People all the while seem to be pursuing a career that is far removed from their field of education. However, this one takes the cake. One would expect that a cartoonist who is aware of the funny bone would get trained as an artist. But, it so happens that one of the finest wildlife cartoonists in the country today actually trained to look into people’s mouths and mend their teeth, or worse, pull them out.
Yes, we are talking about Rohan Chakravarty. Very early in life, Rohan figured out dentistry was not for him. Boldly, unaware of the depth, he dived into cartooning wildlife, and related aspects of it. Through his cartoons, he has not only reached the masses creating awareness about wildlife and conservation, but is the first Indian cartoonist who is syndicated with Gocomics.
JLR Explore is happy to bring to you a conversation with Rohan Chakravarty.
- How did cartooning begin? What did your first doodles look like?
Thank you, for choosing to feature me. JLR Explore is a great place to be featured in, with like-minded wildlife enthusiasts all under the same roof (well, the same taskbar in this case!)
My first doodles may have been left behind on the epithelial linings of my mother’s womb and it is a little late to try to retrieve them now, but I’m sure they’d had contorted animals. I vaguely remember drawing a lot of rain in all my drawings as a kid.
- Who or what inspired you to become a cartoonist?
A striped seductress I met on a safari in Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary – it was after seeing this tigress bathing in a waterhole that my dormant love for wildlife was triggered into action. I wasn’t good at taking great pictures or writing great prose, but I excelled at drawing silly doodles on any and every blank surface I could lay my hands on. So, I decided to merge wildlife and the timeless art of silly-doodle-making and see what comes out of it.
- Dentist to cartoonist – how did the transition happen?
I think that the most ridiculous expectation our country has from youngsters is to have their career plans sorted out at 18. I for one had no clue whatsoever of what I was meant to do, and I joined the rat race for the lack of a better option. It was only after some sense got knocked into my head with age, that I realized that peeping into putrid, tobacco-stained mouths was not my calling. I began self-training for illustration, cartooning and animation design. Almost a year after my course got over, I secured a job as an animation designer for a multimedia firm, that brought me to Bangalore. By this time, Green Humour had also started developing and was being published in a few places. In December 2013, Universal Press Syndicate’s ‘Gocomics’ picked Green Humour for online syndication, making it the first series of comic strips from India to be distributed internationally. In 2014, I decided to bid goodbye to the day job that had gotten mundane, and took the plunge. I really enjoy making the story sound heroic, but there’s only so much I can write!
- Of all the streams you could have specialised in, why wildlife?
I wouldn’t say I deserve the tag. I am strictly an amateur where wildlife is concerned, but I do take a keen interest in the creatures that catch my fancy. Why wildlife? I think it’s because I relate much better with animals than people. I mean, wouldn’t it make much more sense to piss all over your property to lay your claim on it, rather than build a fence around it?
- All your comics have a strong conservation message. Why do you believe that cartoons are a way to communicate environmental issues?
I think that the human mind is accustomed to not only retain but also respond to something that has caught its visual interest rather than plain text. It is here that cartoons work. Cartoons score over articles or even films in that they don’t feed readers with an opinion, but encourage them to think and form one. It is therefore imperative for any conservation campaign to be accompanied by images that touch and move readers.
- The JLR Explore team loves your Fig Tree and Pangolin comics the best. We know it is hard to choose, but which ones are your personal favourites?
The JLR Explore team has great taste! Kidding, but thank you. My personal favourite from among my published work is a comic about Arctic Terns recounting their experiences from both poles to penguins and polar bears. It always cracks me up, just like the bears in the comic.
- Your first solo exhibition of wildlife caricatures was in 2014. How was the experience?
The fact that my first solo exhibition was held in Bangalore was possibly the best thing to have happened to my career at that stage. Being the ‘wildlife capital’ of India, Bangalore ensured that I got more of an audience than I was even prepared for. The event turned out to be a bumper success and brought together wildlife enthusiasts, professionals, writers, students and artists from various parts of the city. Even aside the exhibition, the professional growth that working in Bangalore has resulted in, has been a real blessing. I recently completed my second solo exhibition in Hyderabad where I also conducted a workshop on wildlife cartooning.
Rohan at his first solo exhibition in Bangalore, in September 2014.
Rohan with kids from Aga Khan School who attended his workshop and exhibition in Hyderabad.
- Have you spotted all the species you’ve drawn in the wild? How are you able to draw portraits with such precision?
I would love to say yes to that, but I haven’t been so lucky. I try and read up as much as I can about the animal I am drawing, more so if I haven’t seen it. Knowing anatomical details is important before the kid in me starts playing around with proportions and distorting them. It is always a fight between the 27-year-old and the 6-year-old halves of the brain, and the perfect illustration results when there’s a truce between the two!
- You have won several awards. Is there one among them which is very special?
The awards have all been special but the one that I cherish is a remark made by Ms. Belinda Wright, the feisty conservationist and wildlife warrior. She was the recipient of the Sanctuary Asia Lifetime Service Award, while I received the Young Naturalist Award. It was then in a conversation with her that she said to me, “there are quite a few like me but there’s just one you”. That remark provided a greater impetus to me than any award could!
Rohan with his Sanctuary Asia Young Naturalist Award
- You are published regularly in various online and print media. Which was your first publication ever? And where is it that you want to reach?
Green Humour first got published in Sanctuary Asia. It was a cartoon about the then Tiger Task Force. I really don’t have a game plan in mind and am dribbling the ball wherever I like on the field. Apart from comics, I have recently added a lot many parallel projects to my portfolio, having expanded the wildlife caricature series to international organizations such as Birdlife International, Heart of Borneo and the International Crane Foundation. While I indulge in cartooning with the prime aim of making some mischief every day, it is a bonus that a conservation message is sent across through my comics in subtext, and I would really love to see issues concerning wildlife conservation getting mainstream attention.
- Is there a Green Humour book on the cards? What’s next?
There are more chances of a three months old tiger making a successful kill in the wild than for a newbie to find a publisher, but I sure am working on it. I am hoping to expand into as many avenues as possible, reach out to more and more readers, and to have more and more fun!