Kids Corner

Art

Meet SpongeBob Singh

by VISHAVJIT SINGH

What does an average six-year old know about cartoons, besides watching them on television? It turns out, a lot. I believe I lighted a spark or two during  the course of two cartooning workshops I held in the Bay Area ... out came the wildest of characters, with dastaars, beards and long strands of beaded hair.

Last October, I was exhibiting a collection of my Sikhtoons at Toronto's Spinning Wheel Film Festival. As the film reels spun, visiting organizers from Northern California's own Spinning Wheel roped me in.

One thing led to another and in early February, I found myself in Palo Alto, home of the renowned Stanford University. I was here not only to attend the Second Annual Bay Area Spinning Wheel, but also for the purpose of conducting a couple of cartoon workshops for children.

The festival was sold out before it even started.  Organized mostly by young parents, what made this one special was its added focus on children's films and activities.

As I went about setting up my exhibit, a five-year old offered me a chocolate-chip cookie.

A children's activity area had been set up, with a supply of arts and crafts tools. As the morning cluster of films progressed elsewhere in the main auditorium, a number of parents and kids gathered around me, having already been prepped  about the workshops. The young Sikhs were ready to ‘rock and toon'.

A young 6 year-old approached me. He couldn't attend the workshop but he had already created a sketch. He offered it to me, in exchange for my autograph.

His first cartoon, my first autograph!

At the end of the morning cluster, the young and old alike were given a rare treat of tricks by the resident magician, Vikram Singh. There were floating and multiplying balls, a disappearing banana, shrinking and expanding ropes... all happening on the blink of the eye.  

I saw the little jaws drop in awe and knew that I had a hard act to follow.

Many of the parents headed for the next cluster of films, leaving me with over 70 eager little faces, chomping at the bit to learn the art of cartooning.

I started with doodling a few dastaars, concentrating on the lines and the curves.  I dabbled in some bearded faces as well, some flowing, some dressed and groomed ones.

One little girl piped up: she wanted to know if I knew how to draw a girl.

I began to create a little girl's face, all the while explaining how much easier it is to draw a male Sikh ... because of the dastaar and  beard. A stylized dastaar or an extra flick of a mustache makes for a funky Sikh man. But you mess up a jaw line or slip-up on the nose-line on a sketch of a girl .... and you ain't got a pretty girl any more.

They roared with laughter at this, and commented freely on my sketch of the girl. I invited them to show me how to do it right later, during the next workshop, which had been billed as the interactive session.

I then began to draw a Sikh version of the characters from the film,  ‘The Incredibles', followed by  a Charlie Singh adaptation from Peanuts, and a Captain Amarinder Singh ...an action figure in tights! And, a Sikh version of the KFC poster ad  -   "Kapurthala Fruit Chaat".

By this time, I believe  -  judging from the squeals  -   I had their undivided attention.

Next came the interactive part of the workshop.

I asked them what cartoons they watched. SpongeBob came out on top, edging out Tom and Jerry, Hey Arnold and the Avatars. I then asked them to create their own cartoon characters with one simple rule: every figure had to be Sikh.

Out poured many a version of SpongeBob Singh... with a dastaar, with a beard, with a moustache, or various combinations of the three.

And SpongeBob Kaur, with beaded hair. Wild animals with patkas. Action heroes in dastaars. Even a Sikh "Mr President".

They had obviously picked up their latest art tool ...  drawing from the Sikh side of the brain!

I gave each of my pupils a copy of the ‘Sikh Incredibles' on a glossy card. Looking at their giggling faces, I was thrilled to see that I had managed to introduce them all  -  kids and parents alike  -  to a new Sikh diaspora of cartoons.

The second workshop was for the older crowd, with a focus on the art of editorial cartooning. How does one take a news item, sort out its multiple and often contradictory nuances, and create an edgy, sharp and yet funny cartoon?

I showed them samples of work from contemporary American editorial cartoonists like Robert Ariail, Tony Auth, Jeff Danzinger, Ted Rall and Tom Toles. I pointed out the variety of styles and approaches, ranging from detailed and crisp, to loose and rugged ... but all with one thing in common: a satirical and humorous edge. I reminded them that our community too, like any other, had a wealth of contradictions and was a mine for would-be cartoonists.

We explored some of my own pieces addressing the stupidities of the caste system, for example, or the horrors of the 1984 pogroms. We analyzed some lighter subjects too:  marathoner and octogenarian Fauja Singh, English cricketer and heart-throb Madhsuden Singh aka Monty Panesar.

A lot of fun was had by one and all  ... not the least, by me.

Conversation about this article

1: Sundeep Dale (England), May 15, 2007, 2:20 PM.

I want Spongebob Singh. I've fallen in love for the second time and I'm desperate. I'm no cartoon nut, guys. Just want to have a friend. Wish you had a SS screensaver!

2: Ravneet Dehal (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), July 11, 2007, 8:00 PM.

Oh my God! Spongebob Singh! What an awsome idea. I absolutely love Spongebob!

3: Sana (Toronto, Canada), August 02, 2007, 10:44 AM.

I just can't wait to attend such a workshop. Just reading the article was such an exhilarating experience. I can only imagine what the real deal will be like :)

4: Harkiran Kaur (U.S.A.), December 23, 2007, 5:26 PM.

I love Spongebob Singh! It is hillarious! I've never heard of anything so funny, and I've never even imagined it either!

5: rusyaidi (malaysia), March 19, 2008, 11:41 PM.

So cute and kind ...

6: Maranda Walker (Ocilla, Georgia, U.S.A..), October 01, 2008, 7:21 AM.

Yo sponge bob iz off da chain!!! He iz so funny.

7: Sukhjit Khalsa (Perth, Australia), January 22, 2009, 2:52 AM.

I feel like I've entered into Spongebob paradise ... Spongebob Singh! Spongebob Kaur! I love Spongebob!

8: Simardeep Singh (Winnipeg, Canada), January 27, 2009, 1:34 PM.

Waah ji waah ... what a revolution you guys are bringing to the Sikh toon concept! I am enjoying it and waiting for the first every desi cartoon to be produced for the whole world to watch ... Our Singhs and Kaurs featuring and playing some Bhangra tunes and talking about eating rajmaah chaawal and ladoo and jalebi ... keep it up folks! Keep it alive. We are not very far.

9: Harvin Lachhar (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 18, 2009, 4:09 PM.

A really funny idea named SpongeBob Singh. I wish you could make a "SpongeBob Kaur" :-)

10: Sukhbir (Australia), March 01, 2009, 11:22 PM.

Very bubbly and joyful revolution. May Guruji bless you. Now, I have a nice place to spend my online time ... creating cartoons and posting them!

11: Jagbir Singh (New Zealand), March 09, 2009, 11:07 PM.

It sure is a wonderful idea. I just hope there can be someday Punjabi cartoons out there for the world to see! Great job, kids!

12: Navi (New Zealand), March 14, 2009, 1:51 PM.

The Smurfs started out as Sardars!

13: Simrandeep (Birmingham, United Kingdom), March 21, 2009, 12:12 PM.

Very funny ...

14: Coin (Indonesia), July 07, 2009, 3:06 AM.

I love SpongeBob!

15: Tanvir Kaur (New Zealand), September 24, 2011, 11:59 PM.

Love the idea!

16: M. Singh (Leeds, England), October 08, 2011, 4:18 AM.

I have always liked SpongeBob but now love SpongeBob Singh. And I'm only 56 old young.

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