Saturday, August 14, 2010

History of Comics in India

“चाचा चौधरी का दिमाग़ कम्यूटर से भी तेज़ चलता है।” (Chaha Chowdhury’s brain works faster than computer)
-->Remember the above phrase? I am sure a lot of you will, and not only that, this was the only knowledge of a Computer we knew back in 70s. Who knows that we Indians will reach out to the world using this computer, and become the king of IT Industry!
Back then, I mean, before Chacha Chowdhury, Bahadur, Amar Chitra Katha, Indrajal Comics, Billo, Pinky and many more, before Comics really arrive in India, before the golden 60s, comics were not much in vogue in India. The selection that was available was in the form of imported digests and books like Tintin (originally French private detective), Asterix and Obelix (superheroes of Gaul, erstwhile France), Archie (American School Boy) and Commando (war stories of World War II) etc. A costly product for an average Indian, these comics were rather available to the children of the wealthy.

The Early Years

In 1960s, the Times of India (TOI) launched Indrajal comics, which revolved around foreign heroes. The news paper also started daily comics’ strips, which attracted children. It was the first serious effort directed towards the evolution of comic culture in India.

Well within the buying capacity of middle class children, Indrajal Comics made foreign comic heroes like “Phantom- the ghost who walks”, Mandrake the magician, and Flash Gordon household names in India. They later added Indian characters starting from most popular that time, Bahadur.
However, at the same time, some indigenous comic characters also originated. Pran Kumar Sharma (Pran), a young cartoonist associated with the Delhi- based newspaper, Milap, started a comic strip Daabu in early 1960s. It stated adventures of a teenage boy named Daabu.
`Pran`, as Pran Kumar Sharma is universally admired, had created umpteen comic strips, like Shrimatiji, Pinki, Billoo and the still legendary and popular Chacha Chaudhary during the 1970s.
The immediate success of Indrajal Comics gave a further boost to the indigenous comic industry and in 1967, Anant Pai, a former executive of the TOI, founded Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) to bring out Indian culture and history through comics. Anant Pai, popularly known as Uncle Pai, is also considered the father of Indian comics.
The ACK comics were mainly of two categories – Mythological and
Historical. While the mythological comics catered to the characters from Classical Epics and religious stories, the historical comics featured regional personalities /events promoting national integration. It requires a complete article on ACK, so we will skip it here. But this is one of the oldest comics brand, still in production. There are a total of 439 ACK titles, of which 255 are still in print. If it matters, ACK is also available on your mobile phone, if you have Vodaphone connection! Check out Vodaphone Live for details!

The Middle Years

The success of Indrajal Comics and ACK inspired other publishing houses who launched their own series on their own themes: Dreamland Publications and Diamond Comics at New Delhi, and Jaico Publishing House at Mumbai.
In the beginning of the 1980s, Anant Pai and India Book House launched the first Indian comic magazine for children, called Tinkle, which was a big success. Tinkle diversified on the educational themes developed by Amar Chitra Katha, including science, contemporary culture, etc.
At the same time, Target, a children and youth magazine published two page comics. Target magazine was an innovator as its artwork was original and of a high quality for its time. Manjula Padmanabhan, one of the few Indian female comic authors, did illustrations for Target. She also created a female comic character called Suki which was serialized in Sunday Observer in the 1980s. Another notable Indian
comic publishing house is Raj Comics, which enters from their Pocket Book business into Comics pu

blishing, is home of characters such as Nagraj, (an Indian superhero with special powers), Doga, Super Commando Dhruva, Parmanu and various others. In Tamilnadu Alagar comics is the most famous one.
The 80s also saw some short lived, but notable Comics launch, like Comics series featuring Amitabh Bachchan (written by Gulzar) as Supremo the Crime Fighter, and Sunil Gavasker as
Sunny.
Then come 90s and we saw the end of Indrajal Comics after 27 years of publishing! Amar Chitra Katha went out of circulation, resurfaced again by Diamond Comics, and then went out of print again! This was the era of cable TV, and very few comics publishing house continue to publish comics. Diamond Comics and Raj Comics continued and are still going strong!

