The PAO Collective is a group of five Delhi-based comic book artists. According to Sarnath Banerjee,“Many in the Indian art world live as tiny puddles of self-styled geniuses. There are very few forums for introspection, criticism and debate. PAO Collective in one such-a very modern way of practising art.”
Thus the anthology, comprising twelve “distinctively” Indian stories, written in the graphic narrative format, features the likes of not only veterans in the genre( Orijit Sen, Sarnath Banerjee, to name a few) but also new and emerging talent, and to that end, is certainly a landmark effort in promoting awareness about the Indian “comics” scene.
Needless to say, every story in the volume is meticulously crafted, a work of art in itself and innovatively told. Yet while the anthology provides a rich, luxuriant variety in terms of originality of content and technique, there is a certain pervading “Indianess” that threads the collection together.
For instance, the opening story entitled “The Tattoo” is a black-and-white take on a day in the life of a roadside tattoo artist who is gets an eccentric customer. The second one, “Plasmoids” is a wry, sci-fi narrative with a twisted Goosebumps-styled ending, while another called “The Pink” deals hilariously with the plight of a man transformed into a flamingo.
However the “Indianess” is more pronounced in the latter half of the volume. “The After Life of Ammi’s Betelnut Box” is reminiscent of miniature Mughal paintings, while the artwork of “Hindus And Offal” is gloriously macabre with hallucinatory undertones. Mahabharata is offered a fresh, quirky twist in “Chilka” while “Hair Burns Like Grass”, a personal favourite is a beautiful artistic blend of myth and fiction, based on Kabir’s life and poetry and rendered in mostly hand-drawn grey-scale illustrations.
Thus, the recurrent themes portrayed by references to Indian customs and sensibilities (most evident in “Tito Years”) not only offer a sly, social commentary but also a powerful insight into urban India. Perhaps, the detailed cover art which features birdlike humanoids being served a feast by Punjabi-dressed waiters best sums up the essence of the book: inventive, fantastical, Indian and definitely in want of a second reading.
For comic book enthusiasts, this anthology is a worthy investment and for the average bookworm this is 300 pages of pure, unadulterated entertainment that is not only visually satiating but also a welcome-break from the text-only counterparts. A rare gem.
Previously published on EyeZine