The most well-known cartoonists in India in the past have always been identified with some of the biggest names in the media; be it Shankar, who founded a journal dedicated to satire, or RK Laxman with The Times of India.
A crop of young women and men however, have rejected these traditional structures and formats and gone on to build successful careers as free lance illustrators and graphic designers by working with new age companies and newer ways of story-telling.
When Alicia Souza left her cushy banking job in Melbourne and decided to make Bengaluru her home, all she knew was that she wanted to pursue a career in design. After many twists and turns and co-founding what is today perhaps the most famous design-brand in the country - Chumbak - Alicia has definitely arrived.
With over 55,000 followers on Facebook, Alicia Souza is one of the most popular freelance designers in India and the journey she explains has not been an easy one. “The initial days are no bed of roses, and I had to take the risk. I just wanted to make enough money to be self-sufficient and feed my dog. It was a difficult journey but a huge learning experience. The flexibility that freelancing provides encourages you to become a better artist,” she reminisces. She says she owes a lot to social media platforms for providing her a platform to showcase her art outside her “comfort-circle.”
While she has worked with the likes of Yahoo, Penguin, Amar Chitra Katha, and Air Asia, she says, “The idea of happy or humor in cartoons is not still widely accepted by some corporate, which makes me skeptical about working with them,” remarks the artist.
Her designs are often described as colourful and chirpy, and her followers have not-so-subtly labeled her as ‘The Happy Artist’. Everyday life events are what inspire her vibrant designs, to which she adds a shade of humor. From draping sarees, to food cravings, and beating the city traffic, Alicia’s illustrations are can bring a smile on any twenty-something’s face.
An active player in the comic revolution in India, Bengaluru-based Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, an alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmadabad is a published graphic-novel author.
Her recent work ‘Basic Space’ published by Zubaan books deals with ‘moving in public spaces, body image, and understanding these dynamics as a woman.’ Her illustrations revolve around urban stories, her relationship and comfort with nature, and the things that come out of working in what can feel like vast periods of solitude for her.
“There’s scope for anyone to make and put out comics and illustrations on the internet. That makes it great. There’s room for all sorts of trial and error because you don’t need to start off looking for a place that will put your work when you can just do it yourself, and the right audience will read/take what they want from you. I’m all for self publishing, and hope it takes off well in India,” she says.
Image Source: facebook.com/kaverigeewhiz
While she does not regret or even miss a full-time job, freelancing wasn't a cakewalk. “Educating clients who are new to a design approach, negotiating/convincing for payments, and there is the fact that I do work nearly every day (what are weekends?) except the occasional Sunday. I think this is part of what keeps me going though: I do love what I do, and enjoy working hard for what matters to me,” says Kaveri. She has worked with several big names including Chumbak, Scholastic, Pratham Books and Rupa Publications.
An Engineer by qualification, UK-based Ramya Sriram’s foray into cartooning was a result of hours spent ‘doodling on the side’. Before she knew it she started working as a freelance illustrator. Her recent series ‘Amma Says,’ depicting the relationship between mother-daughter resulted in making her Facebook page ‘The Tap’ go viral.
“Travel, music and relationships are common themes you'd see in my work. I think I cover a whole range of topics from dancing in showers to the joys of eating mangoes, from 'letting go' to cleaning up your neighbourhood,” says Ramya, the highlight of whose illustration is telling a story through stick diagram.
While she equates being a freelancer to running a startup, she insists that freelance artists first take up projects that come their way initially and only later learn the art of scheduling. “It definitely is more difficult to make money as a full-time illustrator or artiste of any sort in India than it would be in a more 'traditional' career path. I get a lot of mails from students who want to pursue art but have to keep it 'on the side' while they find a career option that has a brighter future,” remarks Ramya.
The social media popularity has in a way led to brand creation, and the designs of these independent artists are much sought after in the market. While illustrators and artists bank on initiatives like Comic Con and local flea markets to gain visibility, they agree that there is still a long way to go.
“I think it’s great to have the option to customize your artwork on a product, but it needs to be well-thought of, planned and executed. I’m against this blind merchandising of artwork on products. Plagiarism is rampant and the chief beneficiary seems to be the startup company using the artists content for their brand value. It needs to be ethical and respectful as a process,” says Kaveri Gopalakrishnan.