A software engineer from the US and an MBA graduate in Mumbai figured out the problem last year -- English-reading, comic-loving Indian men aged 18 to 30, aren't receiving any stimulation from the "mature" comic front. Twelve volumes later, they are shutting down the printing press, and moving the stimuli online
The year-old Comic Jump ("Full on Masala Comics!" reads the tagline) is out with its 11th issue. Inside its glossy covers, lie cussing protagonists with large breasts and non-existent waistlines, and men with superhuman traits derived from the divine powers of the Hindu pantheon. Even as entrepreneurs Shreyas Srinivas and Suhas Sunder make plans to wrap up the comic book with next month's edition, their offering to adult Indian comic readers isn't quite dying.
Come November, and the two will launch their comic website and mobile applications for the Android marketplace. Comic Jump will go digital through and through. "Once we go digital, we will print physical copies of only those characters or stories that are popular and have gained a certain traction among readers online. These may be bimonthly, or quarterly. In terms of profitability, physical prints don't form our market," reveals Srinivas, clarifying that initially, the webcomic will be free, and will turn to a sponsored and ad-driven model later.
"We want to make our mark in the digital arena, which is unexplored territory for Indian web comics," says the 28 year-old former brand manager of Unilever, who quit his job to start the comic book last year. His partner, 29 year-old Sunder, a software engineer, also returned from the States last year.
Srinivas promises that the webcomic will be more interactive than most comic books in the market today. As opposed to a three-strip panel, the page will carry multiple panels, since the stories are longer and sequential.
What's more, it'll be displayed in the form of a book, so you can flip the page over, instead of loading another window when you want to move to the next panel. Eventually, says Srinivas, the comic will be rendered through a guided navigation system technology. If a particular image has a long and a close-up shot of a character (usually drawn to depict emotions), the page will zoom into the expression. But this, says Srinivas, is the second phase of their web expansion plans.
The app version will have separate applications for each story, and users will have to download new episodes as they are uploaded online, either every week or fortnight.
So what happens to the existing stories in the current issue? "To-be-continued stories will be wrapped up in the next edition. The stories will end, but the characters will live on," says Srinivas, who has experimented with eight titles and protagonists through the various volumes of the comic book. Some worked, he said. Like the titles Shaurya and Rabhas Incident. Northern Song, by contrast, didn't gather much of a following.
By following, Srinivas means the number of 'fans' and followers that Level 10 comics -- their company -- has on social networking site Facebook and micro-blogging site Twitter. "We measure the response on the basis of the feedback we receive from our 16,800 fans on Facebook and 1,000 followers on Twitter. We get to see what traction we're getting," says Srinivas.
Given that they are printing 10,000 copies a month -- most of which get bought, Srinivas assures us -- it is a surprising decision to take it off the newsstands and prescription lists. "Suhas and I started this company to cater to a specific Indian readership that had not been tapped. In India, most comic books have been inspired from epics, and cater only to six to 12 year-olds. Globally, however, the main consumer of pop culture merchandise of games, comic books and action movies is a male between the age of 18 to 30 years. We saw a gap in the market and decided to home in," points out Shreyas.
Which, he adds, also explains the big-breasted, no-waisted women protagonists, whose cleavage and butt form as much part of the narrative as the cuss words that fly about the pages. This very adult novel with its sexist worldview could fall into the hands of the odd teenager or enraged woman comic book lover, but Srinivas isn't too bothered.
"We are not depicting anything that is not considered standard, internationally. We don't use too many curse words, or depict pornography. The content is depicted tastefully," he says.
Being an adult comic, violence would be more gory, and themes, more "mature". "The extent to which we go is globally accepted as the content consumed by this target group of 18 to 30 year-old men. We are only following popular trends around the world."
The 11th issue of the 1st Volume of Comic Jump is available on news-stands for Rs 100