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Interview: February 1, 2018

One of our favorite releases of 2017 was Nidhi Chanani's PASHMINA. In this graphic novel, a young Indian-American girl struggles with her mother's lack of answers to questions about her past. Priyanka desperately wants to know who her father was, and why her mother left India so many years ago, but her mother refuses to answer. But when Priyanka discovers a magical pashmina scarf in her mother's closet, she is transported to a fantastical, colorful version of India that just might hold some answers. Blending snippets of her own youth with bold, vivid colors and a lot of imagination, Nidhi Chanani weaves a powerful tale of self-discovery, blending cultures and identity. We had the opportunity to ask Nidhi a few questions about her book recently. Read below to learn about her inspiration for the book, how she balances her writing/drawing process and what she's working on next. Nidhi, you are already a well-known artist and business owner of Everyday Love Art. What made you decide to write a graphic novel?

Nidhi Chanani: I love illustration because it allows me to tell a story. After years of creating single images, I wanted more. To tell a longer story. My background in literature and illustration made comics the perfect choice.

KRC: Most of your art features your husband and baby daughter, and other “grown-up” things like enjoying a cup of coffee or boarding the subway. Why did you decide to aim your graphic novel at a younger audience?

NC: To be honest I didn't choose the audience. That's the publisher and marketing team. I chose the story. In my head I have multiple stories. PASHMINA was a story that felt right for me at the time and so I chose it. I knew the main character was a teenager and that I would keep the text and illustrations welcoming to a younger audience (no swearing, no nudity) and so it fit with that market.

KRC: Your main character, Priyanka, is independent and headstrong, but yearns to learn more about her heritage and father. Can you tell us a bit about her and her motivations?

NC: Priyanka was a shy and artsy kid most of her life. But when she enters high school and begins to look beyond the confines of her life she has many questions. As she opens the door to questions, she realizes that she must find the answers not through her mom or friends but on her own.

KRC: When Priyanka discovers a suitcase in her mother’s closet (and the magical shawl inside of it), her whole life changes. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to create this magical shawl?

NC: It's always hard to trace a line to the exact inspiration behind a story. There were multiple lines for PASHMINA. One experience was opening my parents' suitcase after their trip to India when I was young. The familiar and unfamiliar smells, colors and objects leaving an impression on me. Another was traveling to India with my husband later in life. The shop keepers pushed pashminas on us countless times. That resulted in fun theories about why pashminas were being hocked and their true origins. Those combined with other ideas to form the magical pashmina.

KRC: One of my favorite parts of PASHMINA was the way the art style and colors changed between Priyanka’s real life and the fantasy version of India she travels to. Can you tell us more about this distinction?

NC: Color is one of my favorite parts of creating art. Within a visual medium like graphic novels, I want to use color to augment the story. I love comics and utilizing color (and the lack thereof) is a unique tool that can only happen in a graphic novel. As a storyteller I want to push myself and as a comics creator I want to do so as well. I believe that color is a strong tool for a nuanced story along with page layout, panelling, and word choice.

KRC: When writing PASHMINA, did the story come first, or the art? What can you tell us about your process?

NC: My process was very linear. Full script, thumbnails and then final art. I reworked my script 8 times, thumbs at least 3 times and final art was very minimally changed.

KRC: Are there any graphic novels that inspired you as you worked?

NC: Yes! I primarily referred to two books while working on PASHMINA: THE SCULPTOR by Scott McCloud and AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Yang. Although I referred to a lot of other books, comics and art while working those were the two that sat on my desk through the whole process.

KRC: What do you hope young readers will take away from PASHMINA?

NC: A sense of power and agency over their lives.

KRC: What sort of feedback have you received from young readers since PASHMINA was released?

NC: That they love the art and story! And of course requests for more books.

KRC: Can you tell us what you are working on next? Has your process changed at all since PASHMINA was released?

NC: Yes! My next graphic novel, JUKEBOX, is one I am writing with my husband Nick Giordano. It's about two muslim-American cousins, Shaheen and Tannaz (or Shahi and Naz), who find a jukebox that takes them back in time. The process is very different from PASHMINA. I learned through scripting PASHMINA that although helpful in development, it changed dramatically when I began thumbnails. Now I am taking my outline directly to thumbnails, no script. So far it's working well!