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Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics
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Comicology: comic books as culture in India
Ritu G. Khanduri
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Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Texas, USA Available online: 15 Dec 2010

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Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics Vol. 1, No. 2, December 2010, 171–191

Comicology: comic books as culture in India
Ritu G. Khanduri*
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Texas, USA (Received 18 June 2010; final version received 10 October 2010) Building upon the intersection of anthropology’s and Indian comic books’ focus on ‘culture’, this article addresses two questions: How do comic books in India represent culture? And, what insight about mass media, representation and interpretation can be gleaned with the comic book reader’s emerging role of creator? To trace continuities and shifts in comic books’ engagement with culture and to convey the ‘different scene’ contemporary readers’ experience, this article focuses on the comic brands Amar Chitra Katha, Indrajal Comics, Liquid Comics and Vimanika. Indian comic books highlight distinct cultural globalization processes and social media networks as a space for history, and for pedagogy that teaches how to read comics and how to make comics. Keywords: comic books; blogs; convergence; culture; digital; fans; history; India; internet

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Introduction: historiphoty In 1988 Hayden White, who coined the term ‘Historiphoty’, persuasively argued the idea that visual narratives are as much historical truths as historiography. This was echoed by Joseph Witek’s influential Comics Books as History (1989). Meanwhile, in India Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), Indrajal Comics, which began publication in the 1960s and 1970s, and Disney comics were already firmly grounded popular comic book brands narrating history and replete with adventure. Drawing their plots from myths, religion and contemporary battles of good over evil, these comic books were available in English and also translated to Hindi and other regional languages.1 Although ACK continues to hold sway in India and among the Indian diaspora, it vies for readers’ attention along with the ‘new generation’ comic brands in contemporary India, such as Liquid, Vimanika (Ancient Indian Aircraft), and Level10. In ACK and the ‘new generation’ comic brands in contemporary India, ‘culture’ remains a resilient organizing principle. Culture offers a route to frame India’s past and present while also staking claims for the Indianess of their plots and narrative. Indian comic book proprietors’ engagement with culture forges a kinship with anthropologists, who study the human experience as culture.2 Visual culture in all its facets, as symbols, art, and media images, holds a particular interest for anthropologists. Despite this attention to visual culture, anthropological interest in comic books remains scant. Building upon the intersection of comic books, history and anthropology, this paper addresses two questions: How do comic books in India perceive culture? And, what insight about mass media, representation and interpretation can be gleaned with the reader’s emerging role of critic
ISSN 2150-4857 print/ISSN 2150-4865 online © 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/21504857.2010.528641

© King Features.86. http://comic-guy. Liquid Comics and Vimanika Comics.G. It was also exported to neighboring countries such as Sri .172 R.4 The comics scene today includes new superheroes. digital media and the increasing interface with fans mark India’s new generation comics.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 and creator? To trace continuities in comic books’ engagement with culture and to convey the ‘different scene’ contemporary readers’ experience. comic books-based animation films. reproduced here with their kind permission. Christianity and sexuality – space constraints prevent me from dwelling on this theme in this article and I have explored it elsewhere. Phantom and the Pirates (issue number 51).211. It also includes a vibrant constituency of fans and collectors who grew-up on comics in the 1980s. Figure 1. There is also a strong presence of alternative comics that focus on development. Indrajal Comics’ Bahadur (Brave) series. while also referencing other comic book brands such as Raj Comics. The ongoing trend of downloadable comic books as iPhone content.blogspot. digital media. readers in the diaspora and a growing youth and adult readership. Khanduri Downloaded by [117. Source: Comic World Blog. manga stylistics. Indrajal Comics’ Phantom series was translated in Hindi and various Indian languages. superheroes and mythology are among continuities since the 1960s. translation into animation film and the participatory role of fans through blogs (Figures 1 and 2). Fans blogs such as Comic World upload old issues and comic book covers to generate a history of Indian comics and a social network of Phantom enthusiasts. Facebook. Manoj Comics. transnational collaborators. Vivalok and Level10. I focus on ACK. Diamond Comics.3 Although culture.

