Nidhi Chanani (the talented illustrator who created the cover for my Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh) is announcing a new graphic novel. Pashmina is the story of young Priyanka’s internal and real-world journey to India. Is this India real or not? What’s behind the exotic fruit and the glittery sari shops? In a swiftly turning tale that unfolds in black and white alternating with brilliant color, Priyanka navigates magic and mystery to uncover the history of her family and to find her place in the world. I asked Nidhi a few questions about the process of developing this lovingly crafted graphic novel.
[Uma] You write about the origins of Pashmina as “opening a suitcase and traveling to a fantasy version of India.” Why was this important to you?
[Nidhi] I wanted to represent India in the best possible way to Priyanka and to readers. In order for Priyanka to move through her journey, the fantasy India had to push her to step outside of her comfort and answer questions.
[Uma] It pushed her, interestingly, by falling short, didn’t it? The exotic elements were unreal, they weren’t enough. They weren’t the real India that she was looking for. Can you talk a little bit about the many connections you are making there for your character? What do you want your readers to take away from this?
[Nidhi] It was important to ground Priyanka with aspects of Indian culture while not fully introduced to the wealth of imagery and beauty. Through the pashmina her curiosity for the real India is accelerated. It was important that Priyanka’s journeys with the pashmina intrigued her to visit the country itself but the choice to do so had to originate with her.
[Uma] Your character, Priyanka, is an outsider in many ways. Tell me what led to the elements of her character as you developed this book?
[Nidhi] I wrote a lot from personal experience. Priyanka enjoys drawing and only has one close friend. She is teased at school for her difference economically and culturally. These aspects are directly plucked from my life. Her mom is a variation of my own. Nimisha, her mom, is strong,
religious and loving. And her mom’s life choices shape her environment as she navigates questions about her past. As I developed her backstory the elements of Priyanka’s character became apparent.
[Uma] Every book teaches the writer (and I’m presuming artist as well) something she didn’t know before. What did creating Pashmina teach you?
[Nidhi] It taught me so much! The steel you need to revise scripts is one lesson, but I also revised thumbnails 3 times for nearly every page. In total I think each page was revised 8-11 times. It taught me patience – making a good book takes time and dedication. Meeting my deadline taught me that I can draw for 10+ hours a day and I am fortunate enough to have a family that supports that. It taught me that comics are made from love. You have to love the form, flow and drawing the same characters for years. It taught me how to plan, ask the right questions of my editor and early readers. There’s more… but finally, it confirmed that I want to continue creating characters and narratives that are not often represented. If I can keep doing that for the rest of my career, I will be happy.
[Uma] Can you tell me how you went about developing Priyanka’s backstory? I know how I’d do that as a writer but your work is rich in images, so I’m curious—what did that process look like for you?
[Nidhi] I drew these early Priyanka expressions to explore who she is through how she reacts and acts. I thought about how she would conduct herself in each environment – with comfort and freedom around her family and with trepidation and insecurity around others. This is one of the fun parts of the early work in comics – to explore your character through design, expressions, and clothing.
[Uma] Fabulous! Look at that Priyanka-face! Much luck, Nidhi, and congratulations!