In 2010, a webcomic titled Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land was launched by an anonymous writer/artist team. Named after a popular Bengali saying that evokes the feeling of being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, it takes potshots at humbug and fraud from every end of the political spectrum, as well as the societal hypocrisies of contemporary India. In equal parts irreverent and self-aware, hilarious and deadly serious, it gained a cult following almost immediately.

After five years of appearing like clockwork every Monday morning, CWTL has been turned into a book, Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land. We spoke to the team behind the comic about the genesis of the strip, its continuing success, and the artistic decisions that go into its creation.

What’s the reason behind your desire to remain anonymous?
When we started out, it was to ensure that we got real feedback, and not just from friends who would feel pressured to say nice things. Another reason we remain anonymous is that we are both a bit shy and don't like being the centre of attention.

How did CWTL begin?
We have always been comic geeks, and we wanted to write comics. In the absence of a great idea that we both agreed on, we decided to start anyway, until something better came along. CWTL began as an episodic rant, to help us hone our skills, and also to suss out how people would take to our style of illustrations and writing.

How did you decide upon the name? Do you have to explain it often?
It came from the art side of our team. The writer was tying himself into knots and each option was worse than before. The artist just threw the name at him, and it was perfect. We didn't really have to explain it to anyone. People just got it. In fact, we've never done much explaining. Our readers are a sharp, articulate bunch and there has never been any reason to hold back or spell things out.

What made you decide to persist with the comic, considering it was going to be a short-term project?
We decided to keep going when we realised that we have readers who wait for our cartoon every Monday morning. Specifically, there was a server outage in late 2010 or early 2011, and we couldn't upload our 13th episode till late afternoon, and many readers wrote in to ask if we were okay, if there was some problem etc.

We decided then that there should be something for our readers every Monday. Will that something always be CWTL? We don't know that yet. But as long as we are able, there will be something.

We see this work as an act of friendship. We put our work out there five years ago, and there were complete strangers who encouraged and supported us. They ensured in no small part that we have some sort of reputation as artists today, enough for journalists to want to interview us. That's not lightly thrown away.

Do you get a lot of feedback? Have you ever received angry responses?
By and large, we have always got positive feedback and encouragement. Initially we had very few readers. Some of our old readers have dropped out, but many still read us and are among our staunchest advocates.

We don’t seem to be angering too many people and surely that's a black mark against us. However, some of the most entertaining responses we have got have been from people who didn't like what we had to say. Someone called us "newly-'secular' retards." Another person said we seemed "high all the time." Four such comments take pride of place on the back cover of our book. They were simply too good to pass up. What we like is that even our abusers have a sense of humour.

What are your influences?
It's a bit difficult to point out influences, because we find that the stuff that we read, look at and listen to creep in unconsciously, organically, as opposed to us sitting down to write or sketch a conscious tribute.

Visually, we should mention Gaganendranath Tagore's caricatures, as well as William Blake, Rene Magritte and Henri Rousseau as artists we have a spent a lot of time looking at.

Writing is more difficult to pin down. We read all kinds of stuff, not always "relevant" to what we do. We are big fans of science fiction – Robert Heinlein, the husband-wife team that wrote humorous sci-fi under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett back in the 1940s, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Philip K Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Theodore Sturgeon, Ursula Le Guin, and so on.

We are also ardent admirers of Japanese horror, be it literature, cinema or manga. Edogawa Rampo, Otsuichi, Junji Ito, Hideshi Hino and others. Arthur Koestler's Hanged by the Neck turned us off capital punishment at a fairly young age. Bengali satirists Kaliprasanna Sinha and Parashuram come to mind, as do the political writings of Tagore.

We are, of course, students of comics and cartoons, and the list is long. R. Crumb, Gary Trudeau, Hergé, Harvey Pekar, Katsuhiro Otomo, Jaime and Gilberto Hernández and many many more. In India, we like the work of Abu, Mayukh Chowdhury, Orijit Sen and Sarbajit Sen, among others.

How does a typical CWTL strip get made?
We keep our ear to the ground, listen in on conversations, keep an eye on the news, etc. Sometimes we just decide to use a character who hasn't made an appearance in a while. Each character has its own pet peeves, so that sometimes dictates the story. By and large, we use weekdays to keep tabs and Saturdays and Sundays to work.

How has your work changed over the years? Have you retired early characters, such as what is presumably the two of you, or the Bengali mother?
We are not so Kolkata-centric anymore. Also, we tend to talk about more specific issues nowadays. So while our illustrations may have become more symbolic and abstract in some cases, the writing has become more direct. And this is something longevity has done to us.

The same issues keep cropping up, and initially, we could talk about those issues without context, but in order to avoid repeating ourselves too much, we had to go more specific. But every once in a while, we reverse that.

We haven't retired any characters though. “We” crop up every once in a while. The “mother” is a bit uni-dimensional, so we have to find things for her to talk about. When the right issue comes up, she will return. We've found that it's best not to put words into the mouths of our characters.

It’s funny to see you come full circle, considering one of your earliest punchlines concerned a book deal with Harper-Collins, who have now published your book. How did the book come to be?
Serendipity. A friend suggested we do a compilation of our work and put us through to Ajitha G.S., a commissioning editor at Harper-Collins. It turned out that she was a regular reader of CWTL. It was pretty smooth sailing thereafter. We couldn't have asked for a better collaborator. We are utter control freaks, bordering on obsessive, and Ajitha handled us with a great deal of patience, wisdom, and humour.

It would be great to hear more about the book.
The book is a compilation of our work from 2010 to 2014. We have redrawn and rewritten/edited significant portions, so a lot of it is quite different (and hopefully more refined) from how they appear on the web. We have re-panelled all the strips to make them suitable for the book form. We have added annotations to the more topical strips, so they make sense when read five years later. We are excited about how it looks and reads, and hope that our readers will enjoy it as much as we enjoyed working on it.

Is it easier or more difficult for you to critique someone or something avowedly progressive?
CWTL is an exercise in self-criticism. We are not as deeply entrenched in the “progressive” end of the scale as it may appear. We sometimes catch ourselves saying or thinking things we should know better not to. That becomes the subject of our next episode.

Most of us are a mix of progressive and conservative values. Caste, community biases etc., run deeper than we often realise. So one may instinctively react to something in a certain way, but then our education, our acquired values kick in, as indeed they should. Then you have a considered response as opposed to an instinctive one.

A lot of CWTL is a considered response to our own instinctive reaction to things. Many of our various characters are actually us, mapped along various notches on the scale. The one character we feel absolutely comfortable stepping into is the dog.