with permission. a title search for ‘comics’ in the Registrar of Newspapers for India records yields a substantial list in various languages. Given India’s linguistic diversity. popular discussion forums for fans and collectors. defies attempts toward a single narrative history of Indian comic books. regional language comics also had their own distinct mix of indigenous and of licensed comic books from the West. are among sources that evidence the diverse regional comic books culture in India and its multiple trajectories connecting US and British comic book syndications. Two aspects of India’s comic book culture help to situate my article. The blog Comicology has a busy traffic of fans and discussions on comics of all genres. Comicology and Comic World.comicology.5 Beginning in 1964. Mandrake. For example. This regional language-based print culture. Furthermore.Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 173 Downloaded by [117. which is beyond the scope of this article. Secondly. makes comic books in India an entry point to analyze culture as ‘convergence culture’ (Jenkins 2006). In 1976 it introduced the indigenous comic book Bahadur created by Aabid Surti and Govind Brahmania. scholarly interest in comic books in India is recent and a potential area for further research.86. .in/.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Figure 2. Source: http://www. Twitter and social media websites.211. Muthu Comics in Tamil. Indrajal Comics began marketing in various Indian languages comic books of King Features Syndicate’s comic-book heroes Phantom. this should not surprise: The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 official languages. a history of India’s comic books culture would require several beginnings. Flash Gordon and Buz Sawyer (Shedden 2006). First. My more modest goal in situating ACK as a historical precursor to new generation comics is to analyze the pervasive sentiment about a ‘change’ in India’s comic books culture. this article also serves to connect with literature on the subject in other socio-political contexts. Due to the multiple linguistic and regional contexts. which syndicated from the British Fleetway Publications was popular in Tamil Nadu and among Tamil readers. As a contribution to scholarship on Indian comic books.

as a response to culture: ‘Comics are becoming the new pop art. Constantly compared to ACK and Liquid Comics. an alternative comics brand present a subaltern perspective – folk stories and local plots that present India’s diversity.G. configure the contours of this paper. The new drug. ACK’s scripts were based on the publications of Gita Press in Gorakhpur. Vimanika distances itself from both and strives for ‘authenticity’ in its representation of India’s Hindu culture and history. p. ‘specific cultural histories that make for necessarily “other” modernities’ (Rofel 1999. The new pop communication. journalists. Comics are the new culture’ (DeMott 2004). namely. echo scholarly recognition of distinct forms of modernity. Comics as culture But comic books are not a global medium.211. While ACK was an indigenous production. Pai emphasized that its comics were a product of ‘primary’ research and the script was not arbitrary (Figure 3). Such imbrications of culture and religion and nostalgia for authenticity as a hallmark of the modern self. A part of the analysis draws upon my interactions with Aabid Surti and Karan Vir Arora of Vimanika Comics. the Times of India and included both indigenous series such as Bahadur and licensed series such as King Features’ and Lee Falk’s Phantom (Figure 1). culture rests in pride in Indian mythologies. 15). blogs and writings by fans.86. Thereafter I discuss Liquid Comics and the mythology oriented Vimanika to illuminate the ‘cool’ vibes of new generation comics in India. Vivalok. who ensures the accuracy of the research for their narratives. they have very different niches in the cultural ecologies of every region where they are found. among the diaspora. I explore digital comics to signal new modes of reading and the participation of fans. and they rarely translate well. 7) Comic book producers in India pay particular attention to culture.6 To authorize the cultural claims of their comics. my own reading of ACK and Indrajal Comics’ Bahadur.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 This article proposes the concept ‘convergence history’ to mark the multiple forms of historical writing central to my research. Finally. the foremost press for Hindu texts. ACK continues to be popular in India and abroad. comic book producers and artists – critical for accounting for the diversity of comic books in India. Khanduri Downloaded by [117.7 Accuracy is key to claim . Next I elaborate on the popular and successful ACK and Indrajal Comics brands that made their mark in the 1960s and constitute the old generation of comic books. This combination of sources echoes the anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s preference for texts to constitute a ‘scrappy ethnography’. To situate the links among comic books culture in India in a historical context. a co-owner of Gotham Comics envisioned his collaborative initiative with the spiritual healer and medical practitioner. Gotham Comics (now titled Liquid Comics) tapped into Indian mythology to articulate a new pop art and culture that included readers in the diaspora.174 R. This is not just comics. For Arora’s recently-launched Vimanika. p. Indrajal Comics was owned by India’s leading newspaper press. the founder of ACK comics presented his comics for children as a ‘route to your roots’. Critiquing ACK’s narrow perspective of a mainstream Indian culture and gendered stereotype. As early as 1967 Anant Pai. Indian publishing houses frequently inform readers of a historian or cultural expert among their staff. (Historian Anne Rubenstein 1998. Additionally. I begin with a discussion of culture – a concept evoked by leading comic book brands in India. Deepak Chopra. p. 210). It highlights the disparate online and offline sources that include interviews. Mandrake and Phantom series when growing up in India. Shekhar Kapur. which feminist anthropologists situate as a critique of anthropology’s fetishism of fieldwork (Babcock 1995. but a breathtaking new multi-media format.

