strips, Dilbert, Calvin(I love his spiky hair) :))

    Cheers !

  4. totally... and I still wonder who got 'Manu and Rishabh' (if I've got it right) to appear as a regular strip with a major newspaper. and why? and what will it take to kill it?

  5. Jabberwock!

    First things first.

    A thousand apologies for using this as a message board. This is completely unrelated to the post.

    I dreamt about you! You were singing(!), and playing a Tanpura(!!) and the song was Rehte the kabhi jinke dil main (!!!).

    I'm beginning to worry about me.


  6. Hey, I have a book of Morparia's cartoons (not comic strips though). He was earlier in Bombay Times, now with Mid-day.

    BTW, I was reading your earlier post- Journalism v/s Writing, and I identified with what you wrote about sub-editing. I've read such BAD writing, and now that I've got a desk job, I'm wondering how I'll not lose my patience. lol.

  7. Not Tinkerbell!

    Boy, you are perspicuous. I do indeed play a mean Tanpura - only in dreams of course!

  8. Jai,

    My little cyanide-coated-sugar-pill,

    YOU play a mean Tanpura in your dreams?

    I think it's time I started worrying for two! :D