Remember when you were very young and loved any book that had colourful pictures in it? Attractive, easy to read, and almost like watching a movie in print, complete with all the expressions of the characters conveying those unsaid words, ‘between the lines’. For the same reasons, but widening their audience to include young adults and others too—thanks to mature themes—graphic novels are gaining popularity in India and changing the reading habits.
For those who are confused between a graphic novel and a comic book, there is a thin line of difference. Yes, they both tell stories through pictures, but in the former the boundary has been extended to include more mature themes—just like in a novel. Graphic novels could be of different genres like fiction, mythology and biography. Also, while graphic novels tell you the story in one go, comic books generally have a central character whose tale may be told over several issues.
“While many people believe that the graphic novel is a relatively new genre, telling stories through the medium of sequential art is as old as man himself. Just look at the cave paintings by ancient man that can be found throughout India,” said Jason Quinn, content head of Delhi-based Campfire Graphic novels.
Sequential art, Quinn said, earned an unfavourable reputation among educators in the 20th century, who criticised it to be too childish or low-brow entertainment. “Lately, however, the general public, including educators, are coming to realise that graphic novels are a perfect way to combine facts, fiction and images. Now people can see that a student is much more likely to remember something if they have seen it visualised in front of them rather than simply reading a list of dry facts.”
But why just children? Vani Mahesh, who started the country’s first online library, EasyLib, which has a brick and mortar version in Bangalore, said that while graphic novels are very popular with children and teenagers, adults too are exploring this genre.
“The reason behind any graphic novel, in an Indian context or a global one is simple—they are easy to read. Abridged novels with pictures, it can’t get easier!” Mahesh said. “Books with pictures have always been popular with kids. There was Tintin, Asterix, the Manga comics and our very own Amar Chitra Katha. And now there are the graphic novels.”
“Children these days have become impatient readers, and there are not many takers for descriptive, fleshed out novels. This is why kids have lapped up all popular novels in graphical form. The scene is different when it comes to mature graphic novels. There could be a deeper reason to choose this form for authors, maybe better expression,” Mahesh said. Recognising this trend, publishing houses are now catering to the needs of their audience with a list of graphic novels.
Sumita Sharma, who works with a Delhi-based publishing house said, “Around the world, graphic novel and comic book publishing companies are springing up. In India there is a similar trend.”
Kari by Amruta Patil, Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni, classic adaptations like Draupadi: The Fire-Born Princess by Saraswati Nagpal, and graphic biographies of public figures like Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa and Abraham Lincoln have been popular. Pointing out that the scope of graphic novels is being explored beyond pleasure reading, Quinn added, “Teachers in other countries have been using graphic novels as teaching tools for the last decade. Now their value is gradually gaining recognition in India too”.