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Fretting and sketching: Bharath Murthy's work and practice

As his imprint ComixIndia launches French graphic novelist Simon Lamouret's new work today, publisher and artist Bharath Murthy on creating in chaos

The artist at his desk
The artist at his desk (Sketch by Bharat Murthy)

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There’s a slight undertone of cheeky humour when graphic artist, filmmaker, and publisher Bharath Murthy describes his workspace. At first, it’s a quiet, nearly missable presence, almost as fine as the dust he says is settled on his desk — but once you notice it, you see it in almost every thought he articulates. It’s the kind of idiosyncrasy that exhibits a surrender to the ups and downs that an artist might associate with their work; how one might embrace their chaos — both internal and external — and trust, despite inevitable worry, that something meaningful might come out of it after all.

Based in Bengaluru, Murthy teaches at the Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design, and Technology. His book, The Vanished Path: A Graphic Travelogue (HarperCollins, 2015) was nominated for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize that year. About sites related to the life of the historical Buddha, it is the only comic to be nominated for the award so far. In 2017, Murthy co-founded the annual, not-for-profit fest for self-published comics called Indie Comix Fest; and in 2018, he started editing an anthology of “alternative literary comics” for adults, called Vérité.

“Japanese alternative manga is part of Vérité, and we are the only Indian publisher to bring acclaimed Japanese alternative manga artists to an Indian readership,” he says over email.

Today, Murthy publishes the French graphic novelist Simon Lamouret’s work The Alcazar, under his independent imprint, ComixIndia. Supported by a grant from the Institut Francais, the book is about the Telugu-speaking Muslim construction workers who built the eponymous residential complex in Cooke Town, Bengaluru. Ahead of the online launch this evening, Murthy talks about his relationship with his work and workspace, and the various artists whose influences have contributed to his practice as it is today. 
(This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.)

Who were the artists you first followed closely or imitated? What about them appealed to you?

As a kid I copied R.K.Laxman, Mario Miranda, Ajit Ninan and other newspaper and magazine cartoonists. They appealed I think because they created a visual reality that is accessible to a kid. I also copied artists like M.F. Husain in the early 1990s. Husain was always covered by the media back then, and reproductions of his works would appear in the papers, on colour pages. I copied those reproductions. After I grew up and passed through the ritual of art school, I followed Japanese manga and anime artists. They are my artistic heroines and heroes.

A closer view of Murthy's desk
A closer view of Murthy's desk (Courtesy Bharath Murthy)

Describe your current workspace to us.

The best description of my workspace is the Indian word 'jugaad'. The desktop on which I type this rests on a table made of two square glass tops that in turn sits on a rickety, cheap table with folding legs bought at the local bazaar. The table I use for drawing is sturdier, with a tabletop that can be set at an angle for ease of working. There is also a small easel, for the occasional painting that I do. I have always looked for spaces with lots of sunlight, and so my room is brightly lit with natural light. The rest of the room is occupied by cartons, packaging material and other material.

Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

Objects have accumulated over the years. I got myself a standard office table made when I started out as a cartoonist, which is still there but used only as a storage dump. I'll probably get rid of it soon. 

What was the first medium/tool you used in the early years of practice? How has that evolved now?

For a cartoonist, the tool is basically the choice of inking tools. I used pigment liners at first. But when Japanese manga nib pens and ink started to become available in India, I began to use them and have stuck to them ever since. I also started drawing on a tablet digitally, but I hate it. It has its obvious advantages, but it's boring for me to do it continuously for a long time. With pen and ink on paper, I can draw for hours without tiring too much.

What is/are permanent fixtures at your workspace over the years?

I have a few figures, models of some cartoon characters, on my desk. They've been with me for many years. Of course, they're full of dust! One of them is also headless now. The latest is a little Japanese 'kodama' spirit (of Japanese folklore; they inhabit trees) from Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997) animation feature that I made myself.

Murthy's kodama spirit, inspired from Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997)
Murthy's kodama spirit, inspired from Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997) (Courtesy Bharath Murthy)

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

Since I have a day job as faculty at an art and design institute, there are times when the workspace is active only at night. Then it's lit by warm table lamps. Once I sit at the desk though, it is usually a case of overcoming daily anxiety. Some drawing needs to be done and one tries to get it done. I can't say it's a 'happy' feeling. A lot of worrying and fretting about followed by some sketching to get into the mode. There's always a lot of dust on the desk that remains uncleaned for a long time. The workspace is not a clean place, and perhaps I like that. I tend to associate it with a factory of a small scale business. 

Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.

I live in a rented apartment, and have continuously changed apartments and cities. Drawing comics is a labour-intensive job that pays little if at all. No eureka moments here. Just plodding work. The first big project that came out of sitting at a desk drawing was The Vanished Path. Given that I'm also an independent, small publisher of comics, there's a lot of book-design work that happens at my workspace.

If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?

An office space in a neighbourhood commercial building, preferably with windows and sunlight, where I can order some tea and coffee and egg puffs from the shop below. I've always wanted a studio/office to work from in a not-too-crowded but at the same time not-too-quiet commercial area. 

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces

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