“Royal Existentials is my take on things,” says Aarthi Parthasarathy, “it’s my way of ranting.”
Parthasarathy’s rants take an unusual form – as she describes the project: ‘Royal Existentials is a weekly webcomic series that uses Indian vintage art and imagery to tell stories of historical (and contemporary) angst.’
Her comics are based on found images that feature laconic queens, lounging kings, common soldiers and ladies in waiting – with the odd horse thrown in. The people in these miniatures are typically expressionless and lend themselves surprisingly well to the deadpan delivery of Parthasarathy’s punch lines. Some of my favourites are those in which the original artist has left behind an unfinished figure, say with an incomplete hand, or made a flaw in his subjects’ proportions; one can depend on Parthasarathy to exploit these quirks to hilarious effect.
Explaining her process, she says that she always begins with a single image, which she duplicates and makes into a comic strip. She finds many of her images online, sifting through archives of miniature paintings from the Kangra and Rajasthani traditions (she is particularly fond of those from the city of Jaipur).
“I try to make sure that whatever I’m writing draws from the visual – either a gesture, or an expression, a posture or some other element,” she says. Her narratives for the comic are drawn from a wide range of places – from incidents in the news to conversations around her.
Parthasarthy created her first comic in the August of 2014 as a personal project for Falana Films, the small film and animation studio in Bangalore which she co-founded with animator Chaitanya Krishnan, who also does the layout and additional art for the webcomic.
Royal Existentials was originally intended as “just a one-off thing, made on a whim on a sleepless night while I was editing a film,” says Parthasarthy, adding “Everything just happened that night – that comic, deciding the name, announcing that it was going to be a series…” The process of creating comics proved allowed her to “distil” her thoughts.
“I used to get very overwhelmed by things very easily, and get bogged down by it. I still let myself get overwhelmed, but I seem to come out of that space a little faster and look at something that affects me with a little more objectivity. And this process makes me look for something – some kind of insight, some nuance…it keeps me in the space of humour, which is great.”
Parthasarthy also depends on friends. They’re the first to see the webcomic each week. She says she tortures them with demands to go over every word of it with her, “asking them if it works or not, then changing it and asking them if that works. Then calling them if they don’t reply to the mail with the attachment.”
She now has a small but remarkable collection up on royalexistentials.com and she takes it one day at time. Considering her approach, it’s interesting to see how some themes like gender inequality (“smash the patriarchy!”) and class hierarchies dominate her work. Parthasarthy puts it down to her “subconscious churning about the issues I’d been engaging with,” and is glad to note that there’s some consistency there. Eventually, she’s hoping to see her webcomics in the form of a book. Keeping her fingers crossed, she says: “I’d love to see it in print.”
Smriti Daniel is a journalist based in Colombo. An Indian national, she has spent the last decade as a features writer for the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka. Her work has appeared in publications including The Hindu, BusinessLine, Condé Nast Traveller and Open. She manages social media for the South Asian edition of SciDev.Net.
(Photo by Suda Shanmugaraja)