The immense popularity of comics and illustrations on Instagram is slowly changing the way people express their feelings for each other, be it romance, friendship or other emotions.
Instagram has a place for everyone as long as you want to express something. There’s movieGram, bookGram, fitnessGram, decorGram, foodGram, among many other things. And then, there’s the subset in Instagram which is filled with comics, illustrations, paintings, drawings of all kinds of things. Whether you are a young couple, who recently got married, or a young girl navigating the challenges that life throws at you everyday, there’s something for everyone in these comics. They seem to know all the right words and expressions to articulate what you are feeling, and you are instantly drawn towards them and share them on your feed or with your friends. It’s comforting and sometimes, so relatable that you feel like the comic artist is sketching your own life and sharing it with the rest of the world.
I discovered this world on Instagram pretty late, and more than a year ago, a friend of mine introduced me to Catana Comics and I fell in love with it instantly. Perhaps, it’s the way the characters are drawn or the story in each one of the comic strips, it brought me great joy. The description of the comics is – “Me & my bearded fiance doing things”. Sometimes, their pet dog too is part of the comics.
Over the course of next few months in 2019-20, I came across several other comics, illustrations from India, USA, South Korea, Spain, and even Argentina which follow a similar template. Each one of them focuses on the lives of couples, or highlights how one of them would react in a situation. In the description, there’s either a simple caption, which would have been perfect for a greeting card, or at times, a poem. And then, there’s a call for action -Tag your bae. Have these comics replaced the space left behind by greeting cards? It certainly looks so. But more than that, there are proving to be a great alternative for emojis on your mobile keypad, because they convey the emotion a lot better than emojis.
The Real Lives Behind The Comics
While Catana Comics focuses on John and Catana, another comics – Pibubear focuses on two characters – Pi and Bu. Founder and illustrator of Pibubear, Mafer Morao, who is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been running the page since December 2018 and the idea behind the comics came from an illustration of her boyfriend, Rafael that she drew. “I really like to draw my boyfriend. One day, when I was drawing him, I came up with an idea about drawing us in a supermarket, but with a funny situation. I shared it with some friends and they thought that it was cool and funny. That’s when I thought that maybe I should draw about the situations we experience as a couple on a day-to-day basis. That’s how Pibubear started,” Mafer says.
Anjali Srivastava, the comic artist behind Anjali Comics, too has a similar story about how she started her journey. “Back in May, 2019, I had created a comic strip for KT (my partner) about the story of how we met on a piece of paper. He loved it so much that he asked me to create some more and finally convinced me to make it on a digital platform and share it with the world,” Anjali says about the origin of her comics.
Another comics, Poga & Pogi too started out as a reflection of the real-life incidents which the comic artists have been experiencing. The duo, who are known to the world only by their pseudonyms – Poga & Pogi, say, “Pogi used to draw comics on paper from way back. She admired other couple comic artists. So, I (Poga) came up with an idea to create our own page.”
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What Makes Comics Click?
Instagram comics is a fiercely competitive space, although the comic artists whom this writer reached out to say that there’s space for everyone. However, when it comes to underlining what makes comics click, especially when most comics which share the stories of couples have similar things to say, opinions are quite varied. Is it the characters? Or the storyline? Or how the illustrations are drawn? “You can reach a lot of people with cute characters, and if you add a relatable story, that combination is going to work very well. Of course, you need good illustrations and a storyline too,” Mafer says.
Barcelona-based Anna, the artist behind Annet Planet comics, avers that consistency is the key to keep people engaged and let an artist’s work find a wider audience. “I think the number one rule for a comic to gain attention is that it needs to be consistent. It doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful or thoughtful, the key thing is to stick to a certain style both regarding the aesthetics and the content. That said, the more beautiful, and the better the content is, the better the comic will be. There are examples of very beautiful comics with repetitive content which are successful, and very poorly drawn comics with magnificent ideas that are successful too. But I guess the majority of famous comics are strong in both areas, maybe slightly more so at ideas than aesthetics.”
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Ideas Worth Sharing
Sasa, the artist behind LuveyxDovey, confesses that she finds inspiration from her own life. “I’ve been drawing LuveyxDovey comics for 2 years now. I love to draw and share funny moments that happen between my boyfriend and I. Whenever something funny happens I take note and turn it into a comic,” Sasa says. For Anna, it’s all about having conviction in your own voice and not getting too influenced by what others might think. Explaining her process, Anna says, “I’ve developed a habit of writing down any potential idea for a comic I have. The list contains complete ideas, and incomplete ones in which I have to work and think about before considering making a comic out of them. But once the idea of a comic is finished, the threshold to decide whether the idea is good enough or not, is the fact that I find it funny. I’ve made comics that I personally found hilarious which weren’t successful, and the other way around. You never know what others are going to like, but after a while drawing humorous comics, I’ve decided I’m officially funny, and I trust my taste for humour.”
While this is usually the case with most artists, several other artists are driven by their desire to simply share their work with the rest of the world. “I always wanted to share my art because doing what you love and sharing it with the world and the world liking it is amazing. It’s like when you are a little kid, you did something amazing and you want to share it with your mom and dad because you are really proud about what you did. It’s really amazing to see that a lot of people support your work and love what you do,” Mafer confesses.
