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Graphic Novelist Tejas Modak Brings Superheroes alive at Biennale Workshop

In Kochi
January 22, 2019

When Tejas Modak encouraged children around him to come out with their own superhero, he proposed a condition: the character should have twin identities — secret and public. That aroused curiosity in the participants.

The Pune-based graphic novelist is in this city, guiding young talents on the art that has given him fame over the past decade. Titled ‘Me Super Hero — Comic and Graphic Storytelling’, a one day workshop at a key venue of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is part of the ABC (Art By Children) programme running parallel to the 108-day festival that began on December 12.

At Fort Kochi’s sylvan Cabral Yard on Thursday noon, Modak was busy giving wings of imagination to a group of schoolchildren from the locality. When it came to charting a superhero, the 35-year-old also reminded the students on the costume and mission of the character.

“For the workshop, we are weaving three main areas: words, images and stories,” reveals the master, renowned for his 2008 graphic novel Private-eye Anonymous: The Art Gallery Case. “The focus on graphic storytelling around a specific subject. The subject I have in mind is ‘superhero’. That’s why I am inviting the participants to identify the superpower they would like to possess and create a graphic narrative around it.”

What’s it for Modak himself? “Ah, for me here, my superhero would be one who can speak the languages of all people and animals,” he shrugs with a smile.

To Modak, who likes to be called a storyteller, the main­­­ aim of creating art is to have fun. “My pursuit in life is to tell stories through words and pictures that will entertain, enthrall and inspire people for a long time. Not out of an abstracted sense of immortality but simply out of an urge to have a lot of fun while I’m here. That is what I’d always like to share with the participants at any workshop,” says the artist.

So, how are graphic novels distinct in the field of art and literature? “In several respects,” says Modak, whose second work, Animal Palette, was showcased at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2012. “In a graphic novel, a part of the story is expressed through text, the rest is expressed visually,” he points out. “That helps the reader, especially kids, familiarise with the ambience of the story stronger and faster.”

ABC director Blaise Joseph notes that the basic idea of the programme by the Kochi Biennale Foundation is to kindle artistic talents in the new generation. “We want to make them think about issues that are important to them and society,” he says. “We groom them on ways they would like to address it.”

At the ongoing ABC workshop at the ‘art room’, Modak has a storyboard created on the characters. The master first created two superheroes: Barangate Man and Mintu. With distinctive powers like magical spectacles, wand, magical watch and mind-reading ability, they help the people in need and make the world a better place to live, he explains to the attendees.

Teenaged Mohd Afreed P Salim created a wrestler who helps the people and trains them in self-defence. “My superhero helps people fight against bullying,” adds the class-9 student at Haji Essa Haji Mussa Memorial School in nearby Mattancherry.

His friend Zameen Ul Hak plans to create a character who works to check global warming. “My character helps avoid disasters like floods, like the one we had in Kerala five months ago,” he says. “He will educate people about conserving natural resources.”

T Fasna, another participant, says the workshop helped her learn about the origins of superheroes from around the globe and discover how they are similar or different. “The master gave us tips about the various techniques of creating a graphic novel,’’ adds the 14-year-old student.

At the evening on Thursday, Modak gave a talk on his graphic novels. The hour-long lecture was held at the Biennale Pavilion, also in the 1.6-acre Cabral Yard.