Encounter with Sarnath Banerjee

Sarnath Banerjee is the author of India's first graphic novel Corridor. His second graphic novel The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers has been reviewed here.

I would like to share with you a few questions I asked Sarnath Banerjee, and he was kind to put up with me and answer.

Q. What graphic publications did you read as a kid? What would you say were your influences?
I read regular books as a kid. Only comics I had access to, through our neighbour, was Tintin.

Q. What is your favorite graphic novel?
Maus is pretty good. Also Palestine by Joe Sacco. Favorite is Julius Knipl Real Estate photographer, Ben Katchor.

Q. The Western readers/audience is now waking up to Indian / Bollywood kitsch. Are your books catering to them by using it? Don't you think it's at the end of its innings in India? Is it because you think,Indian readers won't appreciate a true graphic novel.
I don’t know what a true graphic novel is. Would it be one that is canonized by the western world? And by striving to mimic one of them can I create the true graphic novel? I wonder

What you are considering kitsch is fish and rice for me, staple food of a coastal inhabitant. All the kitsch adds up to the world that I had once engendered and still living in. Contemporary urban mythology is constantly producing an ever-growing number of them and I will continue documenting them. For me kitsch is a term devised by art historians and the Birmingham school as a plaything for academia, to write yet another dissertation on. Objects of kitsch are for me urban artifacts upon which I base my work. The kitsch in Owl existed during Victorian Calcutta. It is a lopsided way to look at history. And history does exist outside text books. One may even say that it is locked in popular culture.

I am currently sitting in the middle of the avant-garde in Europe. Here mathematics is the language of god, Physics is the most masculine of all sciences, Opera is the most celebrated of all musical forms, and great many novels are written around the grand piano. Thomas Mann is God here. In short this is high culture as the white man understands it.

But I have grown up on pulp, Bengali detective stories, radio plays and Campa Cola ads. I look at it fondly and try to talk of a society that created these artifacts (kitsch), dissect it forensically, frame it. I rarely pick up an obscure fact from the 70s, crunch it through the cultural studies machine and publish it at Dazed and Confused. My concern, I feel, is almost as legitimate as an upper middle-class NRI Iyenger girl writing a novel on arranged marriage in southern California.

I don’t watch Bollywood, can’t bear it, nor cricket.

Q. Does the Indian market's sensibility hold you back while writing? What would you like to really write/draw if there was no worry of Indian moral censors?
I am not a big marketing phenomenon, which in a sense is librating. I don’t need to have a finger on the pulse of public taste. Comics is usually outside the radar of Indian high culture, Indo-Anglican writing or Indian art world, it’s a good place to be in. My books express local concerns, I don’t have literary agents, they are not sold abroad except in France. Graphic novel, as of now, is for a small group of readers. It is still an un-co-opted subculture. I get by with pretty much whatever I want.

Thank you Sarnath :)


gautami tripathy said...

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Michael Caine said...

Must...get...my hands...on this one!
I have always loved asterix and tintin too!

Michael Caine said...

Must...get...my hands...on this one!
I have always loved asterix and tintin too!

Ed said...

Excellent Blog and specifically this interview. Well done!
Grace and Peace,

chica said...

Interesting to know that Barn's Owl was inspired. Have to try and find The Sketches of Hutum the Owl to read now.

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