Halahala has fallen silent. Bijal Vachharajani tells you why that isn’t a bad thing
Many aspects of Gestalt psychology become apparent while reading Legends of Halahala, Appupen’s silent (without any text) graphic novel. Starting from the first chapter “Stupid’s Arrow”, there’re so many hidden details in every nook and cranny of the book that it’s like playing Where’s Waldo. There are clever references to the current socio-political scenario, subtle digs (and not-so-subtle ones as well) at consumerism and poignant reflections on social trends and ideologies. That, according to George Mathen, who goes by the pen name Appupen, was what he intended his second graphic novel to be.
“Each story deserves its own world,” said Appupen, who is in thrall of the works of JR Tolkien as well as Indian epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana; they’ve each informed his work. “By creating another world there are so many possibilities that are not constrained by the realities for our stories.” Appupen’s clear that he doesn’t plan to retell mythologies. Instead he wanted to create his own mythology, which he did by fashioning Halahala, a mythical world that exists in a parallel dimension in Moonward, Appupen’s debut novel which was published by Blaft in 2009. Halahala, named after the poison that was churned from the ocean when the gods and demons in Hindu mythology fought each other, is a grey, dystopian world with dark characters.
Legends of Halahala isn’t strictly a sequel to Moonward, instead it is a set of five stories that are set in Appupen’s new world that has undercurrents of different kinds of love – vengeful, tragic, obsessive and quirky. In “Stupid’s Arrow”, two warring sides come head to head when a love missive goes to the wrong recipient. “The Saga of Ghostgirl Part 2: Legacy” is a black-and-white story that takes a strange turn after a superhero rescues a boy. “Oberian Dysphoria” takes place at the beginning of the world, where two creatures; they look like the pygmy puffs from the Harry Potter series, fall in love and are then tragically separated.
Before launching into the world of graphics as Appupen, Mathen was a drummer with Lounge Piranha, a post-rock band; he also dabbled in advertising. His experience working in the advertising industry forced him to question the term, creativity. “In advertising, a selling exercise is taken as being creative,” he said. “But they haven’t done anything besides selling a product.” And these thoughts are reflected in the last two stories. The most compelling is “16917P’s Masterpiece”, where 16917P slithers out of a domed city into a toxic wasteland. He can’t free himself from the shackles of materialism yet there’s a creative tussle that finally reaches a fatal end. The story is grim, as is its rendering. The last story, “The Accordion Manoeuvre”, is comic and filmy, but again resonates with sarcasm and holds up a mirror to society’s obsession with looks and consumerism. Appupen adds that his book is sponsored by Supa Kola, a cola that he introduced in his first book.
Also while Moonward had minimal text, Legends is a “silent classic”. And the lack of text doesn’t take away from the story, instead it highlights the graphics, engaging readers to look at details and make their own interpretation to the multifarious stories. “After Moonward, a lot of people told me to forget about writing,” said Appupen. “I was writing to convey certain things. In my first book I wanted to tell so many things. Now I can put aside that baggage.” By drifting into the silent zone, a first such novel for Indian readers, Appupen is hoping to make his stories more accessible. “Hopefully, the art will invite you to look at it again,” he said.
Legends of Halahala, HarperCollins. R499.
By Bijal Vachharajani on March 29 2013 11.50am