It was the 11th September, 1987, a month before the first cricket world cup to be played outside England and in the dust bowls of India. In Kolkata (then Calcutta), there was a cry of delight from the parents of a newly born baby boy and the father of the baby boy didn’t say “Mera beta bada hokar engineer banega“. Okay, Okay, that was a very poor attempt at humor.
Nishant Jain, of The Testimonial Comics, agreed to do an interview for ManipalBlog.com. He was even kind enough to draw up an exclusive cartoon for us (It’s at the bottom of this post by the way), but we do hope you read the story of this remarkable individual first.
Nishant grew up in Calcutta and came to Manipal to study Mechanical Engineering, at the Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal University. Currently he is studying for a Master’s degree in Biomechanics at TU Delft, in the Netherlands. Here, apart from studying, he plays the guitar with his friends in a band! He started The Testimonial Comics as a way to vent out ideas and thoughts. Humour is often the best way to communicate with people, and its working well so far for Nishant!
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): Alright, when did you first get interested in comic art, and were you encouraged to draw when you started? Most parents think it’s a waste of time.
Nishant Jain (NJ): I was really encouraged to read and draw. I was always buying books at the Book Fair and at almost any book-store I went past. It is something I’m very grateful for now, that I didn’t have to waste precious hours and days in my childhood doing any tuitions or extra classes. I have to thank my parents for that. As a result, I basically had a larger part of each day to do whatever I wanted – read, play cricket, write, draw.
My interest in comics started when I was very young. I used to read Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield and Hagar the Horrible in the newspapers every day. Then, at Manipal, I was introduced to serious comics and graphic novels such as V for Vendetta and Watchmen. They had a very profound impact on me, and I was attracted to this power of ideas narrated in such a visual format.
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): Why engineering?
Nishant Jain (NJ): This was probably the big, conventional choice of my life. I chose engineering for the reason 90% of students do – I was confused about what I wanted to do and wanted to keep my options open. Engineering helps you do that. But I am also really glad I chose engineering. It helped me meet people from all over the country at Manipal. And the best thing about engineering students, which people don’t immediately see is, that the studies make you instinctively ask why and how about everything in the world around you. It’s just something that seeps into you and I don’t see that as much in people who study the arts or commerce. I guess I’m being parochial, but this has been a personal observation and I stand by it.
Somehow, though, I ended up really liking engineering. Now here I am, doing a Master’s in the Netherlands, all through a series of unpredictable events.
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): What achievements are you proud of?
Nishant Jain (NJ): I must say being part of the founding team of Formula Manipal was a big, big thing for me. To be involved in something so incredible, to have to struggle against college authorities to make sure that it happened and then again to ensure that we could pass it on to succeeding batches of Manipal students – it feels great that I was part of the start of all that they’re accomplishing now.
I am very proud of The Testimonial Comics. I don’t think I’m particularly unique in my ideas or my imagination. Ideas and crazy jokes are everywhere, but unfortunately few people actually take a step forward with them. I am glad I did that, and that makes me very happy and very proud. I am getting recognized for this now, and that feels quite awesome. I recently made a comic for The Telegraph in Kolkata, which was a newspaper I grew up reading ever since I could read. To have my bio and comic published there, that was a bit surreal. Then getting published every month in ‘90 Minutes’, which is fast becoming India’s biggest football magazine is another big accomplishment.
I am also really proud of the small things I have done in life, which are insignificant but very cool to me. Like singing songs outside 13th Block with 10 other guys (these were days before the infamous Campus Patrol came along), seeing the expression on the faces of some of my professors when we showed them the first Formula Manipal race-car (I remember some of them had asked us to give it all up and just look for a job), attending a Mark Knopfler concert in the Netherlands. These are small things and not the stuff you add to a CV, but these are the things to remember and that make me proud when I look back.
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): What are the clubs you were part of when in College at Manipal Institute of Technology?
Nishant Jain (NJ): I was part of the Editorial Board in 2008. Then I was in Formula Manipal until my 7th sem and I had no time for anything else!
