Exploring Contemporary Horizons
How did you become a cartoonist and illustrator? What’s the story behind it?
Charbak Dipta: Pop art is like a vast ocean and I am just standing on its shore. I am only a life-long student of it, still in the process of becoming. I have been sketching and doodling since I was two or three but never thought of taking it seriously in later life. My mom has preserved my early drawings. As a kid, I was more interested in composing music and playing instruments as a profession. But you plan one thing in life and something else happens.
After completing my master’s in 2012, I was exploring avenues of self-expression like acting, singing, film-making, cartooning, animation, and TV production for pursuing afterward. Then, eventually, I got the opportunity to be an interning cartoonist in the Kolkata office of The Times of India.
I liked the intellectual ambiance of TOI so much that I decided to continue. Since it’s difficult to get a proper job in commercial art in Kolkata, the next year I shifted to Delhi and so my journey of being a full-fledged cartoonist and illustrator began. I came to Delhi as Senior Illustrator for a design agency in 2013 and, eight years after that, I am the head of the Art lab for a leading Delhi-based publishing house.
How do you make the overcrowding of so many elements– shapes, colors, forms, etc. – look abstract yet appealing?
Charbak Dipta: Our personal worlds are overcrowded. Our lives are non-linear, noisy, and collective in this post-modern era. Especially with the dawn of social media, unlike in the past decades, our personal spaces have been reduced and multi-tasking has made our brains busier. Our lives were much calmer, more composed, and relaxed 20 years ago. It’s not so today. Today, we demand instant food, instant entertainment, fast cars, and everything in a nutshell. As per the trend, we are now struggling to embrace minimalism to escape our chaotic worlds. So, to portray realism in this post-modern era, your natural expression must be overcrowded and abstract.
What’s your intention behind adopting this kind of style?
Charbak Dipta: I did not adopt it. It came out naturally. Everyone looks at the world through tainted glasses of their consciousness. In my case, this style is my glass. It has an amalgamation of different art styles I picked up from here and there. Picasso once said that good artists borrow, great artists steal. Picasso stole so many times from African mask art and many other places. However, in my case, it’s the Franco-Belgian comic art that influenced me the most during my formation period. Those styles play a major part along with Manga, Bengal school, and Impressionism in my style. I pick up everything that comes on my way and apply it somewhere later.
Please tell us about the various projects and works you’ve been part of?
Charbak Dipta: There have been numerous projects I’ve enjoyed being part of. My first project was the Indian Aliens. That was a series of illustrations, after which two books were published. One of them won awards too. The third installment is on the way. Apart from that, fifteen books of mine have been published so far. Currently, I am proud of working on an interesting collaborative graphic novel about an American gangster from the 70s. It will be out next year in the US. Many other books are in the pipeline.
A major project of mine – my merchandise from my production house, The Charbax Store – has just come out. Here, I have worked on the doodles reflecting the local cultures of Bengali districts. Each district of Bengal has its own distinct culture. I am sure other Indian states have the same but you have to be a native to understand the cultural difference between the districts. I am exploring that aspect in my latest T-shirt designs. You can see them here- https://thecharbaxstore.in/
Kolkata being a land of various arts, how has it inspired your work and approach?
Charbak Dipta: Not only Kolkata, the whole Bengali culture, language, poetry, and prose has influenced my works heavily. Bengal is not equal to Kolkata – each district of Bengal has its own cultural elements. I was born in Bangaon, a small town near the Indo-Bangladesh border, two hours from Kolkata. The local dialect and culture of that place influenced my childhood. Then, Kolkata shaped my college years and university days. So, through my works, I think I am acting as a bridge to the remote Bengal villages; the core of Bengali culture; the fragrance of wet jute, and poetry for, let’s say, someone sitting in NYC, as I have seen the best of both worlds. I take the cream of our culture and present it to the world’s audience in an understandable form in various comic cons across the world.
Could you please elaborate on the techniques you apply to make impactful graphic illustrations?