211. Two significant studies highlighted ACK’s historical narrative construction (Chandra 2008. Vimanika Comics boasts of Deepam Chatterjee’s counsel: ‘Deepam has more than 15–20 years of experience and is considered among one of the hundred odd scholars in India who actually know The Mahabharata’ (Madhukar 2009). L ’Hoeste and Poblete 2009. p. p. Reproduced here with their permission. Such attention to the social production of meaning contrasts with Ariel Dorfman’s and Armand Mattelart’s (1991) influential political economy framework that emphasized Disney’s ideological apparatus in Chile. In an earlier version of its website. p.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Figure 3. which boasts of a print run of 80 million copies in 38 Indian languages. 9 June 2010). Amar Chitra Katha: immortal tales Due to the tremendous success since its launch in 1967.Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 175 Downloaded by [117. 3). McLain 2009). as a ‘space where it is possible to think the relationship between production and reception’ (Barbero 1993. Nayar 2006). and 400 titles. a point Arora repeatedly emphasized in our conversation (phone interview. authenticity. © ACK Media. 2). ‘a crucial site for studying the ways in which dominant ideologies of religion and national identity are actively created and re-created by ongoing debate’ (2009. This . Amar Chitra Katha deployed the comic book format to illustrate the integration of research and primary sources when producing their comics. Pritchett 1996. McLain approaches ACK comics as a form of public culture that are.8 scholarly attention to Indian comics has focused on ACK (Hawley 1996. Chandra unravels the interesting problematic that in ACK comics ‘the classic became the source of the popular’ (2008. This framework complements recent work on Latin American comics and extends Jesús-Martin Barbero’s concept ‘mediation’.86. Pictorial representation of the ‘classic’ and its circulation as a comic format endeared ACK to a wide-reading public as well as a pedagogical tool for children. 22). Thus ACK is a source to tap culture as a process of active production.

I was in India during this episode.176 R. Pai began with an issue on the Hindu deity Krishna followed by another on the historical figure Shakuntala. Since 1969 the titles grew to encompass a broad range of individual biographies and events that included myth. etc. The story of how Pai first thought about ACK is now legendary and encapsulates the cultural gap comics brands in India posit as the logic for their business: I have great reverence for India’s heritage and culture and I am deeply rooted in its rich tradition. Now my aim was to acquaint Indian children with their heritage. including the dilemma he experienced about representing Swami Vivekananda’s famous address in Chicago: In the story of Vivekanand. feel they know it all.’ (Kunzle 1990. Pai remained acutely conscious of multiple textual and oral narratives in Hindu texts that make it difficult to claim one correct rendering. I had the opportunity to witness a quiz contest on Doordarshan. p. Punjab making it big in NASA and her life ending in a heroic death. Sandhya Rao.211. approximately a million copies of various editions of Krishna have sold. Now began the challenging of finding out exactly who he was sitting beside at that time and in what order were they seated. is that Amar Chitra Kathas make the readers. ACK issued a comic on Kalpana (Figure 4).12 ACK’s Kalpana issue became news: ‘I knew Kalpana Chawla just like anyone else did – through the media – and I was zapped by her’.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Two years following Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla and her crew’s tragic death in the Columbia accident in 2003. it also blended pride and honour. they “have” culture’ (2000). religion and history. in the earlier years. we realized that we did not know who was sitting to his left or to his right. But Pai quickly asserted his attention to historical facts and details by citing several examples. but when we got down to doing the illustration of the time when he rose from his seat to speak. young and old.10 Rao’s critique is problematic as it does not interrogate the mediation of culture. We could not have put illustrations of just random people there. This was the first time ACK issued a title on a contemporary happening. Kalpana Chawla. However.11 Downloaded by [117. gripped public imagination. his address to the Parliament of Religions was readily available. Although since its first appearance. beauty and gender. I was baffled and it is then that the seed was sown. Acknowledging the challenge. 159). Khanduri analysis fruitfully extended to the post-war context of Disney Comics to show that ‘foreign challenge to US hegemony was met with military force. It also invites thinking about pleasure as an analytical space. Chawla’s death ignited public sorrow and shock. a publisher of children’s books questioned ACK’s cultural project: ‘The worst blow.G. But plotting Indian heritage was not an easy task. even as the culture of those countries was appropriated by means anthropological.86. A . The story of a modest girl from Karnal. When approving scripts for ACK issues. There I saw that the participants could answer questions on Greek mythology but could not tell the name of Lord Ram’s mother. which makes it difficult to dismiss readers’ claims of acquiring culture and experiencing pleasure through comics. Indian heritage was framed within a Hindu context. however. Pai admits to his own role in deciding the version he felt best suited his comics. touristic. the initial reception was not encouraging. ethnographic. says Margie Sastry. Even this approach to heritage was not without complexity. Once while working for The Times of India. economic sanctions and the exportation to Third World countries of US capitalist values and artifacts. artistic.9 Critics have responded to Pai’s perspective by pointing to the Hinduization of Indian heritage as well as reinforcing stereotypes about good and evil. The dissonance among Pai and his various critics offers an opportunity to reflect on the claims on culture. author of Amar Chitra Katha’s latest offering.

