An entertaining graphic travel anthology

An entertaining graphic travel anthology

When Kulbhushan met Stockli: A comics collaboration
between India & Switzerland
Edited by Anindya Roy
HarperCollins, 2009,
pp 272, Rs 699

I hate to complain about writing this review even before I’ve started it (and now that I’ve said “I hate to complain”, there’s no going back), but reviewing a collection of stories is no cakewalk. Keep still, because I’m going to tell you why. With an unnecessarily complicated musical analogy. Yes, please do sit down.

We’re well into the age of indiscriminate playlist shuffling now, so you’ve probably forgotten those stressful times of the mixed tape. The mixed CD was far simpler to make, so that history is deservedly ignored. It’s the tape recorder that really gave music a bit of dimension. Why? Because it was ridiculously difficult to create the perfect mixed tape. You had to think hard on the dominant mood of the tape, what artists to pick, which of their albums to choose what songs from and the order to put the songs in. Recording that mixed tape needed some serious planning. And hardcore editing skills, let’s not forget. You had to get the pauses between the songs right, decide whether putting Biddu and The Stone Roses on the same tape was justified (not!) — what if the prospective listener was potentially a fan of both artists? (not even then!) — and if the cover should bear amateur skulls-bullets-and-flowers-style artwork or just neat lettering (always the latter — ALWAYS!).

Making the tape was only half the bloodshed. Next came the listener reactions. The hugs, the shrieks of delight, the awkward silences, the polite thanks. These reactions, like the tape itself, had a gruesome conceptual history. Some listeners assessed each song on its separate merit, some looked at overall intent, some weighed the whole thing against the compiler’s personality. Each reaction came with severe personal biases, and each listener thought s/he was right.

Are you with me so far? Good. You must be wondering what happened to the much-publicised book review, now that this article’s half over. This is exceptionally bad form for a piece of journalism, but to be perfectly honest, this isn’t a review at all. It’s really a defense. Much of this rant has been a response to some negative press in one of our national dailies for the book under review here. I know I’m treading on dangerous ground by contextualizing my article with another review, but I’m stupid like that.
That other review dissected the anthology, comic by desperate comic, tearing into each teeny chunk, commenting derisively on panelling and layouts and other technical doohickeys. Nasty stuff. Little did Anindya Roy, the ambitious editor of the collection, know of this impending mauling when he began mixing his precious set. If he knew, he might not have brought all those great Swiss and Indian writers and illustrators together to collaborate on this singularly fun exercise of defining a place by not defining it at all.
Or maybe he would’ve just gone ahead with all of it anyway, as, well, he did. It takes blood and guts to make a good compilation, you know. Which brings me back to my original point. There is no easy reaction to an effort such as this (at least, not within our current space constraints), except a vague fusion of embarrassment and affection. The only decisive personal opinion I have is the thrill of having partaken of the first Indian effort I’ve seen at curating a graphic travel anthology. Oh yes, there’s the inevitable bad art and writing thrown in, but the total effort is a fine entertainment.

So you demand a review of greater depth? I refuse. Instead, here’s a list of what I like most about mixed tapes: they require hard work to create, they showcase diversity, you can play them whenever you need a break from the delicious monotony of listening to entire albums, and they give you the Zeitgeist on a light, snacky platter. Enlighten me: what’s not to like?

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