the darker side(From left) The cover of Black Mumba; a page from 'Rats in the Dark', and Ram Venkatesan
Black Mumba , a crime noir graphic novel by Ram Venkatesan, explores the dark underbelly of life in the Maximum City
A Black Mumba coils around a lined, weary, moustachioed face. The rheumy eyes of Inspector Dev show no sign of fear or surprise. Yet, he knows how deadly, how unpredictable the snake can be.
The cover art of comic book Black Mumba reflects the very nature of the relationship between Mumbai and a Mumbaikar, who has weathered the storm that is life in the city.
Authored by London-based writer and graphic novelist Ram Venkatesan, Black Mumba is an anthology of crime noir short stories set in Mumbai, portraying the many dark shades of the City of Dreams.
“The black in the title refers to the darkness in the stories and also because we wanted to say that even in the absence of light there is hope and beauty to be found. ‘Mumba’ refers to the Goddess after which the city is named. We wanted to refer to something ancient, something that is rooted in the city yet a part of its modern face,” says Ram, author of the popular Aghori graphic novel series and a native of Mumbai himself.
Black Mumba consists of four stories, in the order, ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ by Devmalya Pramanik, ‘Rats in the Dark’ by Roshan Kurichiyanil, ‘Dead Rain’ by Kishore and ‘The Witch of the Boria House’ by Devamalya. The lettering is by Aditya Bidikar.
The stories, set in the present time, are told through the eyes of a weather-worn police officer, Inspector Dev. “Each of them are snapshots of incidents or cases that he encounters. They start off like crime noir stories and then twist into strange or even magical tales. You realise that there are no good or bad guys in the stories, only the weird, the hopeful, the bleak, the oppressive nature of life in Mumbai,” says Ram, in an internet chat from London. “That is also why we used stark black and white art work to tell stories about the greys in life,” he adds.
It began as a single story, ‘Dead Rain,’ inspired by Paul Auster’s New York trilogy, which Ram and Kishore, a comic book artist from Thiruvanathapuram, pitched to an Indie publisher in the United States. They got the go ahead and the youngsters created a 12-page comic for Blood Root , a horror anthology series. Kishore and Ram have now expanded the story for Black Mumba . “That really put the idea in my head to do more stories set in Mumbai, with strange and weird themes. I wanted to make them look like crime noir without having crime or criminals in them. Also, there is a real need for modern contemporary comics in India. We have mythology, fantasy and even refurbished Marvel and DC stories. Original graphic novels are rare and I felt these stories were fundamentally Indian yet fresh and new,” says Ram.
Portrayed in the, nowadays, rarely used 1940s black white noir style, the art in Black Mumba blends very well with the eerie tales. “These are not your usual run-of- the-mill crime plots. They are much more gritty and realistic, which showcases the stark nature of life in the city in tandem with the cynicism and personal conflicts of the protagonist Dev. In ‘Dead Rain’ we have used a lot of grey. But the other stories are lot more gory . So we have used only black and white to portray them,” explains Kishore.
They sent out the book to some writers and artists in the industry. “John Arcudi (creator of The Mask), Ivan Brandon, Dan Watters, Nic Klein and Alex Paknadel were all kind enough to read the book and give us their opinions,” says Ram.
He himself is the producer of the project. A Kickstarter campaign to crowd-fund Black Mumba is underway.
Original graphic novels are rare and I felt these stories were fundamentally Indian yet fresh and new