Tell us a bit about yourself and your upbringing.
I was born in Nepal in 1978 and am in the middle of three children. I currently live in the UK with my husband and daughter, but when I go home we are a house with five generations! Ria, my daughter, is the youngest and my great-grandmother (Ria’s great-great-granny) is now 101!
My childhood was surrounded by family and cousins with frequent get togethers and sleep overs. I studied till 10th grade in Nepal and my family have always appreciated and supported my interest and talent in art. I think that is very important in our Southasian context because a lot of families can still discourage their children to pursue art.
Then I went to India to do my 12th at Maharani Gayatri Devi school (MGD) in Jaipur. Being away from home was a big shock and initially I found it very difficult to settle down. As the school I excelled in Art and after graduation I received the ICCR scholarship (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) to pursue BFA in Painting from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, Gujarat. It was a very good school for art and we had really good teachers. During my final year I made the "Sofa so Good' series of painting which depicted people as different kind of sofas and chairs. Some paintings also dealt with the issue of body image and being overweight.
After I finished I was home in Nepal for four years where I worked as an Art teacher and Illustrator. Then in 2005 I received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue an MFA in Illustration from School of Visual Art in New York. That is were my comic journey began and Miss Moti was born.
After three years in New York, my husband's work bought us to the UK. It was again a time of great change because we didn't really know anyone here and it was difficult to leave all my friends and comic community in New York. So I started volunteering at the Cartoon Museum to gain some experience and then started running my own art and comic workshops. I also worked as an Art Technician in a secondary school in Richmond.
After the birth of my daughter I had to leave working outside and now work from home primarily on Miss Moti and some children book illustrations. I have also started conducting workshops. I did an illustration workshop in Nepal last year and will be conducting a comic workshop in the UK in September.
How was Miss Moti created? How did you come up with the name?
Miss Moti came out of my struggle with body image issues like being overweight. I wanted to create a positive character that could achieve and accomplish things regardless of her size. I was inspired by my mother who, despite her weight, has never let it hold her back from doing anything. She is very active and full of energy.
When I was doing my BFA I had made a few paintings about being overweight. But the idea of creating a comic came together when I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York for my MFA. The school and teachers were very open-minded about all forms of art, whether it was paintings or comics. There I was introduced to a whole new world of comics and graphic novels. I realised the scope of comics and the kind of stories one could tell through that medium.
We also had a course on History of Comics, where we learnt about Winsor McCay and his Little Nemo stories. In it, a little boy falls asleep and has these wonderful adventures in Slumberland, only to wake up at the end and the reader is left to wonder whether it was all just a dream or not. This play between the dream and reality inspired my Miss Moti stories. There are generally always little elements in her stories that make you think that maybe events are not just in the imagination.
Stylistically, my work was initially inspired by the Maithali or Madhubani folk art from Nepal/India but it has changed over time. My thesis advisers, Stephen Savage and David Sandlin, really helped and guided me to create my first comic "Miss Moti and Cotton Candy".
I came up with the name Miss Moti because a friend of mine used to call me Moti. I wanted to change this negative connotation into a positive one. I liked the fact the Moti could mean a plump woman, but if you pronounced the “T” differently it could also mean a pearl. So the name, and her logo, suggests that Miss Moti might look plump and ordinary, but on the inside, she could be extraordinary and a gem of a person.
How has your personal life contributed to Miss Moti's fantasies and adventures?
My personal life does contribute to the stories. First of all, the character herself is inspired by my mother and the challenges I face. I find it difficult to climb stairs and often have dreams about flying or jumping through clouds which is probably what inspired the Miss Moti and Cotton Candy. For anthologies the theme given to us inspires the stories.
The Motivation Monday project that I am currently working on is more influenced by my personal life. It was started at the beginning of this year as a way for me to get back into making Miss Moti after a two year break since the birth of my daughter. It was also to motivate me after suffering from postnatal depression. On a weekly basis I choose motivational quotes to illustrate, and sometimes they are related to what is happening in my day to day life… it could be someone’s birthday, a friend feeling anxious, a family in difficult times or a national event. I try and find something positive to say. For example, when there was a report of rise in hate crimes in the UK following the Brexit vote, I illustrated the quote by W. Somerset Maugham which said “The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety”.
What is the process of making a Miss Moti comic?
The most important thing in making a comic is the planning stage where you jot down and plot your ideas quicktly. It can be pretty rough and just thumbnails, but it is important to if the flow of the story works well. Planning well ensures that you do not end up wasting time making too many changes during the final artwork.
When I first started I used to draw the outlines on paper and then colour on the computer. Now with my Wacom tablet, I do most of the work on the computer expect the initial planning stage. If it is Motivation Monday, I first start with finding a quote after which I think about what the image could look like to represent that quote. Then I plan a rough layout and look up reference images. I work on different layers on Photoshop, so separate layers would have the line work, colours, details, textures and so on. The more complicated the artwork, the more layers there will be. This enables me to correct one aspects of the image without affecting the others.
If I am working on an anthology the theme is generally provided and then it is a question of finding the story. For a comic, it takes more planning because you not only have to tell a story but also design the whole page and factor in the page turns as well.
Is Miss Moti a feminist? If yes, where does her feminism come from?
