Reena I. Puri, editor of Amar Chitra Katha, on why comic books are her life
It’s not often that you come across an adult who is this excited about, well… comics! Then again we’re talking about Reena I. Puri, editor of Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), India’s much-loved English comic book series that was started in 1967 by the granddaddy of Indian comics, the late Anant Pai. “Who wouldn’t want to read comics all their life? It’s like a dream come true. Work for me has never been just work, it’s pure joy,” says Reena, when MetroPlus caught up with her while she was on a personal visit to the city.
Since she became editor of ACK in 2007, Reena, a Mavelikara-native based in Bangalore, has been spearheading the magazine’s revival. Under her direction, after a lull of over two decades, ACK has now expanded its traditional content base of epics and mythology, history, fables and folklore and diversified into the ‘visionaries series’ (life stories of Anant Pai, Salim Ali, Jim Corbett, Mother Teresa and the like) and comic book versions of contemporary classics such as Ruskin Bond’s The Blue Umbrella. ACK’s also keyed into the digital age and the series is now available as e-comics, animated cartoons, video games, and even as apps!
Of course, Reena is an old hand at reading the pulse of the younger generation. After all, this former journalist learnt the art of comics from the legendary ‘Uncle’ Pai himself. Reena started her career in comics when she joined Tinkle, a sister concern of Amar Chitra Katha, as an assistant editor in 1991 and worked with Uncle Pai till she moved to Bangalore in 2005. “Actually, it was my children Kunal and Varun, now 32 and 28 years old, respectively, who pushed me into comics. They overheard me pondering aloud about my various job offers after we moved to Mumbai. There was no doubt on their faces as to which one I should choose! I have never looked backed since,” recalls Reena, with a laugh. Nevertheless, working closely with Uncle Pai, Reena mentored Tinkle into a 72-page monthly and helped develop and create a series of new characters such as ‘Butterfingers’, written by city-based author Khyrunnisa A.
“Talking about Mr. Pai is like taking about somebody who was a huge part of my growing up; someone who was a part of the family; someone who mentored me in all aspects of children’s writing. Whatever I know about writing for children or thinking about children or even choosing stories for children, was all taught to me by Mr. Pai,” says Reena.
Since Uncle Pai brought out an Amar Chitra Katha in English on Krishna (1969), these comics have always found a readership in India, and today with the entry of graphic novels and manga comics with Indian content, business is booming for the comic book industry. “In my time with ACK Media (the publishers of Tinkle, ACK, Karadi Tales, and so on) I’ve now had the privilege of associating and interacting with a couple of generations of children, hearing with pride how Tinkle and ACK have played a role in shaping their lives,” says Reena.
And apparently, genre-wise, it is comics on mythology that are still the best sellers, observes Reena. “Perhaps, it’s because Indian mythology is a big part of our everyday living experience,” she says.
Also, of late, the illustration style of ACKs seems to have become more modernised… “It’s all being done in digital format and most of our artists are young. It’s their perspective of the world that you see on ACK nowadays. For instance, if you ask for a sketch of Shiva, they’ll draw one with Him with a six-pack! I insist that the first sketches are always hand-sketched.”
On the anvil
Reena says that ACK is now focussing on expanding its contemporary classics collection. Upcoming are adaptations of Mulk Raj Anand’s stories. “We will soon be moving into regional literature. We are in the process of adapting stories by Munshi Premchand, Mahasweta Devi, and Vaikom Muhammed Basheer.” ACK is also planning a series on folk tales from Himachal Pradesh and North East India and in the visionaries’ category they’re thinking of introducing sports personalities and environment activists. “Battles are being fought on different planes these days and it’s necessary to tap into trending issues,” says Reena.