Ask the avid reader of a daily newspaper about which politician threw which jibe at who in the Parliament, and she’ll be ready with the answer as well as the entire quote. Ask the subscriber of a daily news app which actor wore that outlandish dress at Cannes, and he’ll even be able to tell you its price and its designer. Ask them which snake was discovered in the country yesterday, and you’d be greeted with a puzzled silence. Why? Because wildlife, unlike politicians and celebrities, rarely ever makes it to Page 1 or Page 3. And because wildlife generally cannot stage scandals and wardrobe malfunctions to make the headlines, bridging that knowledge gap becomes the task of creative visual communication.
“Cartooning is a barometer of freedom”, says the exiled Venezuelan cartoonist Rayma Suprani. Through history, cartoons have been every reader’s go-to section of the newspaper, every subscriber’s favourite window on his app. While in the papers, the cartoon has always done the job of reflecting the mood of the paper, the reader and the nation on that given day, online, the art form has become one of the most ‘shareable’ commodities, serving as a humorous summary of information and daily events. But environmental matters, by and large, have been missing from the cartoon canvas.
The American cartoonist Jay Norwood ‘Ding’ Darling had got that ball rolling in the 1960s, with cartoons on unsustainable game hunting and species extinction frequenting his usually political column. Finnish cartoonist and naturalist Seppo Leinonen carried that baton forward, with his entire cartooning portfolio devoted to natural history and environmental issues, made all the merrier with his proficient draftsmanship. Canadian biologist-cum-cartoonist Rosemary Mosco brings in a very fresh and contemporary twist to the genre with her quirky humour and adorable characters. Meanwhile in India, the wildlife cartooning bug bit yours truly, when I crossed paths with my first wild tigress in a tiger reserve called Nagzira, a few hours away from my hometown Nagpur.
Having dabbled more than a teal as a cartoonist, trying out everything from aliens to social commentary, I found my feet only when I took wildlife as my muse. And thankfully, the relationship has proven to be symbiotic. In the ten years that my series Green Humour has existed, been published and read across different media, my cartoons have served readers of all ages, interests, ideologies and vocations as information snippets on environmental happenings.
What started as something purely to satisfy and amuse myself, gradually assumed the role of the friendly neighbourhood mediator between conservation science, biology and the layman. Green Humour started off with a few sporadic appearances in the ace wildlife magazine Sanctuary Asia, later acquiring columns with Saevus magazine, Tinkle Digest, Sustainuance magazine among others.
The Universal Press Syndicate picked up the series for online syndication in 2013 on its webcomics channel ‘Gocomics’, and since then Green Humour has run periodically in the newspapers BL-ink, Sunday Mid-Day, Pune Mirror and The Hindu.
Through the course of developing this series, I have grown to realize that cartoons on conservation work in three ways: deliver the message of conservation without making it preachy, eliminating jargon and making the information being presented easy to retain and respond to, and instilling a curiosity and respect for the natural world in the mind of the reader. It is this friendly handshake between the natural world and our minds, that I invite you to make by reading this book.
“Green Humour for a Greying Planet” by Rohan Chakravarty has been published by Penguin India and is available at your local bookstore and online.