Swayam Parekh’s silent comic Greenhouse illustrates the growth in finding yourself

In what was at times a trying process, the illustrator has delivered her silent comic, aimed at younger people, but a source for all of those on a journey of self discovery.

27 February 2024

While growing up in Bombay, India, Swayam Parekh often found herself engrossed in any and all fantasy and folktale comics she could get her hands on. There was Amar Chitra Katha, Calvin and Hobbes, Asterix, Bone and the faithfully uncanny Tintin. After years of being absorbed in these alternate universes and modes of adventure, she felt that drawing was a “natural next step,” she tells us. Also influenced by the natural vegetation seen throughout her travels around various parts of India, from the moment her pencil hit the paper it’s “been a way to talk to myself,” she adds.

Moving to New York in 2021 to study a master’s in illustration at the School of Visual Arts, she began to see her style develop while building a pool of references made up of the artists she most enjoyed – Tove Jansson, Paz Boira and Salman Toor. Throughout her latest body of work, Greenhouse, the illustrator explores the art of the silent comic (featuring no dialogue) and her visuals feel as though they fall somewhere between art, graphic storytelling and observational drawing. Her recurring greens alone could be a collection of vignettes on the explorations of nature, and her deep purples a macabre series on the dwellings of the underworld. But for Swayam, it’s all a lot more metaphorical than dungeons and dragons and flowers and trees.

The illustrator started creating Greenhouse for a younger audience, with the desire to explore the relationship we have with our inner selves. “It’s about the tedious road to finding your way back after feeling disconnected from yourself,” she adds, “the idea of having to rebuild without clarity or closure is really what it’s inspired by”. Loosely based on her own experiences, that she wanted to both make light of and explore lightly, the drawings throughout beautifully tread the line between absurdity and kicking down the fourth wall. In certain moments, it’s almost as if the character is about to jump out of the frame and pull the audience in. “I disassociated from myself after going through a wave of unanticipated and constant change, and eventually I decided to rebuild that lost connection from scratch.”


Swayam Parekh: Greenhouse (Copyright © Swayam Parekh, 2023)

Before Greenhouse was this 44 page-long, graphite (and coloured pencil) drawn comic, it was first a written story, and then a “mini dummy” of what Swayam imagined it to be, created with her mentor Alexandra Zsigmond. Then, she began creating graphic line work, before layering other pages on top (over a lightbox) in order to add colour without disturbing it. “Afterwards I would scan both pages and combine them on Photoshop,” she tells us, “and that’s when I decided it should be, in-large, wordless. I wanted it to be less didactic for the reader, and for them to be able to draw their own context and conclusions from it”.

Despite this, while creating, the illustrator came up against a bout of self doubt, that she says is caused by a “difficulty to trust myself with decision-making while working on a piece”. In order to curb it, during the development of Greenhouse she created several iterations or sketches of the scenes. Swayam says this often kills her momentum, but we can see that they lend themselves to a dynamic and moving collection. The character explores as the illustrator explores, the illustrator develops, changes pace, works and reworks for their goal, and ultimately reckons with growth and being overwhelmed during the process – as does the character.

GallerySwayam Parekh: Greenhouse (Copyright © Swayam Parekh, 2023)

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Swayam Parekh: Greenhouse (Copyright © Swayam Parekh, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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