Walking into Nigar Nazar’s quirky, red-painted office, I wonder, ‘Who is Gogi?’ My attention diverts to a vintage poster of a woman flexing (‘we can do it,’ reads the caption) and I’m tempted more than ever to inquire about the feminist ideology behind the persona of Gogi — the polka-dotted, bubbly protagonist of Gogi comics.
Jovial and full of life just like her creation, Gogi Studios’ mastermind and lead cartoonist immediately shows me a comic-leaflet. The strip shows Gogi and a friend, chatting over fresh chalee (corn on the cob). “When my grandfather was born they passed around sweets,” explains Gogi’s animated, podgy friend as she salivates over stems of corn. The friend then adds, “When my father was born they passed around cakes.” Finally, Gogi asks what happened when Mariam, the friend, was born. “They passed out,” Mariam replies coyly.
Different shades of Gogi
A subtle, bilingual (available in English and Urdu) commentary on local gender issues, these comics are an important part of an emotive venture. “Gogi is my brainchild,” explains Nazar. “She’s the character I speak through.”
Nazar’s work has inspired several students and many of them have even based their theses on her accomplishments. She recalls how one student in particular, said Gogi is the poster child for the voice of Pakistani women. “She represents an educated, enlightened and progressive type, which is why she sometimes comes across as a snob,” says Nigar. But beyond playful humour, Gogi is also concerned about social issues and takes the job of raising awareness seriously.
“Back in the 70s, Gogi cartoons were for entertainment purposes only, but later they became more meaningful,” Nazar explains. She pulls out the very first Gogi toon she ever made for me to see, “You are the first person to have ever seen this,” she says mirthfully; the illustration shows Gogi meeting a beggar and sobbing because his story touched her.
The exclusive comic strip confirms that Gogi is neither class specific nor issue specific. From raising awareness to childhood development to a life of poverty to education and environmental degradation, Gogi covers a gamut of our society’s positives and pitfalls.
‘Covering everything under the sun’
Nazar refers to the latest shipment of comics and pulls out a similar socially responsible comic book. The booklet is a World Health Organisation (WHO) sponsored project, with the latest edition specifically focusing on internally displaced persons (IDPS) in flood-affected areas.
She slides a Cartoon Qaida across the table to explain how she has done her part. The brightly coloured CD case holds an interactive learning programme that teaches Urdu to kids or anyone who wants to learn. “I’ve actually handed copies out to diplomats who want to learn Urdu,” says Nazar. Accolades poured in after the inception of the Qaida in 2004 and it eventually won the Best Eduation Tool award.
The catalyst backs her achievement with the poignant story of Tahira from Chakri, a village located nearly two hours outside Islamabad. She narrates Tahira’s letter to Gogi studios, which states the educational hurdles she faced and how Gogi helped her get past them. One of eight siblings, Tahira was forced to drop out of school because her father, a fauji pensioner, couldn’t afford her fees. Things changed when she got her hands on a comic called Ilm ki dolat/The Fruits of Learning as part of an outreach programme spearheaded by Gogi studios for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I showed your colourful book to my father and read the story to my parents. They were touched and decided to let me continue my school. My father has resolved to arrange my school fee; I know it won’t be easy but I am determined to acquire knowledge whatever the difficulties,” writes Tahira. To date, the outreach programme has reached 7,000 children.
Mum’s the word
No matter how much you urge her to give you a hint about her future projects, Nazar would remain mum and leave you frustrated with curiosity. “There’s something coming up, something different in animation,” she says mischievously.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2012.