When Nidhi Chanani, a freelance illustrator, cartoonist and writer, decided to tell a longer story, she had no qualms about the format of the book. She decided it would be a graphic novel. “After creating single illustrations for years, I wanted more. I wanted to tell a longer story. My background in literature and illustration made comics the perfect choice,” says the author about her debut graphic novel Pashmina, which narrates the story of Priyanka, who travels to India from a foreign land in quest for certain answers. She wants to know the reason why her mother abandoned her home in India years ago and how it looked like. Most importantly, she wants to learn about her father and why her mother left him.
Priyanka’s mother is reluctant to answer all these questions. For Priyanka, India exists only in her imagination. Things change when she finds a mysterious Pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. She wraps it and soon gets transported to a different place. Her journey to find her roots begins at that point.
It took the author, who was born in Kolkata and brought up in California, four years to complete the book that also deals with self-discovery. Has she drawn experiences from own life to set the background? “Priyanka and I have many similarities. We both love samosas and drawing comics!” says Nidhi. “I did write a lot from personal experience. Priyanka enjoys drawing and only has one close friend. She is teased at school for her economical and cultural differences. These aspects are directly plucked from my life. Her mom Nimisha is a variation of my mother. Nimisha is strong, religious and loving. And her mom’s life choices shape her environment as she navigates questions about her past. As I developed her back story, the elements of Priyanka’s character became apparent,” explains the author, who wants her creation to make others happy just like building it makes her so.
In April 2012, the Obama Administration honoured Nidhi as a champion of change. She has also illustrated Misty — The Proud Cloud, a children’s book.
Writing happened to Nidhi while pursuing the path of art. She cannot pick the moment when she decided to be a writer. It was a slow and steady process. “I’m not sure it was a decision that was so clear,” she says. “It was a process of learning how I wanted to draw and then how I wanted to tell stories with art. From there the path to comics became clear.”
Nidhi follows a liner format for writing. “I write the full script first. I do thumbnails next and then the final art,” she says. She has reworked the script of Pashmina eight times. “Thumbs, at least three times. The final art was minimally changed,” says Nidhi, who is inspired by the works of Gene Luen Yang, an Asian-American cartoonist.
“I found Gene Luen Yang in college. More than any other graphic novel priors, this American born Chinese made me believe that I could make my own comic book. Good comics do that — make you believe in yourself. Gene did not shy away from discussing difficult topics of internalised racism, the state of being a child of immigrants, and the universal awkwardness of being a teen. I saw how a difficult topic could be tempered through comics and allow for honest discussion. It’s my great pleasure to have his quote about Pashmina on the cover and to see him as a peer now,” she says.
Nidhi’s graphic novel journey continues. Right now, she is working on her next book Jukebox. “I am writing this book with my husband Nick Giordano. It’s about two Muslim-American cousins — Shaheen and Tannaz (or Shahi and Naz) — who find a jukebox that takes them back in time. It’s slated to release in 2020. I also have a children’s picture book that I’m illustrating, I Will Be Fierce that will release next year,” she sums up....