Drain Pig is the first and most memorable graphic novel I have ever read and oddly, one nobody has even heard about. When my father delivered it into my hands after chancing upon it in a used book stall in Fountain, Bombay, the black and white cover of the squint eyed porker jutting out of a man hole with a squeamish expression on its face was not very impressive. A round badge pinned to its shirt had the words, “Nuclear Power? No Thanks” curved around a smiling sun. With little exposure to anything outside the usual range of comics about Super Heroes, Folk Tales or American High school, the strong political message, dark humor, mordant satire and bleak existence portrayed in Drain Pig, the debut work of British cartoonist Dan Pearce, presented a startling revelation to my 11 years of relatively sheltered upbringing.
My first encounter with the graphic novel strangely coincided with my own entry into adolescence, a wretched time when my body was undergoing transformations that I was struggling to accept. Even otherwise, it was one of the most miserable periods of my life as I was new to the city of Bombay (though I was born there), imprisoned in a concrete jungle and innocent to the vulgarity of my peers. Coming from a slower, less-noxious part of the country, the city was to me a museum of horrors : Public displays of desperation on beaches upon whose sands infinite quantities of plastic bags and feces were deposited in the morning after the tide’s withdrawal. I was never enthusiastic about attending school but the school I was in back then was a veritable mad-house with a psychotic principal who enjoyed barging into the class room to impart jaw-breaking slaps to anyone who wasn’t in his bench and nauseatingly boring bench mates with whom I seldom conversed. To add to the repression, it was an only-boys school, another thing I wasn’t used to . On the other hand, the kids in my building were smart asses who were better than me at everything. In the torment and confusion of those days, I could, in some way, relate to the brutal world of Drain Pig, the terrible injustice done to an animal whose only mistake was to have been born intelligent. My grudge on the other hand, was to have been born dumb.
Having said why the book means a lot to me, I’m providing a summary :
In the first illustration, we are shown the back of a woman, wearing high heels in all likelihood, (the author’s “TIC TAC TIC TAC” tells us that), as she walks along a street that seems to be up-slope during some ungodly hour with cars parked on sidewalks next to box-shaped buildings suggesting that the district is commercial. In the following sections, a man hole cover opens and a pig’s head pops out.
The solitary figure on the road is visible now-a portly middle-aged woman with a fur coat wrapped around her, carries a handbag : She appears strikingly bourgeoisie, has a cigar-shaped nose, thick lips and make-up on her face. The pig, now fully outside the drain, the initials “DP” stitched into the back of his shirt, affectionately lunges at the shocked woman as he calls her “M-M-Mummy!”. While the woman proceeds to beat the shit out of our protagonist with her hand bag, their sounds attract a policeman who gallantly comes to the rescue of the lady by giving DP a whack on his skull with a baton. The policeman’s words – “Gotcha this time drain pig…” indicate that Drain Pig has been a wanted felon even before this incident. Drain pig gets thrown into the cooler and the gallant policeman drives the lady, whose name happens to be Mrs.Hunt, to her opulent house.
At this point, the question looming in the reader’s mind is what is the relationship between DP and this woman? Is there anything at all or does “Mummy” have no significance? The author, departing from the traditional story line, chooses to explore the roots of this relationship through flashback later on.
The main characters in the graphic novel are Drain Pig and Mag, an upcoming reporter who works for a rag. Although fundamentally different beings, their destinies eventually inter-twine as the Nuclear Plant Mag is investigating turns out to be annexed to a high security jail where Drain Pig is locked up with other convicts for being a constant source of trouble to previous jailers. These convicts, called Glow Boys, are treated relatively better than in their previous correctional facility, as they perform the highly dangerous job of changing leaky reactors.
The secret of Drain Pig’s origin is revealed when Mag, who is Mrs.Hunt’s daughter, visits her parents. Being a reporter, she covers the court hearing where her Mother testifies against Drain Pig. Refusing her mother’s story, Mag pushes Mrs.Hunt for the truth till she eventually tells Mag how she was working as a servant for a Professor who kept pigs as a hobby when one day he discovers an intelligent piglet whom he teaches to speak and christens “Danny”. Being an old man, the professor fears for Danny’s future and entrusts his wealth to Mrs.Hunt stipulating on the will that she be responsible for Danny. Once the Professor dies, Mrs.Hunt feels increasingly embarrassed to care for a pig and in a fit of rage, flushes Danny down the toilet awakening his love for sewers. Mag, with her sense of integrity, is appalled by this story of her mother and decides to fight for Danny.
As the meeting between Danny and Mag draws to a close, we encounter several interesting characters and critters : Judge Strangeways with a penchant for kinky at Madame Fifi’s correctional establishment,
Mag’s repulsive editor- Kevin Grit of “The Daily Dross”, Bernie- a peace camp member who apparently designed the power plant and whom his assistant Sophie calls “ a real Buckminster, Fuller Freak”, mutant crabs, Fingers-Danny’s best friend who turns blind after a dose of radiation, Mr.Hunt-Mag’s moronic father, Robinson-the unscrupulous manager of the power plant and his naive, alcoholic colleague, Walt.
Mr.Pearce’s extraordinary illustrations are incisive in capturing twisted expressions of sadism and in creating an utterly believable atmosphere of despondency, corruption and apathy, overflowing with satirical brilliance . At the same time, they provide glimpses of rare innocence, such as in the defeated character of Fingers , in crusaders like Bernie fighting losing battles and in the intense longing for freedom in Danny’s eyes.
But the real horror in the graphic novel that matched the horror strewn on the beach every morning in Bombay was in the depiction of Mag’s dream as she dozes off reading a book titled “Nuclear Nightmare”
where she encounters glow boys, hordes of mutant crabs inching towards her and Danny the Drain Pig, who safely lifts away her naked body only to drop her into the polluted sea. This, for me, is where the book transcended fiction as the pollution of Pearce’s Sizemould Bay was metaphorical of everything happening in my life at that time.
Note: You can reach Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
His website is http://www.mirandan.com/
I have a copy of the rare book with me and will soon be uploading it on ISSU.