In conversation with Anand Radhakrishnan, winner of the 'Oscars' of the comic world

The graphic artist speaks to STIR about his award-winning novel, his practice, and receiving the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, touted as the Oscars of the comic world.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Aug 31, 2021

The illustrations for a comic book play a significant role in telling the story. Especially, since the text is succinct and mostly in the form of thoughts or spoken words. Unlike long form written narratives, a graphic novel relies more on the images to imagine the scene and emotional context. While this form of art works within a prescribed framework – that of the author's narration, setting of the broader context of the scene, it is also a challenge to creatively make images within the constraints.

Anand Radhakrishnan made a shift from science to art early in his career. “I always knew right from the time I was in college for the art degree that I wanted to tell stories,” he says. I speak to the Mumbai-based artist, who recently received the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, touted as the Oscars (of the comic world), for the graphic novel Blue in Green.

Blue in Green page 1 | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
Blue in Green page 1 Image: Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

Rahul Kumar (RK): Please talk about your work in the graphic novel Blue in Green. How did the collaboration work with the author of the novel, Ram V, and colourist John Pearson?

Anand Radhakrishnan (AR): By June of 2018, Ram and I had wrapped up work on our first full-length graphic novel, Grafity's Wall, which is a slice of life story of four teenagers living in Mumbai. It was released at the UK convention Thought Bubble in September of the same year. Even while we were working on Grafity's Wall, we had already been discussing Ram's idea for another story that revolves around music, this time the genre being jazz. Shortly after the UK trip I started playing around with ideas and sketches for this new project, Blue in Green, named after the famous track by Miles Davis. We tried various approaches for about two months, fully painted, watercolours, inks and eventually settled on a mixed media approach that is quite reminiscent of my sketchbook drawings. This drawing style along with digital colours gave us the right tone for this book, it was serious yet let me play around with shape design and mood. Then by December 2018 and into the first couple weeks of 2019, we had started work on sequential pages of Blue in Green in earnest.

City of Strange | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
City of Strange Image: Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

Work on Blue in Green was slow because it was a creator owned project, which means there wasn't upfront funding for this book. Ram did his best to keep things running though by pushing advances my way and that went a long way in keeping the machine running. Meanwhile I picked up other illustration work on the side to be able to keep pushing this project. Our first choice for colourist was Indian illustrator and colourist, Roshan Kurichiyanil. He is brilliant and I had a great time collaborating with him on the first few pages. Unfortunately, we were having scheduling issues and he had to drop the project. Shortly after, we got John Pearson aboard. Ram and John knew each other and had even collaborated on a short story by this point so this transition was quite smooth. John's own work has a certain painterly quality to it that complemented the project quite well that helped the two of us work quite seamlessly on this book. He was a pleasure to work with.

Observational sketchbook | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
Observational sketchbook Image: Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

RK: It is intriguing that music remains a recurring theme in your graphic work, and this particular novel there are supernatural elements that play a role. Please tell us more about this.

AR: For some reason, all of Ram and my projects together so far have had a major musical influence to them. Grafity's Wall had desi rap, Blue in Green jazz of course and our latest collaboration, Radio Apocalypse, has a healthy dose of classic rock. I think both of us just really enjoy the idea of one art form complementing another and enriching the experience for the reader. Also, these books are best consumed while listening to the music of the right genre, I am sure Ram has playlists for these projects on Twitter somewhere.

The supernatural in Blue in Green comes in the form of what we call ‘The Suited Man’, this is who Eric sees going through his deceased mother's belongings and eventually leads Eric into the downward spiral from there. If BinG is a 'Devil at the crossroad' story, this character is the devil. Whether the suited man is real or just a figment of Eric's deranged mind or a metaphor for something else is what we leave for the reader to decide. I had a lot of fun designing this character and have made references to some of my favourite pieces of art (Saturn devouring his son by Francisco Goya and The Pieta by Michelangelo) while drawing ‘The Suited Man’. I also got to explore some areas of personal interest like body horror and metamorphosis with this.

Grafity's Wall | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
Grafity's Wall Image: Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

RK: How do you approach a new theme that is essentially governed by the plot as laid by the author? For instance, what was your tactic to deal with existentialism and sadness for Blue in Green?

