Cyrus Daruwala’s ‘Zal’ is a breath of fresh air in the age of political newspaper comic strips

Newspapers seem to be inseparable part of daily life. Our days start with flipping the pages of a newspaper accompanied by a teacup or a coffee mug. Besides news and other necessary informations, it also provides the excitement of leafing through the pages to find our favourite entertainment sections, one of them being newspaper comic strips. Who haven’t enjoyed reading Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Blondie and many more during their childhood or even in the present day? On a personal note, I remember eagerly waiting for the next strip of Blondie and Garfield every Sunday.    In the era of rapid digitisation, newspapers have reduced in popularity and so are the newspaper comic strips. Though digital comics that are currently in vogue, offer digital satisfaction, they generally fail to provide the pleasure and satisfaction of taking up a newspaper on a lazy Sunday afternoon and relishing one’s favourite comic.
‘Zal’
Following the old trend, advertising professional and comic artist Cyrus Daruwala carries on Zal, a comic strip that features in Midday newspaper every Sunday. Started in March 2018, the strip revolves around the titular character, a psychology teacher, as he struggles to balance his personal and professional lives. He has a small world that includes his family and students. Speaking to AnimationXpress, Daruwala talks more about his original comic strip: What’s the thought behind Zal Zal is a classic comic strip running for a few months now. The strip is named after the central character, Zal. He is a middle-aged bachelor who lives with his father and his dog, Towser. He’s a psychology professor to a class of three uninterested students with differing personalities. One of his chief pains is his overbearing college principal, Ms. Pox. The comic also uses the city of Mumbai as a backdrop for the strip.  
Cyrus Daruwala
What influenced you to create this particular strip? In India, comic strips have been a regular part of our lives, having been exposed to the world’s most popular comics in the newspapers. Yet, we have seen such few Indian comic strips. The majority of Indian comics in publications are political cartoons. I couldn’t understand this void and made it a mission to bridge that gap. If readers loved Peanuts, Archie, Garfield – which are centered in an American context – surely Indian comic strips would also find their audience. Why did you choose to portray the daily life of a teacher as the subject of your comic strip? Teaching has always been an interest of mine, though I have never professionally pursued it. It is also a profession that is rife with possible jokes. The interaction between Zal and his students leads to interesting set-ups, both humorous and occasionally topical. Can you throw some light on your comic career till date? I can’t throw much light, as it’s just about lighting up. I juggle my career in advertising with my comic work. I also have two humour/comic publications to my credit. My first book I Take This Train Too, was an illustrated and satirical exploration of the odd people one encounters in the Mumbai local trains. My second book, Painful People, was a hand-crafted humor book of the annoying characters found in India’s cities. Though these books found critical praise and an appreciative audience, I decided to focus my energies purely on comics for the past two years. In 2017, The Times of India held a national level cartoonist competition, in which I won at the second place. Winning that competition amongst thousands of entrants gave me the confidence to more rigorously pursue cartooning. Zal is one of the culminations of this dedicated effort. However, when I reached out to Indian publications, I got appreciative comments from some, and silence from others. But only Midday chose to take a chance and decided to feature Zal from March. Now Zal features as a special Sunday comics column in the paper. What’s the reason behind this unique title? I wanted a name that was succinct and memorable. I always imagined my protagonist to be a Parsi for this comic. Hence I had to peruse Parsi names, and ‘Zal’ stood out from the shortlist. Do you have any intention to make it into an independent comic book? That’s thinking too far ahead. Right now I’m focused on distributing my comics to as many publications as possible. Who are your target audience? How do you keep readers engaged to Zal? My target audience is literally of all ages. That’s the beauty of comic strips – they have to appeal to both kids and adults. I have strived to build a world around Zal that’s both engaging and relatable. There are recurring characters, as well as some new characters that I will introduce in the due course of time. What are your current or upcoming comic project(s) apart from Zal? I am working on a number of comic projects that I plan to distribute to interested publications and parties. I am also working on a new book that I will reveal more on soon enough.
The latest issue of ‘Zal’
Zal looks promising and is a refreshing read that looks into the daily life of a normal individual. As they say, being simple is a gift, Zal certainly makes a mark with its simplicity in today’s world of complexities.