Everyone loves a good comic strip. They’re fun, informative and classic. Comic strips form a sense of escapism from the humdrum of life and in my opinion, are liked by both kids and adults. They don’t necessarily always have to be for children, and over the years it has only proved to be purely entertaining for adults, who especially take an interest in politics.
India has produced some of the finest cartoonists who have used their art to deliver a social message and break stereotypes. Right from K Shankar Pillai and Sudhir Dhar to Satish Acharya, these cartoonists have created and left a legacy of clever and conscious art, thereby enabling aspiring cartoonists to take the baton forward.
We applaud and remember the work they left behind and also marvel at the cartoonists who continue to entertain us with their rib-tickling sense of humor.
Sudhir Dhar is far from being an unfamiliar name in the universe of Indian art and politics. He started his career with All India Radio where he worked as an announcer in the 1950s. A sketch he drew of the news editor of The Statesman during a talk radio show led to an offer to work at the paper. With no formal training, he eventually joined The Statesman and continued until 1967 doing front-page pocket cartoons without captions titled Out of My Mind.
Dhar was a political cartoonist whose comic strips formed the backdrop of a common man’s life in Delhi. His characters were relatable who spoke of their concerns during a political upheaval. He also sketched and interviewed Satyajit Ray in the filmmaker’s study in Kolkata. He illustrated for his father Krishna Prasad Dar’s Kashmiri cookbook as well as the astro-physicist Jayant Narlikar’s Journey through the Universe. He passed away in 2019 following a cardiac arrest at the age of 87.
K Shankar Pillai
Known as the original godfather of Indian political cartooning, K Shankar Pillai is known for his tongue-in-cheek humour. He was known for his courage and vision to feature top bureaucrats and politicians in his comic strips, sparing none for the newspapers.
Shankar’s cartoons were published in The Free Press Journal and The Bombay Chronicle. Pothan Joseph, the editor of the Hindustan Times brought him to Delhi as a staff cartoonist in 1932 and continued as its staff cartoonist till 1946. Shankar was briefly trained in London and after returning to India during independence, he used the techniques to carve his own vision in india. The idea came true when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru released Shankar’s Weekly, edited by Shankar himself.
A household name today, RK Laxman entertained the country across six decades. The self-taught artist never silenced his opinions about the common man, political mayhems, and India’s rich history. His art made the affluent and middle-class laugh, cry, and angry, leaving the former to contemplate that they too could be ripped apart by his humour.
RK Laxman was popular for his depiction of ‘The Common Man’-a middle-aged bald and bespectacled man, clad in a dhoti holding either a newspaper or an umbrella. It couldn’t get more authentic than this and he perfected the idea of what it was to be Indian.
Did you know that JJ School of Arts in Mumbai turned down this aspiring artist in the late 1930s? They’re now erecting a memorial of India’s greatest political cartoonist in their campus, a thought they never reckoned of.
Known for his remarkable wit, Sudhir Tailang was a well-known political cartoonist who did not shy away from being candid about his political views. Born in Bikaner, Tailang started his career with the Illustrated Weekly of India in Mumbai in 1982. A year later, he joined the Navbharat Times in New Delhi and had worked with all major English newspapers including the Hindustan Times, the Times of India, the Indian Express with the Asian Age being his last assignment.
He launched a book of cartoons titled No, Prime Minister, a set of cartoons on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and was also awarded the Padma Shri in 2004 for his notable work over the years. A young lad from humble beginnings who was primarily a Hindi cartoonist soon found fame as his English language comic strips were seen in every leading newspaper.
“The boy who would look up with envy to Laxman was suddenly in the same league–certainly for someone so young”, as quoted by Narayanan Madhavan, a senior journalist at Hindustan Times and a former colleague of Sudhir Tailang. Sudhir Tailang passed away in 2016 after battling a brain tumour for over 2 years.
Another name that adds up to the list of great political cartoonists is Rajinder Puri. He was a cartoonist, activist, and the Founding General Secretary of the Janata Party and later became the Founding General Secretary of Lok Dal. Puri was also a journalist and is fondly cherished by his colleagues as a person who often listened intently and did everything he could to help a fellow journalist. Apart from working with the Hindustan Times and The Statesman, Puri had also drawn cartoons briefly for The Guardian in London and The Glasgow Herald.
His work is known to be highly criticized by politicians, especially by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi who had concerns about his caricature.
A native of Kundapura, Karnataka, Satish Acharya is a popular cartoonist actively sketching his work about ongoing politics. Acharya’s cartoon on the Charlie Hebdo Massacre was regarded as the one of the most powerful cartoons on the tragedy by the foreign media and the cartoon was published in newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The Times and The Guardian.
Apart from these comic strips being amusing, they were also clever and a lot of thought went into laying out something sensible for the masses to ponder over. Like them, so many cartoonists today are using art as a medium to voice their feelings and have also made a career for themselves.
Cartoonist Ajit Narayan on One Page Spotlight founded India’s First Doodle Art Festival for children helping them explore their creative thirst from a young age. We love how hundreds of children each year are a part of this festival and this proves that if you teach them young, children will evidently draw confidence and strength from art in making the right career choices.
To look at Ajit Narayan’s work, follow him here.