Story and art by Anupam Arunachalam
The Captain is a longform journalistic story about the workings of a fishing boat in Kerala and the life of its skipper.
The comic was conceptualised and thumbnailed during a month-long workshop in the summer of 2018. It was led by Orijit Sen (AKA The Skipper in these parts), and attended by 11 people from across the country.
The idea was for Orijit to guide us through the creation of one non-fiction comic each during this time. To that end, we were taken around the Mattancherry area, to meet some fascinating people who might be willing to become our subjects. Pigeon-racers, dargah-keepers, ice-sellers, paapad-makers, lodge-owners – our options were all terrifically enthralling, and we began sorting through them, trying to figure out the most suitable subjects for each of us.
At the end of a week, I found myself partnered up with Sudharsha, a brilliant architect-turned-graphic-designer-cum-comics-artist, and lurking around the docks and harbours in our neighbourhood, trying to snag an interview (or two) with someone who worked on fishing boats.
We spoke to mechanics, boat-owners, fishermen, and to the middlemen who financed fishing expeditions. Some of them were willing to share their stories, and soon our sketchbooks were full of hastily scrawled notes and sketches of boats and seascapes.
But the boats were being readied for trawling season, and no one had the time to give multiple interviews, and we found ourselves lacking a meaty story.
One morning, as we tried to wangle entry into the Cochin Fisheries Harbour, Darvin found us. He asked us what we needed, and was kind enough to invite us to hang out with him. He showed us his boat, the Khaja, told us about his life, answered all our questions, and even took us on a short trip down the coast to get the boat’s winch fixed.
And his story was absolutely captivating.
The Captain is based on what Darvin told us, and though we haven’t inserted any extraneous facts or events, it’s been edited for brevity’s sake. We visited him on three different occasions, and spoke to him several times over the phone.
Although the comic is largely based on his first person account, I used several resources to learn more about trawler fishing:
A very short video about how Bottom Trawling works:
A note from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations about Bottom Trawling: