New characters and rising sale figures give the Indian comics industry a spring in its stride The newest addition to the Amar Chitra Katha cast of characters is a lanky 12-year-old who travels the India of the 1950s with her mapmaker father. Nina was introduced to her readers in the June issue of Tinkle. With short hair, impish eyes and a rucksack on her back, she stares at you from the cover with a look that says she is ready to take off for an adventure. “She isn’t a superhero, nor is she mythological. Kids today can identify with her and for those who grew up reading Tintin and Moochwala, she is the contemporary Indian hero,” says Arjun Gupte, creative vice-president of Amar Chitra Katha and the creator of Nina. “The inspiration came from my three-year-old daughter. Nina is her hero too. We plan to do a lot with this character,” he says as he sifts through Nina’s fan mail.
Virgin Comics has other plans. It will soon introduce Sachin Tendulkar, the superhero with a magic bat and powers to save the world. Joining him in the defence of a good cause will be another Virgin superhero, Priyanka Chopra. Epics too are getting a modern twist with the Ramayana being set in the future-3392 AD in a version by Virgin comics and 2023 in a series titled Nagayana published by Raj Comics. Suddenly, the Indian comics industry seems abuzz with a host of new characters as it finds itself out of the slump of the last decade. Sales figures are up and television seems less of a threat. “The charm of cable television has died. Children are turning back to reading,” says Sanjay Gupta, studio head of Raj Comics that was established in 1986. Encouraged, artists and production heads are thinking up new characters and giving old ones an epic twist. Gupta has transferred two of his most popular characters-Nagraj and Super Commando Dhruv-in a futuristic adaptation of Ramayan. While snake-king Nagraj plays Ram, Dhruv fits in as Laxman. “The script is loosely based on the epic and the details need not match. In our version, the two are exiled because of a legal spat, which is more believable today,” says Gupta. Even though the heroes’ character traits and powers remain the same, alterations were made in their appearance.
The past continues to remain the biggest treasure chest of stories. “This country has so many tales that one need not ever look outside for ideas,” says Suresh Seetharaman, president and co-founder of Virgin Comics, that also published Batman, Superman and X-Men in India. For him, the change in focus primarily occurred after a tie-up between Gotham Entertainment Group and Richard Branson’s Virgin empire in 2006. That resulted in a series of publications like The Sandhu, in which a British soldier discovers mystical powers of Indian sadhus and Devi, about a hero who has all the trappings of Goddess Durga with her supernatural powers. Most recently, he announced the arrival of Jimmy Zhingchak, Agent of D.I.S.C.O. Coming straight out of Bollywood movies of the ’70s and ’80s, he crosses swords with megalomaniac Sir John Firang who is threatening the Indian way of life. “The finer details are being worked upon,” says Seetharaman. Down south in Chennai, former journalist L Subramanyan has scripted a success story for Chandamama, one of India’s oldest publishing houses. Since he took over in August last year, the monthly circulation of Chandamama magazine has risen to 4.75 lakh from a meagre 1.2 lakh. “Growth was never going to be a problem. Both the market and revenue were there,” he says.
What was also priceless was the league of popular characters he had at his disposal. Old favourites like Vikram-Vetal, Akbar-Birbal and Panchatantra were repackaged and newer ones like Arya and Bheem Boy sent off to fight against global warming and protect wildlife. In May, three favourites who have built a brand for themselves- Arya, the detective team of Eli-Puli and Garuda-were relaunched. “The features are sharper and chiselled and the language of the scripts is more contemporary,” says Subramanyan.
The renewed interest in comics is partly the result of aggressive publicity. Subramanyan hopes to reach out to his audience through ‘Children’s Day Out’ programmes that start in Chennai on August 16. Feedback is also being solicited through other quarters and initiatives. While Gupta banks on frequent meetings of Raj Comics fans organised in Delhi, Samir Patil, CEO of ACK Media, has logged on to the cyber world to reach out to his readers through a social networking site that brings together readers of Tinkle Comics. Adults are also being wooed through online games and handmade figurines based on Suppandi and Shikari Shambhu. “Readers can help improve the product and often generate ideas,” says Patil. For Rohan Kapadia of Arkin comics, on the other hand, the reader is also the protagonist. Since 2007, when his company was established, the 20-year-old has couriered customised comics to several cities within the country and overseas destinations like
Belgium and the US. On a payment of Rs 999, readers can choose between being a space-ranger, superhero and solider, and Kapadia alters their picture on photoshop and puts them in a comic book. “Orders are pouring in and soon we’ll replace hardcopies with soft copies that will be sent through the web,” says Kapadia, who is also currently finalising the details of a 3D comic book series. “This will be the first in India. We are considering a storyline based on Indian mythology, ancient beliefs and spirituality,” he says. When it comes to technique, Photoshop has replaced the arduous method of colouring by hand. But Gupte, who has specialized in 3D character animation and character design for films from Vancouver Film School Canada, would rather pick a pencil and a blank sheet to sketch another illustration of Nina. “I’ll transfer the storyboard to the computer later. But for some tasks, the old technique works better,” he says. For Indian comics and its new, old tales, you could say that’s a philosophy to bank on.
The Indian Express