Bhutan’s First Comic Book: Garpa
Bhutan’s First Comic Book: Garpa
by Chimi Wangmo
Garpa-Lungi Khorlo is a legend about a message courier who attended to the Poenlops in ancient Bhutan. It’s believed that he could run at the speed of wind which earned him the name Garpa (meaning attendant) Lungi (lung meaning wind) Khorlo. The superhuman ability of his to deliver a message between two Dzongkhags in a day is a story every child grows up listening in awe by the hearth.
Having been inspired by the character after coming across it while working on a children’s book, ‘Room in your heart’ with the Author Kunzang Choden, Pema Tshering, used the character of Garpa Lungi Khorlo and created a fictional story set in the 1800s marking the birth of the comic titled ‘Garpa – The Attendant’. “He was one of the many characters in the book. I found him intriguing. So I read more about GARPA again from ‘Folktales of Bhutan’ by the same author. When I was reading about him I couldn’t help but imagine all the adventures he might have gone through as an attendant and I could see the hero in him,” said the founder of Thimphu Comics.
About the unusual medium he resorted to unlike the usual short story formats he confessed to being a comic book fan himself and how having read comics for a very long time, realized the importance and the impact of such a medium. He added that comic books can be a very powerful tool that could inspire many individuals and bring out a positive attitude towards anything they do. Knowing that, he felt that even though Bhutanese had many comic books from outside to inspire us, we couldn’t fully relate to them as they were not our own.
“We need our own heroes and this meant bringing GARPA to life.”
Coming to the creative process, Pema said he saw himself as a very visual person and not much of a writer as an artist. This, he said posed a huge challenge for him as he had to visualize the story before he could write a word. Eventually he managed to work on it in order to share it with the team, and finally to be put into a proper script format. Talking about the additional challenges in the making of Garpa especially with the project being first of its kind, the artist said that the biggest challenge was to create a work flow of how they were going to create this comic and the need to define and develop a process. Luckily, he said that his love for comics and the joint effort of a group of passionate artists managed to overcome the hurdle of inexperience.
A team of nine members came together to script the story in a professional comic format, design the character, make a story board and then the actual drawing of each and every panel of the comic. Last came the inking, coloring and finally putting everything into a comic book format for everyone. It took them about a year and a half.
Commenting on artists’s situation in Bhutan, he said that it’s a difficult scenario as in any other country but the most difficult part of being an artist in Bhutan is not being taken seriously. “The society thinks of the artists as tools and sometime even as laborers. They don’t understand the creative process of different art forms and artists like me, who are also painters, are sometime measured by how “real” you can make a painting. This is not wrong but there is so much more to being an artist than to be able to paint something realistic. An artist can create and express, be it a story, or a concept or a reflection of a society or individual or emotion. Art can be any sort of creation and this is what some people in Bhutan have difficulty in understanding. It becomes very difficult to make a living out of being an artist,” he said.
Irrespective of the difficulties of the situation, the team dream of creating more stories through comics.
“We have so much we can share and so much we can create from our culture, which is so visual and colorful. We hope to establish a Bhutanese comic book icon that we can call our very own.”
To know more about Thimphu Comics, click here