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog):What was your experience at Formula Manipal? Do you still keep in touch with what’s going on with the new Car?
Nishant Jain (NJ): Formula Manipal was the single most important experience for me at Manipal. It actually gave me a reason to study! I mean, I was sitting in class not paying attention just like everyone else, but only so that I could read technical papers about transmission systems and engine design under my desk. FM gave me a feeling of confidence in myself and my abilities as an engineer. I made engineering designs on my laptop, I gave successful sponsorship presentations to companies all over India – it was genuine empowerment. For that reason, I’m really, really glad that MIT has so many technical projects going for it nowadays. I would urge everyone to be a part of something or the other. You really need to do more than class-work to be an engineer.
I keep in touch with what’s happening with the current team on Facebook. It’s heartening to see how professional and organized things have become now. My other team members from the first FM team and I sometimes wish we could be in Manipal again, so that we could be part of Formula Manipal, now that there is a proper workshop, relatively stable funding and all this knowledge transfer from previous cars. We had none of that!
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): Delft University. How is life different compared to an Indian university?
Nishant Jain (NJ): Ah, as different as anyone can imagine. Delft is one of the leading technical universities in the world and I understood why within the first couple of weeks here. They really focus on the academics here, instead of unnecessary tricks like moral policing and demeaning students which Indian universities seem to enjoy doing. The courses are flexible and 60% of them are open electives, which you can take from any faculty in any subject. I think when you select your own courses, you feel more responsible towards doing well in them. The professors are fantastic. You really see that they are here because they enjoy their lives teaching and doing research, and that enthusiasm passes down to the students.
A fundamental difference is that here they give priority and importance to a student’s needs, instead of simply telling them what to do. No one stops students from having parties and no one tells you when to go to sleep. If you make a challenging course, people will themselves show up for class, you won’t need to take attendance. So, when you see a professor in Manipal cutting your attendance because you’re 3 minutes late, that’s not your failing as a student really, but his insecurity towards his own calibre as a teacher. In Manipal, professors and authorities are anti-you from your very first day in college. You get the sense that they hate you already, they just really wanted your parents’ money. So you get hate from students in exchangefor prejudice, hate, perm times and campus patrol from the authorities.
Interestingly, perm times and financial greed was the subject of a 45-minute shouting match I once had with a warden in my first year. But we shouldn’t go into such controversial topics, I suppose…
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): What sparked your interest with Comics? How old were you when you “discovered” comics -what are your first memories: did you have favourite characters or a title you’d go out of your way to get a hold of?
Nishant Jain (NJ): I am a really serious fan of Calvin and Hobbes. And Calvin will be one of the most important characters to me ever written. Now, I am a fan of the work of Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman. I guess what really excites me about comics is that they engage your imagination both with words and with visuals. That gives so much creative space to do awesome things in. In the end, it’s all about telling a story or getting a thought across.
And the best part about comics can be that, as in life, sometimes the most profound thoughts are shared through jokes and comedy. Like Calvin, for example – “That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world! Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!”
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): How did Testimonial Comics start? What was the inspiration?
Nishant Jain (NJ): The Testimonial Comics started in April 2010, when I was in my last sem at Manipal. I think that automatically means I had pretty much nothing to do with my time. It started as a joke directed at a friend who was telling me about her life. I drew a comic about some stuff about her, and shared it on Facebook. It became really popular really quickly! I made some more and they were being shared by people I didn’t even know and I started getting all these compliments and friend requests. You know it’s something special when a GUY gets friend requests and compliments on Facebook! I mean, that sort of stuff does NOT happen.
Anyway, a friend suggested I start a website and I thought that was a good idea. I named it Testimonial Comics because the first comic was a testimonial to her and I figured I would do it like that – every comic would be a testimonial to something specific in pop culture, a person or an event or any of the ten thousand idiosyncrasies people have.
That happened in June 2010, and here we are now!
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): Another question, the very pedestrian but still interesting: “Where do you get your ideas from?”
