AI generated Bangladeshi comic ‘Manobjatir Grohon’: An initiative with potential
Science Bee, a science based educational platform, recently published a graphic novel entirely authored by Artificial Intelligence-driven softwares. Manobjatir Grohon was released on January 15, 2023 and was created with the help of ChatGPT for the text and Midjourney Ai for the illustrations.
First impressions of the book—an impressive cover art, almost paralleling the dystopian, post-apocalyptic setting of Dhaka Comics' graphic novel, Protibastob (2022)–albeit just in terms of letting readers get a feel for what the story might be about. It showcases a blazing sky under which a massive mushroom cloud has erupted, seen from the middle of a city street. The long dangly figures looking at the phenomenon from a safe distance were perhaps my favourite part of the illustration; it adds a sense of almost alien-like feature to what is evidently the Earth. That, along with the title, made me wonder whether this was a story about an alien invasion or machines taking over.
That is not immediately revealed in the story, however. We find out that civilisation underwent the threat of extinction, where only a few survived. About 100 years later, Anika, a 19-year-old girl, comes across an orb-like glowing "machine" that is meant to "change the fate of the current humanity forevermore", which still finds itself in the hands of hunger, poverty, and downfall. This is stated in the ninth page of the 17-page comic book in a rather abrupt exposition. While I understand that this is a short book and the story would need to move at a fast pace, it didn't need to directly tell the readers as to what was happening.
Perhaps this is where the drawback of creating a piece of literature with AI becomes apparent. Since the plot of Manobjatir Grohon has been created by inputting commands in the ChatGPT software, it doesn't–or rather, cannot–take into account the nuances and/or the complexities of a story written by humans. This point has been made many times by readers, but when you consider that the graphic novel comes from an educational platform and is targeted towards a young audience, you realise this might become detrimental to their understanding and learning of English as they might take cues to learn writing.
Science Bee told Daily Star Books that the text prompt to ChatGPT was given in English and the translation to Bangla was done with human assistance–"although minimally", they said–by a team led by their Content Production Head, Annoy Debnath. As a reader, I felt like the work could have benefited from more active and thoughtful human intervention, because names of secondary characters like James, Maria, and Samantha were Eurocentric while that of the protagonist's (Anika) was changed to fit a more Bangladeshi context. This mix-up, along with the other designing inconsistencies, are jarring.
In that regard, there are some conflicting ideas in the illustrations as well. For example, a more seasoned eye can tell the different amalgamation of styles that are rather inconsiderately compiled together to create the graphic novel. To elaborate, a reader who is familiar with different styles of graphic novels, manga, and video games, can pick out the modulations and tell what commands were given to Midjourney were modelled after Assassin's Creed, God of War, and other such works of graphic designs. Additionally, illustration work done by Artificial Intelligence softwares still has some flaws—for some reason, characters always end up with six fingers on their hands or are distorted.
The initiative taken by Science Bee, I thought, is a great one: introducing the possibilities of science, science fiction, and advanced technology to young readers of Bangladesh was necessary as well as commendable; from an educational standpoint, the book makes sense. However, from a publication perspective, I believe a lot more work could've gone into the editing process and polishing it before putting it out.
Maisha Syeda is a writer, painter, and the Sub editor of Daily Star Books.