The GeeksverseREVIEW | Krishna: A Journey Within TPB (Image Comics)

REVIEW | Krishna: A Journey Within TPB (Image Comics)
Published on Saturday, December 8, 2012 by
Abhishek Singh spent three years working on Krishna: A Journey Within, a graphic novel that draws on portions of the Mahabharata and other Puranic texts for inspiration. The result is nothing short of a brilliant display of artistic virtuosity. 

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • An ambitious attempt at presenting the life story of Krishna by adapting and condensing portions of the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata and other Puranic texts into graphic novel form.
  • Outstandingly executed, fluid and dynamic art.
  • Glossary helps explain many of the more esoteric terms used in the book.
  • Includes an extensive collection of sketches, thumbnails, character design sheets, and other pre-production material.

Cons:

  • None of significant note, although it must be said that some familiarity with the basic story elements and themes of the Mahabharata will go a long way towards giving the narrative that much more clarity.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Publication Date: December 2012
  • Written and illustrated by: Abhishek Singh
  • Lettered by: Nilesh Mahadik
  • Logo/Graphic design by: Dev Kabir Malik
  • Format: 300 page, full-color trade paperback.
  • List Price: $29.99 (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale on 05 December 2012

Page Previews (Click on images to view in larger size)

   

For more preview images and the animated trailer video, check out our Krishna: A Journey Within preview.

Full Review

A disclaimer: The reviewed book is grounded in ideas and themes found in Hinduism and the Mahabharata that I am familiar with only in a marginal sense. Any errors and inaccuracies in the presentation of these ideas and themes in the review are wholly my own and are purely unintentional, and should not be interpreted as stemming from the book being reviewed.

New Delhi-based comics artist and animator Abhishek Singh’s Krishna: A Journey Within makes for one of the bolder Image Comics debuts in recent memory. The 300-page graphic novel took Singh three years to finish and attempts to adapt key portions of the Mahabharata—the ancient Sanskrit epic that has been described as the “national epic of India” and “the Hindu bible”—and other Puranic texts such as the Bhagavata Purana and compile them into an overview of the life of Krishna, the complete avatar of the Vedic preserver-god Vishnu.

At first blush readers may think to compare the book to Katsuya Terada’s The Monkey King, P. Craig Russell’s The Ring of the Nibelung, or Roy Thomas and Greg Tocchini’s Marvel Illustrated: The Odyssey, but Singh’s work is in an entirely different resolution. Krishna: A Journey Within is a single volume while Terada, Russell, and Thomas and Tocchini’s adaptations were spread out over multiple published installments; Singh’s source material is on a much grander scale as well: the Mahabharata alone is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. Having to draw story ideas and themes from as large a body of work as the Puranas and condensing them so as to be suitable for use in a 300-page graphic novel is a daunting endeavor no matter how one looks at it, but Singh manages to include abbreviated depictions of key events in the life of Krishna such as his birth and childhood, his relationship with Radha the gopi, his philosophical instruction of the warrior-hero Arjuna as found in the Bhagavad Gita, the series of events that lead to the Kurukshetra War, the Kurukshetra War itself, and Krishna’s death. I am not familiar enough with the mythology and theology of Krishna to comment meaningfully on the effectiveness or accuracy of Singh’s work as a compendium, but I will say that it is completely functional and even affecting at points as a linear account of the avatar’s life, even though I did find myself having to occasionally read synopses of a number of chapters in the Mahabharata posted on the Internet in order to place some story events in Krishna: A Journey Within in their proper narrative context.

For most potential readers, the main draw here will likely be the promise of Singh’s outstanding art, which combines ink, watercolor, and color marker techniques. The lush colors and the dramatic staging of panels pops right out of the pages. I am quite unfamiliar with the Indian comics art scene, my only prior exposure to comics art from the subcontinent being Jeevan Kang’s work on Marvel’s Spider-Man: India and Virgin Comics’ Seven Brothers, so I am not sure if Singh is channeling a locally-informed comics style. What is clear however, is the strong impression of the contemporary Western animation aesthetic on his art. The characters and backgrounds call to mind Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack and the production design work of Alex Niño, Hans Bacher, Regis Loisel, and Paul Felix on Mulan and other mid- to late-1990s feature-length Walt Disney animated films. The animation influence extends to the storytelling as well: Singh’s “camera,” so to speak, is quite dynamic, tracking the action in creative and exciting ways while still drawing the eye in an intuitive fashion and keeping things easy to follow and largely uncluttered.

The art critic Thomas McGonigle wrote in 1979 that “Writing about painting is like dancing about architecture.” For this review, that quandary is further compounded by the Comixverse’s agreement with Image Comics that precludes us from posting images from the book beyond those approved for previews such as the ones we’ve reproduced above. That doesn’t prevent us from mirroring non-print quality, pre-production images posted by Singh on his blog however, so in the interest of reinforcing the commentary on his art, here are a number of examples of the type of work one can expect to see in the volume:

An included glossary helps illuminate some of the more esoteric terms used in the book, and an extensive collection of sketches, thumbnails, character design sheets, and other pre-production material adds to the trade paperback’s value. I will note that the digital review copy I received had a very small number of errors in prescriptive grammar formatting, mostly to do with the misuse of the apostrophe and other punctuation, but these are easily overlooked given all the other things the book gets right.

The premise and subject matter of Singh’s masterwork may sound intimidating to readers unfamiliar with Hindu religion and myth, but it is a concise distillation of key events in the life of Krishna made even more accessible by the ready availability of various online resources that can fill in the story context as necessary. Even readers uninterested in the theological and mythological underpinnings of Krishna: A Journey Within should find the brilliant art by itself worth a look. Highly recommended.

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