Storytelling Is Not Dead: Interview Six – Nidhi Chanani

Please check out my previous Storytelling posts here.  And my 365 Reviews here.
Welcome to interview six!
I met Nidhi Chanani at Denver Comic Con this past year as we found ourselves in the same panel room, on a panel together.  Her insight was inspiring, and sitting next to her, I knew that I was leaving the con with a copy of Pashmina, and I blogged a review soon after.
When assembling a list of interesting folks that I was considering interviewing on my storytelling quest, the freelance illustrator, cartoonist, and writer was one of the first names to make the list.  I reached out, and she agreed!
Me: I reviewed Pashmina in my 365 blog quest, and I loved it!  I remember thinking that it had a very unique voice and style that allowed it to stand out in the sea of graphic novels that I was reading and reviewing at the time.  What do you think it is about your story that allows you to create from a place that is uniquely you?
NC: The style of Pashmina is the only one I know.  I embrace my drawing style and focused on developing that skill.  I know many artists who challenge themselves to draw realistically, or in a specific style or voice.  I thought about doing that for awhile but it was more difficult than drawing the way I enjoy drawing.  I incorporate composition, rhythm and story in each panel and page.  I enjoy that challenge, and I believe when you enjoy what you’re creating the reader will sense that.
As for the voice of Pashmina, it’s a very familiar experience.  Much of Priyanka’s life is similar to my own.  Her mom is similar to my own.  I did the work necessary to make sure that all the characters weren’t copies of real people, though.  I enjoy basing my characters off people I know and then writing beyond what I know to create a unique personality.
Me: Why is the graphic novel such an important way to tell a story?
NC: I don’t believe a graphic novel is more or less important than any other method of telling a story.  I’m an avid reader and always have been – whether its comics, fiction, non-fiction or poetry – all of them are important.  Each medium has it’s strengths.  Just as poetry has an economy of words, comics have an economy of line.  The expressions of characters, the beats of each panel, the ability to be a director, actor, writer and artist of your novel.  It’s pure joy and pure pain to create an entire graphic novel – the pain is the sheer amount of work involved.  I always say if I’d known before making Pashmina how much work it was, I may never have started.
But then there’s joy. Finding new ways to utilize the page turn, laying out pages and pacing in a dynamic way that adds layers to the story – small, successive panels that show the speed of a scene, or large panels that cause you to pause and feel the weight of a scene, writing characters that are flawed and relatable, use the visuals to carry the emotions of the story… hide clues and character information in backgrounds and scenery.  Obviously I can go on and on, but suffice to say that I love comics as one of many great methods of storytelling.
Me: I love that idea of economy of line.  I’m stealing that!  So what artists’ or writers’ stories captured your heat and soul as you grew into a storyteller?  Why do you think those creators had an impact on you?
NC: There are so very many amazing creators.  I’ll name my top two – Gene Yang and Marjane Satrapi.  When I read American Born Chinese I was floored.  It’s deceptively simple, because its deeply layered.  It’s a nuanced look at identity, internalized racism and the power that comes in accepting who you are.  Similarly, Persepolis is an exploration of identity, misunderstandings, struggle and family.  Satrapi also has a deceptively simple style but what she does is remarkable.  I’m drawn to fiction generally, but her memoir is an all time favorite of mine.  It’s honest, educational and brilliantly told through comics.
Me: What advice would you give young up and coming creators as they explore their passion?
NC: Draw often.  Start with short stories.  Finish it even if you dislike it.  Be nice to each other – the industry is very small.  And lastly, be okay with saying no.  The projects that you are excited about are the ones that will serve you and your career – if you aren’t excited, walk away.
I want to thank the insightful and wonderfully creative Nidhi Chanani for her time.  I think our takeaway today is “be nice to each other.”  When we get into our passions, our worlds really do shrink, and knowing and remembering that can have a great impact on the relationships we build or burn.
If you get a chance, and have not as of yet, read Pashmina!
Happy Storytelling!

Eric

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