Cannibal Dinner by Debangshu Moulik
At 19, illustrator Debangshu Moulik is already making waves in the creative circuit in India. Never too far from his sketchbook, he conjures up the bustle, warmth and people that throng the gullies of the country. Inspired by the mundanity of the everyday and constantly people-watching, he often captures strangers that cross his path in the pages of his moleskin.
Passers-by are captured while walking hastily to somewhere, or smoking a cigarette, but most often lost in a trance, scrolling through their phone screens. Almost as a testament to our times, his artworks nod at the unshakeable hold of the digital on our lives.
With flabby necks and long, wiry fingers, Debangshu’s humans hint at a stylistic maturity far beyond his years. Having worked on several commissioned projects with Instagram, Sofar Sounds and Pearson, he also has a bunch of personal work, most notably his surreal zine Old Shirt. As we catch up with Debangshu, he tells us about his recent contribution to a collaborative project with Snapchat, his growing relationship with art and finding inspiration in monotony.
Pages from Debangshu's debut zine Old Shirt
Describe your relationship with art and how your childhood influenced your ideas about creativity.
I was born and brought up in Pune, and hence all the other kids in kindergarten and school used to talk in Marathi, the local language. I could only understand and speak Bengali, which was the first language I learnt and what my parents spoke at home. So I began drawing as a way to communicate. It eventually became a way for me to express the thoughts I couldn’t sum up in words.
Growing up, we didn’t have a cable connection, so we used to watch lots of animated Disney movies on our VCR. I would draw inspiration from the cartoons I watched, and tried to filter those illustrative styles into my sketches. Those hours spent watching the movies and then trying to emulate them were a big influence on my creativity.
What drives your illustrations and the sensibilities that surround it?
People, their lived experiences and their surroundings. I love looking at people going about their days. In my college we have a storage room with huge windows overlooking this busy street. I have spent hours just staring at people and cars below, scurrying about and going somewhere. I often wonder what their lives must be like. Sometimes, my imagination also seeps into the drawings, adding subtle nuances to the strangers who find a place in my sketchbook. My work is a visual amalgamation of the things around me.
Work In Progress - An Illustrated Zine for St+art India
Your illustrations capture people sipping chai, scrolling through their phone screens or caught mid-conversation. What makes you sketch them?
There's something very natural and beautiful in the daily activities of human beings. For example, I often see people rushing about talking loudly into their phones, aunties shouting at their kids, people with frustrated looks on their face, and in the background, there'll be a homeless guy just sleeping peacefully on the sidewalk under a tree. I love the visual contrast of a scenario like this. The bustle and the sound of the streets really inspires me, and it is pervasive in life in India. For inspiration to strike, all you really have to do is step out.
Your humans are peculiar, with doughy necks, wiry fingers and tapered eyes. How were these developed?
The visual influences of the animated movies and comics I watched and read as a child filtered into my work. I drew and researched a lot in order to understand how I want the things I draw to look like, and how to make the characters I sketch really my own. I think as an artist, the more you work, bits and pieces of ideas fit together like a jigsaw puzzle - how you illustrate the hands, the face or the eyes. When I worked them out separately, I realized I had a whole and had arrived at a unique style I could call my own.
Attraction by Debangshu Moulik
How does your creative process differ while working on commissioned projects vis-a-vis self-initiated projects?
In self-initiated projects, I get complete freedom to do whatever I want and there’s scope for endless improvisation. Working on commercial briefs also helps me to learn and work with feedback, which is very essential for a growing artist. Personal projects help me push the envelope, restructure my creative process and constantly keep challenging myself.
What made you apply to the DFLR program? What have you gained from the experience?
I really wanted to get a sense of the working synergy between design studios and their clients and the way they construct their timelines and channel the communication. I’ve been working as a freelancer for about five years now and I still find it challenging to work with clients sometimes. Being selected for the DFLR program helped me gain an understanding of the inner workings of a design studio, and it has largely streamlined and structured my design process.
A poster for Sofar Sounds Pune
Tell us about your work on Snapchat’s collaboration with A Good Feeling. How did you go about designing the geo-filters?
For the Snapchat collaboration, I had to design geo-filters for a few cities in India, which required quite a bit of research. For the stickers based in Calcutta, I talked to my dad and cousin sister about the city and learnt a lot of new things about these areas, as I haven’t been to Calcutta since I was a kid. I had no idea Garden Reach had old ship-building factories or that Tollygunge derives its name from Tollywood, the film industry of West Bengal. It was also a huge learning curve working with the art director Mayur Mengle.
Geofilters created for Snapchat
You have released two zines titled Old Shirt and Birthday Zine. One is surreal and thoughtful, while the other tongue-in-cheek and relatable. Do you think zines are a powerful medium of storytelling?
I remember reading some short comics and stories on the internet by illustrators like Ryan Andrews, Emily Carrol and Noelle Stevenson and being blown away by their art. I think zines are a very effective medium to convey an idea or a feeling. I've seen stories, in general, have a very profound effect on people. After I released my zine Old Shirt, a lot of people reached out to me to share how they could associate many of their own personal experiences with the zine.
I think I’ve just scratched the surface of what could be possible with this medium, and am working on a few ideas for zines as we speak. I’m planning to release them in the coming months.
Debangshu Moulik was selected to be a part of the Design Fabric Low-Res (DFLR) Student Program, aimed to discover the best young creative talent in the country and give them an opportunity to work on commercial briefs.