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Labour of love in a comic book

A Bengali mademoiselle flies to France to learn the art of baking breads, cakes and croissants and a boy from her state goes to Germany to study the skills of making roofs.

Cupid strikes when they bump into each other on the return flight. The courtship leads to the altar and they settle down in Calcutta with established businesses in their respective fields.

On the face of it, the storyboard sounds simple for four artists of high calibre participating in the first International Kolkata Comic Workshop organised by the German and French consulates in Calcutta.

But Sarnath Banerjee and Charbak Dipta of India, Olivier Tallec from France and Jörg Reuter of Germany know from experience that it would require more than plain brushstrokes to take comic art from being a personal pursuit to a collaborative effort. When they huddled for a brainstorm on Day One of the three-day workshop, the first thought was the storyline based on the theme: dignity of labour with special focus on blue-collar professions.

They will have to deliver the product — that the two consulates will use as outreach material — on November 28.

“We want to make young people aware that you don’t need to have an MBA to be happy and successful. Skilled workers will play a big role in the economic uplift of India,” said Rainer Schmiedchen, the German consul general in Calcutta.

“The aim is to make this workshop an annual tradition, something as well-known as the New York Marathon… and to advertise skilled blue-collar job training, European-style, especially among youngsters,” he added.

He and Fabrice Etienne, the consul general of France, opened the workshop on Tuesday and revealed to the professional participants as well as graphic art students from Rabindra Bharati and Visva-Bharati how the seeds of the workshop germinated.

“It’s a first-of-its-kind event and came about from our shared interest in comic and graphic art. Also, 2013 is the Franco-German year, marking the 50th anniversary of the Elysee treaty,” Etienne said.

Sarnath, Charbak, Olivier and Jörg will focus on different aspects of the story — each bringing their own flavour and speciality into a fusion of style. Jörg’s area will be the German part of the tale; Sarnath and Olivier will concentrate on the Calcutta and French aspects; and Charbak will work on the final portion.

“Comic art is an individual pursuit… an opportunity to collaborate with different artists is a delightful prospect. It is definitely a challenging task and we’ll have to see how it goes,” said Sarnath, the author of graphic albums Corridor, The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers and The Harappa Files.

Olivier showed no signs of jet lag from a long-haul flight during the ideating session. He hopes to pick up ideas about Calcutta from the participants. “I am not sure how I will portray Calcutta. It will take some time for me to get an idea but I am looking forward to it,” said the illustrator and comic artist.

Jörg, the art director of German magazine Mosaik, is no spring chicken when it comes to teamwork. “Our work is very different from other comic artists since we work in a team right from ideation to illustration and storyline,” he said.

Illustrator Charbak, who is currently working on his debut graphic novel, is unfazed too. “It is definitely a challenge but it will be great to have such diversity in a single place.”

The pros will work in tandem with the other participants of the workshop and bring together the work they create.

The consulates will print the final product and use it as awareness material.

“I have grown up reading comic books and I am currently learning a medium which uses text and illustration. I really want to know how it works… how text and images come together,” said Sourav Podder, a final-year postgraduate student at Kala Bhavan, Visva-Bharati.