Graphic artist 图画设计师
Interview on April 9 wandering and laughing through the blind alleys and markets around Beixinqiao with 大小 coffee
KL: This was a strange coincidence. I was looking at the Split Works advertising with the comics and I was really envious and wondering who has doing them (I’d love to get someone to do something like that for Loreli) and the next day I saw you interviewed in Sixth Tone. I guess I asked the universe and the universe provided. Is this something you started doing Split Works promos?
KR: I only started drawing like five years ago and I always get a strange reaction when I say this but I can’t draw. It’s not a talent I possess. I didn’t draw as a kid. If you just give me a blank piece of paper and say draw a portrait, I can’t do it. It’s a very particular method and it feels like cheating when I tell people how I actually draw.
KL：这说来挺巧的，我当时在看Split Works的漫画广告，我很羡慕Split Works能有这么棒的设计师，我也想找这个人为Loreli做同样的事。第二天我就看见Sixth Tone采访了你，好像宇宙听到了我的请求。你是因为给Split Works做宣传才开始画画的吗？
KL: How do you draw?
KR: I take a lot of reference photos. I have a tripod with a camera timer and I pose myself in every position I want people in my comics to look like and use them as reference. And I have a light board so I use that to draw over them.
KL: So, you still physically draw them? You’re not using a Wacom tablet or something like that?
KR: No. It’s all one hundred per cent analogue. I draw, ink, paint and then scan.
KL: Then how did you start? You were just playing around with photos?
KR: I started doing stick figure comics but it was just a single idea- which was draw three panel or four panel comics but with no punch line. So, it would just be kind of slice of life. This was when I was living in Delhi. I had a boring job so this was a good way of passing the time. I had a boring but sort of interesting job where I would meet weird people and get into strange situations so I’d just draw comics about it. I kept practicing and then moved to Singapore where people started liking them on Facebook and it became a good way to keep them up-to-date once a month. I’d just post a comic of what was going on in my life.
KL: So, it’s kind of a form of journaling?
KR: Sort of. Fast-forward two years and a friend in South Africa basically told me, “I have a gallery show with my comics coming up in Cape Town.” I knew her through work and she was like, why aren’t you doing this? Your comics are great. Start doing some art stuff. I said, I don't know where to start, and she was like, well my comic show is about dance music in Cape Town. I just went to clubs and drew pictures of people and did some research and wrote a few things and that’s it. It’s a show. It’s very simple. And I was like, huh, okay. I was really interested in sixties psychedelic music in Singapore so at the time I was researching “forgotten waves,” as I call them, entire genres that rose to huge prominence in different parts of Asia and then died. It’s part of this theory I have about independent music in Asia broadly – that is every new generation has to reinvent the wheel so it’s only very rarely that you get punk and post punk, this progression. In Asia, like India, Singapore, Malaysia, (Japan and Korea are exceptions, even China), you have these waves then they die and the next generation starts again.
KL: I’ll definitely be hitting you up for some Singaporean Psychedelia.
KR: There was a book I discovered in the library, which was this very interesting oral history of psychedelic music in sixties Singapore, so I tracked down that guy and met him and he was just this character, he was amazing. He hated everything about modern music but he was involved in that scene and he knew everything about it. He showed me his record collection and I thought, this is a great comic so I pitched it to the Singapore art museum. They do this exhibition of young artists and they said, we’ll give you a corner just put your comics up there. So that was the first serious comic that I did and it paid a little bit of money so I established a little fund that I would always use for future projects. I used it to go to Moscow to visit a friend so I did a comic about Moscow, which did really, really well, then it kind of spiralled from there. I started selling them by pay-as-you-like online.
KL: So you sold them in published form?
KR: I haven’t done that in the last year or so. January 2016 was when I finished my Mexico City comic which was about 52 pages, the biggest thing I’ve done. That’s the last published thing I’ve released. I went to a few comic conventions to peddle that, in the US mainly. It’s pay as you want. You can read it for free but you can support it online if you like it. I’ve excerpted bits of that to websites and magazines.
KL: It sounds like you’ve been doing this for awhile, you’re quite the established graphic artist now.
