Extinctions are a natural part of evolutionary processes. Major changes in the conditions on Earth have caused the collapse of ecosystems, and large percentages of species have become extinct. The causes behind most of the recent crisis are the activities of a single species: human beings. As an effort to protect and save the Hedgehog (paraechinus nudiventris), a tiny mammal endemic to South India, an ecologist, and conservationist Dr Brawin Kumar has brought out a comic book Mullikkaattu Ithigaasam (Legend of the Scrub Forest) to create awareness among the children in Tamil Nadu who live in and around the hedgehog’s habitat. Even after facing many challenges due to a lack of funds, Kumar didn’t limit himself and his social responsibility with just one comic book. He fought with the challenges and odds and is again coming up with two brand new comic books 300 Eliviras and Shrews.
Kumar is a National Postdoctoral Fellow at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Tirupati who is vigorously working to make his comic books reach more schools and people to create an impact of responsibility to protect the endemic species which were killed and not protected due to negligence.
Animation Xpress got in touch with Kumar and his associate and cartoonist Venkatesh Babu (Venba), to know more about the making process of their first comic book and how they managed to come up with another two brand new comics.
Sharing the idea behind creating a comic book on hedgehog, Kumar explained, “In India, there are 423 mammals present, in which we have 200 species of just rats and bats in Indian Peninsula. Research and conservation are mainly happening on bigger animals like rhinoceros, tigers, elephants, and charismatic species. Due to rapid climate change and biodiversity, every species in the environment is getting affected, especially tiny mammals like rats and bats are the worst affected. Animals like hedgehogs are less studied and there is a lack of knowledge among the people in this regard.”
He further added, “Hedgehog was first sighted by British in Madras residency during 1851, later they named it as Madras hedgehog. After the initial findings, there is no study or research carried out on this mammal. So I decided to look out for these mammals to save them from extinction. Hedgehogs are mainly found in human-dominated urban landscapes of Tamil Nadu, and are very rare to sight. People started to poach, trade this animal and used it for traditional practices in ayurveda and siddha medicines. Many of them are killed while crossing roads. People and children lack the knowledge of hedgehogs.
So, I decided to spread awareness and make children identify and know more about the animal species of their habitat. I and Babu decided to spread awareness about hedgehog through Comics. The comic is an effective tool to connect with children. Our younger generation easily gets bored with science if we provide them with rough information. We wanted them to learn science in the most fun and creative way and we made sure that children should learn about animals and landscapes through a creative medium.”
Speaking about the research process that went behind to collect and execute the comic book, Kumar commented, “The research process was very extensive. I have met about 1200 people in South Tamil Nadu to collect data and information regarding hedgehog’s appearance, where they first sighted, etc. We came up with the idea of creating a comic book about the hedgehog in 2013, but it took three long years to execute it. With the help of my research study and findings, Babu created a storyline and turned out into a 20-page long comic book. The entire creative credit goes to him.”
Mullikkaattu Ithigaasam is Venkatesh Babu’s first full-length comic book. When asked what inspired him to become a comic artist, he said, “Before Mullikkaattu Ithigaasam, I worked on comic strips which motivated me to keep on fueling my creativity. From childhood, I have been a great addict to Lion Comics, especially 300. It was my favourite comic series which is a historically inspired comic book series written and illustrated by Frank Miller with painted colors by Lynn Varley. I always get inspired by illustrations and love to express myself through drawings and cartoons, so I know very well that to create an impact or spread awareness among children it can be effectively done through Comics.”
Elaborating on the creative process and challenges faced, Babu explained, “After receiving the inputs from Kumar I examined every narrative to create an attractive storyline. We chose a female character as the protagonist to make the character reach a wide audience. The female character Malli, is named after my mother, as I thought it would sentimentally work out for my first comic. During that time Indian lyricist Vairamuthu released his book Kallikattu Ithikasam (The epic of Kallikkadu), and we got inspired by that title and named our comic book Mullikkaattu Ithigaasam. From here we started to sketch our stories and creative panels.”
He further added, “The challenges we faced while creating our comics is that we were not technologically equipped in 2016, we created the comics manually. It took nearly seven to eight months to complete our book. We made our comics with paints, sketches, and poster colours. However, now we are digitised and we can create our outputs in an effective time. Dialogue writing was another challenge we experienced because we made it very clear to give a crisp and colloquial content for easy understanding among the children.”
Listing the upcoming works Babu mentioned that he is open to work on ecology subjects and his upcoming comic books are 300 Eliviras, Poecilia Enga Ponnaal, and life skill development comics for kids.
On asking about expansion plans, Kumar said, “We are here to create awareness among the public about endangering species and doing it for a non-profit cause. We distributed the comic books free of cost among the schools in and around the hedgehog habitat and very soon we are coming up with an English version of Mullikkaattu Ithigaasam. Currently, we aim to reach 156 locations where hedgehogs are present in Tamil Nadu to spread awareness among the locals. If the situation demands, we can also reach other parts of the country to create awareness about the endangered species.”
Shedding light on the future projects, Kumar added, “I have plenty of concepts in my mind to create various comics on ecology subjects but due to lack of funding I am not able to process it. Presently we are working on two comic books, one on Elvira, a critically endangered rat species, which is only found in Salem Tamil Nadu, and the second comic book features Shrews.”
“My goal is to conduct a mass outreach program for the conservation of the Madras Hedgehog and its habitat. We need more awareness and knowledge among people and students to save and conserve remaining hedgehog habitats from extinction. We all collectively as a community need to conserve animals in the best possible manner.” concluded Kumar.