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India's comic timing

Twelve year-old Anushka Ranka loves her comics and knows exactly how she enjoys them. “I love the speech bubbles, the sketches and storyboards, and touching the comforting paper bound together,” says the Borivli resident, whose favourites is Tinkle and all its characters, including Suppandi and Shikari Shambu, who come alive in every edition.


Vijay Sampath (left), CEO, Amar Chitra Katha and Kushal Ruia, director and producer of Sons of Ram, the animation film that will release in November this year. Pic/Neha Parekh

But what Ranka also enjoys is playing the Suppandi game online. “You have to make Suppandi, the bumbling domestic help, do all sorts of silly things. It almost makes me feel he is for real,” Ranka says, grinning on the other side of the telephone. Ranka also reads her favourite comics on the Internet. “But that’s a different feeling altogether. It feels more modern, tech-savvy but I can only read comfortably for about 20 minutes. The glare disturbs me,” says Ranka.  “But,” she continues, “It would be really nice to see my favourtie characters on screen. Now that would be something.”

Pushing the margins
Ranka’s wish will soon be granted. Comic books are wild, whacky and, within their pages, hold that special charm strong enough to whisk children someplace else. But, now, publishers are fast realising that the magic need not remain within the margins of a comic book.


CEO of Vimaika comics, Karan Vir Arora. pic/sunil tiwari, place courtesy: Hotel Sea Princess

Next month, comic book publisher Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) will release their film, Son of Ram (SOR), the story of Luv and Kush, who are their most popular characters. “To know why we are branching out into digital media, you must go back to 1967, when Krishna, the first comic book, was out on stands,” says ACK CEO Vishal Sampath cryptically.

“Uncle Pai had a disruptive mind for innovation. He found that Indian children had lost interest in Indian heritage and history, as they were taught in a boring manner. He smartly took what parents considered a waste of time — comic books — and told great stories that educated and entertained generations of children,” says Sampath, adding that they started testing ground three years ago to kickstart a similar change. “What we are now doing is similar to what Uncle Pai did back then. We are turning to the digital media, which parents feel is a waste of time, and using it to tell a good, meaningful story,” smiles Sampath.


The film is about sons of Ram, Luv and Kush in their preteens. A semi-fictional tale, it is a mystery adventure story of the two brothers

Last year, ACK tied up with Cartoon Network to produce a feature film, Tripura, for television, which was a pilot project to make way for their bigger project, SOR. “This has been a conscious move. We are not biased towards any one medium. Our core focus remains the same — to be India’s favourite storyteller. Be in the form of books movies, games or the Internet,” says Sampath, stressing emphasis on awareness in the comics content industry today. 

Along with the film, ACK will also come up with an ACK mobile app for Apple, Android, or Windows where users can download 200 comics. And it doesn’t stop here — their future plans include an app for Karadi Tales in December this year, a movie on Suppandi, which will be out by end of 2013.

While Kushal Ruia, director and producer of SOR, is busy giving minor finishing touches to the film, 62 year-old Gulshan Rai, CEO of Diamond Comics and creator of Chacha Chaudhary and Mahabali Shaka, is working closely with a, American company, which is creating a television serial on his classic characters — Chacha Chaudhary and Mahabali Shaka.  “The platform for readers has diversified to the electronic media and it is the only way to be in the competition,” Rai.

And that is not all. Rai has just finished signing a contract with a Japanese company to introduce e-books on Flipkart (.com), and has also tied up with mobile service network providers, including Vodafone and Aircel, for the Diamond comics’ app. “We have also tied up with Spice and Lava mobiles who are coming up with their own tabs,” says Rai.

The young and the restless
The young guns of the Indian comic books industry are riding the tide, too. Vimanika Comics which launched in 2008 and created graphic novel series on Shiva, Sashaavatar, The Sixth, I am Kalki, Moksha and Woti is all set to diversify. Founder and director, 30 year-old Karan Vir Arora calls himself ‘Anant Pai on steroids’. He says Vimanika, along with Maya Digital Studios, will unveil the teaser of its first 3D animation movie called The Sixth: Karna The Warrior Kid at the Comic Con on October 21. “Our graphic novel for young adults, based on Karna. We are redeveloping the content to make a children’s 3D animation film on it,” says Arora.

Two months ago, Arora also launched a Vimanika app, which was developed by Cloud 9, an Australian company, for Android. The app has already seen 500 to 1,000 downloads, he says. Also in the the pipeline is a trilogy on Karna which Arora says he is working on. It should be out next month, hopefully, he tells us.
“During research for the graphic novel, we went to a lot of places of historical importance in India and spoke to many locals and historians to dig out the facts. Of course, all the details didn’t go in the graphic novel, but they deserve to be told. The trilogy will be an extension of the graphic novel,” says Arora.

“I don’t believe in putting all my eggs in one basket. I do a lot of licensing with my characters for products and now, the digital media takes over. Once your comic characters have a strong holding and fan following, it would be foolish not to license them,” says Arora.

He also feels the industry today is still unplanned and clueless about digitisation. “We, the publishers, are turning to apps too late. That, too, because companies approach us — we should have made the first move. Now, after they approach us, it would be silly not to agree,” says Arora, who believes the Comic Con is good for the industry. “It is creating a momentum, gathering the industry people on one platform,” concludes Arora.

Unchartered territory
According to Monica Wahi, chilren’s media professional, comic books developers are looking to create an indigenous space for themselves. “Kids are used to getting content from various media — books, Internet, mobile phones and so on. This creates an artistic challenge for the industry. The producers have made a sensible move — they want to bombard the child with their products on all platforms. Stories are a part of growing up and children relate to characters in all formats. Each platform — books, comic books, graphic novels, the Internet and mobile apps — has its own charm,” opines Wahi.

Forty per cent of our population is under 16, says Wahi, and, ironically, we have not tapped into the reserves in spite of a rich tradition of storytelling. “The last decade saw a lull in the comic books industry, which only seems to play around mythology,” says Wahi, who agrees with Arora that apps have taken time to seep into the comics industry.

Telling a different kind of story will take time, and mythology is here to stay. Though we are seeing renewed interest in comic books and there is a surge of graphic novels, but it will take time for new contemporary themes and characters to emerge, warns Wahi. “The more respectable, bigger players would rather play it safe with mythology, the unchartered territory must be explored.”

 

DID YOU KNOW?
By December, this year, Diamond Comics will launch its mobile app and early next year, it will launch a television series on Chacha Chaudhary and Mahabali Shaka

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