The Recent Years

During the ushering in of the 21st century, a much esteemed partnership between Richard Branson`s Virgin group and India`s Gotham Comics, has led to a new company, Virgin Comics, motivated towards giving birth to new lines of comics, doused in Indian mythology and Indian history. Virgin Comics started publishing in 2006, and received good reviews, but went out of the print in 2008 when Virgin restructured and decided to discontinue with publishing. The principal icon of Virgin Comics however is the superhero, Devi, but other series have incorporated a science-fiction adaptation of the ancient Ramayana epic, a series based on the life of a supernaturally proficient Sadhu, as well as umpteen ones based outside India. They also launched India Authentic series, similar to ACK, but with completely different artwork and presentation style.
Fluid Friction Comics, an International comics company with an Indian partner has taken Indian mythology as the basis of stimulation for their comic series. Their prime series DevaShard, is a kind of beautification
on the life of Karna (the legendary and controversial son of Kunti in Mahabharata) and their future titles will also be based about other inherent characters from the Mahabharata. All these stories from Fluid Friction are founded in a fictional world based on a mythological notion of the Earth 7000 years ago titled Bhumi. The
graphics excellence in the comics has been reproduced by an actually global team, boasting artists from both the eastern and western hemispheres.
We have a new player in the Comics arena in India, Vimanika Comics, which has made their foray with their two pilot series, The Sixth and Moksha. Vimanika Comics is the brainchild of its visionary Karan Vir Arora. The Sixth is the re-incarnation of Karna in the modern world, who is haunted by the images of Karna and his life-traverse, in his dreams. The story follows his exploits to understand its roots, while he moves to his roots in India, following his mind-trail. Moksha, has a different setting altogether, which is conceptualized in a unexplored time-space between two famous Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. It’s a double-hero storyline, following two most powerful Indian mythical legends Parashurama and Hanuman, picking up from where their stories are left untold, and re-imagining it with some fiction. Both these comics are just the beginning, with more to come from this publishing house. Another new company Arkin Comics has launched their series The Irith recently. It is based on a team of Indian super heroes like Justice League.
Self publishing of single panel gags and other cartoons by Indian cartoonists is gaining momentum. There are many Indian webcomics available today on the net. Badmash, aimed at the Indian diaspora, "Curry Bear Comics" revolves around three South Asian college kids and their white friend, "Fly, You Fools!" is aimed at Indian residents, and deals with the daily irritations of life in India. 'Savita Bhabhi', is possibly the first pornographic comic in India. 'Arbit Choudhury', is regarded as the World's 1st MBA Comic Character. "Sunny Kris", a webcomic focusing on Indian workplaces through its five characters is another new addition to the growing list of independent webcomics.
So, overall, the journey was not bad, with a great early year of 60s till 80s, then a bump in 90s with cable TV followed by Internet, and then again back in the limelight! I will leave you with a last piece of information, ever considered Spider-Man, as an Indian boy in Amchi Mumbai? It has already happened! Marvel's Spider-Man: India project, which was the first major release by a large comic company, introduced India-based artist’s talent to the mainstream, and which was published in India by Gotham Comics. The title was inspired by the success of American comics in India. This four part series explore the origin of Spider-Man, showing him as an Indian boy in Amchi Mumbai! Why only four part? They did some mistakes; It lacks originality, and was a copy of original Spider-Man, like Mary Jane becomes Meera Jain, Peter Parker becomes Pavitra Prabhakar! The biggest mistake was to put a Dhoti as part of Spider-Man costume! Who wants to like a Super Hero in a Dhoti these days?

1 comment:

abhaya said...

Very interesting article. I grew up on a steady dose of Raj Comics and some Manoj comics.

Have you checked out COMIX.INDIA (http://www.comixindia.com/) and Level 10 Studios (http://www.level10comics.com/)? First one is an independent effort to promote comics culture in India - a self-published periodic collection of comic stories. The second is running 3 comic storied as series and looks quite good.