Outlandish characters and tips on navigating life as a young comic artist from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology graduate
In the little over two years since Madhav Nair (aka deadtheduck) started making his self-titled comics, he has managed to populate them with characters that are almost too bizarre to imagine for anyone whose brain doesn’t tick quite like his. These preternatural beings — with knobbly hands and pudgy feet sprouting from their bodies — are so unlike anything we’ve seen that they render Madhav an inimitable talent.
A graduate of Shrishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Madhav grew up watching an “unhealthy amount of Spongebob, Ren & Stimpy and other shows with high pitched voice-acting and weird premises” — it’s no wonder he naturally gravitated towards monstrous creatures that are usually a combination of body parts he likes drawing over and over again.
When quizzed about his illustrative style, Madhav is quick to admit that it took him a while — and a bit of reflection — to spot some flaws in his initial approach to comic-making. He spent “a long time trying to have a definite style without thinking about the stories [he] wanted to tell”, an approach which he realised he could improve on. “Eventually I tried looking for a voice and not a style. I worked towards building a world and having certain rules that I would break only if the story required it,” he explains.
Almost all of Madhav’s quirks seem to be influenced by one compulsion or another: he once developed “an unhealthy obsession with drawing hands and feet attached to screaming dogs and cats,” he’s inspired by the themes of “decay, digestion and rotting flora,” and his comics run amok with “fleshy mutated things”. These works are almost always sans dialogue, too, with this proclivity towards silent comics developing from poring over films that relied on visuals to lead their stories rather than bland character exposition. “When you force yourself to tell a story without any text, it immediately changes the way you look at visual information, narrative and pacing. It also ensures that you don’t alienate a reader because they don’t speak the same language as you do,” he muses.
Madhav is also no stranger to the intrinsic struggle of living as a creative: juggling personal work along with a day job that pays the bills. He says: “This is a symptom of an industry that’s slow in paying for work and even slower in taking risks. I can’t think of anyone who’s gotten into self-publishing and also managed to make it sustainable, but every now and then there are stories of hope.” From events curated specifically for comics, to libraries and bookshops opening their doors to self-published zines, it’s a slow but steady growth.
Although he’s busy working on a series of canvases for an upcoming show while also experimenting with animation techniques, Madhav never seems to run out of relatable nuggets of knowledge. “I’ve realised my work alone won’t sustain my practice (yet), so having day jobs, doing diluted freelance work and taking the bus more often are all part and parcel of this experience. But that’s not an uncommon tale — this is what almost all my peers are up to, or at the very least a vague version of the same hustle — what’s always fun is finding ways for that struggle to inspire work as opposed to hinder it.” We can’t help but agree.