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Making friends in Bangalore | Traffic© Sebastian Lörscher (Detail)

Barbara Buchholz on "Making friends in Bangalore"
The teeming crowds of the city of millions

Sebastian Lörscher takes his readers on a colourful and exciting #Graphic Journey. Making Friends in Bangalore. Mit dem Skizzenbuch in Indien is the fourth book by the Berlin-based illustrator. With support from the Goethe-Institut Bangalore, he spent a month in 2011 in the South Indian IT city, and in 2014 Edition Büchergilde published his wonderful travel sketches. With red-edged pages, beautifully creamy paper that brings out the colours well, and harmonious typography, the book is so well designed that the Stiftung Buchkunst chose it as one of the most beautiful books of 2014. But the content is also not disappointing.

The teeming crowds of the city of millions are already apparent on the cover, in detailed, multi-coloured pencil drawings of street scenes in which individual faces, cars and buildings dissolve into abstract forms. Between the dynamically narrated colourful scenes, facsimile pages from Lörscher’s sketchbook are interspersed with ink drawings that act as chapter dividers and poles of tranquillity. The comic episodes were made at his desk in Berlin, explains Sebastian Lörscher in an interview. In order to preserve the spontaneity of the streets, the immediacy, he made no preliminary drawings, but drew directly on paper.

Lörscher also allows readers to share his sometimes surprising, sometimes curious experiences using graphic tricks. For example, he always draws from his own perspective so that we never see him in the picture, only his drawing hand. So our gaze always looks over the draftsman’s shoulder and the edge of the sketchbook.

On the first pages, we see his red bound sketchbook along with the right hand of the artist holding the book, and the left hand drawing the first lines on the paper, at first slowly and then ever faster. Opposite to us, three men’s faces appear, looking on in astonishment (illustrated by radiating strokes above their heads), then more and more faces, until finally, a whole crowd of people are watching, wordlessly, but with expressive faces.

Then one from the crowd shakes the hand of the artist and welcomes him – and on the ensuing pages, the colourful bustle of the booming city unfolds. Beautiful street scenes wordlessly follow in sequence, of women in bright, colourful robes or cloaked in black, workers digging a trench, and cows in the street. The artist describes encounters with different people whom he draws while they tell their stories; ranging from a rickshaw driver to a wedding party and up-and-coming entrepreneurs, young cricket fans or the self-confident young woman named Rucha, who has the last word in the end.

Lörscher chooses the art form of a comic for his travelogue. He doesn’t use panels, but arranges the single images on the pages with speech bubbles or short subtitles without a frame. He does so in a varied way. The chapter devoted to a painter and gallerist who, day after day, fills the pages of his sketchbooks with famous people from Indian television is particularly striking. Lörscher carries his readers along on an ever-faster tour-de-force of the pages, the presentation of which seems to put the Indian artist more and more into ecstasy. This plot culminates in the figure of the man who proudly, gesticulating, presents the ever new drawings in his notebooks drawn smaller and smaller in sequence until the figure, his book and the speech bubbles become more and more difficult to make out and only coloured lines are visible.
In another episode, Lörscher falls into a hole in the street, which, we learn incidentally, is a part of everyday life in the constantly growing metropolis of Bangalore. This scene is drawn in dramatic, bold strokes. From the artist’s perspective, our gaze looks out of the dark hole into the night sky where stars are shining, while his young companion Rucha, with whom Lörscher had been walking through the city, peeps over the edge of the hole.

Lörscher’s #Graphic Journey is humorous and (self-) ironic, but extremely sympathetic, also with regard to the narrator’s attitude. The collected impressions are selected and dramaturgically prepared so that they result in a very entertaining but not superficial account that provides little insights into the lives of local people. This is marked by the openness with which Lörscher meets this culture, previously largely unknown to him.

For the sake of authenticity, all of the dialogues are reproduced in English, the language he communicated in on-site. In the preface and the epilogue, however, Lörscher offers background details in German that would have made the comic book alone unwieldy. These range from his own experiences and facts about the city of Bangalore, to culture and history and a conclusion made by the artist following his stay. After reading the book, it is not surprising how it transpired, “Never before have I met such hospitable, open and cordial people. And it’s rarely been so easy for me to make new friends.”

"Making Friends in Bangalore - Mit dem Skizzenbuch in Indien" 144 pages, softcover, published by Edition Büchergilde and Büchergilde Gutenberg (out of print).
The book is now available again and can be ordered from Sebastian Lörscher. Upon request, each book can be given a personal dedication.
The French version is available from Cambourakis.