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CARTOONS TO COMMUNICATE CULTURE

Just as the written word and photographs document history, so do caricatures and cartoons; Yomari Cartoon Series are testimony to this. The series came into shape when Sydney based couple Niroj Maharjan and Munu Shrestha Maharjan wanted to share about the Newa culture with their child. With their prior experiences in graphic designing, the couple started a creative studio calleed Creative Yomari in 2017. With intense research and passion, the couple started creating their first cartoon series in August 2019, titled ‘Yomari meets Chaku’ using their Facebook page, Yomari Cartoon Series. The page shares stories on various festivals and ancient traditions through the art of cartooning.

Text: Ankita Jain
Art by: Niroj Maharjan & Munu Shrestha Maharjan

What has the feedback been to the Yomari Cartoon Series?

Niroj: The feedback that we receive from the children is great but we would have greater satisfaction receiving the same kind of response from parents whose kids are enjoying and learning through our creations. The very concept of the series was developed to teach our child about our culture. And in doing so, why not try putting the knowledge we gathered on a public domain for interested parents. We have had some response from parents and teachers but we would really like to grow our outreach.

You originally created it for your child, what was it like for him?

Munu: Ever since we created the fictional Yomari character, our child has liked it very much. He is very curious to know about our culture and also shows interest in learning about it. Whenever he sees a new cartoon being developed, he sits with us with so many questions. He has developed a love for our culture and is proudly sharing his knowledge among his friends which is very amazing. He recently drew about ‘Yomari Punhi’ when he was asked to write about a celebration in our community. We were amazed to see his drawings of the whole family making Yomari and eating together. He also drew a few children asking for Yomari which is an almost lost practice in our community.

This came because of the exposure he had to the series. In fact we get to learn so many new things related to our festivals while researching.

What makes your cartoons different?

Niroj: Having an eye for detail is the key. Paying attention to small details is what makes our cartoons better. The whole process consumes a lot of time.

We spend most of the time on research. In some cases we get access to books written by foreign scholars who came to our country and spent several years on research. We also ask seniors and experts in our circle to help visualise the scenario and broaden our knowledge. We also spend time on art direction as just plain character would not add charm to the picture. All these are finally drawn and presented to public.

Any particular favourites from the series?

Munu: Almost all the stories has taken significant time in research and it’s very hard to choose from amongst them. A recent story we depicted in Pahachare about Ajima sisters and the story of Bunga Dhyo (Machhindranath) needed a lot of research. There were so many conflicting stories about the same incident. It was very hard to choose which one to present. Further, the artistic side of Ajima’s story also took more time to draw with traditional ornaments and garments. There was very little information we could gather from historic photographs. But the final outcome became authentic and was liked by large groups of people.

How do you pick stories for your cartoon series?

Niroj: We pick the stories based on the next festival arriving in the coming months. We have to consider our time and the resources available. We do it in our free time which is why it takes longer to complete.

Does the growing popularity of the series put pressure on your work?

Munu: Definitely. The more the series become popular, there is more pressure to improve our work. We have to do more research to extract facts and present them to the public. We also need to be sensible not to hurt any group of people through our series.

Any plans to come up with animated series.

Niroj: We are planning to have animated versions of the stories which will be more interesting to the younger generations. We are learning new skills to implement our dream into reality. However, this will require a lot of resources and will be a big project. We are looking to partner with animation studios that already exist and build our own research team. We are still in the planning phase.

What are the challenges of your work?

Niroj: Knowning very little about our own culture is the biggest challenge. We never learned why we celebrate particular festivals and just followed what our forefathers did. It’s very disappointing that in order to know about our own culture, we have to look through the books that foreign scholars published. They spent significant time in Nepal to study our culture and we, on the other hand, have been grown in such a wonderful place yet never known the importance of it. There exists unwritten history as many of Newa scripts and books were destroyed post medieval period. All of these have narrowed our knowledge about our culture.

Most of the stories are passed to the next generation verbally hence historical evidence of the story is very hard to determine. They have just become myth over time and some events now scientifically impossible. The same story is also told in different versions in different places. And it’s very hard to choose.

Munu: Time management is also a challenge for us. Living away from home, having no family members around to help and support us, it is very hard to juggle between job, children and our interest.

What makes you nostalgic about home? How long have you been living away?

Niroj: All cultural celebrations make us nostalgic about home. Back then we celebrated festivals merely as celebration and feast without realising the importance and the story behind it. Living away from home for 10 years, even a photograph or news about Nepal is enough to make us nostalgic. Also while illustrating for the series, we find ourselves lost in the medieval days. Change is inevitable but we really wish the cultural and architectural marvels of Nepal never change. We will always inspire the younger generation including our children to preserve all tangible and intangible treasures of Nepal.