KR: Not really. That’s the problem I think, I’ve never been in one place long enough to be part of that scene. I think I came close in Singapore but then I left so I’m not part of it anymore. Since I left the Singapore comic scene has taken this dramatic kind of turn. This guy called Sonny Liew published this book that is extraordinary, I think it’s the most criminally under-recognised comic of all time. It’s a political history of Singapore but in comic form but it’s not advertised as such, it’s just a biography of a comic book artist. Anything more I say will be a spoiler. It’s an extraordinary book.
KL: You’ve got a history lesson through the individual? That seems to be something that’s quite common in graphic novels with things like Persepolis and Maus.
KR: So, these are slight spoilers for the book. It’s called The Art of Charlie Chan and it’s a biography of a comic artist called Charlie Chan and how his art reflected Singapore’s evolution from a colony to Malaysian state to independent state. It gives you that sense of, how have I never heard of this guy? This is extraordinary! Charlie Chan’s art also mirrors the history of comic books as an art form so there are these three layers going on but Charlie Chan is a complete fiction and you only realize that about halfway through the book when you can’t find him on Google and you’re like, what’s going on? Then you realise, oh, it’s a fictional character. It channels this emptiness that I think many Asian artists feel where you think, what tradition am I part of, especially, comic book artists or musicians. You just feel like you’re always going to be a subset of a Western art form and he channels that paranoia and that emptiness so well. You want to believe Charlie Chan was real. You think, what if Singapore was the place where everything was invented? What if the graphic novel was first published in Singapore?
KR：好吧，我剧透一下这本书的一些内容吧。它叫《The Art of Charlie Chan 》，是一个漫画家Charlie Chan 的自传，这本书是关于他的艺术是如何反应新加坡革命从殖民地到马来西亚政权再到独立状态的。这本书给你感觉像是，为什么我从来没听说过这个家伙？这简直太与众不同了！Charlie Chan 的艺术也反映了漫画小说作为艺术形式的历史，所以他的小说有分三个不同的层次，但 Charlie Chan其实是完全虚构的。你只能在读到一半，还一头雾水并且谷歌不到任何关于他的信息时才接着意识到，噢，原来这是虚构的角色。它传达的是一种虚无感，许多亚洲艺术家，特别是漫画家和音乐家都会想——我在哪里思考？我属于哪种文化？你总是感觉自己从属于西方艺术。他将这种空虚和偏执传达得很好。你希望Charlie Chan 是真实的，你想如果新加坡是所有事物的发明地，那会是怎样的？如果图画小说在新加坡首次出版，那又会是一番怎样情景？
KL: That sounds utterly fascinating. When you see something that’s so layered and sophisticated, is that something that you try and achieve with your work as well?
KR: Yeah, this book had the happy effect that it gives me something to show what I’m aiming for which didn't exist before. When people would say, who inspires you as a comic book artist, I would say Alison Bechdel but then her work is mostly focused on sexuality and her family and the psychological complications of being queer which was a huge influence but mostly in style and tone. This is much more politically close to what I want to talk about. Most people in the past would be like, your work is like Guy Delisle. A lot of people love his work, but I personally think he’s terrible! He’s a French Canadian comic book artist. He’s done about five books on different cities in Asia. So there’s Pyongyang, Shenzhen, Yangon…
KR：是的，这本书有个很好的效果就是它能代表我所追求的目标，这是我以前从未有过的。，当人们问我：“是谁启发你去做一位漫画艺术家？”我会说：“Alison Bechdel。”她的作品主要集中在性意识、家庭、和作为酷儿(queer)所带来的精神上的问题。这些对她作品的基调和风格影响深远，这些在政治上更加接近我想表达的，以前人们总说：“你的作品很像Guy Delisle。”有很多人喜欢这个家伙的作品，但我个人认为他的作品不忍卒看。他是一个法裔加拿大漫画书艺术家，他在以亚洲不同的城市为中心完成了5本作品，有平壤、深圳、仰光......
KL: What is it about his work that you revile so much?
KR: He’s just…a bit of a dick? He’s very open about this. He’s an “expat” animation designer and gets hired by all these studios as an expat consultant and then he does these comics about these cities. There’s moments of real beauty in his books, and I fully admit he’s very talented…but there’s just something about the point of view they represent that turns me off.
