If, as a comic book fan or out of general curiosity, you’ve been wondering when and how comic books came about in India, gather round, children, we have a story to tell.
1947- a little before the country's independence
In a bid to help Indian kids learn more about the country's rich culture in more creative ways, a magazine named Chandamama began to create and publish stories adapted from the Indian mythologies such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. The magazine first began to publish in Telugu and Tamil. Two years later, the Kannada edition was released, followed by Hindi a month later and Marathi and Malayalam in 1952. By 2004, Chandamama was publishing in 9 more local languages.
In publication to this day, the magazine and its illustrations are known for its unique storytelling, reminiscent of grandparents' bedtime stories conveyed in the print format. It's important to note that Chandamama is not a comic book, in the quintessential sense. However, thanks to its illustrations per page, it can pretty much be considered as the harbinger of pictorial storytelling in India.
Comics as we know them today came about when first Indian comic author Aabid Surti
published the first 3 panel strips of Dabbuji. The strips- based on the protagonist who is a lawyer and a simpleton who interferes in any and everything- were first launched in Gujarati between 1956-57, but was soon shut down due to tremendous flak and criticism. However, it was soon resurrected by Dharmayug Magazine
. Today, it is considered to be the longest running comic strip in India- running for 30 years straight.
In 1964, another strong player came to the fore in the form of Indrajal comics, which launched international comics such as The Phantom stories, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, and Rip Kirby and so on. By 1966, Indrajal went regional, with the first regional comic being in Bengali and eventually in Marathi, Hindi, Malayalam, Gujarati and Tamil. Around the same time, Pran Kumar Sharma published the comic Daabu. However, these first experiments remained the only ones in India till the 1960s, since Indian magazines almost exclusively published American strips on their pages. Pran, then created numerous strips like, Shrimatiji, Pinky, Billoo and the most popular and beloved character Chacha Chaudhary in the 1970s.
Although, the comic strips were becoming popular, the audience still remained limited to kids. Cut to 1967- a time when Indian society was seeing a shift in family structures from the traditional joint family setup to nuclear. Editor Anant Pai of Indian Book House, launched Amar Chitra Katha
. The life of Krishna was the first in the series followed rapidly by Ramayana and Mahabharata. The collection now has 426 volumes with more than 100+ million copies sold. It was only a matter of time before Amar Chitra Katha became a household name in India and pretty much became synonymous with the quintessential Indian comic book.
Soon to follow Amar Chitra Katha’s lead was Diamond Comics
from New Delhi. It brought home our very own superhero Fauladi Singh.
Anant Pai and Indian Publishing House
launched the first Indian comic magazine for children in 1980s called Tinkle
which proved to be yet another massive success. Tinkle diversified the educational themes developed by Amar Chitra Katha, including science, contemporary culture, etc. It also featured characters that became popular in later years: Supaandi, Shikari Shambu and Kalia the Crow; these characters became popular not only among kids, but adults too. And are talked about and loved even today.
1987: The Rise of the Indian Superhero
, India got yet another vigilante hero in the form of Super Commando Dhruva, created by Anupam Sinha
and published by Raj Comics
. Entering during a time when the comic culture in India was all but vanishing, Raj Comics brought home characters like Captain Dhruva, Nagraj and Doga. These superheroes became so popular among kids and teenagers that parents actually started considering them as good reading habit. Raj Comics have published close to 35,000 comics, 5000 titles and 20 characters.
The 90s is considered to be the most glorious and shining period for Indian comics. And 90s kids who can’t think nostalgia without thinking of beloved comic books will agree. There were close to 20 publishing houses that sprung during this period. This period also saw the shutters closing on Indrajal Comics in 1991
. In 1994
, we saw what can be considered one of India’s earliest graphic novels in the form of River of Stories by Orijit Sen.
Indian Comics Today...
, Amruta Patil
created a graphic novel called Kari
, revolving around themes of homosexuality and the loss of love after a failed attempted suicide between two lovers. In the same year, George Mathen (also known as Appupen
) created Moonward, a graphic novel published by Blaft
. It was selected for the 2011 Angouleme Festival.
Appupen’s other notable graphic novels include Legends of Halahala
and the more recent Aspyrus
, Shreyas Srinivas and Suhas Sundar started Level 10 Comics
, which experimented with various genres. Notable titles include zombie thriller The Rabhas Incident, fantasy Manga- Batu Gaiden and dark hero graphic novels Daksh and Odayan.
The one notable event that took place for comic nerds in India was in 2010
, when the internationally renowned comic event The Films and Comic Convention
, came to India. Initially started off in Mumbai and Delhi, by 2015 it stepped into Bangalore and Hyderabad too. Comic Con has provided a platform for newer/upcoming comic artists, and conducts workshops every year. The event acts as a bridge between independent comic artists and potential readers.
, another interesting comic series to take shape was Ravanayan
- a retelling of Ramayan with Ravana as a protagonist. The ten-part comic series was created by Vivek Goel and Vijayendra Mohanty, and released by Holy Cow Entertainment. That same year, Abhijeet Kini and Adhiraj Singh released Uud Bilaw Manus- a comic about a Bhojpuri-speaking hero, and Milk and Quickies
. In 2012
, Abhijeet Kini released Angry Maushi
which revolves around fighting for social and political justice against evil and corrupt politicians.
Another interesting graphic to come out in 2012
was Sudershan (Chimpanzee)
created by Rajesh Devraj and Meren Imchen and published by Hachette India
, about the life and journey of a chimp in Bollywood of the sixties. 2013
saw yet another interesting project: Krishna- The Journey Within by Abhishek Singh
. The graphic novel went on to become the first ever Indian work to be published by the internationally renowned Image Comics
Photo Courtesy: Image Comics
Although creativity in Indian comics seems to be at its peak, the scene still has a very long and tough road ahead of itself- it needs more buyers and more genuine supporters. But, as Reena Puri, editor of ACK-Media optimistically tells us, “Story-telling as such cannot be in danger as that is a 6000-year-old heritage in India, we just need to reinvent the methods and the medium we choose”.