AR: The themes of our books so far have been quite universal so I have been able to associate with them on a personal basis and know for a fact that the reader would associate with the same themes as well no matter where they come from. For example, since Grafity's Wall was based in Mumbai, a lot of the issues the central characters face are ones that I have either dealt with myself in degrees or have at least been aware of. I am confident that these same issues resonate with readers all over the world. With Blue in Green the themes are loss of a loved one, ambition, pursuit of genius, depression and even though every reader will be able to add layers to these depending on their own interpretations, the central themes remain easily understandable universally. Moreover, I was thinking about some of these ideas quite a bit at the time as well.

An illustration from Blue in Green | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
An illustration from Blue in Green Image: Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

Especially this idea of artistic struggle is something I had been obsessively thinking about while I was working on this project. The thought that good art needs to come from a place of suffering or that an artist needs to go through this process to come out the other side a better artist with more lived experience was something that was constantly on my mind. Of course, we as an audience always find the story of the tragic artist more satisfying or entertaining and this perhaps leads us to think that good art always needs the artist to suffer which isn't really true. Somehow for us, the thought of a comfortable healthy artist doesn't particularly appeal and I think I understand why. This romanticised idea of art coming from a deep dark place within the artist is probably responsible for this notion.

Blue in Green book cover | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
Blue in Green book cover Image: Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

RK: You say it has been a linear journey for you (from a career perspective), but one that began with an aspiration to become a doctor, to an artist, and eventually becoming a graphic designer. Do you believe creating work within a prescribed parameter is limiting, as compared to say making a pure work of art?

AR: I was in the first year of Bachelor of Science at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai, when I decided to jump ship and turn to art. I gave my entrance tests for JJ School of Art while still pursuing the study of science, but luckily got through on my first attempt at the art school. Once I had made that transition from science to art, my career has had a linear path, it has just been a matter of getting better at what I do. I always knew right from the time I was in college for the art degree that I wanted to tell stories. Having said this though, in between all my comics work, illustration projects and self-initiated work, I doubt if any of those labels suit me at this point except maybe illustration since it is such a huge umbrella term.

Radio Apocalypse (in progress) | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
Radio Apocalypse (in progress) Image:Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

Creating work within a prescribed parameter is definitely limiting but since I usually have multiple projects running along with my graphic novel work, most of which are self-initiated and independent, I don't really mind that my comics work needs me to work within set guidelines. Comics make a substantial part of my body of work but by no means are all of it, in fact I am quite excited about my personal projects that are slowly and steadily starting to take shape. Unfortunately, I can't put in the same amount of time on them as I do in comics since they are not funded, it takes much longer to complete. Also, having some structure to the project helps for me to explore things within the sequential art page like acting, composition, framing, shape design, colour, which for me is no less enjoyable.

Radio Apocalypse (in progress) | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
Radio Apocalypse (in progress) Image:Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

RK: In conclusion, receiving the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, touted as the Oscars of the comic world, is amazing. What role does such validations play for you?

AR: It has only been about four years that I have been drawing comics on a regular basis, so far that has amounted to about 300 pages of sequential art, which honestly is quite a modest number by professional comic artist standards. I am glad to have won an Eisner with such a small number of pages under my belt and I owe it to the whole team of Blue in Green and especially to Ram. Having said that, I am also very aware of the fact that I have a long way ahead, hopefully this helps me to keep to my career plan of producing more work and eventually write and draw my own narratives while working on independent non sequential projects.

Also, since I am a freelancer, I am used to working within the confines of my small studio in Mumbai. I find it fascinating that my work reaches people across the world. Someone pointed out the other day that I might be the first Indian person to have won an Eisner, now although this isn't of value to me personally, I am sure it helps young artists who are still struggling make up their mind about the arts and creative fields and keep pushing to create independent work.

Speaking of Listening | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
Speaking of Listening Image:Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

Lastly, I think it also reminds people that comics can be a serious medium to tell stories and it is extremely effective, accessible and requires a much smaller pool of resources than say film or animation. Hopefully it will also get more eyeballs to Blue in Green and push sales. Might even nudge my career a bit forward if I play it right... ha ha!

Anand Radhakrishnan | Anand Radhakrishnan | STIRworld
Anand Radhakrishnan Image: Courtesy of Anand Radhakrishnan

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