‘1002’: An unusual comic series with no words

As Thomas Carlyle once said, “Speech is silver, silence is golden”, sometimes words and dialogues are ‘unnecessary stain on silence’. Silence in itself speaks volume and in some cases, use of words may bring down the essence of any art form. Perhaps this thought triggered PhD student-cum-comic artist Shounak Datta in creating a dialogue-less project, 1002. As unique as its title sounds, the comic revolves around two strangers – a fashionable young lady and a nerd who meet during a commute. The narrative focuses on how, despite being seemingly dissimilar in their lifestyles and personalities, they have innate similarities. Later on, a mythical beast from the Arabian Nights appears out of nowhere and lends a fantastical bend to the story. “I would like to start by saying that 1002 is experimental. I wanted to see if ideas can be communicated effectively using pictures and motifs, instead of dialogue. 1002 is about attraction and desire, about how seeming opposites may actually be similar, how opposites can attract. At a visual and symbolic level it is about surrealism and fantasy,” Datta mentioned about the idea that went behind 1002. Being an ardent fan of the French bande dessinée artist Jean Giraud, he was deeply influenced by his works, especially the ones under ‘Moebius’ pseudonym. Giraud had published a four part dialogue-less series, variously titled Arzac, Harzak, Arzakh and many more. The protagonist was a warrior who would ride a pterodactyl-like creature through a strange, desolate, outlandish places-presumably on alien planets. The unusual setting lends the work surrealist feel and the dialogueless-ness lends a degree of timelessness.
Shounak Datta
Datta continued, “When I first ‘read’ Arzakh, I was in awe and immediately wanted to do a project without dialogue. Eventually, I also came across some other interesting dialogue less comics, particularly from Marvel’s 2001-2002 event ‘Nuff Said’, which also influenced me. I also had this idea to play around with mythical motifs in mundane, contemporary settings. So, the two ideas came together in 1002 and as I could use the two to compliment each other. The dialogue-less-ness would induce a surreal feel to the stories while the mythical aspects would help communicate ideas without words.” Already having a crime-horror thriller, called Yaksh, in his kitty, in volume six of the anthology Comix India, he has also worked as a penciller and cover artist on some projects for ‘Faster Hamster Comics’, based out of the Michigan, USA. He was certain that dialogue-less-ness would lend a degree of calm, surrealism to the stories and would work well with the premise he had in mind. “Silent comics have a timeless appeal as language evolves, ages and changes, but pictures do not. I wanted to base my dialogue-less narrative in our world and our time while still retaining the surrealism and timelessness. So, I came up with the idea to use known motifs from folklore and mythology to communicate ideas. Mythical characters from the Arabian Nights will make appearances in each installment of the comic. Since the full title of the Arabian Nights is One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, I chose to title my project 1002 as a reference to the classic anthology.” Talking about the title, he further added that he doesn’t think that the lack of dialogue would narrow down the audience. In fact, dialogue-less-ness might help the work get across to more people as the reader does not need to belong to any particular linguistic community to understand the work. Having finished a single instalment of 1002, he wants to wait till he completes few more instalments done to send it out for publication to comics anthologies in India or abroad which are receptive to such offbeat content. With quite a few of his comics published abroad, he is gradually becoming a name in the industry. “I usually keep an eye open for calls for Indian as well as international comics anthologies. Once I find a suitable venue, I approach the publisher with my work to see if they are interested. I have also had publishers approach me for small projects after coming across my work online or via contacts,” he posited. An artist in most cases has a specific style while approaching a particular project and requires a plan to chalk out the entire execution process, and Datta is no exception. He noted, “Of course, you need to plan things out before you put pen to paper. The exact approach depends on the project as well as the intended audience. Some projects call for nonlinear narrative styles or page layouts, others shine with simple design and/or art.” In terms of narrative style, Datta is particularly influenced by the works of Will Eisner, as well as the theory behind comics narratives expounded by Scott McCloud in his seminal ‘Understanding Comics’. Layout-wise I am a big fan of the works of Sergio Toppi and Guido Crepax. Talking about his publishing plans of 1002 in India, he concluded, “I have not planned out how exactly I intend to publish 1002. I may go the usual route and submit to an Indian or International anthology. On the other hand, I’ve been meaning to start a blog for publishing some of my work online for free. If I feel that 1002 is more suitable for the online platform, I may opt to publish it via a blog. Either published in print or through my blog, I just hope 1002 reaches out to more people and make them realise the importance of pictures and gestures rather than mere words.”