Tamil magazines Illustrators of old

July 20, 2015

I grew up with my mother buying and reading a lot of Tamizh magazines.

Even then, I could make out the differences in content (though I was not an avid reader of Tamizh) between the more serious content of magazines like Amudasurabhi,Kalaimagal, or Kalki, and the more populist stories and “thuNukkus” (trivia, and jokes) of magazines like Ananda Vikatan or Kumudam. Later came other magazines like “Kungumam” and others that I nolonger remember; I married and moved out of the sphere of Tamizh magazines. My parents-in-law were not regular buyers; indeed, for a few years, I missed that regular part of the Deepavali festival, which would be the purchase of all the “Deepavali malars” (festival issues of magazines.)

I bought some old magazines (during the period they were not sold in south Bangalore because of linguistic issues) for my father-in-law in the last few years when he was living with us. I stopped buying them when he passed away in 2004.

Not being very fluent in reading the language meant, naturally, that even as a child I looked at the pictures more carefully. Indeed, I seem to have always done this…in all the Disney, Dell, Gold Key and Classics Illustrated comics, I could tell the various artists, and prefer a few of them.

I do not always know if the south Indian artists were men or women, except that it must have been even more difficult for a woman to make her living in this way. This doubt exists because so many Tamizh writers of the day used their spouses’ names as nom-de-plumes


is the first such pseudonym I can think of!)

But back to Tamizh magazines. Several names spring to me…the first one being

“Gopulu” (S Gopalan)

whose work was always a part of Ananda Vikatan to me. My mother often bound together several serial stories after tearing them from the magazines (yes, those bound volunes are still there in Mylapore, in the locked-up house). His illustrations for “thuppariyum sAmbhu”, plays by “marinA” or the illustrations in the deepAvaLi malars, were instantly recognizable.

One of the older artists whose work I have seen is that of


He is credited with making Ananda vikatan as popular as the articles and stories did.

Indeed, the cartoon of the impishly-smiling “vikatan thAtha” with the triangular, pointy “kudumi”, with his even more impish monkey, was the well-known image of this magazine. Alas, even that seems to have been discarded, according to

this blogpost

The height of aspiration, it seemed to me then, for an illustrator, was to be able to draw “portraits” of the various gods and goddesses whose temples dotted the southern Indian peninsula. At one time, there was just one Madras Presidency….divergence into four States came later. The pioneers (as I saw it) amongst this form of illustration, which carried the images of gods and goddesses into thousands of homes, was

“Shilpi” , Maniam, his son “Maniam selvan”, “Vinu”, “Simha”, “mAyA”, “thAnu” and others. They always seemed to sign their names with a few dots at the end!

They must have visited so many temples to create the excellent paintings that were published by the Tamil magazines. He is credited with making Ananda vikatan as popular as the articles and stories did.

Other artists like Umapathi and Jayaraj specialized in the illustrations of everyday scenes, and it was part of my growing up to see, in these artworks, a leisurely south India that I didn’t realize would vanish over the decades. Balding men swung on teakwood swings in the front porches of bungalows shaded by trees, pampered hand and foot by shy women peeking from the edge of the doorways; men wore “vEshti” and the women wore sarees (often the 9-yard variety) until social changes brought in Jayaraj’s illustration of women wearing frocks and salwar-kameez, with shorter hair than was the norm earlier.


is a nice compilation of several artists from that era.

I feel sad that these creative talents are still described as “cartoonists”. Yes, they did produce many hilarious little cartoons and jokes for the magazines, but their serious creative work was surely worth of being called Art.

Certainly one person who elevated humor to an art form was


whose often wordless jokes (I later saw more of the genre from Sergio Aragones in MAD magazine) were eagerly looked forward to by so many readers! I can never forget his cartoon of Neil Armstrong getting out of the lunar module on the moon, to be greeted by a Malayali running a “chAya-kadai” (tea-stall) there, a nod to the way these enterprising Indians moved all over the world.

Growing up in Kolkata, I do believe that I got to know as much of southern India, especially of Chennai, through the illustations of these talented artists, as through reading articles and yearly visits. I think that my mother, especially, missed the south, and these magazines, and the art, kept her in touch.

More expert people than I am have probably written well about these artists. I do wonder at the practical logistics. What were they paid? Was it enough for them to make a living? How else (movies, apparently, and theatre set-painting sometimes) did they make some extra income? Life must have been simple then if one could make a living as an artist and cartoonist; today, it is very difficult indeed. I remember most of these names as the artists igned in Tamizh at the bottom of each illustration. Very soon, though, the illustration itself told me who it was, and looking at the signature was only a way of confirming my “diagnosis”!

I still enjoy the cartoons in the Hindu, by Keshav, Surendra, and others…and that will lead me to an endless discussion on Sankar, Mario, Hemant Morparia, Maya Kamath, Ajit Ninan Ponappa, and so many others who’ve delighted many moments of my life! I’d better keep this post to old tamizh magazines and those who illustrated in them.

Cartooning, too, seems to be falling on hard times, as

this meeting of cartoonists

appears to suggest.

This is my salute to these talented, hard-working people who suddenly came out of the dim shadows of my childhood to suddenly crowd into my thoughts and reminiscences. I was not always keen on the concept that drawing pictures of gods and goddesses, or depicting everything realistically, was the best form of art, and I think the everyday illustrations and depictions by these artists did much to evolve my notions of what art is, and can be.