Bhaghya Babu's Awkwerrrd breathes new life into Kerala's comic strip tradition

Bhaghya Babu's Awkwerrrd breathes new life into Kerala's comic strip tradition
Bhaghya Babu’s webcomic Awkwerrrd has hit the right chord with Malayalis and all the rest who will have at least one friend oozing the Mallu charm. Photo: Bhagya's Facebook page

Flaunting a blunt cut, dressed casually in a pair of blue jeans and black t-shirt, eyes round and wide, the Awkwerrrd girl is the quintessential young Malayali adult cribbing about ‘friend-partner-self-parent-every other person/thing’ trouble in fluent 'Manglish', also lauding life’s moments, little and big. Bhaghya Babu’s webcomic Awkwerrrd has hit the right chord with Malayalis and all the rest who will have at least one friend oozing the Mallu charm.

Often anecdotes from her life, Babu sketches away in style the most casual, out-of-the mill affairs, bound to elicit “ I feel you!”, “Thats so me!!” responses from the reader. Relatability and Malayali-hood takes priority in Kerala’s ‘swantham’ webcomic series which has won more than 51.5k followers on Instagram and many more across other media.

An illustrator from Kochi, Babu turned her pastime doodling into a full-fledged enterprise and has proved to be in top form all through. Apart from her own Awkwerrrd she has also illustrated the comic series 'Ken and Chip' with popular stand-up comedian Kenny Sebastian. While a student at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, Babu and two others designed a comic strip and character Adhira-the Superconductor to create public awareness on BMTC buses. Babu today focuses on Awkwerrrd and expanding the comic strips a brand unto themself.

The Awkwerrrd strips are the perfect amalgamation of simplicity and ingenuity - Babu’s humourous, yet often thought stimulating brickbats are underscored by the simplicity of her sketches and conversational writing style. It is her creative genius (Who thinks swimming pools will be a lot more fun with fishes in?) that makes even the most commonplace situations bring out a chuckle, time and again. As an artist capable of giving even the most basic situations a dash of fun humour- she even translates the dearth of ideas into a work of art.

Babu’s webcomic has given a new lease to Kerala’s comic strip tradition with 'Boban and Molly' comic strips still a classic favourite amongst millenials and others. Awkwerrrd remains true to the beat of its readers- talking equally about GOT, weight woes, mommy woes (“Whichever Kenny it is, you ask him to drop you before 7 o’clock ”) and matchmaking woes (Check out The Auntinators) and also being unabashedly sarcastic about gender roles, freelancing, body hair, overhyping political statements, gifts to be gifted and many more to scroll down. Of course the Beef and Sadya can never be left out (The Power of Vazha Ella, a personal favourite).

The Malayaliness in the series is brought out by the evergreen lines in the mother tongue (not surprising that the strips featuring the mother always have some fab Malayalam lines). “The decision to incorporate Malayalam into my comics came organically," says Babu.

Code switching is a great way to garner attention and with the populace becoming increasingly multi-lingual, incorporating multiple languages in the script simply reflects the trend. The occasional Malayalam lines in the strip makes it endearing to the readers. The recent updates on the Awkwerrrd Insta handle reflect the inspiration drawn from 'Lucifer', the searing sun, Easter fasting and celebration. Never referring to the done to death stereotypes about Keralites (Beef and Sadya, well that’s an emotion!), Babu’s Malayalis are inspired by real people and thus remain the true selves, free of any misnomers.

“ I don't know what’s better about these comic strips, the fact that the humour is spot on or that the very basic premise on which it is built is relatable, especially to us Malayalis. It is simply delightful to go through her handle,” chirps an Awkwerrrd fan, Devika.

Social networking sites are becoming spaces for artists to display their work and many have acquired fans and followers, some even more than artists on traditional platforms. Babu says that Instagram worked best for her because of its highly visual characteristic and the ability to convey immediate feedback from people. She also recommends other apps like Webtoons and Patreon. She lists webcomic artists like Zoe Si, Seo Kim, and Sarah Anderson and others as having inspired her.

Talking about taking suggestions from the public she says she takes valid suggestions which will help improve the comic. “For example, I have recently started translating the Malayalam text into English in the description after someone suggested it.”

With more non-Malayalees too warming up to the script she tries to keep everybody included.

Awkwerrrd has materialised into a brand featuring the Awkwerrrd universe, comprising of recurrent characters inspired by her parents, friends and others, on physical calendars, coasters, t-shirts, stickers, posters and other cool funky merchandise. Starting off with sales on flea markets and the Awkwerrrd website, Babu hopes of establishing physical stores for her brand. The goodies are a treat to the eyes - desi, fun, quirky, in bright colours - and can also be personally customised. The customised ‘ You are My Swantham’ portrait is something one would definitely love to see hanging from the wall. Customised wedding cards and save the date cards featuring caricatures can be ideal options for the fun couple.

Happy Awkwerrrd scrolling!!!

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