Ageless comic hero

Updated: Apr 19, 2020, 13:22 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Suppandi's logic of keeping it simple makes him one of India's most loved comic book characters, says his current illustrator on his 37th birthday

Suppandi has evolved with the times and ditched his trademark shorts and bush shirt for tees and jeans
Suppandi has evolved with the times and ditched his trademark shorts and bush shirt for tees and jeans

As a little girl, a typical day after school for Archana Waeerkar (now Amberkar) was to watch her father, late Ram Waeerkar, bring comic characters to life at their Kurla home. The veteran illustrator of Amar Chitra Katha is best remembered for birthing Suppandi, a village simpleton, for Tinkle.

Carrying her father's legacy forward, Amberkar is working at her home studio, fine-tuning panels for Suppandi's next escapade. She took over drawing the genial character born in 1983 while she was still in her 20s. "While growing up, I preferred reading comics to novels because they had less text. Suppandi has fascinated me ever since I first spotted him on dad's storyboard," she recalls.

In 1983, the Tinkle studio had received three stories from P Varadarajan in Tamil Nadu about a simple domestic help. Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) and Tinkle's creator, Anant Pai aka Uncle Pai gave his nod to the idea, and requested his trusted illustrator to create a series. "Dad told me that he had flattened Suppandi's head because he was supposed to have no brains!"

Ram Waeerkar at work in his home studio. He was behind the art work for nearly 90 ACK titles. He also created Pyarelal, The Dumbbells and Nasruddin Hodja for Tinkle
Ram Waeerkar at work in his home studio. He was behind the art work for nearly 90 ACK titles. He also created Pyarelal, The Dumbbells and Nasruddin Hodja for Tinkle

When Amberkar took over the reins, she knew that was stepping into big shoes. "I didn't study at a prestigious art institution like the Sir JJ School of Art. I attended the Ram Waeerkar Institute of Art," she says in jest, adding, "I was barely 25. Suppandi was my first cartoon. Yet, dad gave me the freedom to explore my own style; he didn't interfere although he did keep a close watch! (laughs). I was always mindful of the fact that Suppandi was my father's creation. My brother, Sanjiv had also illustrated him for a bit, so it was double the pressure."

Tinkle's editor back then, Reena Puri remembers Waeerkar for his booming laugh and infectious energy. "He was a happy personality and that translated to his work. Archana always maintained that it was more of her dad's backing than her own talent that made her an artist. He and Uncle Pai had an umbilical cord-like connect since he has been associated with us since day one," says, Puri, now executive editor of ACK.

Archana Amberkar took over sketching the character from her father
Archana Amberkar took over sketching the character from her father

The typical story sees Suppandi get himself into trouble. "In so many adventures, he is lucky enough to find a new job, despite being sacked from the previous one. Because he is devoid of any cunning, his innocence sees him through," Amberkar says. "I call it the Suppandi logic. It's his idea on lateral thinking, where you take a thought and give it your spin, and it actually works," explains Rajani Thindiath, executive editor, Tinkle. Amberkar has crafted for the character's avatars as well: Little Suppandi, based on a child's query in a letter about his younger self and Super Suppandi, created by Savio Mascarenhas, group art director, Tinkle & ACK, who was a superhero who existed in the simpleton's imagination.

A recent adventure of Suppandi.  IMAGE COURTESY/ Tinkle comics magazine; Copyright Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd. A recent adventure of Suppandi. Image courtesy/ Tinkle comics magazine; Copyright Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd.

With time, Suppandi's character changed, and he even took on the role of sailor and salesman, living in the city, sharing a flat with friends and hanging out at malls. "His evolution has kept him relevant for a digitally-savvy generation. He appears in short animated clips on YouTube as well as special collections on Kindle and the Tinkle app. "Suppandi's crazy brain teasers are one of the most popular skills on Alexa! Suppandi," says Preeti Vyas, President & COO, Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd.

Preeti Vyas and Reena Puri
Preeti Vyas and Reena Puri

Yet, the ageless hero remains Tinkle's No. 1 character. Since 2015, their annual survey among the comic's readers revealed that he was way ahead of the rest. "For the past 30 years, I've asked school kids the same question, and they have the same answer—Suppandi is our favourite," echoes Puri. She says Pai had the answer to why that was. "Uncle Pai always believed that because Suppandi makes mistakes, children felt it was okay to make mistakes."

We are curious how Waeerkar would have viewed his continued popularity. "He would have been happy to see Suppandi's undisputed popularity. I've tried to retain his innocence and simplicity in every panel."

Log on to Suppandi and friends/YouTube

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