Bookmark Suppandi, Asterix, Calvin, Hobbes, Archie and company, are well loved names. Comics today are equally about Maus, Blue Pills and Halahala
Ask ‘Which comics do you still read’ on Facebook and there are a flurry of answers. The popular answers throw up some famous names — Indian and Western.
Among the Indian favourites, the first title that comes up is Tinkle , with Suppandi as one of the “all-time favourites” (though names like Chacha Chaudhary and Super Commando Dhruv also appear). As far as western comics go, the Marvel-DC legacy with its superhero comics rules, because, MBA graduate Siddharth Kumar says, “the idea of a superhero thrills me even now”.
And then there are universal favourites such as Tintin, Asterix and Obelix and Calvin and Hobbes. Siddharth adds, “I like Tintin comics because of Captain Haddock and Asterix is just too funny”.
Asterix comics is also much-loved for the clever puns—“Getafix, the druid, Cacophonix the bard who is always tied up in every banquet,” as another Facebook friend describes them.
So what makes a comic series timeless? Here’s what the experts have to say. “It is the visual format,” says Reena Puri, Editor, Amar Chitra Katha. “Art was the first medium of expression as you can see from cave paintings. It is understood by everyone regardless of language, even those who cannot read. Having said that, I would add that it is not comics or books that are timeless but the art of storytelling. Comics have the capacity to break down difficult ideas and philosophies into simple stories.”
The Amar Chitra Katha, which is known for the Tinkle digest as well as stories on famous figures from Indian mythology and history, is an integral part of every child’s growing up years. “In Western countries, Greek or Nordic mythology finds its way into comics,” says Reena. “America doesn’t have a mythology, so it created the superheroes. Each country uses its reserves of heroes who will stand as role models.”
Jatin Varma, founder Comic Con, agrees. “Most Indian comics are mythological or historical. We do not create superheroes because we already have some unique characters. Comics like 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.”
Jatin’s favourite comic books Superman: Red Son , (where Superman lands in Ukaraine and turns communist) and V for Vendetta are fairly grim. Though initially comics, were light and humorous, comics towards the turn of the century featured darker plots and serious storylines meant for an older audience.
Then there are graphic novels (assuming, at this point, that they can be talked about under the same genre), like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman , Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Blue Pills by Frederik Peeters which talk about serious and existential issues like the human condition, the holocaust ( Maus ) 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. People are not going to forget the Holocaust. It’s recorded history about brutality but there are also so many stories of redemption as well as stories of how it affected relationship between parents, children, wives and husbands and the larger context of war. It changed the face of comics,” says Pratheek of the Bangalore-based Manta Ray Comics, who lists these graphic novels among his favourites.
“It is fantasy and mythology that have the potential to be timeless because it’s what happens in that world,” says Appupen, creator of graphic novels Moonward and its sequel Legends of Halahala. “I admire the work of artists like Lynd Ward whose woodcut print comics date back to the early 1900s.”
Appupen believes that India has a long way to go when it comes to making timeless comics. “I don’t think we can say any Indian comics can stand the test of time. No Indian comic really stands out, I also feel that India is just about 50 years behind the USA. It’s a little bit like how rock bands in India are still trying to find their sound. But the comic scene is more hopeful, there is a lot to look forward to because Indian comics have been doing well in the last five years,” he says.
It is only in the last few years that India gained it s 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, unlike the West which is saturated. So now we have a lot more to offer. We are at an experimental stage where it’s difficult to consistently sell comics because comics are difficult to print,” says Jatin.
Reena adds: “Comics came to India in the 1960s with Indrajaal and at that time we were using a foreign medium to tell stories. It took years for comics to establish themselves in the West and India has taken huge steps in the last ten years what with comics by Campfire ( Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums , Draupadi: The Fire-Born Princess ) or the Sufi comics. Every time I attend the Comic Con I see how much more we have to give to the world.”