Prime Edition

Legends of Halahala

Appupen

HarperCollins

Pages: 144 Rs. 499

Appupen’s silent triumph builds unique mythology

Appupen’s sophomore effort is a dazzling example of the power of silence in comics. The mystical land of Halahala cements his reputation as one of our finest creators, writes Aditya Mani Jha

ADITYA MANI JHA  2nd Mar 2013

Halahala is Appupen’s tongue-in-cheek fantasia, a world ravaged by moronic consumerism

n Scott McCloud's landmark work Understanding Comics (1993), he examines the work of Depression-era American artist Lynd Ward. The son of a noted Methodist minister, Ward produced six wordless novels (including the highly influential Gods'Man in 1929) using the woodcut technique, revived by the Flemish Belgian painter Frans Masareel and other European artists. McCloud is unusually reverential about Ward's work, calling it "a missing link in the development of the graphic novel". He goes on to say, "Ward's silent 'woodcut novels' are powerful modern fables, now praised by comic book artists, but seldom recognized as comics. Artists like Ward and Belgian Frans Masereel said much through their woodcuts about the potential of comics, but few in the comics community of the day could get the message. Their definition of comics, then as now, was simply too narrow to include such work."

Reading The Saga of Ghostgirl Part II: Legacy, the second story in Appupen's Legends of Halahala, I was happily reminded of Ward's distinct woodcut textures (which he achieved by cutting against the grain of the maple planks he used) and the silent film-like pictorial techniques employed. (His previous book Moonward employed very sparse dialogue, and Legends of Halahala is a completely silent comic book) Appupen's diligent pencil shading, and the use of ochre lighting in some of the panels (Ward experimented with red pages in some of his later woodcuts, like Wild Pilgrimage) are simply exquisite. They highlight the history of an immensely powerful medium, while emphasizing the inimitable nature of Appupen's oeuvre. 'Halahala' was the word used in Hindu religious texts to describe the poison which Lord Shiva drank, turning his throat blue. In Appupen's universe, Halahala is the Earth more or less as we know it, with a minor tweak or two. Like the many-headed, Janus-like drooling monsters and gargoyles which people his pages. It is a land where rampant consumerism has mesmerised the general populace into the cosiest of stupors. Appupen expertly employs Halahala like a cheat code in a video game, using its fantastical constructs to bring out the uglier aspects of our real lives.

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Appupen is keenly interested in the powers and limitations of love as well as obsession.

As Moonward showed us, the macabre and the slapstick are frequently cheek by jowl in Appupen's work. And with Legends of Halahala, a collection of five silent stories, it's obvious that the artist wanted to try out a variety of styles and settings, while maintaining the eccentric, screwball humour which had distinguished his earlier work. The first story here, Stupid's Arrow begins with a visual joke (about warring neighbours) so cunningly drawn that it feels like a travesty to explain it here. The story, rendered in dazzling watercolour and ink, displays the domino effect in motion, in the aftermath of a typically forbidden romance. Where does the wise man hide a leaf? The forest, Chesterton's detective Father Brown once said. And if there's no forest, the wise man grows one, just to hide the leaf. Love knows this obsessive streak intimately, and Appupen is keenly interested in the powers and limitations of love as well as obsession.

he third story, Oberian Dysphoria features as protagonists the primordial creatures of a long-gone era, and is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the violence we're often prepared to unleash in the name of love. It's the fourth story 16917P's Masterpiece, however, which proves to be the most satisfying of the collection. This is the story of what appears to be the last man on earth, who becomes enamoured of a stone on which he's carved his identity in a predictable manner- "16917P was here". Can you be enamoured of an object to such an extent that survival becomes secondary? Is obsession merely buffoonery through a darker mirror? '16917P' is, true to form, a recurring entity in the Halahala pantheon; it turns up as the address of the protagonist in The Saga of Ghostgirl Part II: Legacy. Or is Appupen suggesting that this is the same young man, now bedraggled and bleeding, as befits the latter story's post-apocalyptic setting? I'd like to think this last bit was indeed the case, for Moonward also featured this overlapping-stories device admirably.

As part of a larger myth-making exercise, Legends of Halahala is The Silmarillion to Moonward's Lord of The Rings. It expands upon the magical yet all-too-real realm of Halahala, a bona fide original in the history of Indian fiction. Apart from Pratheek Thomas and Rajiv Eipe's Hush, nothing comparable comes to mind in the Indian comics world. (American and European examples are far better-known, like Peter Kuper, Shaun Tan, Eric Drooker, Thomas Ott and others) And with all due respect to the exciting Manta Ray stable, that was an easily inferior book to this one. With a resounding encore, Halahala firmly establishes Appupen as one of the most exciting talents in the country.

 
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