KL: Are they through the lens of an expat?
KR: Yeah. Like the Yangon comic, I’m familiar with Yangon, and he’s like, oh, I’m an expat. I stayed in this expat colony called Golden Valley. And it’s like, well, that doesn’t excuse it. You can’t just say that and get away with it. But the thing is, people love his books! And I’m like, why, why!? Why is this the gold standard for comics about cities because it is a very low bar but his market is people who are travellers. It plays into that whole travel-industrial complex.
KL: So that white filter is recognisable as close to their experience?
KR: Yeah. And he kind of underscores all these cities as exotic so it’s comfortable. It’s this ‘other’ place.
KL: As far as you writing about cities, have you done one about home? Is Delhi home?
KR: It’s complicated. My dad passed away two years ago and my last published comic was about him so I don't really have a home. He was my last close Indian family member. I have two brothers who are in different parts of the world. I guess Delhi is close, Singapore is close, somewhere between those two. And Beijing is coming close now though they’ll never allow me to call this home.
KL: Are you making a book about Beijing?
KR: No. I’m not working on one about Beijing. I’m working on one broadly about the experiences of young Chinese artists in India. I realised recently that I know this diverse cross-section of Chinese dancers, musicians and writers who are all kind of fascinated by India and it’s interesting for me to look at their ‘gaze’, if you will. They’re all what you call millennials, and they are looking at India in a very particular way – very different from what I think is the usual outward gaze of young Chinese today.
To many here, India is, broadly speaking, like “Africa” for Westerners. It’s a poor country that is the source of all exotic things and they see some kind of pure essence for their art and that’s fascinating to me because that didn’t exist a generation ago.
KL: Why do you think they’ve suddenly turned to India as a source of fascination?
KR: Because India was so absent here in so many ways. Indian dance in particular wasn’t here and now there is an Indian classical dance school in Beijing run by one of these people. She says for the parents who enroll their kids there it’s like learning ballet. It’s this beautiful, foreign, unique art form.
KL: How recently has this begun? I went and saw an Indian dance troupe during the year of friendship between China and India after that little skirmish on the border when they started that diplomatic venture of sharing culture . It’s not that recent is it?
KR: I think she opened the school about four or five years ago. It’s a really lovely place. It’s the Tamil dance form and I’m Tamil so it’s really surreal to see it.
KL: How far into the project are you? How many artists do you have so far?
KR: Very early days, just researching it for now. I have five domains - dance, music, literature, history and film. That’s what I’m imagining for now but hopefully as I talk to them I will find more.
KL: Considering there was this huge trend toward this in the sixties from western countries with The Beatles and the Maharishi and Ravi Shankar that was almost overwhelming at the time that they created a mythology of India that was purely for that time period. Delhi via Carnaby Street. How does this iteration work? Is it still looking at the instrumentation and style? Is it somehow filtered through the western sixties experience? How are the millennials approaching it?
KR: It’s a bit of both. The musicians that I’ve spoken to, for example, their approach is basically, I’m going to spend a month travelling around the south of India going to classical and folk music concerts and then recording samples from all of them. Then I’m going to use these samples and these signatures in my own electronic music. So there is an echo of just put a sitar in it but I haven’t heard any of the songs inspired by it yet. It could be interesting if the engagement is deeper.
KR：乐器和风格都关注吧，例如我曾经谈过的音乐家，他们的形式基本上是那样的。他们会花上一个月的时候游览印度南部，去一些古典的民间音乐会，从中记录样本，然后他们会利用这些样本和经典的声音放到他们自己的电子音乐里，所以你会听到《just put a sitar in it》里有回声，我还没听过任何由它带来灵感的音乐。如果我接触更深，会更有趣。
KL: How do they view the differences between China and India? I often use it as a point of reference for students of the effects of democracy and socialism on developing countries over the last however many decades. How do they relate to the difference?
KR: Comparing their political systems?
KL: No, I guess I mean what it means to be Chinese and what it means to be Indian? Or is this just a creative thing?
