Late last year Reshma Jain, a Mumbai-based former journalist and founder of The Narrators, an art and literary organisation, got a unique housewarming present. The gift was a large framed poster that had the complete text of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice arranged in such a way to form an image in negative space of the novel’s central characters — Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.
Five months since her housewarming, Jain has imported several of such book posters like J M Barrie’s Peter Pan, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting from Spineless Classics, a creative firm in England that makes wall art out of famous books. She has also signed a year-long partnership with Carl Pappenheim, founder of Spineless Classics, to bring its complete catalogue to India and hold exhibitions and sale. The first such exhibition, of about 100 posters, was held in Mumbai recently.
Jain plans to take the exhibition and sale to Kolkata and Delhi. While she does not expect to extend the partnership for exhibition and sale beyond one year, she is determined to collaborate with Pappenheim to create graphic posters featuring Indian classics and epics. “We are working on the Bhagvad Gita,” she says.
At the exhibition were posters of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a three-piece poster of Shantaram, Martel-autographed limited edition posters of Life of Pi, and several others. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were among the other prominent ones.
The framed posters are priced at Rs 12,500 to Rs 40,000, depending on the size. The limited edition poster of Life of Pi is priced at Rs 53,000. The posters are printed on lush, satin finish, but non-reflective paper. While the posters are imported from England, the framing is done in Mumbai. The printing is so sharp that you can read the text easily with the naked eye. According to Jain, the most sought after posters are The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, MGB Haynes Manual and Black Beauty.
While The Narrators may be the first one to bring graphic book art posters to India, the form has existed for a while. Danny Fein, founder of Litographs in England, has 70 posters of classics in his catalogue, with two new designs released each week. “We’ve sold over 10,000 posters since we launched in April 2012. Alice in Wonderland is our most popular design,” he says. According to him, 20 per cent of his orders are international. “We’ve shipped quite a few to India.”
Litographs come in two sizes: 24x36 inches and 18x24 inches and are available in black and white, and colour. The price of the posters ranges between $24 and $39; an additional $10 is charged for shipping. For San Francisco-based Alex Yancher, the idea of book posters came when he decided to shrink the text of a book into a 24x36-inch poster without a design. “I just wanted to see how small it can get it (and yet be legible). It looked fantastic. Then I thought, how beautiful it will be if I put in a silhouette image into it.” That was the beginning of Yancher’s NovelPoster in 2010. He, too, confirms that he gets orders from India.
Yancher’s priority is classic novels. However, he wants to recognise today’s popular literature as seen in tweets, or “twitterature”. He picked tweets of five people who, he thought, were “interesting and entertaining”. So, there are poster designs made of tweets by Stephen Colbert (American political satirist), singer Lady Gaga, Shaquille O’Neal (retired American basketball player), Kanye West (musician) and actress Katy Perry. Some of these tweet posters adorn the walls of the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, US.
Most agencies in the graphic book poster business pick classics which do not require copyright permission. “Licensing is an expensive and time-consuming process. In the beginning, we offered exclusively public domain books. Today, we’re working hard to license modern classics as quickly as we can,” says Fein of Litographs.