The Art and Craft of Cartoon in Odisha

By Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

A cartoon is any of several forms of illustrations with varied meanings that evolved from its original meaning. In modern print media, a cartoon is a piece of art, usually humorous in intent . This usage dates from 1843 when Punch magazine applied the term to satirical drawings in its pages, particularly sketches by John Leech.

Odisha has had a long history of caricature. Humour and satire occupy an important place in Odia literature. But unfortunately, there is no documental evidence as to when cartoons first appeared in media in Odisha. It appeared that Niankhunta (Editor: Godavarish Mohapatra, 1898-1965), a satirical magazine in the line of Shankar’s Weekly first started to publish cartoons regularly. Niankhunta (The Firefling) was first published in 1938 and continued till 1964. After decades, it again started publishing from 2009 with almost the same content mix- including political and social cartoons. Samaja and Prajatantra also used to publish political cartoons occasionally in 1950s. Omkar Nath Panigrahi of Bolangir used to draw fine cartoons in 1940s.

Faturananda (Ramchandra Mishra, 1915-1995) the well-known satirist was a fine cartoonist too. He used to draw cartoons in his college magazine, when he was a student of the Medical College in Cuttack. These cartoons were published in the name of R.C.Mishra. Later he drew cartoons for his literary magazine Dagara. His cartoons were published in National Front and other newspapers. He continued to draw cartoons till his eyesight failed.

Dibakar Mishra of Talcher (founder of daily Khabar) used to draw cartoons in the Samaja in 70s and 80s. He used a penname: DKM. Satirical magazines like Niankhunta and Durmukha used to print several cartoons. In fact socio-political cartoons with highly satirical content were its major attraction. Niankhunta ceased publication long back. Durmukha continues to publish and cartoons are still its major attraction.

Though Odisha has had a long history and tradition of caricature, and cartoons have been used in newspapers and periodicals, yet cartoonists have never got the kind of opportunity to work and credit and acclaim they deserve. It is only after 1980s that cartoonists got recognition. Some of them became household names. There is a practical reason for this. Offset printing came to Odisha only in mid-80s. Before that metal blocks had to be made to print any kind of visuals. It was expensive and time taking. Hence visuals were avoided unless it was absolutely necessary. Cartoonists did not have much opportunity to get published. After the introduction of off set printing system printing visuals- both photographs and graphics (halftone and line) became easier. It required little extra cost to print ‘halftone’ photographs and no extra cost to print ‘line’ graphics. Newspapers started printing cartoons in greater number. Sambad was one of the first mainstream Odia newspapers to have introduced daily pocket cartoon. It was also one of first daily Odia newspaper to have appointed a cartoonist as its regular staff, a trend promptly followed by other major newspapers. It was in late 80s and early 90s that a bunch of young and talented cartoonists like Sudhansu Deo, Gyan Rath, Kishore Rath, Shilpi Ashok and Kesu Das emerged in the media world of Odisha. Almost all newspapers carried stand alone and daily pocket cartoons. Kishore’s daily pocket cartoon ‘Katakha’ published in Sambad became very popular. The craze for cartoons waned a bit in the next decade. One of the reasons for that could be that newspapers preferred to print photographs instead of cartoons.

It could be said that cartooning in Odisha came of age in 80s. As Sudhansu Deo, a leading cartoonist of 80s said, “Earlier there used to be mostly illustrations with exaggerated features of known figures to evoke laughter”. The emphasis was more on illustration than on the theme. It was only after the 80s that cartooning was regarded as a separate art form in Odisha.

Late 80s and 90s saw some young cartoonists maturing into excellent artists. However, the new millennium saw a decline in the quantity and quality of cartoons in mainstream print media in Odisha. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Odisha. It has been witnessed in other states too. Priya Pande writes about this : … There is also the aspect of changing habits of readers. In the earlier days, papers used to be crammed with news matter particularly on the front page, with the pocket cartoon providing the only visual relief. Today, not only has colour entered the front pages, the pictorial presentation and design gimmicks have completely edged the cartoon out to total insignificance. However, recent years have seen resurgence in cartooning, especially in new media platform.

Contemporary Cartoonists of Odisha:

Sudhansu Deo is probably the first regularly appointed cartoonist in Odia media. Before joining Sambad in 1984 he worked briefly in Prajatantra and then Samaja. He drew excellent pocket cartoons. In fact he was the first cartoonist in Odisha to draw pocket cartoons regularly. He also drew stand alone cartoons on burning issues of the time. He had a lyrical style of drawing like R.K.Laxman. Very soon, Deo became a household name. In late 1988 he left Sambad and went to Delhi and worked for several English newspapers and audio visual media. He also worked as an animation cartoonist for a Doordarshan cartoon serial project. He returned to Odisha and joined Khabar in 2007. He left Khabar in end 2009 to start an animation school. Presently he works as the principal of JBC Academy of Art and Animation.

