With a rise in interest and readership for graphic novels, career prospects in this field are good. This was reiterated at the recently held Comic Con festival in Mumbai.

In February 1967, while watching a quiz on television, Anant Pai, then a reporter, noticed that young participants who easily answered questions on Greek mythology, failed to answer the question: “In the Ramayana, who was Rama’s mother?” This made Pai to start a comic book series dedicated to Indian mythology. And thus, if popular reports are to be believed, was born Amar Chitra Katha. The series, which has since then attained an iconic status, has sold more than 90 million comic books with more than 440 titles. In many ways, Pai’s series laid the foundation for the comic book industry in India. But, today, with the burgeoning of indigenous publishing houses and talented artists, comics have come a long way since Amar Chitra Katha.

“It’s a good time to be making comics in India,” says Shruti Ravi, who wrote her Masters’ dissertation on Comic Books and Graphic Novels. “I know enough people who take it as serious literature now, and this is brilliant — because when I would get book money as a child from my uncle it was often with the caveat “you can buy any book you want, but no comics that your parents already buy for you.”

Shruti began her dissertation as an attempt to explore the world of graphic novels, and was initially only concerned about the content, and not the format. However, as she began research, she began to expand her dissertation to include comic books as she felt “a strong sense of really identifying with the stories the comics dealt with.”

Vidyun Sabhaney too discovered Graphic Novels the same way Shruti did. “I got interested in creating comics while writing my college dissertation on comics journalism. While researching for that dissertation, I attended a series of workshops in New Delhi that encouraged me to consider writing comics,” she says. Vidyun is a 25-year-old Delhi-based independent illustrator who recently released her self-published comic, “Mice will be Mice”, in collaboration with Sohei Emura, a graphic artist from Japan. She is currently working on a comic travelogue based on her and Emura’s research into visual narrative traditions that are still in vogue in India. Their research has also been funded with a grant from the Indian Foundation For The Arts.

Desi comics

Perhaps the reason for the popularity of Graphic Novels is the greater flexibility they offer for storytelling; they provide a platform to express thought in a severally layered fashion, i.e, in both art and words. The Graphic Novel, as a genre, is taken very seriously in the West, with hundreds of millions of dollars in sales every year. They’ve also repeatedly attracted the fancy of Hollywood, where comic book crossover movies are raking in the dollars with every release — for example, most recently Thor II: The Dark World, which grossed close to $630 million worldwide.

In India, however, despite the large fan following for international comics, indigenous comics have only now begun to shed their Tinkle-AmarChitraKatha-ChachaChoudhary shell.

“Today, the Graphic Novel industry in India has its own target audience and is gathering a dedicated readership from India and abroad for the kind of stories and art form being created in our country,” says Surej Salim of DI Comics.

DI Comics was born out of Digitally Inspired Media, a Chennai-based digital marketing company. They bring out a variety of Graphic Novel-based art, from character sketches, mascots, illustrations, to game art and storyboards. When asked about the scope in the Graphic Novel industry as a career choice for young people, Salim is convinced that it is “huge!” He goes on to talk about their firm’s recent participation in the “Comic Con” (an international convention dedicated to the Graphic Novel/Comic Book industry) in Mumbai. “We came across a lot of young and talented people with amazing skill sets,” he says. “In this industry, if you can create a strong work portfolio and showcase your talent, you definitely will be noticed and the scope just gets bigger and better from there.”

Growing opportunities

The industry, despite the recent spurt of growth in readership, is still, however, nascent, and for many enthusiasts it represents an exciting time to indulge in making comics. Audiences are looking beyond the regular superhero fare and into more unique stories that reflect the local landscape. Although bigger publishers are yet to fully embrace the graphic novel, the Delhi-based illustrator Vidyun believes that there are “several independent publishers emerging with intent to widen the kind of content that comics deal with.” She is working with writers and artists herself to bring out independently published comics under the banner, “Captain Bijli”. “This will hopefully give rise to new frontiers and debates,” she says.

Shruti also believes that once artists with decent marketing and publishing resources produce a good body of work, the “cult” status is inevitable. “I think academia is going to embrace comics a lot more than it does now,” she says. It is only a matter of time, according to Shruti, before people start picking up graphic novels with the same “care and cherry-picked concern” that they reserve for fiction.

Comic books are now a literary format in their own right, and can no longer be termed as mere recreational reading. A combined passion for storytelling and the arts is what you need for an exciting career in Graphic Novels. “It’s exhilarating to be able to create something from scratch,” says Surej. “To see fans react and believe in your story keeps you going!”

More In: Nxg | Metroplus | Chennai | Features