Originally appeared in the New Indian Express on December 04, 2010.
A GORGEOUS PEARL OF A COMIC
Not since Manjula Padmanabhan’s iconic Suki has a female cartoonist created such an endearing and enchanting character as Kripa Joshi does with Miss Moti. Relatively unknown and relegated to the murky realms of the internet, Miss Moti is a pearl waiting to be discovered. Startlingly flat and rich in colour, Miss Moti follows the travails of a Rubinesque woman whose fertile imagination transforms even the most mundane of her surroundings into a fantastical world of possibilities that blur the line between reality and imagination. . Miss Moti- as her name suggests- is a gorgeous, round pearl of a woman.
For this, Miss Moti has only to thank her creator Kripa Joshi. A native of Kathmandu, Kripa Joshi’s credentials are promising. In 1997 she won the Indian Council of Cultural Relations Scholarship to pursue a BFA in Painting from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and later went on to win the Fulbright Scholarship. As a Fulbright Scholar, Kripa enrolled at the School of Visual Art in New York. It was here that Miss Moti came into being. “I’ve always had issues with my own body image. I still do. It is a constant struggle, which I am sure is the case with a lot of women,” Kripa confesses and the issue found its way into a painting entitled Hippo. Miss Moti makes her first appearance in the painting which is a visual commentary on the modern idea of ‘beauty’. The 14”X17” painting on Nepali handmade paper depicts a pool scene where a large woman – Miss Moti – wrapped in a towel self-consciou
sly surveys the lithe bodies around her. In contrast, the border is decorated with miniature hippos- happy, happy hippos, one might add- painted in gold lines as they wallow in the water, seemingly indifferent to concerns about their own body image.
Speaking about the border art Kripa says, “I drew my inspiration from the Miniature Mughal Paintings where we often see a colourful intricate image surrounded by an equally intricate golden border filled with plants and animals. I was also intrigued by this idea of a dual story between the main central image and the border.” It was here that Kripa’s modern sensibilities collided with folk art and this collision resulted in her debut comic character, Miss Moti.
Stylistically, the art is inspired from Mithila art- a form of folk art traditional to Nepal and Bihar. “The art is very flat,” Kripa explains. “It’s two-dimensional and has no horizons, no sense of perspective.” She was drawn to it also because of its decorative aspect and rich colours while at the same time she recognized the need to develop this indigenous art from and take it one step further.
In terms of narrative, Kripa names Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo as her inspiration for creating the fantastical dream worlds that Miss Moti escapes to and Chris Ware for developing her visual language.
There are no captions or bubbles in Kripa’s comics. A purely visual journey, the only words one comes across are sounds. “I like to use Nepali sound effects,” Kripa says and then adds, “Like when a door shuts, I’ll say ‘dham’ instead of ‘bang’ or the sound the train makes is ‘kattak-kattak’.” These little notes add flavour and authenticity to her story lines and connect it back to her South Asian roots.
Interestingly, in recent years, Madhubhani or Mithila folk art has become something of a rage with foreign art collectors. It was reported that even Michelle Obama bought a Mithila painting on her recent visit to India. A 2500-year old tradition, Mithila art covers the walls and ceilings of Mithila homes in Nepal and neighbouring Bihar, where the art came to be known as Madhubani. Traditionally, Mithila art was created anonymously by women and depict every day life in the village as well religious symbols, Gods and Goddesses.
Kripa Joshi is the only artist who has successfully married this timeless traditional art form with the more modern genre of comics. Each comic is visually rich and narratively sound. In Miss Moti and Cotton Candy, for example, Miss Moti faces the arduous task of climbing up a never-ending flight of stairs. Huffing and puffing, she pauses to catch her breath when she spies a young girl skipping up the stairs with a stick of cotton candy. Suddenly, her world transforms and the cotton candy, those great fluffy wisps of cottony pink, arrive like a chariot to carry Miss Moti away on an adventure in the skies. As always, once she returns to the ‘real world’, neither Miss Moti nor the reader can be sure if it was all really just in her imagination.
While Miss Moti has been received well in the artistic circles, it is not the only comic that Kripa has created. In an attempt to address issues that Nepali rural folk face, she created the comic Pass It Along– a short comic about sanitation. Besides that, she’s done several illustrations of children’s stories in her unique style. Some of the stories she has re-imagined are Edgar Allen Poe’s The Sleeper, The Ant and the Grasshopper and The Dog and His Shadow.