Cartoons we grow up watching often end up shaping our worldview. For 29-year-old illustrator and musician Aaron Pinto, this connection with cartoons goes way beyond nostalgia and takes on the form of a graphic series that resurrects his favourite Indian cartoon characters, while mashing them up with present-day Western pop culture icons.
“While I grew up geeking out over Western comic books, video games and pop culture that saw characters like He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I also loved to read Indian comics like Tinkle and watched cartoons on Doordarshan. So, I wanted to redefine these Indian gems through a cool cartoon crossover,” says the self-taught artist. “It’s a nostalgic concept that emotionally connects with people my age, while serving as a history lesson for the newer generation.” This reimagining pulls together characters from across oceans and time periods who carry similar characteristics—so there’s India’s most loved ad icon, the Amul girl, as a seductive Betty Boop; silly Suppandi as Deadpool; and Rick and Morty as… wait for it… Vikram & Betaal.
“I wanted to feature characters like Birbal as well but couldn’t find a suitable Western character to represent him,” explains Pinto, “I didn’t want to just feature my favourites; but also bind them together with a common narrative.”
Pinto is a man of many talents. While he moonlights as an illustrator whose work often takes on a distinctively macabre, otherworldly sensibility, he continues to regard music as his first love—the two mediums often informing each other. He plays the drums for metal bands Gutslit and Providence, his album art making him a mainstay in conversations surrounding the visual vocabulary of music coming out of India.
Having spent his childhood shuttling between India and Doha, Pinto cites the distinctions in the cartoons and their quality in both the cities as what shaped the series. “Usually my work is dark and gory, and includes morbid elements like tentacles, hyper-colouring and attention to detail in a subliminally layered structure,” he says. “But here I kept things minimal as an homage to my childhood favourites.” As someone who considers new-age characters to be “corporate bullshit”, the series is Pinto’s attempt to hold on to simpler times.
Having successfully snagged a spot at the Design X Design 20 under 35 Exhibition, where he displayed this six-work series for the first time earlier this year, Pinto is now working on its sequel. We’re told it reimagines Shaktimaan as a character in the Stan Lee universe. We’re sold.
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