Powerful animated images, quick words locked in speech balloons, bold sound effects ‘Pow’ ‘Boom’ ‘Zap’, an amalgamation of drama and comedy, so much and more presented in a small booklet makes a single copy of a comic book.
The popularity of comics is such that you will easily find fans of Suppandi, Doga, Shikari Shambhu, Super Commando Dhruv, Rajan Iqbal and Bahadur and most definitely every Indian is a fan of Chacha Chaudhary, Nagraj, Biloo and Pinky.
While India boasts of its timeless rich literature, music and other art forms, the beginning of comic books took its time to establish successfully. Magazines like Baalak and Honhar started in the year 1926 and Chandamama began in 1947, but these were simple works with illustrations and not an out-and-out comic.
The fact that Baalak ran for decades, from 1926 to 1986, and Chandamama’s last issue was released in 2013, proves that the storytelling techniques of Indian writers are impactful; it won’t be wrong to say that we might soon see these magazines in the digital platform.
Syndicated comics from the West first entered the lives of readers; international strips like The Phantom, Mandrake, Rip Kirby, Flash Gordon and many others found a loyal audience in our country. Illustrated Weekly of India, the magazine, that ran over a century in India, started giving space to the comic books, though only the international ones as yet.
But not for long as Uncle Pai (Anant Pai, the pioneer of Indian comics) in 1967 was ready with Indrajal Comics to present a country full of epics and folklores, the ‘comic book world’ of its own.
Inspirations were taken from the West, which had a flourishing comic industry by then, and thus, Deewana Magazine came into being that followed in the lines of the world-famous American magazine – MAD. This magazine had illustrations and jokes, but the themes were serious and political, it meant to be sarcastic and mock the folly of the power-hungry.
It was Anant Pai who began the Amar Chitra Katha comic book series (and later on Tinkle) which started with Western fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood and Pinocchio, but then soon switched to Indian mythology, epics, history, literature and folklore.
The Ramayana, Sati and Shiva, Karna, Ravana, Shakuntala, Panchatantra, Birbal, Tenali Raman, Rana Pratap, Raja Raja Chola, The Mughal Court, Valiant Sikhs, Great Indian Emperor, Brave Rajputs, The Kuru Clan, Great Rulers of India and many such comics took over the stores all over India and people started eagerly waiting for the next issues.
It was Amar Chitra Katha’s comic book based on the adventures of Krishna that became the biggest hit; more than 5 million copies have been sold till date and it remains one of their best-selling comic book series.
In 1969, a brilliant comic character was born who was in contrast to the macho heroes of the West – an old, frail man with a white moustache and white Paghari (turban), whose brain worked faster than a computer – it was Pran Kumar Sharma’s creation Chacha Chaudhary. Undoubtedly, India’s most popular character, Chacha Chaudhary enchanted the minds of the children and adults alike, the entire nation welcomed this loving and wise character.
Published in the Hindi magazine Lotpot, Chacha Chaudhary’s stories were translated into over ten different languages and it sold more than 10 million copies.
Such was the appeal of this simple yet witty, old but brainy character that this comic book also got made into a television series in 2001, starring Raghuvir Yadav as Chacha Chaudhary. Rocket, Chacha Chaudhary’s faithful dog and Sabu, his strong friend, an alien from Jupiter, also became famous. Everyone enjoyed and learned from Chacha Chaudhary’s anecdotes, making him the entire nation’s Chacha (Uncle).
With the advent of a new era, the ‘70s, many publishing houses started taking comics seriously. Indrajal Comics to give competition to Amar Chitra Katha started new series based on Indian mythologies and epics.
Focusing on the problems of dacoits, which was prevalent in those days, Aabid Surti gave the readers of Indrajal a new hero – Bahadur – strong, smart and stylishly dressed in Kurta with a pair of jeans; this progressive Indian hero became an idol for many.
Several publishers had a stint in this field, like the Goyal Comics, Madhu Muskan, Champak, Lotpot and the Manoj Comics, while some publishers were there to make a mark and begin the golden age of comic books in India, these were Diamond Comics (started in 1978), Tinkle Magazine (founded in 1980) and Raj Comics (founded in 1986). Thus, by the mid-1980s, Indian comics had reached its golden age, with more than twenty publishers publishing a vivid range of comics.
Diamond Comics successfully brought new characters like Fauladi Singh (India’s first sci-fi superhero), Rajan Iqbal (kid duo detectives), Lambu Motu in the comic world and invited Chacha Chaudhary to guest in some of its series. They knew what the audience wanted and they were ready to change with the changing times; these reasons make Diamond Comics one of the longest-lasting indigenous comic publishing houses in the country.
Tinkle, a fortnightly magazine, brought another treat for the comic book lovers; it started offering puzzles, quizzes and contests usually for school children making it extremely popular in no time. Suppandi, Shikari Shambu, Ramu & Shamu, Ina-Mina-Mynah-Mo got nationwide success.
Suppandi was created by legendary artist Ram Waaerkar, who illustrated for the Amar Chitra Katha as well; a large chunk of other characters was created by pioneers of Indian comic book space like Anant Pai and Margie Sastry. Such is its fascination that Tinkle is very much active in the 21st century and also has an active official website.
