Ever since I decided to send out some postcards to my readers, some new postcards have made their way to me! These babies arrived in the mail courtesy my friend Aarthi Parthasarthy who also happens to be the genius behind them. I met Aarthi in rural Madhya Pradesh four years ago, toting an enormous camera and documenting folk singers on a Kabir yatra. Since then she’s launched her film making company Falana Dimka and an excellent webcomic series called Royal Existentials.
Royal Existentials uses Indian vintage art to convey stories of historical (and contemporary) angst. It’s a very social, very feminist commentary and it’s fabulously tongue-in-cheek. I love it so much, and I’ll never be able to look at miniaturist paintings the same way ever again.
The idea of working with existing Indian miniature paintings came to Aarthi three or four years ago, when she first read David Malki's webcomic Wondermark. Aarthi had always spent inordinate amounts of time reading, reading about and talking about comics and graphic novels and had been wanting to work with re-appropriating images, because she thought that process might be fun as a writer.
“In the last 2-3 years, I've spent a lot of time trying to understand various forms of social inequality - issues of gender, caste, class, race, sexuality. The churning seems to have taken this form. In August last year, I made one on a whim, came up with the name and announced that it was the first of a series, and then just kept making them. It all happened very organically.”
She sits down to make a comic when she has an idea about something she’s been thinking/reading/talking about at the time, and then works on writing it out into an insightful joke. Sometimes the dialogue comes first, other times it’s inspired by the image she wants to work with, sparked by a gesture, an expression, posture, or some other element that stands out.
Aarthi puts the writing and initial panelling together herself and her friend, animator and co-founder at Falana Films, Chaitanya Krishnan comes in for the reviewing and the additional art later. “Actually, I bug the hell out of a bunch of friends on Thursday night/Friday morning asking them to go over every word with me, asking if it works.”
As for the stories she’d like to tell: "I guess I enjoy writing stories that are humorous, that play with observation of behaviours and patterns, that talk about different kinds of social inequality and communicate insight. That sounds like a tall order, doesn't it? I hope to do that in whatever way and to whatever extent I can."