The founder of world comic books will make you want to pick up a pencil and join his cause of education and awareness, writes Suyashi Smridhi
World Comics India, started in the early 1990s, believes in the power of comics as an effective medium of communication as well as an incredible mode of self-expression. Following the ideology of ABCD, “Any Body Can Draw”, its founder, Sharad Sharma, propagates comics as an interesting tool of dissemination of stories, whether in education or in conflict ridden zones or as an attempt to counter social and political issues. “When I began my career as a political cartoonist, what I realised was that people put so much effort to create fantastic artwork but there was hardly any audience in the city and even art galleries were secluded spaces. It is not public art but available for only a selected few”, says Sharma.
Ensconced in an office in Mayur Vihar, New Delhi, World Comics India, thereby uses a cost effective method of creating comics, making its proliferation easier and thus allowing it to reach out to a larger audience. For instance, the use of black and white line art within four panels allows its reproduction to increase through the process of photocopying. Sharma first came up with the idea when he drew a poster for an agitation in Rajasthan. “The Banjaras were agitating against the burning of their mobile homes and some other atrocities committed against them. I drew a poster on one of the incidents and that poster became a kind of a symbol of the movement. This is how I realised the importance of line art, since the poster was black and white and not made with colours,” recalls Sharma.
With the advent of the internet, the reach of comics has increased. There is now greater connectivity between creators battling issues in different part of the country and even the word. In fact, the internet has helped establish such a wide network of contact that, World Comics has not only trained and organised a plethora of workshops in different parts of the world, but has also helped in the creation of a number of local independent networks in multiple countries.
A group of similar- minded cartoonists, activists and development journalists have come together in countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Japan, United Kingdom, Nepal, Philippines, Finland to name a few, and utilized the power of comics as an effective tool of communication to lead various campaigns regarding problems that are intrinsic to their own communities. “One day, I got an email from a group of health workers in Mongolia stating that they downloaded the manuals from the website and sent me 20 copies. All of them were locally drawn in a language I did not understand. Imagine! I had no idea what was this language about. So I asked if they could provide me with some sort of translation”, says Sharma, asserting the power and importance of comics as an efficient tool that helps in generating content locally and encourages participation.
The idea of participation lies at the core of World Comics and thus, they try to encourage the production of comics at the grass-root level. Unlike comics found in the mainstream media which are mostly drawn by professional artists, grassroots comics are created by the common masses, the silent majority thereby allowing individuals from varied, diverse backgrounds to assert themselves and bring forward their stories and their problems into focus. For this reason, World Comics India has made all of its training manuals (Basic, Trainer and Campaign) available free of cost. These manuals have also been translated into 20 other languages for better utility. “It’s the copy-left movement. No copyrights. The copy-left movement is becoming very powerful in a way that people feel that they can easily download the manual and use it, allowing people to participate in their own problems and become independent”, states Sharma.
Trivialising the importance of money, Sharma further voices, “People keep saying that you can’t make money out of it. Doesn’t matter. If your ideas are good and people are using it, money will also come”. He also asserts the importance of volunteer work and organises various campaigns, not only in conflict zones or problem ridden areas, but also in spaces of higher education. Currently, he freelances with a number of media houses and uses the money he earns to travels to spaces wrought with difficulties where people are often forced into the background and do not find any medium of expressing themselves. In association with a number of NGOs, World Comics India has led successful campaigns in different corners of India.
One of the most successful campaigns led by World Comics India, No Stereotypes Plz! was started after the murder of Nido Tania in Delhi in 2014. The comic aims to eradicate the stereotypes against people from the north-east who often find themselves in the midst of racial discrimination and violence, often being recognized as foreigners. In collaboration with the National Foundation for India, World Comics India emphasized on the importance of individuals as storytellers and encouraged people both from Delhi and from the North-East to illustrate out their problems and prejudices. The comics produced in the campaign was compiled and published under the same name and this s being circulated in various schools, colleges and organizations around the country.
Another major campaign revolved around the participation of children in local governance. Ab Sashan Humro Hoi, in association with Adithi/PLAN, saw the participation of children who produced more than 300 comics on issues such as environment, clean water, child marriage, road construction, alcoholism, sanitation and corporal punishment, in Muzzafarpur, Bihar. Through their efforts, children recognized their rights and reached out the Panchayat, their teachers and their parents. Swift actions were taken by ward members to resolve their issues. Hand pumps were established in the school to counter shortage of water and the garbage dump near the school was cleared. Similar campaigns, like Aapni Dikri Ro Haq( Give your Daughter her Rights) in Barmer District of West Rajasthan in 2005 and Chadi Ke Laagal Hathkadi in Maharganj district in Uttar Pradesh( near the Nepal border) in 2008 is spreading ideas like ‘Spare the Rod, It won’t spoil the child’ against corporal punishments.
When government school teachers in Chhattisgarh employed comics while teaching and simplified the content of cumbersome textbooks, students immediately showed interest, often times creating their own topics for chapters not yet taught in school. Most importantly, World Comics India, through their umpteen campaigns, has successfully opened the floor for a healthy spirit of debate whereby issues are discussed, awareness is spread and ideas are simplified. With the slogan of Comic Power, it has most importantly helped instill confidence amongst the marginalised, giving them the power to chronicle and take charge of their own narrative.
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