Nishant Jain (NJ): I get my ideas usually just in every-day activities. I don’t consciously sit down to brainstorm or think about comic ideas. I think I’ve had a creative bent for a long time, so I’ve learned over time how to deal with it. You just have to give it breathing space. What that means is, whenever I see something or hear something, I have a parallel track of nonsense going in my head. Like a light switches on in one corner of the head and a thought bubble pops up saying – “What if…?”
I pretty much live like that now, parallel trains of thought wherever I am whatever I am doing. The next part is having the confidence and trust in your sense of humour and drawing the comic out. I think everyone can make comics and jokes and things if they only allow themselves to be silly sometimes.
You have to be a child at heart. And as hundreds of people would testify, there are few grown up people capable of being more childish than me! 😛
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog):So are you one of those drawing tablet artists or do you use paper and ink?
Nishant Jain (NJ): I started out drawing on spare sheets of paper. My copy of my graduation thesis for Manipal is littered with drawings on the side. But since I am not a very natural artist, it helps to use the drawing tablet which I have been using for over one and a half years now. It was a gift from my friends on my birthday.
(In case you use paper):What paper/board do you use and what type of pens/brushes? (in case of computer):What drawing tablet/art program do you use for your work?
You can work with Photoshop and Paintshop pro. I found a useful software called Manga Studio, which is designed for making comics. My graphic tablet is from a company called Genius. It’s a sturdy and relatively cheap option in the market.
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): Do you produce detailed thumbnail art to break the script down –rough pencil breakdowns before the real work starts?
Nishant Jain (NJ): As soon as I have an idea, I grab the nearest piece of paper I can find and write it out. Then when I sit to draw it on the laptop, I recreate it visually and break it into panels. Sometimes, I draw panels out with pencil first, for the really art-intensive comics. But usually, Testimonial Comics are about the idea and the dialogues, so I don’t need to do detailed thumbnail copies.
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): Which web comics do you read?
Nishant Jain (NJ): Quite obviously, the artwork of Testimonial Comics is inspired from XKCD, which was the first webcomic I became addicted to. Other than that, I regularly read The Doghouse Diaries, A Softer World, The Oatmeal and Cyanide & Happiness. Some of the rage-comic pages on Facebook are really funny too!
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog): You’ve listed yourself as a Comician at 90 minutes. A little bit on this.
Nishant Jain (NJ): 90 Minutes is a football magazine started in India last July by a group of ex-MIT students. I knew the editor, Atishay Agarwal, from before and he approached me to make football-related comics for them. I obviously leapt at the option of putting my comics and name in print. I also think that their idea is basically mint – India has a huge football following and a magazine written from an Indian point of view is exactly what the country needs!
It’s been great working with them so far, and I’m sure it’s going to be a long association. I have serious respect for these guys, they backed their passion and chose to struggle and follow their interests instead of conforming to society or compromising in any way.
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog):People really are interested in this type of thing so could you explain what your working day is like –do you have a set method of working?
Nishant Jain (NJ): Well, my full time job is that of a student. I’m in the middle of my Master’s thesis right now and that’s a big enough responsibility by itself! So, my work on comics is only through ideas which strike me as and when they do. I note them down and I draw them as soon as I can. Although I started Testimonial Comics with fixed days of comic updates, I have now become quite haphazard about it. Some weeks have two comics while others have one. I really would like to have a set method of working, but time management isn’t one of my skills!
Dr.Vishaal Bhat (ManipalBlog):This is the big question. How would you like to see career in ten years time –more mainstream comics?
Nishant Jain (NJ): Ideally, in ten years, I will be in India writing full-time. The Testimonial Comics will continue and grow as well – I’m collecting material for a compilation book. But I would like to be involved with writing for more mainstream comics, and even just writing in general. We are citizens of a fantastic, chaotic, crazy country and this is the most exciting time in our independent history. We need more people to tell its stories.
And finally, Nishant drew us this comic . . . Do let us know what you think of it!