Indian comics come of
Scores of new cartoonists
are drawing sketches that bring out the funny vein of Indian
life. With their disarming honesty, these new-age comic
characters are clambering with restlessness, elbowing out the
old-school comics, writes Vandana Shukla
Badmash is created by, and aimed
at, the Indian diaspora
offered condoms made of khadi. And Birbal is told, your
punch lines are weaker than Sher Shah Suri’s third wife after
the delivery of her 15th child! Well, this may send Chacha
Chaudhury scurrying for cover. Behind his twirling moustache and
furrowed brow, a lot is happening to make him sulk. The new-age
comic characters with their disarming honesty are clambering
with restlessness, elbowing out the old-school comics.
These new comic
characters are different from those of Chacha’s era for their
brashness and irreverence towards political correctness. Much
has been brought out in the open from the closed closets of
Indian society, which allows them to tickle and amuse the reader
with their idiosyncrasies, hypocrisies and a unique pettiness
inherent in our society.
changing Indians’ perspective about themselves. And comics are
the best vehicle to carry it, for they are outside any literary
boundary and are, at once worldly and whimsical. So, they offer
a new reflection on culture and life, Indians have never tasted
before. As an answer to the creative anxieties of the country’s
needs for Indianness, raring-to-go young artists are taking
risks in life and in their creative pursuits to fill the gap.
For example, a character in Level 10 Comics magazine, Jump,
declares, "How on dharti (earth) did this
happen?" Comix.India, a multi-language
self-published B & W magazine, had an issue of women
cartoonists alone to make a point. The team of Suhas and Shreyas,
who launched Level 10 Comics at Bengaluru, with a USP that is
called Unique Indiannness, say, "We were a bunch of
software-engineer-US-returned types, wanting to realise our
creative potential before it was too late. We didn’t want to
be 35, married, settled and think that we haven’t done what we
always wanted to do."
The new-age Indian comic hero doesn’t need an enemy to prove his prowess. He often deals with the enemy within. In Jump, the incident of girls being harassed at a pub in Mangalore becomes a point of reference
This new take
on life is the ground zero of creative dynamics that is evident
in a dozen new comic publications flooding the market.
industry has now reached a stage where conventional comics can
be downloaded on mobile phones — and if the story features an
explosion, the phone will vibrate, too. With proven prowess in
3-D animation wizardry, why should anyone care about something
as old-fashioned like the printed page?
Well, a society
obsessed with creative variations of mythological figures is now
looking for new initiatives to keep the narrative on. 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 ( 4 volumes) Creative Gaga, and
many others offer a platform to out-of-the box creative prowess,
which they believe is no less than that what is printed by
Marvel and DC. And then, the industry is very lucrative.
But selling new
concepts is not going to be a cakewalk. A number of
foreign-based companies like Gotham, Virgin, Liquid, Fluid
Friction Comics, Illustrated Orchids (based in Singapore) etc.
are looking at re-writing the comic strip for Indians. They are
distributing comics made by international comics powerhouses
like Marvel, DC, and Cartoon Network, which gives them access to
more than 10,000 well-known characters. With a monthly
readership of more than two lakh in India, and high popularity
of American comic characters like Spiderman and Scooby-doo,
these giants are looking at indigenous characters to add to the
comic wagon, from the Indian talent pool.
grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha and Nagraj with
a certain degree of apology, are changing. For the young
Indians, the ultimate is not a foreign brand or comic. Apart
from the vast network of distribution established by Diamond
Comics, Raj Comics, Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha,
scores of regional heroes, who fight demons, enjoy closer
affinity with readers. Spiderman may be a global spider with
abilities to climb the Empire State Building, but he cannot
defeat Nonte Fonte, Handa Bhonda and Batul the Great in
Kolkata nor can he slight our Santa Banta in Ludhiana!
Not a Child’s play: New Indian comics offer a fresh reflection on our life and cultures
Indian comic hero doesn’t need an enemy to prove his prowess.
He often deals with enemy within. In Jump, the incident
of girls being harassed at a pub in Mangalore becomes a point of
reference. The Adventures of Widhwa Maa aur Andhi Behne,
a spoof on Hindi film stereotypes in Random makes one
realise that there is no need for larger-than-life characters,
we can be in splits for the absurd of our now and here!
comic industry create its own unique style like Japanese manga
or distinct Franco-Belgian comic strips like Tintin and Asterix?
