As part of the lead-up to Alto Pune Comic Con on 4th and 5th March 2017, Alto Pune Comic Con presented a ‘Creating Comics Workshop’ on Saturday, 18th February in association with Independence Brewing Co. The workshop was conducted by Saumin Suresh Patel. Saumin is an artist whose comic projects include G-Man (created for Parle G), Mumbai Macguffin, 18 Days, The Mighty Yeti (Graphic India), Agent Vinod – The Jungfrau Encounter (Illuminati Films, Westland), Once Upon a Warrior (Disney India), and short stories for Tinkle and Holy Cow. In 2014, he self-published Kaamotsav Volume 1, a collection of erotic artwork heavily inspired by ancient Indian temple and mural art.

Indian Nerve spoke to Saumin before Saturday’s workshop.

Your blog mentions that you do both illustration and animation work as a freelance artist. What are the various media you create art for – is it mostly comic books? Who are the other clients?

Currently my focus is to work mostly on comic book projects. I am working on few projects for local publishers. One of the projects is a four-issue story arc for Holy Cow Entertainment. It’s for a character called Aghori, and is a supernatural horror fantasy, which is loads of fun to work on. Besides this, I have a few other projects in the pipeline, and they are all comic book based. In past I have worked on bunch of exciting assignments ranging from animated promos for MTV and VH1, illustration projects for GQ and many other advertising agencies. I have also worked on plenty of storyboard assignments for some of best directors telling stories through ad films. These might appear like a bunch of various kinds of projects but the common thread binding them all has been visual storytelling. I guess I threw myself inTO all these assignments only to explore and learn to tell stories through images.

How much time do you spend working on assignments for clients, versus your own projects? What does a typical day look like for you?

An ideal day starts at 4 am and by 10 am I am done with half of my day’s work. Then I step out for meetings, or spend time with my son. Post-lunch is siesta time, and I walk for two hours in the evenings. Following this, if there is work to be done I’ll work till 10 or 11 and head off to sleep. With ongoing commissioned projects, work on personal projects is slow but I have log books filled with plenty of ideas. A couple of these will enter the next phase this year.

You’ve spoken in the past about how comic art is considered a lowbrow form of art in India. Do you still feel that way, or do you think the medium has gained a kind of respectability in recent years?

I’m not sure about respect, but comics have surely gained a following in India. Comics will never gain respect from the so-called art community or curators or even buyers who put huge money into art. There are abstract paintings getting sold for millions in India, and that money trickes down to a lot of people who don’t create art but create value for that art. That community will not look upon comics as something worthy of their attention. Also in order to generate high value, we will need some really high end comics to come out from local creators. If the content is well-rounded in terms of thought and ideas, and is well presented then it can let people react to it with bit of respect. I think it will take some time but it will happen in a decade or so if local creators keep telling their stories through the medium of comics.

Who were your influences when you started out as an artist? Who or what inspired you to become one?

During my years in art college, I used to work with an artist named Vinay Brahmania. He is the son of the renowned illustrator Govinda Brahmania, who did all the art for the iconic Indian comic Bahadur. Working with Vinay has been my career’s foundation. He was this guy whose pencil worked across the paper like a light saber. Watching him draw was and is still magic for me. I have never come across anyone who draws that fast and that well. So yes, Vinay has been a mentor and a friend, and I have learnt lot of things from him. Besides him, there were plenty of American artists I have liked for a certain period of time on and off. A few who I always love are Mike Mignola, Edmund Dulac, Gustav Klimt, Adam Hughes, Moeibus and Katsuya Terada. Besides artists, there are lots of film makers who’s work I like. Guillermo del Toro, Terry Gilliam, Luc Besson, David Lean and Sergio Leone top the list for their distinct visual storytelling. Essentially their movies can be watched without dialogues and will still be spectacular.

The art in Kaamotsav has received a lot of praise. How did the idea for this project come about? Will we be seeing a Kaamotsav, Volume 2? How many volumes are planned?

I always wanted work on erotica with a distinct Indian bend to it. I had imagined it earlier as a comic but never got around to put the pieces together. Later in 2014, I was thinking of putting together a sketchbook and wanted a theme and the first thought was – what is the kind of theme no conventional publisher will allow me to work on? Erotica kind of topped that list and was something I always wanted to do, so I cheated. Kaamotsav is an ongoing project which will allow me to explore the subject matter with total freedom. At this moment I have lots of sketches which could become Volume 2 and more. I am thinking about the format in which I could do these, so that is where it’s at right now. Yes, there will be more volumes coming out as long as I feel I have a set of statements to make.

Which projects of yours are you proudest of? Who are other Indian artists you like, and what projects of theirs would you recommend?

It will have to be Kaamotsav as it’s allowing me to stretch my artistic boundaries. As for the Indian artists, there are plenty of them. Mukesh Singh- anything that has his name on it will be kickass. There is Abhishek Singh who’s deeply into myths and has been creating some really fantastic art. Sameer Kulavoor, Lokesh Karekar – both are among the best contemporary visual artists whose work I like. There is Harshwardhan Kadam who is painting some of the most awesome walls in Pune with his imaginative pieces. Besides them there is Priya Kurian, Rajiv Eip, Archana Shreenivasan, Prabhs Mallya, Anand Radhakrishnan, Sajid Wajid Sheikh…I think this is an exciting time when some great illustration work is getting to people through children’s books, self-published projects and lots of various media.

Are you working on any other personal projects that you would like us to know about?

A few of us writer and artist friends are trying to put together a small comic book of weird fiction short stories. It’s an adaptation of stories by well-known Marathi writer, Mr. Ratnakar Matkari. My writer friend Yogesh Chandekar has written these for comic adaptation. Ashish Padlekar and I will be working on the art. We plan to release the first volume of this collection by this year end. Besides this, I am planning to compile an artbook of my various comic based art as well. I am also working on few other personal projects but it will be too early to comment about those.

Do you plan to conduct more workshops like the Creating Comics one? If so, when and where?

Currently there are no plans for any more workshops. But whenever time permits I do like to interact with people who are interested in the art form of comics.

What do you think of Comic Con in India? Will you be at Alto Pune Comic Con in March? What will you be doing?

Comic Con in India is a fantastic and unique event to celebrate pop culture. With the rise in visibility of all kinds of stories getting told through various media online or offline, there has been a massive rise in fans who really really love the content and want to celebrate it collectively. So Comic Con provides an opportunity to come together and celebrate that fandom. For local creators like us it provides a great platform to let people see what we have been creating. Yes, I will be at Pune Comic Con with my book Kaamotsav and other art, so that people can acquire it, interact in person and offer their feedback and ideas. There is much fun in stepping out of the cave, meeting fans and making new ones.

What advice would you have for kids who want to become artists in India? Is it too late for a grizzled 29-year old like me?

For anyone who is a student, my only advice is to keep doing as many experiments as you can. Fail at all of those, yet keep experimenting. Observe and interpret through your own unique perspective. Don’t work only for great art, as it is the failed attempts that will reveal the edges you already had but were not aware of. Regarding age, I can say that there is no cap on learning and excelling at anything if one is passionate enough and willing to work through failure. I know a friend who at 40, quit his very secure IT job to draw and create art. In less than a decade, he’s done very well for himself and he is extremely satisfied. But his approach has been to observe, eliminate mistakes, improve skills and keep moving ahead. If you are willing to invest that kind of grit then no sky will be too high.

We had a brief conversation with Saumin post-workshop. Here’s what he had to say-