Mature storylines get comics more takers

Written By Unknown on Minggu, 15 Desember 2013 | 22.23

MUMBAI: A school girl with a loaded gun. A truthful cop who has a white shadow. A dog-faced man who swears in a mix of English and Bhojpuri. A sorcerer who has to confront Naxalites. Each of these characters belong to four fairly new Indian comic book publishers whose appeal doesn't rely on kitschy typos or cute endings. Or even honest boy scout heroes, for that matter.

Inside their mature, movie-like panels, ambiguous moral choices and profane speech bubbles, you will find the growing hunger of comic book readers. Fuelled by Hollywood-induced curiosity about superheroes, events such as Comic Con and a wider array of alternate Indian comic books on offer, today's evolved comic book fan does not mind shelling out anywhere between Rs 50 and Rs 300 each on a book. This has meant a slow yet assured boost for the Indian comic book industry whose fate had been written off a few years ago.

"In the last three years, the number of individuals and publishers actively publishing comics and graphic novels has certainly risen from three to four to about 10," says Jatin Varma, founder, Comic Con India referring to Vimanika, Holy Cow Entertainment, Meta Desi and Manta Ray Comics among others. "The numbers might seem small but it is a phenomenal growth," adds Varma, who also heads Pop Culture Publishing, which was launched three years ago and is known for its humour and Bollywood-based titles such as 'Widhwa Maa Aur Andhi Behen'.

Even established publishers such as Campfire, that boasts a turnover of Rs two crore annually, admit that platforms such as Comic Con and the recently held Comic Fest (organised by Raj Comics in Delhi) have given the industry a sense of "legitimacy". Besides, "they equip publishers with visibility," feels Pratheek Thomas of Bangalore's Manta Ray comics. "A lot of the visitors who come to Comic Con are more exposed to international comics and pop culture but then at the convention, they also discover the indie comics that are being made in India," says Thomas. Manta Ray's first title was 'HUSH', a silent story about child sexual abuse while their next release is a series called 'TWELVE' — a set of 12 stories about young adults that will be released as a monthly next year.

However, the biggest challenge, publishers admit, is distribution. Book stores are generally wary of selling physical copies as they don't understand the content but portals such as Flipkart, and Home Shop 18 have injected pubishers with confidence. Besides, "social networking sites that allow us to release trailers and connect with readers have proved to be a boon," Vivek Goel of Holy Cow Entertainment whose work includes the popular Ravanayan series__where Raavan is the handsome, learned protagonist of Ramayan. "Our business has risen by ten percent over the last few years. We are even planning to come out with a monthly 40-page series next year, a big leap for us," says Goel, who was so far satisfied with books twice a month.

Besides, merchandise is another industry buzzword. While keeping comics as their core business value, some publishers such as Vimanika have moved on to selling comic-book memorabilia for cash flow. "Our T-shirts, based on the Shiva series, are a hit," says Karan Vir Arora of Vimanika, whose turnover has gone form Rs 10 lakh to just Rs 60 lakh in just a few years. In fact, Vimanika, that even has its own comics app, recently launched its Shiva series in Europe. "Popular gods will do well abroad as they are evergreen and relatable," says Arora.

Thinking global, publishers concede, is the way forward. Already, Mumbai has also seen the entry of international publisher Viz Media (Via Simon & Schuster India) which represent some of the most popular Manga (Japanese anime) series in the world. Besides, the recent entry of the teen Indian superhero Chakra__who was born at the hands of American legend Stan Lee__is bound to turn heads eastwards.

Arora, who sees the industry growing to Rs 100 crore in the next five years, sums it up with an analogy. "Like Vishnu," he says, "we'll need a lot of hands to succeed in this business."

Visitors who come to Comic Cons are usually more exposed to international comics and pop culture but then at the convention, they also discover alternative works that are being made in India, say publishers.

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