Interview with Indian Artist and Storyteller Ankitha Kini

Read graphicshelf interview of Indian Artist and Animator Ankitha Kini, as she talks about her story, inspirations and influences.

Where did it all begin for you? What made you get into writing /drawing graphic novels or art in general?

It all began with an extremely boring and lonely childhood. I was a shy child with no siblings and working parents. My best friends were comic books and cartoons on TV. I would make fanart of all these characters. It was also a time when there were really good international shows on TV in India. I grew up with Hey Arnold, Rugrats, Dexter’s Lab, and the daily Disney hour. At some point I think I really wanted to become a cartoon and go on adventures with Scooby Doo or have a science lab like Dexter. Ever since I realized that making these characters and their worlds can be an actual job, that’s all I’ve wanted to do.

Indian artist Ankitha Kini

Going to NID was a real boon for me and that’s where I started developing my own graphic language. I learned to look into my own roots for inspiration for my stories. People like Sekhar Mukherjee, Prakash Moorthy, Abeer Gupta and Isabel Herguera gave me the gentle push necessary to find what I really wanted to say. Also, a class by A.F. Mathew on sociology helped me place my art in context with society. Navigating the industry has been a real roller coaster ride since NID.

The most important thing I learned is the balance one needs to achieve between working for the industry and working for oneself. I’m finally finding more time to write and work on my own material. At first, I mainly stuck to animation and illustration. But I soon realized comics help me express my ideas faster and also give room for the reader’s imagination to take over. Now I enjoy this medium immensely and every step of the process is like solving a colourful puzzle. Every time I’m creating a story, I hear my little self from decades ago go “Whoopie!”


What kind of graphic material do you read or follow?

There are so many. The internet is a real boon for finding creators from all over the world. Currently I’m reading the Rabbi’s cat by Joann Sfar. I love the work of Guy Delisle, Craig Thompson, Osamu Tezuka. When I lived in India, I used to follow the comics on Mint newspaper every Saturday. That’s how I was introduced to Prabha Mallya’s work. I love the way she interprets the words into images. Recently, I came across this Graphic Anthology called Elephant in The Room by Zubaan books. I loved their work and am still relishing the book.

 American Born Chinese is another graphic novel which I like. I absolutely loved how Gen Leun Yang tells this story and could relate to all the states of mind that the protagonist goes through as I myself live in a country where I am extremely conscious of being ‘different’ or ‘alien’. I’m constantly trying to fit in and yet maintain my identity at the same time. For a light read, I’m following this comic series called Giant Days. I really enjoy the art and humor of it. Once I came across the first book of a comic series called Aya of Yop city. Seeing it, I was absolutely hooked. Sadly I only found that one book in English.

I also just got my hands on Longform, Volume 1. I can’t wait to read it.

What/ Who are your inspirations and earliest influences?

Well, my earliest influence has to be Tinkle comics. I used to devour those books as a child. Somehow, I did not like the mythological stories by Amar Chitra Katha. I felt like they didn’t match my imagination. Interpreting mythology is always tricky. In this regard, I really love Sita Sings the Blues by Nina Paley. Jim Davis’ Garfield made me realize it’s possible to make people laugh with just 3 drawings. I used to wait for the newspaper everyday just to see what Garfield is up to.

I’m a fan of Rebecca Sugar. I love her tv series Steven Universe.  It’s a mainstream show that does not shy away from tackling complex topics like gender, race and body image. I would love to learn her way of wrapping her core ideas into a colorful blanket of storytelling and reaching the audience at a subconscious level. I’m also a big fan of the studio Cartoon Saloon. I follow Nora Twomey in particular. Isao Takahata is particularly inspiring to me for his little known feature film called My Neighbors the Yamadas.

In the Netherlands, I follow the work of the artist Aimee De Jongh. I love her sense of humor and style. In India, I enjoy the visual style of Shilpa Ranade. I also take inspiration from writers like P.G. Wodehouse, R.K. Narayan, Tahir Shah and many more.


What do you think of the prevalent graphic novel and comic culture in India and Amsterdam (or Europe in general)? Is it stagnating or growing?

Graphic novel scene in India is definitely growing. I haven’t had the opportunity to read much of the Indian work as it’s difficult to get your hands on it here in Europe. I do see a lot more quality material being released every year. Animation festivals like Chitrakatha are also a step in the right direction. After all, great collaborations take place when creators are put together in one place. I just hope to see more lighthearted comics from India in the coming days as well. Something akin to Asterix and Obelix, Aya of Yop City or Giant Days. I feel lucky to be an Indian comic artist in this generation. There is so much to create and discover as the acceptance of this artform grows. I hope that Indian content will also appear more on quality online platforms so that it can reach more people internationally. 

As for Europe, the graphic storytelling industry is much more advanced. They produce content in all genres and for all ages. The audience is also much more accepting and aware of animation and comics. It’s heavenly to walk into a comic bookstore here. But then, compared to India, they also invest a lot on their writers and artists. In animation, there are government funds in the Netherlands allocated purely for making animated content. This takes a lot of pressure off the artists, allowing them more freedom to experiment. Also, the thing I admire most in the Netherlands is that even influential people in the industry are much more accessible. This makes it easier to approach directors, producers or investors for advice or to pitch your ideas. The communication is much faster and simpler than in India.


Does the current narrative prevalent in the graphic novel and comic world reflect our political and social situations or something much bigger is needed for the industry?

For India, yes, of course. Most graphic novels in India intentionally refer to the politics and society. Comic strips like Royal Existentials and Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land do a wonderful job reflecting our current political scenario with great humor. But then, I also believe the personal is political. So, even when an artist is simply making slice-of-life comics, his/her social setting and political ideology is clearly reflected in the work. This is why I feel that artists have to be extremely cautious of getting tunnel vision or just repeating what is said around them without looking deeper into the context.

 Indian artist Ankitha Kini

Tell me the most random thing about your art process.

My ideas are conjured up when I am most idle. Like when I’m lying on the bed staring at the ceiling or sitting on a train looking out the window or taking a long shower. My idling time always annoys my super-efficient family members of course.


If you could sum up the life of an artist in ONE word, what would it be?

I would use the word ‘Dream’. There is a philosophical idea that the Universe is lord Vishnu’s dream. I feel that as we dream we are constantly creating worlds populated with our imagination. When we can draw/represent these dreams, we are letting others share in these worlds and be a part of it just for a while.


Any words of wisdom for aspiring artists or illustrators?

As a young artist I used to look for inspiration for my art everywhere. I thought it would hone my creativity. Instead, it tended to frustrate me and create stereotypical results. Gradually, I learned to relax and decided I can have interests outside of the greed to create art. Now I read, travel and socialize for my own sake and trust that eventually, ideas from my experiences will cook themselves in my subconscious and reach me when they are ready. So I would say, don’t force your art. Look around and experience the world for its own sake.


If you could change one thing about “Bublee Bejaan Prosthetics” what would it be?

Nothing really. It was a student film that we made as a team. Given the limitations of time, budget and space, I’m quite happy with what we were able to make. Of course if it weren’t for those limitations, I think we could have increased the production quality even more. Overall, we learned a lot from making this film. I do wish we had sent it to more festivals though. As animators, we tend to forget the fact that we need to market and publicize our product once it’s made.


Find out more about Ankitha on her website. Read her following comics for free here

1, Bugglegups

2, Twisted Logic

3, Talk of the Town

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