Comically Tuned

We all love going through the small comic strips that appear in newspapers. There is something about them that always catches our attention. No, it not just about the instant smile that they bring, but the satire on certain socio-political or other critical issues that hooks us on to the graphical representation. The works of R.K. Laxman and Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram are cases in point.

Come to think of it, amongst the first things a baby is taught or shown are pictures.
And right from our childhood, reading comics is one of our greatest indulgences.

Kids would create havoc if their monthly subscription didn’t arrive or wasn’t handed to them. Well, at least that was the case in my house.

I remember, my brother and I had an entire rack full of ChandamamaTinkleJataka TalesBahadur (Indrajal Comics),Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu, Pinky, Billoo, Shrimatiji, Shikari ShambhuAkbar and BirbalTantri the Mantri, Suppandi, Nagraj (snake king) whose powers are based on ancient Hindu tales, and various other characters from Amar Chitra Katha, Gotham Comics and Diamond Comics.


Then came Western comics in the form of Archie’s, TinTinAsterix,Dennis the MenacePopeye the sailorSpidermanSuperman, Batman, X-Men and their ilk.

But as we grew up, comics had to take a back-seat – given the academic overload.

Not to forget the advent of television, followed by umpteen animated series on cartoon channels, which was closely followed by the highly engrossing game consoles and the internet lure. Comics and graphic novels lost their readers almost in a jiffy. And surprisingly, us, readers did not seem to miss our “once-upon-a-time-favorite” characters too. Somehow, Mario and Luigi seemed more interesting and car racing was more fun than reading and laughing over Suppandi’s idiocracy.

And soon, comics almost disappeared.

But just like other things in life that have undergone revamping, comics too seem to have come back in a new rejuvenated form.

A new wave of graphic novelists has emerged, in the recent past, to shake up the art form. We no longer see conventional centuries-old myths and folktales adorning the covers of comic books. The new crossover Indian superheroes have gained popularity and a wider audience amongst the adults as well. And subjects now range from subtle social messages about the environment and society to bolder issues of homosexuality and politics.

New-age artists are looking to create brand new superheroes that are quintessentially Indian to see off competition from the likes of Spiderman and Batman.
Amongst the new-age cartoonists and graphic novel designers, we have Sarnath Banerjee, whose graphic novel “Corridor” is set in New Delhi and delves into politics and sex. Sarnath is known to write and develop comics through his keen observations.

River of Stories” by Orijit Sen, that released around 1994 in black-and-white, dealt with the social and environmental impact of a controversial dam, and prompted changes even among traditional comic publishers in India.

Kari” by Amruta Patil, the writer also known as India’s first female graphic artist, centers on a suicidal lesbian and has been dubbed India’s first gay graphic novel. And another, “Kashmir Pending,” by Naseer Ahmed and Saurabh Singh, seen through the eyes of a reformed militant in jail in the disputed region.

A recent Mumbai based start-up, Vimanika Comics, aims to bridge the gap between historical narratives and graphic novels, giving mythological characters a 21st century facelift.
From what I gather, the company’s “The Sixth” series shows Karna, a warrior from the ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata,” in a modern light. The series starts as a high-flying businessman, suffering from recurrent nightmares, discovers he is the reincarnation of Karna.

Another publisher, Campfire, based in New Delhi, is about to launch “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King,” a graphic novel of a story retold over centuries in India but this time seen through the eyes of its primary antagonist — the demon king Ravana.

Fresh initiatives like Manta Ray, Level 10, Random, Abstraction, World Comics India (an NGO floated by young artists, who pick tales of common man’s heroism) Cartoon Watch, Comix.India, Creative Gaga, and many others aim to offer a platform to new talent. This alone shows the uprising the industry is about to notice soon.

Even the virtual world of web-comics has managed to entice readers.
I read this recently and decided to bring it everyone’s notice as well:


Kshiraj Telang has more than a thousand comic strips, many around the middle-class status symbol – a pug puppy on the web. Badmash is created by and aimed at the Indian diaspora. Curry Bear Comics is another popular Indian webcomic that revolves around three South Asian college students and their White friends, taking a dig at the Indian students at odds in America. Fly, You Fools (webcomic) deals with the daily irritants of life in India. Arbit Choudhury, regarded as the world’s first MBA comic character had to be created in India. Though, another Dilbert is what we are waiting for, to comment on our cutely corrupt and jugadu Indian work culture, Sunny Kris, a web comic, focuses on the unique idiosyncrasies of an Indian workplace.

And this is just the beginning.

Bringing back and boosting the fading love for comics, India recently saw the first Comic Con being held in the Nation’s capital, popularizing graphic novels and comics in India.
I heard that the two day convention saw more than 15,000 fans relishing the art in its new avatar. Fans dressed up as various characters, from American superheroes and villains such as Superman, Wolverine, and Harley Quinn to local Indian heroes like Chacha Chaudhary.
The festival had stalls for comics and graphic novels as well as workshops, activities and book launches. Illustrators, cartoonists, designers were awarded and felicitated for their contribution to the world of comics and fun.

Comic Con India also saw many new comics being launched – including “Uud Bilaw Manus: Back with a Vengeance” by young Adhiraj Singh, which shows off a new Indian superhero: a half-otter-half-human from the post-apocalyptic fictional place of “Beehar” in northern India, who fights corrupt officials, among others. That seemed somewhat striking. No matter how modern or western the graphics look; the stories, the subjects and the emotions that it carries is very distinctively local in flavor.
Sumit Kumar’s The Itch You Can’t Scratch, is an adult book, not by common connotations attached to adulthood-sex, but because of its stark honesty.

Amazingly, the sales over the two days at Comic Con spoke volumes about the love for comic books that still exists in a country like ours.

Overall, not just the sales, but the sheer enthusiasm and spectacular attendance and excitement shown by the people stands to prove that comics and graphic novels will never vanish. They had and always will find space in our hearts and bookshelves.

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