Kishore Rath, (born 1963), is a very talented cartoonist. He is working in Sambad since late 80s. A graduate in fine arts from Khalikote Art College, Kishore has set the trend of writing short rhyming verse with pocket cartoon. Kishore has his own unique style of drawing and a sharp sense of humour. A talented satirist, he also composes humourous poems.

Shilpi Ashok (born 1958) has been drawing cartoons for the last twenty years. He used to work in Prajatantra. Since 2005 he has been drawing cartoons in the Samaja. He publishes a cartoon magazine titled Silpi Ashokanka Cartoon Saptahiki. He has also published a compilation of cartoons of noted litterateurs of Odisha, titled Lekhaka Lati.

Balasore based Kesu Das (born 1965) did his graduation in fine art from Khalikote Government Art College and masters from Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapitha, Benaras. He draws cartoons for newspapers and periodicals like Sambad, Dwani Pratidhwani, Samaja, Haribol, Durmukha. He is also an acclaimed sand artist and runs his art teaching school. As an artist he has won several awards like Odisha Lalit Kala Academy award as young artist (1987) and Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata (2000). He has published a work book on how to draw cartoons using Odia alphabets: Barnamala Saha Sahaja Cartoon Shiksha (1998). He is also actively involved in preserving the languishing folk lacquer art of Balasore, in Odisha through Baleswari Kala Kendra, of which he is the executive director.

Kamalakanta Rath drew cartoons for several mainstream newspapers and periodicals in early 90s. But gradually he shifted his focus to social issues. He is now active in drawing cartoons and illustrations in development magazines in alternate media domain.

Chudamani Das, from Balasore began to draw cartoons for newspapers and periodicals like Durmukha, Dhawni Pratidhawini from 2000 after he completed his fine arts degree from Bhadrak Art College. He joined daily Prajatantra in 2003.

Aswini Kumar Rath and Abani Kumar Rath are brothers who work together. In fact they call themselves ‘the only cartoonist brother duo in the world’. Aswini has a PhD in botany. He is working as a Lecturer in Botany in Bolangir. Abani did his M.Sc in Chemistry. He is working as an officer in insurance sector. Their first cartoon was published in 1989. Since then their cartoons have been published in several local, national and international newspapers, periodicals and web sites. They have won many awards and honours. Their cartoons have been exhibited in the prestigious ‘First International Saloon of Graphic Humor-Lima-2008, Peru’, and won Honourable Mention prize in the 15th, 16th and 17th ‘Daejeon International Cartoon Contest in Seoul, Korea in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and Special Mention prize in the ‘2nd Free Cartoons Web International Cartoonist Festival’, China, 2003.

Paresh Nath (born 1970) did his masters in English literature from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. He had a knack for drawing and illustration from his school days. His cartoons and illustrations were being published in newspapers during his college days. He started his professional career as a cartoonist with Samaja. Later, he worked as a freelance cartoonist for The Indian Express, Delhi before joining National Herald in early 1990s as the Chief Cartoonist. Currently, Paresh Nath’s works are reproduced in publications like Bombay Samachar , the oldest Asian daily published from Mumbai, newsletters of United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), CO-OP HORIZON- a fortnightly periodical by National Co-Op Union of India, Neighbourhood Flash – published from Delhi in five different editions covering urban, metropolitan and political issues and UT Independent – a political publication from Delhi and other union territories. His funny, incisively wise, informative and never malicious cartoon pieces have touched millions of readers and have been reproduced in various newspapers and periodicals such as Financial Express, India Today, Illustrated Weekly of India, The SunZero Hour, Samayukta Karnataka, The Eastern Times, etc. He has also been associated to various online projects. Paresh has earned worldwide recognition for his work as the winner of the United Nations Correspondents Association Ranan Lurie Political Cartoon Award for the year 2000 in cartoon competition. He was invited to participate in the contest among the professional political cartoonists throughout the world. He has also won the Youth Federation Award and Delhi Sahitya Kala Parishad Award in 1987 and 1991 respectively for his cartoons. He is a member of the panel of jurors for international poster contest of UNFPA in year 1992 and 2000. He is also an empanelled cartoonist of DAVP of information & Broadcasting Ministry, Government of India. Besides drawing cartoons, he writes humour columns. He is also planning to write books on yoga and mysticism in near future.

Bijayananda Biswal is not a professional cartoonist. He works as an executive in Indian Railways. Drawing cartoons is a hobby for him. However, he has won several cartoon competition including an international competition organized in November 2009 by Bangalore based Cartoon Academy.

Bichitrananda Swain (born 1987), a trained journalist is a self taught cartoonist. Besides drawing cartoons in the Odia daily Suryaprava he draws illustrations for books.

Soumyadev along with Sarashi and Santosh started a cartoonist’s group: AaltuFaltu in around 2005. They started drawing and exhibiting cartoons on political and social issues. Their cartoons appear regularly in Samadrusti from 2006.

The author is a journalist turned media academician, who presently heads the Dhenkanal campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in Odisha.

This article forms a part of his forthcoming book: ‘History of Journalism in Odisha’. He is available at:
www.mrinalchatterjee.in | mrinaliimc@yahoo.in

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