Suppandi, Asterix, Calvin, Hobbes, and Archie and company are names that kids and adults love. But the world of comics today is also equally about Maus, Blue Pills and Halahala
We ask people which comics they still read, and it throws up famous names — some Indian and some Western.
Among the Indian ones is Tinkle, with Suppandi being one of the “all-time favourites” (though names such as Chacha Chaudhari and Super Commando Dhruv too appear). Next up is the Marvel-DC legacy with its superhero comics, because, as Bangalore-based MBA graduate Siddharth Kumar says, “The idea of a superhero thrills me even now”. And then of course, there are titles that come up on almost everyone’s list — Tintin, Asterix And Obelix and Calvin And Hobbes. Siddharth adds, “I like Tintin because of Captain Haddock, and Asterix is just too funny.” Asterix… is much-loved also for the delicious puns.
Easy to understand
So what makes a comic series timeless? “It is the visual format. It is understood by everyone regardless of language, and even those who cannot read. The words we use in a comic book are minimum and in many cases not even required. Having said that, I would add that it is not comics or books that are timeless but the art of storytelling. A good book is as timeless as any piece of art,” says Reena Puri, editor, Amar Chitra Katha. “Comics have the capacity to break down difficult ideas and philosophies into simple stories.”
The Amar Chitra Katha, known for Tinkle as well as the extensive series on stories and famous figures from Indian mythology and history, is an integral part of childhood for almost every Indian child. “In most Western countries too, Greek or Nordic mythology finds its way into comics. America doesn’t have mythology, so it created the superheroes. Each country uses its reserves of heroes who will stand as role models,” adds Reena.
Jatin Varma, founder of Comic Con, some of whose favourite comics are Superman:Red Son and the Tinkle digest, agrees. “Most Indian comics are mythological or historical. And comics such as Archies, Tintin and Asterix… are classics because their creators are great artists and writers, and for me, comics are all about beautiful art, stories and characters.”
Superman:Red Son, (where Superman lands in Ukaraine and turns communist) and V For Vendetta (where a masked revolutionary works to bring down the establishment), another of his favourites are not necessarily light comics. Though initially, comics were light and humorous, towards the turn of the century went for darker plots and serious storylines.
Then there are the serious comics or graphic novels, such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Blue Pills by Frederik Peeters, which talk about serious and existential issues such as the human condition, the holocaust and AIDS. These titles find themselves in the list of some of the world’s most popularly read comics.
“These are life-changing stories that don’t exist in a time frame,” says Pratheek of Manta Ray Comics.
Flights of fantasy
“It is fantasy and mythology that have the potential to be timeless because it’s what happens in that world,” says Appupen, creator of Moonward and its sequel Legends Of Halahala, works of fantasy. “I admire the work of artists such as Lyndward whose woodcut print comics date back to the early 1900s. With superhero comics, you can tell the date from the quality of the print. So stories shouldn’t rely too much on the trends of the period.”
Appupen believes that India has a long way to go when it comes to making timeless comics. “No Indian comic really stands out. But, there is a lot to look forward to because Indian comics have been doing well in the last five years,” he says.
It is also only in the last few years that India gained its first Comic Con, the third edition of which is all set to take place this weekend. “There is a huge opening for contemporary comics because of the dominance of mythology. So now we have a lot more to offer,” says Jatin.