In conversation with Appupen about his new book, The Snake And The Lotus
The upcoming graphic novel explores the hubris of the human race through his unique style and imagery
As we sit in Appupen’s studio, sifting through the A3 sheets of what eventually became his new graphic novel, he tells us about how it all began. “The seed of the idea was planted in 2007, but the story was too complex and I lacked the skill,” says George Mathen, better known by his pen name, about The Snake And The Lotus. The book is set in the Halahala universe, familiar to fans of his previous three books, Moonward (2009), Legends of Halahala (2012) and Aspyrus (2014).
The novel, which is supported by the India Foundation for the Arts, was introduced to us as a dark, indie take on the superhero comic genre. Humans in this world live on lotus milk which is fed to them through the all-controlling AI. The “Silent Green” notices that the resources are dying out, so it calls out for help, and a supernatural being answers. While the larger story arc talks about our limited resources and brazen lifestyle, drawing an immediate parallel with the world we live in today, in smaller pockets, the book also touches upon caste, class and the treatment of women.
Appupen worked on six versions of the storyboard before zeroing in on the style. The novel is 260 pages of full-page black and white panels. “I wanted a solid look for the pages. I feel the images are more powerful with full-page panels, and also, I just like it more,” he says with a smile. The woodcut style imagery is a tribute to American artist Lynd Ward. “I think woodcut art reclaims graphic novels and sets them apart from comic books,” he explains. Shades of Charles Burns’ comic series Black Hole are also present.
The narrative voice of the novel is not told through a human point of view and this was one of the reasons the typography was hand drawn. “I was very clear I would not put a font in my book,” he says, adding, “Each font has too much human baggage and associations. So I created a script for it.” The script is reminiscent of ancient runes, and Appupen reveals the inspiration was an old edition of The Hobbit he owned in college, “Tolkien had some symbols in the introduction of the book which were not easy to decipher. It is only after some going back and forth that I decoded it. I wanted to create something like that.”
Apart from a Yantra motif at the beginning of every chapter, the eponymous lotus appears in various incarnations throughout the book. “The lotus certainly came to me after 2014. I think because the city is under totalitarian rule, the lotus as a symbol seemed a perfect fit,” he signs off with a cheeky grin.