I didn’t consciously set out to make Miss Moti a feminist. But if she becomes a feminist icon I am happy about that. She was created to deal with body image issues more than anything else. But in defying the modern standards of beauty, I think she provides a counter point to the notion that a woman’s worth is in how she looks. Miss Moti does not let anything, including her weight, hold her back in life.
The values that a woman can be who and what she wants to be is deeply instilled in me and I guess Miss Moti reflects this. I grew up in a household with strong women. My great-grandmother was one of the few women to be educated but was not allowed to sit for her graduation exams. She was also widowed at the age of 16 with an 8-month-old son and yet she managed to raise her family and educate her children and grandchildren. She firmly believed in education and ensured that her daughter-in-law (my grandmother) would study alongside her son, something very rare in those days. This enabled my grandmother to study law at Oxford and she returned back to Nepal and dedicated her life to social service. She was also the principal of the first women’s college in Nepal. My mother too studied after her marriage, got a Fulbright scholarship and now works for UNICEF in Nepal. She is a very positive person and my inspiration for Miss Moti. So I didn’t have to look far from home to have role models. It was a very important grounding within a South Asian context where men generally get preferential treatment compared to women.
There has been a lot of advancement for the cause of women, but there is a lot that needs to be done to bring women in an equal footing as men, whether it is for equal pay or judgment standard and expectations. This is why I think Feminism is still important and relevant.
What is your experience of working in anthologies?
I have worked in several anthologies over the years and will probably do so again in the future. Miss Moti and her Short stories is a collection of my past contributions to anthologies like Rabid Rabbit, Secret Identities and Strumpet (an all women’s transatlantic comic for which I also co-edited issue three). Then recently, having survived the earthquake in Nepal, I co-edited the HOME anthology with my friend and manga artists Elena Vitagliano to raise money to conduct art therapy sessions for children rendered homeless by the earthquake.
I like working in anthologies because it is a group of people working towards a common goal. When the book is launched you get to meet the other participants and connect. Co-editing is a different experience as there is a lot of things you have behind the scenes and follow up but it is very rewarding. When you co-edit you have to think about everyone else’s work, not just your own.
What is your experience about being a woman and South Asian comic artist?
I am happy to say I have never faced any barriers or prejudice for being a woman comic artist… in fact it has opened more possibilities! I think my South Asian background makes me different. Generally the comic artists are quite accepting and supportive, specially in the small press and self published field. I have always had a lot of encouragement from them, especially from Paul Gravett who has worked in comics publishing and promotion for more than 20 years.
I have been a participant and co-editor of the Strumpet, women's only comic anthologies. Recently I was also part of the Comix Creatrix exhibition at the House of Illustration in London and it featured 100 female comic artists. The exhibition emphasised that this was just the tip of the iceberg and that we should no longer question the presence and contribution of women in comics.
Leading from that exhibition I was asked to be a panellist at Bradford Literature Festival. This month I am a part of another exhibition opening at the Lightbox in Woking and will also be conducting their Young Curators workshop.
What would you like to say to young women who are suffering from body image issues and depression?
It is understandable that people suffered from body image issues when they are living in a world that places so much importance on appearances. Women certainly get judged more, but this is not only a woman's problem. There are a lot of things people could feel insecure about, not just their weight. Even if you are the prefect weight, you might still not like aspects of your body like your feet, or your hair etc. However, if we shift our focus from our outer selves to our inner selves, we can start feeling better. Miss Moti is not advocating that we should be fat and unhealthy; she is advocating that we should not let our insecurities and body image stop us from doing what we want to do in life.
In terms of depression, I think the main thing to realise is that you are not alone. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is to accept that you might be suffering because mental health can still be a taboo subject. Postnatal depression can specially be very difficult because it strikes at a time when you are trying to bond with your new baby and you are supposed to be happy. The anxieties get ramped up and combined with sleep deprivation you could end up feeling like a bad mother. It really helped me to go to a support group because you are in a non-judgmental group with others who are going though the same situation. I am still good friends with many of the women I met there and we continue to help each other whenever we feel low. I didn’t take medication, but a lot of my friends did and it can be a big help. They tell me it enables them to detangle their thoughts and reason with unwarranted thoughts and anxieties.
Why have you decided to work without speech bubbles?
It didn't start as a conscious decision. When I made my first comic, I just felt there was no need for words to understand Miss Moti's emotions. Now I also feel the lack of words invites the reader to put their own thoughts, feelings and experiences into the story… it makes her more relatable.
The wordless comic also helps the story to transcend borders and language barriers and makes it more universal. An image speaks a thousand words.
How was it self-publishing your books?
I think self-publishing is a great option which has become possible now with modern and cheaper printing technology. I think this has made it possible for a larger variety of stories to become available. I have self-published all my three Miss Moti books in Nepal and India. I have also been a co-editor of two anthologies in the UK (Strumpet and Home) which were self-published here.
And if you have a story to tell but no way to fund it you could either put it online as a webcomic or use webites like kickstarter to raise funds.
What is the future plan for Miss Moti?
I have a five story arc of Miss Moti which I would like to get published through a publishing house. I have self-published my books till now and it would be good to be able to be have the books available to a larger audience, specially in other countries.
Motivation Monday is an ongoing projecttill atleast the end of 2016 and hope to collect the illustrations into a book or journal.
Here are some common questions that I get asked. Hope it helps :)