Indian Comics: Exploring the Past

24 Nov
-By Manks
India is a country of diversity. Consider this: India is the seventh largest country by geographical area and second largest by population (approx 1.1 billion people). It is the world’s largest democracy. It is a country where language (22 National Languages and 843 regional dialects) and culture changes drastically every few hundred kilometers so much so that it becomes unrecognizable even to those of us living here.
Talking about “Indian comics” in such a dynamic environment is no mean feat. This article attempts to look at the advent of comic culture in India and how it is faring currently. Along the way we would be pointing out some notable periodicals that made a difference to this growing subculture

The Advent of Modern Comics

Tintin

 As with most of the things, Modern comic arrived in India later than the west. Around four decades ago, there wasn’t much choice for the comic enthusiast. The only comics available were imported titles like Tintin, Asterix the Gaul, Archie and War Commando. Being imported, they were quite expensive and hence available only to children of wealthy. The notion that comics are for kids was prevalent here as well.

Indrajaal Comics: Bahadur
The true change came in mid 60’s when a national newspaper publication house – The Times of India – launched Indrajal Comics. This was the first serious effort to develop comic culture as these were well within the reach of masses and available at newsstands everywhere. Indrajal comics contained stories of King Features characters and were successful in making Phantom (the ghost who walks), Mandrake the Magician and Flash Gordon household names. It also went on to Publish “Bahadur” an Indian comic hero created by indigenous creators. Indrajal comics went regional soon thereafter starting with Bengali translations and by 1980 they were publishing comics in over a dozen Indian dialects.
The Glory days
Amar Chitra Katha
The success of Indrajal comics gave rise to another publication “Amar Chitra Katha” by Anant Pie. These comics focused on tales of historical figures and heroes in religious texts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikkhism ,Jainism and Christianity. These comics still continue and have proved so popular that it still influences Indian comic thinking till date.
Like Anant Pai, Cartoonist Pran created the next evolution when he went beyond historical and mythological tales. He created regular everyman characters that people could relate to and narrated their tales under the banner of Diamond comics. They were humorous strips and quickly caught people’s fancy. Some of his popular characters are Billo, Pinki , Raman , Channi Chachi , Srimatiji. Most famous amongst them however is undoubtedly the duo Chacha Chaudhary and Saboo known India wide. I can safely compare Pran to Will Eisner in terms of reverence and Walt Disney in terms of creative output.
Pran’s Chacha Chaudhary

After this a few other regional comic magazine started up like the ones by Jaico Publishing house, Chikara collections etc but none as noteworthy as the ones mentioned.

In the beginning of 80’s Amar chitra Katha launched a children Magazine “Tinkle” which focused on contemporary culture , folk tales and science. The magazine introduced numerous recurring heroes like amusing Suppandi, Mooshik the adorable mouse, Kalia the crow and the malicious minister Tantri.
Indian comic culture had truly begun by now. Almost all of these publications went into regional languages and established themselves amongst the masses.

The emergence of the SuperHero

Till about 1980’s comics were either imported, publishing foreign characters, tales of historical and mythical heroes or regular everyday-man strips. Nowhere was the eponymous SuperHero to be found, until the advent of “Raj comics” in the mid 80’s.


Raj Comics Superheroes



Arguably Raj comics introduced the colorful world of superheroes that we all love to India with unique Indigenous SuperHeroes. (One character that comes to mind which preceeded Raj Comics was “Fauladi Singh” by Diamond Comics). The most famous amongst them are Nagraj ( a snakeman) and Super Commando Dhruv (a highly trained circus acrobat with no superpowers – Reminds me of Nightwing!).

Bouyed by their success, many other publications came out with their versions of Superheros, most notable among them were Tulsi comics , Manoj comics , King comics, and Fort Comics. Even Diomond comics ventured deeper into Superhero Territory soon thereafter.

This was the hey dey of Indian comics. There were choices a plenty from companies to genre. They were ubiquitous and present at almost every newsstand. Comics reached millions and millions during this time. Many people I know have grown up with a healthy dose of these comics. If you were a kid in India and you knew how to read, you were reading comics.

There were some truly interesting characters created during this period and definitely deserves an examination seperately

At death’s door

But in 90’s things began to go bust. With emergence of cable television and animations, comics soon started to lose ground against them. It did not help that many started considering comics as “Low Brow”. In metropolitans came the Home Computer and the cultural shift towards a preference for English. This sounded the death knell of many a publications.
The first one to go was Indrajal comics on 16th April 1990 after nearly 27 years of publication. By the beginning of the new century many comics had either reduced their output or had gone out of business.

Resurgance

Despite the bleak scenario some comics did flourish in this decade by adapting themselves.
Amar Chitra Katha survived by offering a unique product. Tales of history and religious mythology in English (other regional languages as well). So they entrenched themselves as the elite and educational amongst comics. Tinkle evolved its format, similar to Japanese tankobans but in color.

Raj comics survived due to its deep penetration (and lone superhero company left standing) while Diamond due to cherished characters. Both have started to grow again.


Offerings by Virgin Comics


In 2006 Virgin comics took India to a global stage. They took a leaf out of Amar Chitra Katha’s book and started publishing Indian Mythological rooted comics but for a foreign crowd.

Gotham comics of Bangalore started publishing adventures of Dc/Marvel Characters in India, bringing the cost down. They however have gone MIA lately, making me wonder what happened to them? Does anyone know?
This completes a retro-look into Indian comics. In the next article we would try and look at what the future of comics entail for India?  Who are the players competing for Indian comic space now? How are people reacting to them and many other things!
See you all then.
– Disclaimer: This is a reproduction of the article published at Bleedingcool.com by me. All attempts were made to be faithful to timelines and publishers. I also realise that I might have missed out on some publications from South India. However If there is some inconsistancy or some periodical that you think should be mentioned, let me know and I would sort it out.
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6 Responses to “Indian Comics: Exploring the Past”

  1. Aalok Joshi November 27, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    Gotham! is gone. It went on hiatus slowly, and finally stopped.Virgin Comics underwent a management buyout and became Liquid comics. The brain trust behind Gotham!, Virgin & Liquid still remains the same, though Liquid has refrained from printing any issues neither has issued collections of previous virgin issues, but they offer online reads. Rather, Dynamite entertainment has opted to reprint comics previously owned by virgin like Dan Dare by Garth Ennis. I fail to remember which but one company has also solicited both volumes of GUY RITCHIE'S GAME KEEPER

  2. Manks November 29, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    Hi AlokNice to see you here.. Thanks for your comments:)..you are right. i should have mentioned the change of virgin to Liquid comics.. Thanks for pointing that out.. Hope to see you here on the blog more often 🙂

  3. Anonymous December 7, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Este artículo fue muy interesante, sobre todo desde que yo era la búsqueda de ideas sobre este tema el pasado jueves.

  4. Manks December 8, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Hi , Thanks for your comment @anonymous.. unfortunately. I cant understand the language..Thanks for commenting anyways 🙂

  5. Anonymous February 15, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    I’ve meant to post about something like this on my webpage and you gave me an idea. Cheers.

  6. Anonymous March 20, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    What a nice post. I really love reading these types or articles. I can?t wait to see what others have to say.

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