Copycats And Copyrights
The popularity of several such comics has spawned many more accounts which simply the works of these artists, and sometimes, without proper credit. In fact, several original creators have even put out a note urging people to give them proper credits, and adding that in the beginning of their post so that people at least know who’s the original creator behind the comic strip. It’s a big headache for almost all the artists, and some of them say that it’s quite frustrating to deal with people who don’t respect copyrights. Poga & Pogi say, “We never thought to stand out or to compete with other couple comic pages. We just draw to spread love. We wanted more people to follow us but we never changed our way of drawing or presenting for that. People just followed us because they loved what we did. Sometimes people crop our comics and put their own watermark and share it as if it’s their art. It kinda hurts when people do that.”
Sometimes, it’s the fear of being judged and being called a copycat that keeps the artists on their toes. In fact, many of them follow each other’s work closely because they don’t want to leave anything to chance. Mafer explains, “In case other artists post an idea I already had for a comic, I can discard that idea or change it. I don’t want to feel that I’m copying. I know every couple can experience a lot of similar situations but in this world, if you post a comic of a similar situation, the people are going to judge you even though it was just a coincidence.”
One of the factors where artists stand out is the illustration itself, and the more popular those comics become, people will know who drew them. Putting it in perspective, Anjali says, “You can always make out the difference in terms of the inside jokes and illustration style. I follow very few comics because I don’t want to get influenced by their ideas. We try to stand out by making quirky and bold content which people really love and appreciate.”
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Despite the rise of several comic artists, there’s also a sense of camaraderie between artists who have been supporting each other’s work. “I treat all the other artists as friends, no matter if our content is similar or not. There’ll be people who like my art style, and as a result, my artwork will stand out to them. I do face people sharing my artwork without credit or permission, but the solution will be discussed within my team whether to report or inform the page,” Sasa says.
Do Comics Express Feelings Better?
“Comics are like memes,” Anjali underlines the way comics are subconsciously changing the way people express their feelings. Sometimes, words aren’t enough or you don’t know what’s the right expression to use while talking to another person you care about. In a world which is increasingly drawn towards images, GIFs, and memes to say a 1000 words, comics are like a magical wand to express a wide range of feelings like love, frustration, compassion, anger, sadness among many other things. “I think they are being used as another tool for communication. And images and otherwise expressed ideas are always welcome in the ‘written communication’ world which seems to be the most common right now, since it’s sometimes hard to convey the feelings in words as well as we do with body language,” Anna adds.
Almost every artist has made a note of this too since their followers always tag their friends or partners in the comments section below each post. Interestingly, some of them have even reached out to comic artists to share more ideas or even request them to draw something specific. “During the lockdown, I received many requests from couples who are in a long distance relationship to draw something about them,” Anjali reveals. It’s not uncommon for artists to draw something which their followers request them to; however, they are likely to agree to such requests on rare occasions. “Thanks to comics, People say what they want to without typing a word. So, yes, comics are changing the way people communicate with each other on Instagram,” Poga & Pogi say. “Sometimes, they see themselves so much in the comics that they reach out to us to draw something from their lives. It feels quite nice to know how much your work means to people.”
Interestingly, the discourse about comics on Instagram is also helping a lot more artists to share their work. Aman, the artist of The Comical Nerd, explains this phenomenon saying, “I love it when people share my comics, and I love it even more when they tag me in the stories while sharing it. In the past few years, I have seen a lot of people being more open about art. People are now putting their art up there on the internet for others to see.”
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In their attempt to establish an emotional connection with the viewers, several comic artists on Instagram have put a lot of thought into creating an universal appeal to the characters. This is why the aesthetics and illustration styles of various comics differ from one another. Animals are a popular choice among comic artists because they seem to overcome the challenges posed by colour, hair, and gender identity. “I really love Milk & Mocha Bear and MostrOpi. I love how they turned the couple’s love into cute animals. A lot of people find such comics more relatable because the characters are not represented in human illustrations like mine, for example. I get a lot of requests from people to change the way Pibubear’s characters look especially in terms of skin color, hair color, hairstyle, accessories, so they can look like them and feel more represented,” Mafer reveals.
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Revenue and Merchandise
Instagram has opened up new revenue avenues to so many artists and illustrators, around the world, that many of them are even accepting commissioned work. And the prices could vary from anywhere between $50 – $500 depending on what size of illustrations you want. Some, like Catana Comics and Gyung Studio’s Lee Kyu Young have published books. But the most popular revenue stream seems to come from merchandising, where the illustrations inspire soft toys, T-shirts, lamps and many others. India is seemingly a huge market for such products and several popular accounts have a separate link for prospective customers from India. That’s not all. Several other popular comics have released their own stickers, wallpapers, and other promotional material that you could use on your profiles, gadgets, and mobile phones.
The rise of Instagram as one of the most preferred visual mediums of communication in the past few years is a big boon for comic artists. And such artworks are some of the most pleasant things you will come across on Instagram. The question is…how many comics do you follow? And how are you using them to communicate with others? Go on…search for ‘Peach Goma’ ‘Mocha Bear’ in your GIF search bar on WhatsApp and tell me if it doesn’t make you smile.