KR: It’s a spectrum because a few of the people I spoke to think it’s just this messy dysfunctional place. A lot of folks get caught up in the middle of protest rallies when they’re there. They don’t see it as an expression of political freedom but rather, “there’s nothing working now, there are cops everywhere and all the shops are closed.” And, for the women specifically, it is an extremely dangerous place if they’re travelling alone because many of them were in second tier cities in India and they see that as an expression of the political reality. And let’s be clear: India, in many parts, IS a deeply unsafe, misogynist, problematic place in that sense and that’s a completely fair reading.
KL: Well, walking around Beijing at night is definitely a different experience to walking around Delhi, that’s for sure.
KR: They’ve grown up with this reality and their experience of a city is closer to Seoul or Tokyo rather than Delhi or Jakarta.
KL: I also think it’s different to Melbourne, where I’m from. When they talk about it being dangerous here in Beijing and to be careful with your things, it’s like trust me, it’s not! I stagger around here at night by myself and I would never do that in Melbourne.
KR: When people tell me about touts and that people will try to cheat me here, I’m like, you have no idea how bad it can be. I’m really fond of Delhi, it’s one of my favourite places, but I don't recommend it to anyone. It is a city, like Moscow, it doesn’t care what people think of it. It’s just there. Take it or leave it. And it is a ridiculous place, really ugly sometimes but you experience things there you wouldn't get anywhere else.
My favourite story about Delhi is that our ex-mayor was killed by monkeys and (this is where it gets speculative) he was elected on a platform of being strong against monkeys.
KL: Those big langurs [large grey monkeys seen commonly in Indian cities]?
KR: The langurs are actually government employees. I swear this is all true. The langurs were hired by the government to be deterrents of the Rhesus, the original residents that were terrorising everyone. The resident monkeys were supposedly scared of the langurs so you’ll see langurs patrolling government buildings mainly to prevent other monkeys from getting in.
KL: Wow! Well, they’re very intimidating.
KR: There was also a glorious government job posting asking for professional ‘monkey disguise’ experts. Delhi monkey politics, I love it.
KL: As a city, how does Beijing factor into your art?
KR: I did a semester here in 2011 and I got a lot of my personal comics out of the way. Though, I look back at them now and think they’re terrible which is always the problem with personal experience because you’re reflecting your current knowledge of a place, which, as a foreigner in a city, is hopefully outdated in six months. If it’s not something is wrong. So, I’m always scared some of my older comics will start to feel obsolete whereas stuff where I’m writing about other subjects and researching feel like they’ve stood the test. Especially when you write about cities.
KL: So, what do you have to say about old Beijing? Is there something currently that you’d like to get off your chest, visually?
KR: I’d really like to draw something about the waves of the music scene. As I’ve seen them, anyway. There’s always a creative peak and then a trough and then a peak and it feels like we’re coming out of a trough right now. Things are happening that weren’t happening last year. There’s a sudden wave of new bands and new ideas but again, I think it can only work as a very static snapshot of a particular month and year rather than a broader story of Beijing.
KL: Is it slightly satisfying that you are able to use your art in your role at Split Works?
KR: Yeah, I love it. I did it as a test for the festival last year and then people came up to the merch tent, which I was running at the festival, and asked, those comics that you did, can we buy them? So many people did that and I was like, wait, what? I should have sold them. I’ve missed an opportunity here.
KL: Did you have some false humility and ask, oh what comics? They have nothing to do with me but please, tell me more.
KR: I asked which one they wanted to buy and they said, can we just get a collection, or something? I was like, huh? So hopefully this year we can sell them and I can do more of them.
KL: The bands must get a kick out of it as well, right?
KR: Yeah, one of the bands found me and they were really happy with it so they signed it for me and they posted it on their website and asked if they could use panels from it to promote stuff. That was cool.
Krish Raghav is a comic book artist and podcaster in Beijing. He works for the music promoter Split Works. He shares his hometown with Dhalsim from Street Fighter, but cannot shoot fireballs from his face. See more of his art here.
Krish Raghav 是一名居住在北京的漫画家和 podcast 主持人。他为音乐演出公司 SplitWorks 开功 工作。他和街头霸王的达尔锡来自同一个地方，但他不会从脸上喷火球。