Or, will it continue to oscillate between mythology, history and
fantasy to carve out a contemporary style? Despite a large pool
of creative energy, the industry is at a nascent stage, looking
for a format that can rope in mass appeal. "As script
writing comes hard to Indians due to lack of training, graphic
narratives, too, require a lot of discipline and training, which
is seriously lacking here. Graphics is based on intense
teamwork, a lot of coordination is required between the writer,
sketcher, illustrator, artist and the editor," says Andrew
Dodd, publishing and editorial consultant, Campfire, who
believes cartoons like Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle,
and Chacha Chaudhary are tacit. "Their illustrations
need to be more dynamic," he asserts.
But, Shreyas differs, "It
took about 30 years for the American comic industry to gain such
a fan-following, we started just three years back, so it is just
a matter of time for the Indian comics industry to catch
Sadistan is opening its closed doors to web, letting it
lay bare open its petty, ludicrous and covetous self.
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`A0the
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 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, focusses on the unique
idiosyncrasies of an Indian workplace.
alchemy of Graphic novel
and demons of our myths are reincarnated over and over
again to keep the narrative spiced and alive. Like them,
the art of storytelling never dies. Only forms change.
Graphic novel is the latest entrant creating ripples in
the publishing industry. Creative visuals are the new bait
for reluctant readers.
Sen, the first graphic novelist of India, who wrote and
illustrated River of Stories (1994), the saga of
the Narmada river against the so-called development, had
to struggle for years to find someone to fund his dream of
writing a graphic novel. It was the NGO, Kalpataru, that
came to his rescue. When he took the 100-odd printed
copies to a book store, it posed a problem. Where should
they be displayed? In children’s corner, or among novels
or among comics?
have changed a lot since then. Graphic novel is no more
treated as children’s stuff and global publishers are
publishing it in India. Sarnath Banerjee’s Corridor,
the first mainstream graphic novel in India, is said to
have sold about 5,000 copies. Witty, soul searching and
full of angst, Corridor’s engaging narrative
unfolds multiple layers between Lutyen’s Delhi and
Kolkata’s Carl Marx, and the fragmented reality of
contemporary urban life lying-in-between-the anxieties of
getting an H-1B visa and aphrodisiacs.
Patil’s multi-hued and deeply engrossing Kari
(Harper Collins) is a narrative of two suicidal lesbians
who jump from a building — a la Thelma and Luise. Sumit
Kumar’s The Itch You Cant Scratch, launched at
recently concluded Comic Con, is an adult book, not by
common connotations attached to adulthood-sex, but because
of its stark honesty.
Arbit Choudhury, regarded as the world’s first MBA comic character, was created in India
all Indian graphic novels are real and personal stories
with almost no fantasy in them. But George Methan’s Moonward
broke that rule. Set in Halahala, a fantasy land, Appupen
(pen name of Methan), takes the reader on a journey to
future by a few millennia in a small town. Publishers like
Campfire, on the other hand, have tapped mythological
appeal for graphic novel with Sita — Daughter of the
Earth. Bheemayana, based on the life of B. R.
Ambedkar is illustrated by tribal artists of Gond.
diversity in style, tone and subject matter, the challenge
remains to push graphic literature out of its rarified
niche. Strangely, graphic novel is not published in Hindi.
Vishwajit Ghosh, who wished to get Hindi version of Delhi
Calm, was told the price of Hindi book had to be kept
below Rs 100, which was an impossibility. Perhaps,
publishing graphic novel like Japanese manga on cheap
paper with scant ink is the answer to take its appeal high
on a popularity graph.
The term graphic novel
was coined by Will Eisner, a writer trying to persuade his
publisher that his book (1978 classic,`A0A Contract
With God), was no ordinary comic book.`A0But graphic
novels were thrust into the literary limelight only in
1992, when Art Spiegelman's`A0Maus, an`A0Animal
Farm-like take on the Holocaust, won the Pulitzer.
Since then, biographies, literary novels on every possible
theme, academic texts, historical fiction and non-fiction
— from The Bible`A0to`A0The Hobbit —
have embraced the format.`A0Their growth and relevance can
be gauged by the fact that they are reviewed in the`A0New
York Times and The Guardian. —