Heartbeats and pencil lines: The making of a graphic novel

This month’s theme, Picture Perfect, celebrates the image. Be this through graphic novels, food photography, cover design or how to post the perfect Instagram pic, we want to share with you all the ways in which the picture is truly perfect. First off, Malik Sajad, author of Kashmiri conflict memoir MUNNU, tells us about the technical process behind the creation of his graphic novel.

Initially I wanted to draw Munnu in a photorealistic light and shade style. However, while writing the fist draft of Munnu, I had drawn minimal pencil scribbles to save time in the process. A year later, when I had almost assembled all the stories, it was time to read and rewrite. While reading it I felt that the minimal sketchy and rather blurred pencil lines allowed one to picture the details in mind while flipping through the pages. I found that one could relate more to those sketches than crisp detailed black and white drawings.

munnu 2

As soon as I used ink for a more permanent story board in my second draft it sort of confined that room for one’s imagination to take over. On the other hand, some of the objects and their forms in the visuals were unique to Kashmir. These specific visual elements were like vocabulary for the story. So I had to figure out a middle path that conveyed visual information while leaving a window for further imagination.

Here, German expressionist wood cut prints inspired me a lot. I think they are a means to capture the environment and emotions that the presence of an object or a situation invokes. The Brooklyn Museum has a rich collection of wood cut prints. They were very kind to let me see the pieces that were not on display. It was the first time that I held such valuable art pieces in my hands. I would study them closely for hours. I pasted over 100 copies of such woodcut prints on the walls of my studio/bedroom in Kashmir and I used to stare at them regularly. These helped me to think beyond a bare line that outlines a form.



I arranged the black and white spaces that will leave an impression of the form to delivering the story. I tried to eliminate the unnecessary details to devoid an image of its presumptions while retaining its familiarity. But my visuals were getting more and more abstract. I tried to negotiate with that. After several failed attempts I thought may be I was trying to control too much. So I let the ink flow and around the same time I discovered the form that could be Munnu. It was a sort of a blend of elements from woodcut, pencil scribbles, cave art and Kashmiri miniature art that I had discovered in the British Museum library.

In the process I felt that it is not only about drawing the visuals to tell the story only but also the state of mind. That influences the pace of heartbeats, which shake your hands a little. Finally those tiny shakes can be seen as the minute wiggles in a line. I think that also plays an important role in making the visuals more organic. It is like the natural texture of the voice of a storyteller.

munnu 3


My approach with the text was almost the same. I tried to write the way one writes a postcard to a friend. Whenever it sounded like writing I wrote it again. I tried to write on computer but everything looks so organised and final there. So I wrote with a pencil and it was like drawing. It looked messy at first, but it was a basic rough blueprint for the structure. It helped me not to panic. I continued writing and rewriting. That is how I progressed with the process.


MunnuWords by Malik Sajad

MUNNU is out now

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