Raj Comics, the longest-lasting Indian publishing house for comics along with Diamond Comics, gave to the masses a strong lineup of fantastic Indian superhero characters, a category in comics that wasn’t yet truly explored in India.
Anupam Sinha’s character, Super Commando Dhruv became young boys’ favourite hero, the striking feature being that Super Commando Dhruv had no superpower, he fought bad guys using his intellect, ability to talk to almost every kind of animal, scientific knowledge, martial art and acrobatic skills, unparalleled willpower and a determination to eliminate evil from this world.
Other popular Raj Comics’ heroes include – Parmanu, a hero with superpowers like the ability to fire atomic rays from his wrist and chest, to teleport and fly; Bheriya, the cursed wolf-human hybrid, who is a skilled warrior, who lives in and protects the jungles of Assam; Bhokal, a winged warrior prince who fights with the mystical sword that can cut through any matter.
The Doga series too had a huge readership; Doga, a ruthless, fearsome vigilante who wears the mask of a dog and believes in uprooting the problem rather than solving it, has no superpowers, except that he can talk to dogs and take their help in finding goons.
Doga is a dark character, an antihero who roams in the sewers of Mumbai and shows no mercy to any criminal. The fan base of Doga series is so strong that there have been talks of making it into a feature film.
But there was another comic book published by Raj Comics that surpassed the success of all these superhero comics, it was the Nagraj series. Nagraj was created by Sanjay Gupta, he was an unmatched superhero with many powers like to release micro snakes from his body, shapeshift, read minds, he had superhuman strengths etc.
With terrorism becoming a reality in the late ‘80s, Raj Comics presented the reader with Nagraj who fought terrorists and aimed to bring peace for the public. Dressed in a striking green skin-tight suit, with a cool hairstyle, Nagraj became a trendsetter.
Nagraj aur Bughaku, a double-sized comic book starring Raj Comics’ flagship characters Nagraj and Super Commando Dhruvpublished in 1991, sold more than 900,000 copies within the first three months of its release, a record that remains unmatched.
Characters like Bankelal, Gamraj, Fighter Toads (Raj Comics), Detective Moochwala, Gardabh Das (Target Magazine) also became popular in the ‘90s. Manoj Comics published more than 365 comics within a year in the ‘90s, thereby implying that there was a time in the era when readers had one new comic book to read every single day.
Fascinatingly, before the advent of the millennium, the first two graphic novels of India were published, one in the year 1992 – Bharat Negi’s ‘Kissa Ek Karod Ka’, a politicized work based on the Harshad Mehta scam and the second in 1994 – Orijit Sen’s River Of Stories, that talked about environmental, social and political aspects of the controversial construction of the Narmada Dam.
Seeing the success and reach of Indian comics, a US-based company – Gotham Comics, was established in 1997 and with them they brought the publishing rights of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and MAD Magazine for the Indian subcontinent, to the gladness of the readers.
But to the bad luck of the publishers, the dawn of the 21st century brought the video games, television boom, internet and other major technological leaps that affected the interests and lifestyles of the majority; this caused the decline in the sales of comic books and thus, ended the golden decade of Indian comic books.
The downfall of comic books in India didn’t make this art form extinct. Many Indian artists along with some international publishing houses kept trying to bring back the comic book industry to its glorifying days.
In 2002, San Jose, California-based company published ‘Bombaby The Screen Goddess’, created by Antony Mazzotta; the story revolves around a typical Bombayite who finds that she has powers of the Goddess Mumbadevi and thus, has new responsibilities to handle.
Marvel also launched its Spider-Man: India Project, which went on to become the first major release by a comic book company in India. Understanding the Indian readership, the Liquid Comics and Gotham Comics of India collaborated and together they created epic series on Indian mythology and ancient history; some of their most popular titles include– Sadhu, Devi, Snake Woman and Ramayana 3392 AD.
In the new era, the ever-changing and still unstable comic book industry has adopted unconventional ideas and unique methods to lure the public’s interest.
Graphic novels are here and are presenting the adult audience a mirror, not shying away from the grey realities; the drama is real in novels like Kari by Amruta Patil (2008, also the first by a female graphic novelist), Moonward: Stories from Halahala by Appupen (2009), An Itch You Can’t Scratch by Sumit Kumar (2010), Holy Cow Entertainment by Vivek Goel (2011), Sudershan (Chimpanzee) by Rajesh Devraj and MerenImchen (2012), Krishna- A Journey Within by Abhishek Singh (2013), Nirmala and Normala by Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran (2014), Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir by Malik Sajad (2015).
In today’s fast world, where life has become both advance and complex, artists with their different mediums try to study this advancement, this complexity. Their poems, paintings, novels, comics are like a laboratory of emotional ailments, successes and failures. So for every busy being, what better way to reach this laboratory than through a comic book?
Comic books in any form – print or digital – are here to stay as this storytelling medium is a very powerful one. Whether the sales record approves of it or not, a rich source that offers stories won’t disappear, because humankind cannot do without stories.
We are social animals, we are meant to bond, work together and grow as a society, and thus, nothing can act as a perfect guide as the art of storytelling, not even the advancement in science. This is because science deals with the outer world and the biology of everything, while stories deal with the universal soul and the human soul.
As long as humans thrive, so will the stories, as long as there is imagination, the comic books will keep the readers engaged.