Comixense Review- Intelligence, imagination and empathy

We have had comics before. But the first issue of this quarterly magazine targeted at the young (between 12 and 17 years of age) have enough food for thought for older readers as well

Comixense Review- Intelligence, imagination and empathy
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Samir Nazareth

As a teenager my folks would ask whether I had noticed anything new when I played my favourite songs. I did not think much of it then, but later realised what they were driving at. Listening to even a known piece of music would still bring to the fore a fresh nuance – it could be the gentle clash of the cymbals suddenly becoming distinct or the change of scales in the singing, so delicate that it remained mostly unnoticed. As an adult, I realised this is true for almost all aspects of life – including comics.

I grew up reading comics, both as standalone books and part of children’s magazines. Besides the international ones, India had its own. There was the comic about Bahadur, Supandi in Twinkle, Detective Moochwala in Target. I learnt much about India’s culture through Amar Chitra Kathas. Commando comics brought the two World Wars into my room.

It was much later that I realised that Bahadur glorified vigilantism and understood that the use of colour to mark villains in Amar Chitra Kathas actually promoted racist and bigoted tropes.

Comics have much to offer all age groups. For example, while ‘V for Vendetta’ comes across as a straightforward revenge story, it is layered with the consequences of authoritarianism – everything from dehumanisation to the propping of bad science. Similar subtleties can be found in Watchmen and Persepolis. The many layers within these, and other titles give much food for thought for a variety of age groups. Which brings us to the first edition of the comic magazine Comixense which I recently received.

In the introduction to the magazine Orijit Sen, the chief editor writes ‘Through this magazine, we hope to touch upon all aspects of life that young people in India encounter today – presented in a manner that credits their intelligence, imagination and empathy.’

This is evidently a daunting task. The most challenging is possibly the addiction for video games and films which can be watched on mobile phones. But the Comixense team recognises these challenges and have therefore created a site where readers of the magazine can delve further into the topic of each comic.

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The story titled ‘The Plague Doctor’s Apprentice’ goes back to the Bubonic Plague to make a point on the SARSCoV2 pandemic. Readers can visit the comixense website and Facebook page to learn more about the Bubonic Plague and the creative process that brought this story to life.

Though the story is set in Italy, there is a very Indian sound to the grinding of the medicine in a mortar and pestle – ‘thak thak’. I would have loved to have been a spectator to the discussions on wording the sound.

What makes this magazine interesting is the easy mix of history and philosophy to question dogma and the concepts of modernity. The story titled ‘City of Astronomers’ brilliantly juxtaposes the development of astronomy across time and space with the idea of progress and the consequences of scientific inquiry.

Authors in this edition have used parables to speak on social issues. For example, the written narrative ‘The Razor and the Scalpel’ subtly discusses profession, caste, and the value of human beings.

I was struck by the sci-fi story ‘Love for Dummies’. I could sense a Ray Bradbury-esque aura to this story of two robots falling in love in a world emptied of human beings. But what really stood out for me was that the creators used the story to introduce art and artists. Given the international range of art shown, the absence of Indian art is striking.

The story and illustrations in The Captain took me back to my 6-month journey along the Indian coast.

I shared my copy of the magazine with a young adult. Unfortunately, she could read only one comic before a Covid scare at home rejigged her priorities. She messaged saying that she found the ‘look a tad dark’.

At the end of the day comics are a form of art that mix words with colour and shapes. The interpretation of this art will differ from person to person. But if in the process it opens a new world for the reader then the creators of Comixense have achieved much in the inaugural issue itself.

The magazine’s delightful Facebook page introduces writers in the second issue, which is a work in progress. To quote from the page, “Salil Chaturvedi writes short fiction and poetry. He lives in Chorao, Goa, where he loves mostly to wonder and wander. He is the author of In the Sanctuary of a Poem, and an award-winning collection of Hindi poems titled Ya Ra La Va Sha Sa Ha. His collection of short stories is forthcoming from Toran Press.”

“Charbak Dipta is an Indie illustrator, cartoonist and graphic novelist. An Oxford alumnus, he has been working internationally as a graphic artist since 2013. Starting with the Times of India, his works have been featured in various national and overseas magazines. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy and is a Diploma holder of Film Studies from Jadavpur University. Charbak currently heads the art department of a prominent Delhi-based publishing house. He is the writer and artist of 12 published books.”

The energy in the effort is infectious. Team Comixense, take a bow.

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