Interview with Sarnath Banerjee


1. I read an article carried by The (Indian) Express and you referred to yourself as a comisist. Please elaborate.

Sarnath: Good Lord!! That was like..there was a time when Genghis Khan was still around. No, Ive grown since from all that adolescent behavior of trying to name myself. It was absolutely difficult to kind of explain what I do to people at that point of time, its easier now. Its just that I had to lie all the time about what I do for a living. Like I’m a banker…

You mean to society or to yourself or..

No, when people say, like in the train for example, what do you do for a living, so you say, ok, you’re a banker, you’re a dealer in industrial absorbants, but then nobody would believe you because it sounds exotic..


So comisist I tried, but it was absolute like, tomfoolery, I dont believe in it anymore.

2. Secondly, what does it take to make a good graphic novelist?

Sarnath: Like my friend the other day said it should have graphic moments, a graphic moment is like a finely delivered ball for cricket lovers, you know, good in line and length basically, the line being the drawing and the length being the writing. So like a synergy of the two to create a graphic moment and if a graphic novel does not have a graphic moment then.. 

Then what’s the point..

Ya, so ya its kind of a.., I guess its more of a,  what takes to write a good graphic novel would be, you need to be educated, in the sense you need to know your subject, what you’re working on, because content is mother, father and everything.The graphic form is a language so how you use the language, it doesn’t mean that you have to be a fantastic artist or a fantastic writer to write the most perfect graphic novel, its more of a, like sort of a synergy of the two, and how you combine it. I guess you just need to be influenced from a lot of subjects other than just graphic novels, and that should come into your graphic novel. 

3. Ok, can you tell us how a graphic novel is different from a normal comic book.

Sarnath: Well every graphic novel is a comic book essentially, superset as comic books and a graphic novel is a subset of that, it’s those comic books which seem to have,

But is it as light as a comic book or,

In terms of physically light or…

No, content wise..

See, these are both, both are languages, a graphic novel is attributed to a comic book which have a slightly more literary bend or, pretension or consequence or accident, you know, its a term which is used by publishers to kind of you know sift, comic books are usually like children’s literature, but graphic novels are not.

More serious…

More serious or whatever, in depth sort of a thing, so that’s probably it. Its a bad definition but that’s it. 

4. What is your inspiration? 

Sarnath: My inspiration? Wow. And you want to know my inspiration in one interview, its..

No, like in the books you’ve written…or generally as you’ve come so far.. 

No, I can go book by book, like the last book’s inspiration was scandal of 18th century Calcutta, and its like a piss take of history, the whole way of writing history, authenticity and the rest of it, and how an entire book of history can be written just through the circulating rumours and scandals and yellow page journalism and all that sort of thing, so basically like, in a sense you really don’t know what is true and what is false, and it also uses one of the most endearing myths of western literature which is The Legend of the Wandering Jew. Apparently this man emerges every century, and its also allegorical because you know, the Jews are, can never rest because, you know all that sort of Jewish-Christian Myth.

5. And, who are the pioneers in this field? And how has this come about, writing a graphic novel.

Sarnath: Pioneers in the field… I would certainly name the guy who actually got it to the so called reading population or the literery population, was Art Speigelmann, who’s book got a Pulitzer Award, for writing Maus which is on Auschwitz, an oral history on Auschwitz, and then there’s Will Eisner who documented New York for all his life, and there are many pioneers, it is a multi-genre, because people tend to think that graphic novel is a genre, but it’s not, its a language, so there are many people in different topics of graphic novels. 

6. And what sort of difficulties have you encountered?

Sarnath: Difficulties, creative or… 

Ya, creative and generally, or publishing?

Sarnath: Well nobody would publish me, that was one difficulty but that doesnt really sort, graphic novelists are not exclusive to that problem, there are many people. When I started off it was difficult, but because, lot of, even reasonable people sort of you know, did not really understand why, graphic it a fad, some people still doubt whether its actually a real language or a fad. And what was your other question? Other difficulties..creative difficulties. I come from a film background so there was a, trying to unlearn cinema, and trying to do a graphic novel which is a very different medium of cinema, people tend to think that ok, they are very similar, graphic novel is storyboard for cinema, which is complete bollocks, because its not. It’s a different form all together.

7. How do you think a graphic novel is valid today, and electronic media has gone so far ahead, and video art is coming up.

New media is actually helping graphic novels. It is becoming a very cross medium, like I can now work with a sound designer, a DJ, a projectionist, and a video artist to create a graphic novel which are the next generation graphic novels, which will give you a much more immersive effect. You can recreate Nehru Place in New Orleans, and give a sense of atmosphere. So you know, these are things which graphic novels can do.

8. How does India compare to the world, as far as graphic novels are concerned, as far as quality of graphic novels or popularity level.

Sarnath: Well, popularity level is catching up, India does not really have the baggage, for example, in Germany you cant do graphic novels because they have an age old prejudice against image, writing for images, always for children, France, does not have that problem. But there is not a pan-western sort of a thing. But it is, it is a seventh art form in France, so it’s really, Guardian now and then publishes graphic novels and the first Guardian award, book award was given to a graphic novelist two years back. Chris Ware. So, ya, England is picking up, but they might not have the wherewithal to understand graphic novels because it’s a fairly sophisticated form, and British people are not very sophisticated. On the other hand, in India we dont really have the baggage, whether it’s good or bad to read a graphic novel, whether it’s embarassing to carry a graphic novel, nobody has established it, what is happening is, the good thing is, it’s a new country, changing societies, and as a result, we need interesting ways to tell these stories, and the old way of telling stories needs to be questioned, long, big material, you know, bulky, people don’t have that kind of, level of commitment.

9. What prompted you to become a graphic novelist?

Sarnath: I tried everything else, and failed, and that’s why I became a graphic novelist. No, no, that’s a joke. I just stumbled upon the medium, and once I got deeper into it, because I’m trained as a film maker, and that is why, 99 percent of graphic novels I hate, but the one percent I like, no other medium can reach that visual depth, that visual experience for novelistic depth. 

10. And what are your future plans? 

Sarnath: Future plans? Buy a little cottage in Goa, I would say, I would imagine, if I can…

No,as far as writing is concerned.. 

As far as writing is concerned, I have a publishing outfit, from which I want to generate more graphic novels, particularly, non-fictional graphic novels, reportage sort of stuff. I am writing a few bits of essays, you know, a book of essays, with the graphic form, and, I’m in the art market, people are buying my work in the art market, so that’s it.

Thank you so much

Thank you