When Thejakhrienuo Yhome was growing up in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, she was infamous at her school for sketching under the desk during class. “I found out later that all the teachers knew about it,” she said, “but [they] never bothered to stop me probably because they could tell it was important to me.”

Those small acts of kindness on the part of the teachers helped. Yhome, now a 24-year-old self-taught artist, is the creator of Carnaby Black, a digital manga comic series about “whimsical magic”, and a minor star among the anime- and manga-loving youth of Nagaland.

“I’ve noticed that Nagas assimilate sub-cultures with great ease, be it in terms of fashion forwardness, cultures from other places, shows, or music,” she said. “Maybe it’s the artistic freedom we’re allowed back home by our parents and society or because our towns are small with close-knit social circles. Maybe we just have too much time on our hands.”

Manga are Japanese comics that tell stories, typically in black and white, with hand-drawn characters. The themes are not limited to superheroes and can be about anything from romance, murder mysteries and sports to the lives of high school students. Oftentimes, when a manga achieves cult status, it is made into anime, the Japanese term for animation.

An obsession

Yhome was drawn into this world when she was 12 and saw an episode of Pokemon, a Japanese anime series which ran in English in India at her cousin’s house. By this time she was already making “horrible fan art and superhero comics on paper with black pens and fountain ink. Then my dad bought me a second-hand graphic drawing tablet and I began making horrible comics on the computer screen”.

She started making manga pages after 10th grade and at the time, Yhome says, people around her were more interested in Korean drama shows, Bollywood and Hollywood. The manga sub-culture was yet to grow. After graduating from school in 2013, Yhome pursued a degree course in animation and VFX from Minerva Institute of Management and Technology, Dehradun, while simultaneously continuing to work on other art commissions. Now she works as an intern at an intellectual property development company in Bengaluru, creating product and concept designs.

When she began scripting and drawing Carnaby Black in 2014, it was supposed to be a story with elements of comedy and fantasy about a young boy who is on the brink of losing his mother and in the process of exploring a strange new town called Rorsharch. As Yhome worked on it, though, the story has taken on a darker tone – “I like it this way though. It’s more like me to write something like this. My inspiration has mostly been my thirst for adventure.”

Carnaby Black was the first manga she ever uploaded online for public consumption. She started working on the script after being commissioned by Nagaland Anime Junkies, popularly known as NAJ. This is a community formed on Facebook to bring together lovers of anime and manga.

Cosfest 2017. Photo credit: Hopong Chang (Nagaland Anime Junkies)

NAJ has been organising a cosplay event in Kohima every year since 2013. Back then, it saw a crowd of about 500-600 people comprising young boys and girls who dressed up as their favourite anime, manga and comic book characters. Over the years, it has grown and in 2017, nearly 10,000 people attended the cosplay, where manga- and anime-inspired merchandise is also sold.

NAJ discovered Yhome’s work through her Facebook page, Thej’s Scrap-Book, where she would regularly post her fan art and still does. Yhome said, “They wanted to feature my work and making a NAJ-exclusive comic series seemed like a cool idea.”

Biebe Natso, the founder of NAJ and organiser of the annual cosfest, says the cosplay culture has gained momentum and even parents support young people who are interested in it. She was drawn to Yhome’s work because, “her artistic style and her sense of imagination that sets her apart. Personally, I love watching fantasy animes and Carnaby Black is exactly on those lines. She is getting quite popular among the lovers of anime. Her fan art, few of which are available on her Instagram and Facebook page, are also quite popular. Lots of people know about Carnaby Black”.

Cosfest 2017. Photo credit: Hopong Chang (Nagaland Anime Junkies)

Stepping it up

The series is now available on Tapastic, a web hosting site where independent comic artists can post their work for free. The series is read from left to right whereas most manga are traditionally read from right to left. “Unlike the Japanese we don’t write that way,” Yhome said. “It’s more natural for us to read and draw from left to right.” The series, which is now on its 32nd episode, is still on but Yhome says she needs to make more time for it.

“It is the first manga I’ve made with an actual plot and planned ending,” she said. “Before that, I did make several comics where I’d make dozens of manga pages with no plan on who the characters are or what the story is about. I’d consider them a waste of my time and ink but I’ve noticed that making comic pages like that helped me improve my art.”

Chapter 1 of Carnaby Black was also produced in print form for sale at the NAJ cosfests and was available for purchase at the artiste booth until last year, says Natso. For her part, Yhome misses her home and community but relishes the messages and emails she gets from her readers.

Being a part of creating comics in India is rather tumultuous, she says. On one hand, a lot of publishers are trying to profit from graphic storytelling so the market is not bad for an artist, but on the other hand, a lot of those publishers also want to play it safe so most of the stories that do get published are restricted to specific genres.

“Stories based on religious scriptures or detective comics tend to work for publishers, but neither has been able to garner a large loyal fan base and it would appear that the readers aren’t really getting what they would like out of these genres,” Yhome said. “So, if you’re a good artist, you’ll get hired to illustrate comic pages but you might not enjoy the work.”