Matchbox Comix brings in smile

Matchbox Comix brings in smile

Response for the venture is encouraging

Matchbox Comix brings in smile
Studio Kokaachi is working on its second collection of comics packaged in matchboxes

When Tina Thomas sat down with her artist collaborators to conceptualise the first volume of Matchbox Comix, the brief was clear – tell stories which are quirky and spark a smile.

Comics packaged in matchboxes is a compelling idea by itself but beyond this refreshing product hook, the real deal here is the stories. Dandelions on flight, aliens at the doorstep, a lurking monster from a childhood tale – six stories, quirky and entertaining, come alive on these strips folded into tiny boxes of awesomeness, as their creators call them. Studio Kokaachi, founded by Kochi-based artist-couple Pratheek Thomas and Tina Thomas, is now looking at a June deadline to release the next set of Matchbox Comix.

Tina says there is greater focus in the upcoming volume of six stories. “The thought of having comics in a matchbox was spontaneous and in many ways, we were also going with our instinct; now, the process is getting more organised,” she says. It was during the launch of the second volume of Mixtape – an anthology of comics created at the studio – that the idea of Matchbox Comix took shape.

Guests at the event were asked to mention a word each and artists created three-panel comic strips based on the words; the strips were later handed over to the guests as return gifts. “While we were discussing ways to package these return gifts, I thought ‘why not in a matchbox?’ It was all very casual,” says Tina.

The first volume of Matchbox Comix is available in 25 stores in Bengaluru, Goa, Kochi, Mumbai and New Delhi. The studio is also exploring possibilities of international shipping over the next couple of months. Pratheek and Tina say response to the first volume has been good. The idea is catching on too – a key plot point which steers the story in Charlie, the new Dulquer Salmaan starrer, is inspired by Matchbox Comix. “The film’s writer Unni  R is a very good friend. We were also in talks to design the matchbox shown in the film but it didn’t happen,” says Tina.

Pratheek and Tina have named their publishing house-cum-storytelling studio after a monster from the first stories they heard as children. Mixtape, the earlier work from the studio, had stories which had stark, angsty undertones and dealt with themes like solitude and voyeurism. In Matchbox Comix, the shades are lighter and the stories mark a departure in tone. The creators maintain that the dark treatment in Mixtape was not based on a conscious creative decision; but considering the themes the two volumes handled, it was perhaps also imperative to go for an ‘aged-16 and plus’ target readership. “With Matchbox Comix, however, we are trying to tell simple stories with a universal appeal. It’s also about changing the perception that we are only about deep, intellectual stuff,” says Pratheek.

The studio plans to increase the comics’ business potential by collaborating with more design stores in different parts of India – the matchbox packaging runs the risk of low visibility when the comics are displayed in conventional book stores – and hopes to start shipping the comics to Europe during the second quarter of the year. Comics, and their appreciation, are still evolving in Kerala, feels the couple who moved to Kochi from Bengaluru to launch Kokaachi, in 2013.

Pratheek feels there has been a marked fall in standards from the times of Cheriya  Manushyarum Valiya Lokavum (Small men and the big world), an iconic comic strip by late filmmaker G Aravindan from the 1960s and 1970s, which engaged in social commentary with subtle, bitter humour. “We also had the likes of Toms who created Bobanum Mollyum (Boban and Molly), a staple in the lives of people from many generations. Comics which appeared later in Malayalam have failed to create that sort of impact but it’s still an evolving art,” says Pratheek.

Tina feels that the change in attitude toward comics is also reflecting in Kerala’s popular culture. “Mainstream cinema has started to look beyond the conventional jobs for its lead characters; in Malayalam films, for instance, we now have game designers and cartoonists as protagonists,” she points out and says initiatives like the Kochi Muziris Biennale have helped in taking new forms of artistic expression to the people.

Kokaachi has partnered in projects with themes as diverse as school bullying and awareness on the Aadhaar card. The studio visualised and executed two animated segments in the Aashiq Abu-directed Gangster (2014) – one introducing the film’s lead Akbar Ali Khan (played by Mammootty) and the other, a violent, stylised climactic action face-off between Akbar and the antagonist Anto (Shekhar Menon). It also co-created the game world in Maniratnam’s 2015 hit OK Kanmani.

Pratheek and Tina are in talks for similar partnerships on film but for now, the films can wait. In the run-up to the next volume of Matchbox Comix, it’s all about retaining the quirks and pitching for a successful follow-up. Pratheek says the drive is to keep doing their own thing without  falling in line with market trends. “No, we don’t want to reinterpret mythological stories for comics,” he says.