Sketches of a lost childhood:
Manta Ray's Hush tells the tale of a girl sexually-abused by her father through a series of stark panels
‘Some things are not meant to be talked about...', reads the book's tagline. And Hush is shouting it from the rooftops — soundlessly, assertively. Nary a single word of text, this becomes one of the first graphic novels in the country with a story told using sketches alone; the story of a girl sexually-abused by her father.
Hush strikes the opening note from Manta Ray, an independent publishing house started by Pratheek Thomas and Dileep Cherian. “Hush happened before Manta Ray,” says Pratheek. And they began, with an illustrator who does not read comics at all. Rajiv Eipe, who does animation films and illustrates children's books. “Animation requires 25 drawings per second! So through graphic novels, you can tell longer stories in a shorter time.”
The panels are stark, in unforgiving monochrome. “In design, form follows function. The story decides how it will be told. We decided colour could be a distraction,” says Pratheek. “Besides,” smiles Rajiv, “colour was just way too expensive for us.”
But the twist to Hush came when they realised we couldn't really articulate what a girl being abused by her father was thinking. “So instead, we let the audience imagine it, and speak for her.”
Indeed, the girl, who stays nameless till the very end, could be any one you meet down the street; the same goes for the father, and the rest of the family. There's no demonisation, no thick eyebrows and angry mouths to tell you who the villains are. You feel your way around, tending to breeze through the pages — only to find yourself returning again and again, looking for details you've missed, things that tells the story better.
Rajiv's darkly magnificent sketches shift between past and present, thought and reality with ease. To show the past, sketches are hazy, cruder, and bordered in ominous black. “In a movie, you've no control over the time you spend on a character — in a comic, you can choose to stay on the same page for as long as you want, reading all that you want into it,” says Pratheek.
“We're not looking to be huge overnight, and it's not about commercial viability at this point. What we really want is to build a solid body of work,” says Pratheek, of Manta Ray. “To put out excellent content. And no, we do not want to do mythology,” he laughs. “We want to tell our own stories.”
But was Hush an easy way to grab attention — take on a controversial subject? “No! This is a story that we've known for a long time — abuse within the family. But no, not talked about at all.”
Hush, which is a limited edition book, is clearly meant as a collector's item; and so is rather steeply priced. The pages are heavy and creamy, chosen because Rajiv's illustrations showed beautifully on them “And we make no money out of it, barely breaking even. It's a book that's meant to be our calling card. Something you can cherish.” Now, Manta Ray hopes to reach out to a larger audience. “We're planning a series, which will run for a year or more.”
At the end of Hush, Pratheek and Rajiv do something very few artistes do — they show you exactly how it was done. The storyboard, the script, how the sketches evolved. “I've been reading comics since I was 14, but it took me forever to understand what went into it. It feels good to share, because there might be a child out there, like me, who wonders how it's done. As creators, we're going to be open about the process. And hopefully, inspire someone to pick up a pen.”