Comic books have long been seen as frivolous literature. Remember any movie where the naughty kid was bound to be reading that vile comic hidden behind her textbook? With graphic novels hitting the market and events like the Comic Con garnering more and more footfalls each year, India is seeing a renewed interest in this sphere. We, here, still do not actively make a distinction between both but tag a graphic novel loyalist as ‘that comic book reader’ and watch the world burn. For the uninitiated, comic books are serialised stories; most relatively short, and tell the story of the book’s heroes and heroines over a long period of time. Graphic novels are longer works that tell a single story from the beginning to the end.
Before television and the Internet interrupted the party, comic books were all the rage. Stories were also simpler and focussed on the common man – the naïve Suppandi, vile Tantri, happy Rajji…a Nagraj was rare. Raj Comics was all of one publisher dedicated to the cause of Indian superheroes. In a society that is yet to rise above its grievances of basic needs, an Iron Man is still a distant dream. Rewind to the era where every child owned her very own Chacha Chaudhary and revelled in the adventures of this brainy old man and his compatriot, Sabu. Throwback to Shikari Shambhu and his rotund wife, Shanti, with a rolling pin compulsively in hand to whack her hubby (Comic Con 2013, Mumbai, saw someone cosplaying as the latter. There was relief. Tinkle’s still alive!). Indrajal Comics, launched by Bennet, Coleman and Co contained The Phantom Stories, Mandrake, and later, Aabid Surti’s Bahadur, an Indian hero. However, it was discontinued in 1989. The ones still going strong have embraced the digital age.
Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), established in 1967 by Anant Pai was started with the view of acquainting the youth with mythology native to the country. Initial editions were graphic retelling of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Such was its popularity, that at its peak, it was not only translated into regional languages but also Indonesian, French and Spanish among others. ACK has gone digital and is available on its website as well as app stores. Tinkle, an offshoot of ACK, has done brilliantly too. Champak, a magazine launched in 1968, is a front-runner in the comic books market in India. In fact, it now provides a CD with every multimedia edition. Got to run with the times! Diamond Comics, India’s largest comic books distributor and publisher is online too. With titles such as Chacha Chaudhary, Pinki, Fauladi Singh, Shaktiman and a host of international names, it is still doing incredibly well and even launched its own 3D comics series. Raj Comics, which we spoke about earlier, dominates in Hindi but also produces numerous books in the English language. Nagraj, Super Commando Dhruva, Doga… so much to catch up on!
In fact, everyone’s going the graphic-novel-way nowadays. Inderjit Comics released Bombay Boulevard, a series of graphic novels that capture the city and the underworld. Dialogues are contemporary; sketches are sensual. It’s what you’d pick up today. (There are quite a few illustrative names to add to the list but this is about comics.) All those thirsting for this genre of books, head to Leaping Windows, a comic library hidden in Versova, Mumbai. It’s a treasure trove. May the little kid in the movies shift focus from his iPhone screen to that rare comic book.