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The Existential Times: Indian Webcomic ‘Royal Existentials’

How Bengaluru-based writer Aarthi Parthasarthy’s webcomic ‘Royal Existentials’ is making Indians laugh and then take a good hard look around them

Anurag Tagat Jan 04, 2016
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The Royal Existentials creator Aarthi Parthasarthy jibes at the Indian nature of taking offence. Right click and open in new tab to enlarge

Who would have thought “Smash the patriarchy!” could become a tagline for an Indian webcomic? That’s the story of Royal Existentials, which was started by Bengaluru writer and filmmaker Aarthi Parthasarthy. A graduate in communication design from Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bengaluru, Parthasarthy has spent more than a year with weekly updates about everything from democracy to dating.

Bengaluru-based writer and creator of 'The Royal Existentials'. Photo: courtesy of Parthasarthy

Bengaluru-based writer and creator of ‘The Royal Existentials’. Photo: courtesy of Parthasarthy

Parthasarthy began placing speech bubbles over Indian vintage art and imagery and called it a webcomic, but there’s so much more to the Royal Existentials than that. Inspired by the similar anachronistic visual humor employed by American webcomic Wondermark, drawn by David Malki, Parthasarthy explores topics like inequality and existential angst. Says Parthasarthy, “It’s not specifically just about what’s in the news, but what is affecting my head. It’s got a socio-political edge, but it also talks about philosophical aspects of life.” More recently, she watched a documentary on the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 and has also been asked to write about the ongoing stir against the Film and Television Institute of India [FTII]’s current leadership. But still, when Parthasarthy sits down to actively put together the comic [usually every Thursday, since the site is updated every Friday], there’s a lot of whetting to do before it goes up online. “I try not to compromise on the standards, but keeping it going for more than a year is something I’m quite proud of. I really enjoy it, though. It’s like keeping a diary of thoughts.”

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A comic about gender inequality in India on The Royal Existentials

A year on, the persistence is beginning to pay off. In addition to getting praise from publications and increasing readership, Parthasarthy has been collaborating with other comic artists to write comics for the likes of The Guardian’s OpenComics section with visual artist Aindri Chakraborty, Indian Express and Motherland. She’s also working with Bengaluru-based visual designer Kaveri Gopalakrishnan on UrbanLore, a new webcomic on how urban India is changing. All of it features Parthasarthy’s wry, often sarcastic, humor. Royal Existentials is now part of the growing medium of using comics not just for laughs but to provoke thoughts. And in Parthasarthy’s case, she’s never received any backlash for talking about beef bans and the like. Says Parthasarthy, “The best part has been that there’s been a lot of discussion brought about the by Royal Existentials. People have come up to me and just had great, long conversations.”

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