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Black, White, Red and Grey

Blurb: Appupen’s fourth graphic novel ‘The Snake and the Lotus’ set in the fictional world of Halahala, is a quiet reminder of a dark reality, one that is as scarily familiar as it is unfamiliar. Excerpts from the article.

The first thing I notice about Appupen’s The Snake and the Lotus is that there are no page numbers in this graphic novel. This, to me, is threatening. It indicates a lack of order, a deliberate attempt to make me let go of usual structures and expectations, the absence of footholds in this universe I am about to explore. I sense that the moment I jump in, I will be sucked into a swirling vortex of lines and strokes, of ominous words and unsettling realities. I look back at the world behind me. Five…four…three…two…one. And then I jump.

Illustration from the Graphic Novel The Snake and the Lotus by Appupen. Published on March 20, 2018 by Context. © Appupen, 2018. ISBN-10:978-9386850524 ISBN-13:978-9386850522. All Images Courtesy of Appupen.

Halahala is a dimension parallel to our own, occupying another place in the spectrum of space and time. In The Snake and the Lotus, Appupen’s fourth graphic novel set in this mythical universe, Halahala is a shrivelled version of the human race – one that is controlled by machines, feeds purely on lotus milk for sustenance and knows neither physical pleasure nor emotional connection in its fullest sense. They occupy the White City and are segregated into roles and ranks: the Greyfolk look aspirationally to the White Towers, the abode of the Godlings, who in turn, seek to please their Leaders in the White Temple. The higher their place in the White City, the more cut off they appear to be from their original nature. It is a delusional, dreary and dark existence that threatens to become the new order.

In their midst is our protagonist who seeks to reconnect with the Green, a pervading life force, before it falls away completely from Halahala. He engineers a plan to salvage Halahala by channeling a human girl, now an ambivalent Temple Queen, who retains a thinning affinity with the Green. That, if you will, is the book’s central quest. And in superhero comic style, it is a quest replete with bad guys and good guys, existing both as human characters and symbolic forces, alongside moments of moral ambiguity and dramatic action.

Illustration from the Graphic Novel The Snake and the Lotus by Appupen. Published on March 20, 2018 by Context. © Appupen, 2018. ISBN-10:978-9386850524 ISBN-13:978-9386850522. All Images Courtesy of Appupen.

But there is a certain quiet gravitas to Appupen’s work that sets it apart. Each of the 264 illustrations, in all their fine intricacy, fills an entire page to completely absorb our visual senses. Made with pen, black China ink and brush, they are a tribute to the woodcut novels of Lynd Ward, a style that locks the viewer’s attention with the weight and depth of the image. ‘The background plays a very important role in how the reader steps into the space, especially when telling fantasy-type stories,’ says Appupen. ‘The suspension of disbelief comes more naturally when you see the world fully and in more detail.’

In contrast, or perhaps in tandem, is the striking red insignia anchored by grey, contoured in white and emblazoned against black on the book’s cover. It is a curious lotus motif, one that recurs in different forms throughout the book. This is our doorway into the universe of The Snake and the Lotus. And the watchful eye right at the centre, another recurring motif, warns us that it is an Orwellian one. ‘It shows that the world inside is controlled and under surveillance,’ says Appupen. ‘It also links to the perspective of the narrative. It is through the eye of the human girl that the hero experiences a part of the events.’

Poonam is an independent writer and editor based in Chennai.

To read the full article, click here.
 

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