Meet the 20-year-old artist behind the viral 'Brown Paperbag' comics: Sailesh Gopalan

A teenaged Kabir goes through the nuances of life that we all experience in India — this sums up Brown Paperbag comics in a nutshell.

Other than politicised depictions of problems in India, there haven't been many mainstream comics that pick on the trivialities of everyday life, especially for teenagers, whom you would assume would be the biggest target audience for comic books. That is where Brown Paperbag hits a sweet spot. This digital comic strip by 20-year-old design student Sailesh Gopalan has gone viral in a matter of a few weeks. Initially started on 25 June 2016, the web comic has exploded phenomenally, getting more than 70,000 followers for his page Brown Paperbag in a matter of three weeks. Gopalan chooses to let the name of the comics 'Brown Paperbag' be kept ambigious, open to personal interpretation, much like the subject matter in his online strip. We had a quick chat about his hugely popular comic:

Sailesh Gopalan, creator of BrownPaper bag comics

Sailesh Gopalan, creator of 'Brown Paperbag' comics

What was the thought process behind putting together this comic?

The decision to venture into webcomics was on a whim, and my selection of the theme was owing to the lack of many Indian daily life satire comics that were devoid of politics. It was a swift decision and I remember making the first comic within an hour of conceptualising Brown Paperbag as a whole.

Are there any challenges in sketching and writing this comic?

The most prevalent challenge was to avoid giving a false impression that the incidents in the comics were portrayals of my own life and the characters were representations of my family and friends, which has happened regardless. I tried my best to keep the comic separate from my personal life, but people inevitably assume that the comic is an autobiography of sorts.

It seems to me that the characters are kept ambiguous on purpose, so they are more relatable. Do you plan to give them a concrete identity in the near future? 

The main protagonist, the frustrated teenage boy, is named Kabir. Kabir is a religiously vague name, and it’s a convenient feature to have to facilitate bigger variety in comics that include him. I haven’t named many other characters yet, but I don’t believe names are as important as the stereotypes or personalities they represent.

What are the perks about publishing your comic online, as compared to the print medium?

The reach is undeniably massive. Accessibility isn’t limited by location, which brings more feedback from people from distant places. I learnt a lot about several cultures when people messaged or commented saying they belonged to another country or ethnicity but could still relate to many of my comics on a personal level. It shows how so much of our culture is universally applicable, or perhaps influenced from the rest of the world.

As a comic artist, why this effort to avoid politics completely?

Firstly because every other newspaper or social media Indian cartoon you see deals with political satire. It is most certainly not the road less taken. Another reason is that I am not very well versed with current politics to venture into such a dangerous arena with incomplete knowledge.

Your comics have gone viral in a matter of few weeks, what are your future plans for them?

For the time being, my plan is to keep up the regular updates. I have already slowed down now that college has begun and I don’t have enough free time for the comic, but I’m making sure I don’t leave a gap too big for my readers to begin to lose interest.

Do you plan to make a comic series book like maybe, Archie is for America. 

Eventually, maybe. I’d love to get published in print, but I guess there is still a lot of time for that. I do often think of introducing more characters who can become regulars, and make situational comic strips around them, but for now I’m trying to use up the ideas I already have in my head.

Here are a few comics from their webpage:

The one with the comment on sexism:

Ep. 12 - Scoopidity

A photo posted by Brown Paperbag Comics (@brownpaperbagcomics) on

The one where you teach your parents to text:

Ep. 17 - Technapology   A photo posted by Brown Paperbag Comics (@brownpaperbagcomics) on

The one where your parents think you should not swear comic:

  Ep. 16 - Profeign   A photo posted by Brown Paperbag Comics (@brownpaperbagcomics) on

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Updated Date: Jul 16, 2016 16:48:55 IST

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