Prabha Mallya: The Beauty in Animals

Prabha Mallya: The Beauty in Animals

Meet Prabha, whose love for animals permeates off the sketch-board to your soul. She has a knack of capturing the various expressions of dogs, cats, jungle cats, hens, gorillas and even humans, the "social animal". An engineer turned illustrator/artist, she is a prolific graphic novelist and an alumnus of BITS Pilani, IIT Kanpur and SCAD!

KS: Could you tell us a little bit about how you got into illustration and design? What got you interested, how you went about it?

Prabha: I was drawing even as a little kid and was lucky enough to have an ever-growing collection of a ton of eclectic books at home to read and be inspired by. Growing up in Goa was tremendous fun. There were lots of trees to climb on and birds and street dogs to watch and streams to jump over — all fuel for ideas and adventures (still!)

Back then I didn’t really know much about what I wanted to do for a living, and studied engineering like almost everyone I knew. Studying it at BITS Pilani made all the difference, though. I was helping build sculptures and paint murals outside of classes, and enjoying a relatively open-minded curriculum that let me choose advertising electives if I wanted to! I realised that I really wanted to draw all the time instead of taking up a software job; so after BITS I enrolled at IIT Kanpur for a Masters in Design. Here, I got an exposure to so much — from product design to photography to stop-motion, and so eventually found my way to book design and comics and illustration (in that order!) in an informed sort of way. Later, studying at SCAD was time spent discovering illustration in a place where everything, everything was an inspiration — graffiti, old people, haunted houses, jam jars! After graduation, I worked for a time at Pencil Sauce in Bangalore, while art-directing for Manta Ray. I’ve been illustrating books and comics on my own for a few years now.


Prabha's Illustrations for Mixtape, available at Kulture Shop | Harper Collins' Black Bread White Beer | Birds from My Window and the Antics They Get up to | Her self authored book The Alphabet of Animals and Birds

KS: You’ve spent an enormous time drawing animals. It’s very interesting, not only the why but also the how. Do you have cats, do you study animals?

Prabha: I’ve always loved dogs — especially street dogs with their great brains and detailed backstories. Until some years back, I never really knew about cats. Indian street kitties are constantly on their guard and were nearly invisible to my street-dog-appreciating eye. And then, a fast and furious office kitten became my official mews. By being around me for the greater part of each day, she clawed her way into my client work and sketchbook. Thanks to observing this lolcat, I could suddenly see all those invisible street cats too. I can’t keep a pet here, so I watch other people’s cats and dogs with wide eyes trying to take in every detail. I study animals off the Internet, and try to get my illustrated creatures to look believable in their own way.


Some samples of her expert animal illustrations

KS: Tell us about your work in comic book making. You’ve been art director at Manta Ray, who’ve put out some great stuff. What are the different styles one could work with?

Prabha: I was reading a lot of comics in IITK and in SCAD, analyzing them in a literary way and using things I learnt from these breakdowns to make my own comics. Illustrating and designing for Manta Ray was an exciting way to see in real life the comics processes I’d only read about in school. It was a chance to work alongside some truly brilliant creators who were telling stories that were heartfelt, immediate, and perceptive responses to what was happening in the world around us. Later on I began to make tiny comics in my sketchbook, and eventually scripted and drew my own graphic stories for Manta Ray’s comic column The Small Picture and other stories.


KS: What do you feel about the growing comic book awareness in India? What about the stories the comic books tell? We recently had one with a rape victim as the heroine, does this signify an acceptance of comic books as means of communication than as fantasy superhero stories?

Prabha: Comics are such a wonderful medium to tell a story — the possibilities are really endless. The interaction of word and image in a comic is complex and fascinating enough for so many research papers, yet the relative ease of reading and visual interest in a comic book make it accessible to so many more people than lengthy prose. You’re right — the comic Priya’s Shakti possibly reaches many more people than say a novel version of the same story might have done.


Prabha's artwork in Motherland's Prisons' Issue

Though we do love our mythology-based stories in this country, and lean heavily on American comic superheroes — we seem to be growing out of it lately in an awesome way. So the future looks very exciting! Creators are writing and drawing comics in true, experimental and original ways if graphic short collections like This Side That Side: Restorying Partition or The Pao Anthology or DOGS! are an indicator. Magazines run multi-page graphic stories; publishers embrace ideas for graphic novels; the Internet is anybody’s go-to place for webcomics.


KS: You’ve been drawing accompanying illustrations and book covers for author Nilanjana Roy’s books – how did that come about? What are the things to keep in mind while illustrating for a book / story?

Prabha: Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings and its sequel, The Hundred Names of Darkness were both great stories that hooked me as a reader and had me visualising the world of the wildings right away. For The Wildings, I was inspired by several of the kitties in my neighbourhood and little details of the urban wild around here. For The Hundred Names, I got to use what I saw and photographed in Nizamuddin during a walk among the real wildings with Nilanjana. I like to stay true to the tone of the story when illustrating for a book or a story. Drawing inspiration directly from events and characters from the story is key to my role as an illustrator — but getting the visuals to wander a little into the world of the story and bring in hints of interesting new information adds a lot of fun and depth to an illustration.


Left: The cover to Manta Ray's first volume of the series TWELVE | Right: The cover for Nilanjana Roy's The Hundred Names of Darkness

KS: Where do you think the illustration and design scene in India is headed? Do you feel a place like KS can help catalyze the situation?

Prabha: The Internet has been a huge catalyst making illustration and design more visible as an industry, and has so many ways illustrators can display their work and collaborate with like-minded people across diverse disciplines. I think the mix of global perspectives with our uniquely Indian artistic sensibilities make for some really exciting work in illustration now. Places like KS help in promoting illustration and design as an exciting and effective visual communication device, and showcase the best of what’s brewing in the industry.

KS: What would your advice for young people who want to become illustrators be?

Prabha: Draw what you really want to draw (as much as you can!). Draw a lot to discover what you can do and how you can think as an illustrator.


Friends & Relations Tee | Crescent Goon Notebook | Found Lepard Art print, also available as a Tee and Notebook