Charbak Dipta: When an idea comes, it comes from under many layers of the mind. Maybe, I had an experience ten years ago and that incident, if impactful, stayed somewhere in my subconscious mind. Many years later, after getting cooked and mixed with many other impressions in mind, that idea suddenly falls into my lap, maybe in a completely different form than its origin. So, what I am experiencing today, if it’s meaningful, its impression will stay in my mind and will be fruitful years later.
After that, I play with the idea; explore its possibilities, research, and add layers. The ultimate object of art is communication, so it’s very important to groom the uncooked idea to a presentable format whose impact reaches the international consumer and makes a lasting effect. The goal is to transfer the same excitement you feel, urging you to make an art piece, to the viewer. To do that, the form of the idea changes too sometimes. Technically speaking, I prefer to work digitally as it gives one more command over one’s craft. I have discovered many other forms of illustration and applied them to my upcoming projects. Keep an eye on my upcoming works, please.
What is your educational background and how did it help your illustration skills and vision?
Charbak Dipta: I did my schooling at Bangaon High School, in my sleepy hometown where I spent my first eighteen years. A river called Ichamati crossed over Bangaon and divided the town. The part we live in is more Kolkata-inclined with better infrastructure and mainstream Bangla accent – more concrete and urban. The part closer to the Indo-Bangladesh border is more rural, and greener and the Bangla accent is more Bangladeshi. The impact of these nuances is there in my work. As a border town, Bangaon has seen much impact from the pain of the partition in 1947 and Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom from Pakistan in the 70s.
Struggles in Punjab during these times attract more Pan-Indian attention but there are so many untold stories from this part of the border too. I did my under and post graduations in Philosophy at Jadavpur University. Joining this university has been an eye-opener for me like many others, as this place is known for its culture and politics. The cherry on the cake is that I chose to study Philosophy there, which completely changed my understanding of the world; deepened my political viewpoints, and led to making the subject matter of my works more abstract; more politically incorrect and, at the same time, escapist.
I later did a course on Modern Art theory at Oxford University. Previously, I did not understand modern art much. Doing that course is like uplifting a veil and understanding the immense treasure that is hidden in modern art. All that tremendously changed my worldview of art.
In what direction would you like the world of illustration to grow and develop further?
Charbak Dipta: Unfortunately, in these days of social media, it is remaking, imitating, and fan arts that get the most number of likes and comments as the viewers get to connect to those instantly. Thus, by the social media algorithm, those copy-works reach an increasing number of people. On the contrary, an original piece of art demands your attention, time, and intellect to understand its impact. Unlike 20 years ago, people don’t have time now. They are multi-taskers and demand immediate consumption. Thus, original art is not reaching its potential audience. As an original art creator, I want more and more original creators to come up; otherwise, we will be lost in the vicious circle of fan art and their appreciation.
Not only in art, but you can also see this trend of copy art in the popularity of cover music as well. This is a sad thing. One more thing is that, in India, we seldom discuss comics seriously. I think mainstream media is responsible for the lack of knowledge of the power of the medium in the general public. Here, the mass is not exposed to the vast world of comics, unlike in the US. Also, for them, comics are limited from Chacha Choudhury to DC or Marvel superheroes. Indians are not exposed to the world of Will Eisner; they don’t know Stan Sakai and are unaware of Marjane Satrapi or Charles Burns. Thus, awareness is not being created and we are being limited to cricket and cinema.
Any particular projects or clients you have in mind you’d like to be part of or work with?
Charbak Dipta: I badly want to work with the mainstream American comics industry, though I do not know how to reach them. I work extensively in the American indie comics scene but I really want my name in the big 4 –DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Image. I have heard they are hard to reach.
Which is your most favorite work from amongst all you’ve done and why?
Charbak Dipta: It’s very difficult to choose a favorite from amongst my own works as they are like my kids. I pay equal labor to each, though they get great, good, lukewarm, and no receptions. However, my Indian Aliens series is very close to my heart as that was my first work to receive a wide reception. Two books of Indian Aliens are in public circulation and I will come back with a third book in the near future.