Mythology is no longer simply fed through comics by parents eager to introduce their children to Indian culture. It has evolved and grown more graphic, putting together those little pieces that we were never told about and highlighting those shades of grey, where nothing is completely good or bad.
“Mythology does not need to be marketed. The stories have been told over and over again, and parents wouldn't think twice about picking up comics for their children. Imagine a world where every Bollywood movie released was mythology-based! That's the present situation with the Indian comic book industry,” points out Suhas Sundar, Creative Head, Level 10 Comics.
But Rakesh Khanna of Blaft Publications says, there are other themes too. “India is a country where people speak different languages. There are many good comics and graphic novels in the regional languages that are not all mythology. The English-speaking crowd is usually unaware of these,” he says.
Graphic novels have always been around. But their resurgence in the last five years has seen major players improvise on the country's rich mythology, and dig out those little-known details.
“A number of comics are mythology-based, and I don't know if we should be happy about it,” says Vijayendra Mohanty, an independent writer of graphic novels. “The epics are very sophisticated and have many sub-texts. But comics dumb down these and present only the bare minimum. Problems start when children who grow up reading these versions do not update themselves with the original. Therefore, the images from the comic book stick in their minds and that's how the characters are recognised,” he says. But graphic novels, especially targeted at young adults, vividly describe the battle scenes, delving deeper into the characters, and revealing them in a new light. “The Mahabharata is arguably the greatest epic in the world and has defined much of eastern philosophy and thought. We just released a new book based on it, called ‘18 Days'. It goes beyond myth, generations and borders, paying tribute to the story's origins while showing the world a dynamic new vision of gods and war. Think ‘Lord of the Rings' meets ‘Avatar' and multiply the effect ten times over,” says Sharad Devarajan, CEO and Co-founder, Liquid Comics.
But why this sudden interest in mythology? “I think the present-day generation wants something different,” says Karanvir Arora, founder, Vimanika Comics. “Youngsters get bored with the old comic format of the epics. They want something more. I decided to work with stories that are not only packed with adventure and action but also instil values in the readers. And mythology was an immediate choice. These stories have been around for years but how many of them do we know? We need to know where we come from. I'm merely trying to re-introduce mythology to society.”
Vijayendra is, at present, working on a different version of the Ramayana that focusses on another character in the story. “My latest, ‘Ravanayan', is an imaginative take on the life of Ravan. We haven't changed the story but go behind the scenes to see why people did what they did. Was Ravan really a villain?”
Vimanika Comics, whose bestsellers include ‘Dashavataar', ‘Kalki' and ‘Moksha', think that mythology works as long as there is good storytelling. “It is the art of storytelling that makes people pick up a graphic novel. The art and story, the links and everything must be visually appealing. People like cinematic books that have a lot of action. And as long as we don't cut out the details such as the war in the Mahabharata, people will buy graphic novels. We're coming out with a new series on Shiva soon,” says Karan.
Level 10, which dwells more on contemporary subjects, has brought in many desi superheroes as opposed to re-tellings. “Publishers are slowly warming up to the idea of experimentation and there are some interesting and eclectic comics out there,” says Suhas.
Liquid Comics, which has come up with revolutionary titles such as ‘Ramayan 3392AD', is now presenting these mythical stories in the digital format. “Pricing plays an important role in any product, but the biggest challenge for graphic novel publishers is distribution. That's why we are thrilled about the innovation. Today many of our Indian comic books such as ‘Ramayan 3392AD', ‘Devi' and ‘Sadhu' can be downloaded on platforms like the Sony Playstation. Besides, we are rolling out a number of digital comic books on iPod and iPad and our Ramayan iPad app is already available,” says Sharad.