Artwork for the Delhi Comic Arts Festival by Fahad Faizal
Design Fabric speaks to Anindya Roy, founder of DeCAF and the man behind Phantomvillege - India’s first publishing house for comics and graphic novels alongside Sarnath Banerjee. Roy takes us through his inspiration behind starting the festival, his love for comics, challenges he faced on this journey, and the road ahead:
What was the motivation behind the festival?
I’ve been thinking about a festival for only comic creators for quite some time. We go to all these festivals around the world and see such nice things on display and we come back feeling disappointed that we don’t have anything of that quality here. There was a time when everybody wanted to go for Jaipur Lit Fest because of the content.
But wanting something and having it are two different things. So while this edition is more about showcases and presentations, eventually, I’ll have comic-based art installations, performances, and more experimental presentations. Right now, everything is to the book but I want to expand the directions. In terms of art, the situation is quite bad and people are hardly getting paid for their work. I want to change the way we showcase comics so that it becomes an art form and make more people gravitate towards it.
What was the first comic you read that impacted you in a big way?
I would actually credit photography more because we learnt storytelling by taking photographs, writing dialogues and imagining what the photographs were trying to say. But in terms of comics, Asterix was the one that influenced me in a big way during my childhood.
You run your own comic book house called Phantomville. How does that experience come into play for a venture like this?
When Sarnath Banerjee and I started Phantomville, we put in our own money and went through the normal distribution route. We did sell about 1200-1500 copies but it wasn’t sustainable. You can’t do this for a long time because at some point, it has to make business sense. It was great fun while we could do it. But after a certain point, there was no money.
Sarnath and I would have a television production house and make documentaries. At that point, there were a lot of NGOs for whom we’d suggest making comics to bring out issues like say, infanticide in a certain district. We’d go there, and write the story in the form of text and sketches in a book format instead of films. It was a lot cheaper. We tried this format with different organisations. Then India Foundation for the Arts gave us a grant to do a comic on Calcutta. So that’s how I got into the world of comics.
Illustrations by Amruta Patil
Why did you choose Delhi as the base for the first edition?
In terms of accessibility, I’ve grown up here. I used to do films first, so it’s always been my backyard - I know the city, the people. You need a little bit of help in infrastructure to do something like this. If it was a completely new city like Mumbai or Bangalore, it would be difficult for me to create such a network.
What are your expectations in terms of the audience and turnout?
I have no idea what’s going to happen because it’s all channeled through social media. There’s a certain ambition because of the place we are in - India International Centre, which has a certain membership of about 2000 people. So anyone interested from that group will come. I’m not expecting the Comic Con crowd, which is going out to have a good time. People who are initiated and know a little and want to more are my target audience. The ones who don’t know anything about comics and want to come are also more than welcome! Each presentation is 20-25 minutes, and each one is well prepared to use the platform to share their knowledge. So it’ll be insightful, for sure.
Illustration by Kaveri Gopalakrishnan
How did you go about conceptualising this programme?
That took quite a while because there are so many players invariably. With the international artists, you interact with the cultural bodies of the country who have their own notion of whom to send, whereas you have your mind fixed on someone else. So the selection process happens meticulously for each artist. Once both sides narrow down on a person, you go ahead and approach the artist, have a discussion and finally figure out what kind of works they’ll bring to the location and what kind of presentation/discussion to have.
For the Indian artists, I’ve been following most of their work for a long time. I just called and asked for ideas for a presentation, which is then extended to exhibitions so that viewers can go spend time with the artworks rather than just see it quickly on the presentation. So it was more organic.
Are you overwhelmed by the fact that it’s all really happening? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Absolutely! All the artists are really excited as well, and offering to help. But the real help needed is resources. Many different partners have paid for various things. Yet I’m paying for a lot of things myself. But it doesn’t feel like the money is at a loss because the artists are really wonderful. It feels really good to do something for them. Everyone wanted to work with new formats and that helped to a certain extent.
Illustration by Priyesh Trivedi
Already a lot more partners (national and foreign) have shown interests and more countries writing in to participate next year. So that’s promising. The only thing is that it doesn’t end with this edition - it has to be sustained and to keep it going, I’m already applying for funds for the second edition, which is even more important.
What’s your perspective on publishing in the comic world and the current trends?
Well, in terms of choice, we’re still limited. The level of art in Europe and USA isn’t here yet. My god, the kind of stuff artists are doing! It’ll eventually come here but we’re still lacking. It’s also not an organised sector because there are a lot of people who are interested in comics and art or creating them but it’s not being consumed. If you have absolutely no patronage, who do you depend on? I don’t see that enthusiasm in mainstream publishers. Maybe one or two comics come out a year because a lot of books start moving really slowly after 1500 copies or so. Printing is the next step and is really expensive, so much so that they want to do it in black and white to cover costs. That itself affects the artist from the beginning, who is forced to think in black and white.
Illustration by Lika Nussli
Indie publishers are the future. We have to move away from mainstream publishers except for a few. Going digital is another boon for comic book artists because you now have colour and the freedom to play around. I’m someone who started drawing on pen and paper and then slowly went digital. You can never leave pen and paper. But something like an iPad Pro which I use now allows me to create and share content which is much bigger! Comics are one dimension unlike paintings, which have other layers like texture. Nowadays, you can create effects on so many softwares that it’s hard to tell what’s created digitally and what’s made by hand.
What’s the future for DeCAF?
This year, I’m trying to set the foundation and not be too efficient. Next year, I’ll figure out a way for artists to showcase and sell their work, expand to other spaces for other elements, spread across the city on different days of the festival. It’ll be more inclusive and ambitious.
Poster for the Delhi Comic Art Festival by Fahad Faizal
The Delhi Comic Arts Festival takes place on December 4-6 at India International Centre. Know more about the event at www.decafonline.com
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