Indian-American Priyanka, also known as Pri, is a comics-loving teenager who has important questions. She wants to know why her mother left India and who her father is, but her mother remains tight-lipped. After Pri discovers a pashmina (a kind of shawl) in an old suitcase, she finds herself transported to a bright and magical India. Convinced that she needs to visit the real place, Pri travels to India to discover the origins of the pashmina and herself.

Nidhi Chanani weaves together a story full of magic and realistic situations to form a charming narrative of identity and growth. Pri is a compelling protagonist, whose struggles to fit in are relatable. Pri’s determination, demonstrated through her persistent questions and decision to use her own prize money for airplane tickets, helps her to reach her goals. Chanani also includes a greater conversation about injustice and the importance of choice for women. As Pri comes to understand her identity and her mother’s story, she finds her strength.

Chanani conveys a setting filled with Pri’s close family and friends, school drama, the goddess Shakti, and magic. Because the main character and her family are Indian-American, the story naturally includes elements of Indian culture. The characters also use some Hindi words, and although the words are not explicitly translated, there is usually enough context for non-native speakers to get the gist.

Chanani’s artwork captures movement and body language well, and her ability to draw strong scenes add to the emotional power of the work. She also includes little details, such as posters of Sailor Moon in Pri’s room, to give a sense of the characters’ identity. Many of the illustrations are in black and white, and so Chanani’s judicious use of color effectively symbolizes idealism and packs a big punch at key moments.

Pashmina is a rich, sweet graphic novel about understanding your identity and finding your purpose. There is no gore or sexual content, but, given some of the more emotionally mature topics, this comic is ideal for readers ten and older. Readers looking for a work with a great feminist message will gravitate toward this one. I, for one, hope to see more work from Nidhi Chanai.

by Nidhi Chanani
ISBN: 9781626720879
First Second, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14

Mumbai Confidential: Good Cop, Bad Cop

MumbaiConfidentialIt was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it’s a perfect film noir opening. Our hero, Arjun Kadam, is injured and facing an armed gunman. It looks like the end. The street lights highlight the rain pouring down on Kadam and throw the scene into stark relief. Let us flashback to how Kadam found himself in this position.

Arjun Kadam is an ex-cop in Mumbai. He is down on his luck and feeling sorry for himself. One evening, a young flower-seller talks with him and makes him feel hopeful, if only for a minute. So when she is killed minutes later in front of him in a hit-and-run, he is determined to track down her killer. Let us flashback to how Kadam found himself in this position.

Arjun Kadam is a rising star in the police force. He has a beautiful wife and they are expecting their first child. He is working on the anti-mob task force under Vishnu Damle, supervised by Sunil Sawat. But then, everything goes downhill. Damle is permanently injured in a raid gone wrong, and complications develop with his wife’s pregnancy. He goes from having everything before him, to nothing.

The story moves back and forth from the present to the past, as we learn why Kadam has become so hopeless and just how corrupt the police force can be. We see how his wife and unborn baby died, wrenching his life apart. We see his guilt at his supervisor’s wheelchair-bound state. These drive him to hunt down the answer to the hit-and-run accident that killed the flower seller, which leads him deeper into the corruption of the police force.

The novel is mostly drawn by Vivek Shinde, with the interludes and side plots drawn by other artists. The art is lush and dark painting in a city that seems to be always night and always raining. Saurav Mohapatra has written a wonderful compact and compelling story with all the twists and turns you would expect from a true noir crime mystery.

Mumbai Confidential: Good Cop, Bad Cop
by Saurav Mohapatra
Art by Vivek Shinde, et al
ISBN: 978-193639365
Archaia Entertainment, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: Adult