Two great discoveries this weekend, both to do with ze comeeks.
Firstly, HUSH, a graphic novella from fledgling publishing house Manta Ray, discovered after stumbling upon their intriguing teaser online. And secondly, Leaping Windows, India’s first lending library wholly dedicated to graphic novels, comics, manga – and the tiny but thriving community of Mumbai-based folk that love ’em. LP held a promo event for HUSH ( at Mocha Mojo over in tony Bandra and wham in the middle of that insane artery begging to be renamed Hell Road), which had writer Pratheek Thomas and artist Rajiv Eipe in attendance, as well as original artwork from the book.
As its title – and byline – suggest, this novella is entirely worldless, putting the onus on you, sharp eyed reader, to decipher the story as it follows a schoolgirl in the aftermath of a shocking crime she perpetrates. No great strain that – Rajiv’s visuals are stunning. His grainy, brooding ink washes grab your attention from those first riveting images of a blackboard shattered by what is unmistakably a bullet hole. Columbine, you think at once and indeed, we next see both the girl (called Maya, a rather unnecessary detail thrown our way a while later), and her victim – her class teacher. But this is no story of angst uncontrolled. Instead we are told, in a mere handful of stark images, the reasons for her actions, as the narrative segues between the day of the shooting and Maya’s own flashbacks. What emerges is a disturbing story of abuse, the conspiracy of silence that allows it to persist and one traumatised child’s response.
Given a story so clearly NOT about the superfluous, the decision to append excerpts from the script to it is really strange. Sure, the additional pages bulk out this very skinny volume a tad, but they also bristle with over explanation. Great for the making of this comic, no doubt, but also undermining the power of those spare drawings, the taut narrative AND, most of all, our abilities as readers to ‘get the point’. In much the same hyperbolical vein is Manoj Menon’s poster at the end – a gun wielding lass echoing Red Riding Hood, that most familiar of all allegories about sexual predation. (Yes Virginia, sometimes Santa paws.) Red Riding Hood as a prepubescent Black Mamba? Prabha Mallya’s disturbing interpretation of the classic ‘cut-and’fold’ paper doll, however – bull’s eye.
Call me a sucker for ‘light-at-tunnel’s-end’ style endings, but I hated the ending. Yes, yes, sometimes a pipe is just that and this is one girl’s story and not an excuse to wave the flag for female empowerment and yadayada and so on,BUT ..
I thought ( Oh, wait.. SPOILER ALERT , wokay -aah? ) the story ended the way it did because of the great visuals it would result in, a fade to black being way more satisfying cinematically than any alternative scenario to Maya’s story. It reeked of several kinds of same old – those film noir stereotypes that insist bad girls, however wronged, must self destruct; that fatalistic Bollywood ishtyle ‘ujadi hui izzat’ syndrome , deeming abuse victims as damaged,beyond redemption and better off dead;and, worst of all, the same submissive and silent misery that allows kids like Maya to become victims in the first place.
Then again, I’m guessing those sneaky chaps behind HUSH know all this already.
And if all my ranting and raving and frothing at the mouth over a single panel isn’t indication of how much I liked this book, I don’t know what is.
So go. Read. Rant.