Three lovers of comics walk into a bar in Kochi (No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke!). Two of the three are comics documentarians and the third is an artist. And just like that, the idea to start the Indy Comics Commune was born!
The primary role of Indy Comics Commune is to create a cool community of comics enthusiasts who can motivate each other, help each other, and even, perhaps, collaborate on projects.
The souls of Indy Comics Commune
Tony Davis is a filmmaker having worked in Malayalam movies. Sreeram (AKA Unkoolie) is a comics enthusiast who co-created an eight-part documentary with Tony titled Kadha Vara Kadhakal. The 2020 series documents the history of Malayalam comics.
Sanid Asif Ali is a comics artist from Kochi. He has independently published comics such as Gustoso! (a story of a stray cat who discovers a delicious treat from his past) and Krishnavanam (a story that narrates the real-life efforts of poet-activist Sugathakumari Teacher to create a forest in a tribal village Attappadi in Kerala).
The trio has been part of the comics scene in Kerala for many years now. How they happened to start the Indy Comics Commune in April 2022 is a story worth telling!
Their origin story
“Sreeram and I met first in February 2017 at a monthly quizzing meet-up of a collective called ‘Chai Pe Quiz’,” recalls Tony.
“It was a comics-themed quiz and since Sreeram was also a passionate quizzer, we instantly connected. I subsequently invited him to do a quiz when I opened Comic Collective — an exclusive library for comics in Kochi in August 2017. From then onwards, he has been part of the comics scene in Kochi and it led to making of the documentary series Katha Vara Kathakal,” remembers Tony.
Sanid was a regular at this Tony-run comics library until it shut down in July 2018.
Tony was also part of the organising team for the 2018 Indie Comix Fest (ICF), a non-profit, artist-run festival of self-published comics in India.
Sanid attended the 2018 event and was excited to create something of his own for the next year’s edition.
“When the dates were announced in December 2019, Tony contacted me,” Sanid shares, and adds, “He was aware of some of the cartoons that I used to post online. He asked me if I could compile them into a book and I obliged. That was the motivation behind my first comic book, Gustoso!”
In a nutshell, the trio has been combining forces in comics events for many years now. But there was always a need to create a single platform to promote more such collaborations among other artists.
“In 2019, I met my artistic collaborator Nithin Mathew and we co-edited an anthology of comics titled Hope On with contributions from mostly Indie Comix Fest participants,” Sanid shares.
“The ICF is a fertile ground for such collaborations and discussions. But there was a need to start the Indy Comics Commune in an attempt to give a proper structure and platform to such collaborations which can help the comics scene,” he says.
A space that keeps the spirit intact
“After we organised the ICF’s Kochi edition last year, we felt that it was time for the community to get together and create more and better comics,” Sanid adds, as he speaks of the main goal behind starting Indy Comics Commune.
In 2023, Indy Comics Commune has held two meet-ups — in January and February. The meet-ups are purely informal and discussions revolve around all things comics.
During the February meet-up, storyteller and comic book colourist Roshan Kurichiyanil (known best by his Instagram handle @artofroshan) and his team of creators behind the new hit comic book Taara of the Stars joined the Commune. They discussed the end-to-end process of a comic book creation.
Taara of the Stars is a comic book for preteens and is set in a school. The book is a mixture of compelling storytelling and excellent artwork. What makes it more appealing is that it has a sci-fi twist — a genre most kids enjoy reading in present times.
“These discussions are all valuable information to comic book artists. And just the existence of a group to discuss comics with like-minded people in itself is a rewarding experience,” Sanid explains.
The Kerala comics scene
Independent creators of comics, like Sanid, need environments focused exclusively on their medium and their creations because of the unique role these comics play in the art world. What then are plans for members of the Indy Comics Commune in Kerala, we ask?
Sanid replies, “There have been few comic books that have come from Kerala. But I have a feeling that this is not enough. We need more and more talented folks to come forward and create their comics. I hope the Commune can provide such an ecosystem where it supports the creation of more and more comics.”
A lot of independent comics have concerns around technicalities related to comic book creation, printing, etc. The Commune tries to bridge the gap by discussing the nitty-gritty and helping them figure a way out.
“It might take time for a comics culture to re-emerge in Kerala, but I am really hopeful for the future,” a hopeful Sanid says.
Sanid’s introduction to comics
Sanid grew up reading all genres of comic books — whether it was a superhero comic like Marvel or DC, or children’s books like Tintin, Asterix or a non-fiction like Maus, Persepolis.
In the Malayalam comics sphere, Sanid has read Bobanum Moliyum — created by VT Thomas, and one of the longest-running comic series in the country.
Sreeram’s introduction to Malayalam comics was in the form of CID Moosa — created by Kannadi Viswanathan. The series rose to popularity in the 1970s and is still considered a cult among comic book fans. “Tony and I travelled to Palakkad to meet Viswanathan and interviewed him for the first episode of Katha Vara Kathakal,” Sreeram tells us.
“For the second part of our documentary, we took the help of Narayan Radhakrishnan and another comic book collector from Kozhikode, Aroon Kalandy, to trace the history of CID comics,” Tony recalls and adds, “We also got to interview retired IPS officer Abdul Hameed who had published Inspector Prakash, a comic about his personal adventures during his stint as a police officer.”
The future of Indy Comics Commune
And now, Sanid wants to create comics in Malayalam. “Under my publishing space which I am running with Rameeza Parveen called Studio Niyet, we have announced a comic project called Pandu (In the Past), which will be a Malayalam graphic anthology comic,” he adds.
As for the Indy Comics Commune, Sreeram says it is a “very young foundation” to assess its impact on the ground.
“We are going to give it fair amount of time to see the impact it creates,” he says, and adds, “The main agenda is to make independent comics scene less intimidating and more interesting by creating larger and deeper engagement with artists itself.”