13 A few years ago.’ The book on Chawla was inspired by a press conference held at Nehru Centre by the families of the seven astronauts. . I feel I know her better than a lot of other people I’ve met. ‘But now after researching her. I began my faculty appointment at the University of Texas at Arlington. Kalpana Chawla Hall. a few months after the tragic Columbia space shuttle crash (Mumbai Newsline. Chawla’s alma mater.211. Downloaded by [117. The newly-established student dormitory.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Figure 4. had Sastry wondering how someone so petite could undergo the rigorous training required of an astronaut.” © ACK Media. 12 September 2005).86. introduced the idea of a “citizen of the universe. Reproduced here with their permission. The Kalpana Chawla issue. soon after she died.” thereby reconfiguring Amar Chitra Katha’s project “route to your routes.Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 177 newspaper photo of Chawla.

. Phantom and Bahadur: India’s superheroes Among Indrajal Comics’ various series. a fan. knowledge and ACK14 : Downloaded by [117.. Anil C. The memory of reading ACK during one’s childhood intimately connects to an acknowledgment of its role as a form and source of knowledge. Phantom and Bahadur have an eager fan following. Despite this framework. notes in her blog indsight. who in his role as Phantom protects the inhabitants of a dark continent. By celebrating Chawla as ‘a true citizen of the universe’. Chawla’s comic book made new bridges connecting a present to India’s past. Khanduri reminded me of the force of Chawla’s biography on the UTA campus – an institution popular among students of science from India and more broadly. With the Kalpana Chawla issue ACK’s motto ‘Route to your roots’ and avowed goal of ‘bridging a cultural knowledge about the past’ took a new dimension.15 Charukesi.. ACK is now a part of ACK Media led by the CEO and Founder Samir Patil. Although ACK enjoys extreme success and now resides as a part of ACK Media. this timely title constructed a particular biography which not only initiated the process of Chawla becoming a part of the Indian cultural memory but also promised a long shelf life in the cultural memory of the Indian and diasporic public. ACK’s critics sit broadly in two camps. a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.16 After a time of financial uncertainty in 2003.17 Built around the adventures of Mr Walker. By producing the Kalpana comic book. the source of India’s immortal tales shifted to include a diasporic and global context (Khanduri 2005).235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 God! (s) Where would I be without ACK – my aunt bought me several mythological and historical titles to me when I was a 9 y. The Phantom comic book’s plots drew upon on imagined hybrid location of India and Africa. which postcolonial . ACK appropriated Chawla as a part of its repertoire of great and heroic biographies which include Mahatma Gandhi. I wonder what other titles they will come up with in future. among many other makers and markers of modern India. ACK’s fan base is well-represented on its new Facebook page. Rao’s post is among several that point to the emotional entanglement of memory. the comic book is replete with colonial perspective of a civilizing mission and orientalism. Rani in Toronto Canada – the story of Buddha made me weep. References to Bengalla and Singh Brotherhood were soon modified to appeal to Indian readers. Adult readers repeatedly observe ACK’s crucial role in shaping their cultural knowledge. no longer kings from the distant past or even freedom fighters from the recent past but real people with real achievements (I also noticed on their list JRD the quiet conqueror).86. featuring the ‘real’ and the ‘present’ marks a shift in ACK and is a signature of the Kalpana issue: It is very interesting to see the way Amar Chitra Katha has kept in touch with the changing role models for kids of this generation. its critics have responded by designing their own comic brands. digital interface and ‘cool’ stylistics that endear readers in India and abroad.178 R. Indira Gandhi.G. the stories of Prithviraj Chauhan and Rana Pratap were educational – and entertaining to the point I wore out the pages after rereading at least a zillion times.S. proponents of activist comics such as Vivalok that focus on subaltern plots and local stories critical of an overarching Hindu paradigm and the new generation comics such as Liquid and Vimanika that focus on Hindu mythology. South Asia.

Fans’ comments suggest that despite his super human powers. paradoxically fans embrace Phantom as a pleasurable childhood memory. a loving and caring father. Surti informed me that during the years when Bahadur became popular. Attired in jeans and a saffron kurta (tunic) – symbolizing the fusion of modern Indian ideals and sacrifice denoted by the saffron color – Bahadur’s karate chops. this comic book emerged from the context of the 1970s. there was no copyright.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Indrajal Comics’ series based on the character Bahadur (brave) was created by Aabid Surti and Govind Brahmania. never abuses or mouths foul words. with the police officer Vishal’s timely intervention. Surti used to conceive the idea. © Aabid Surti and Govind Brahmania. always ready to fight for justice. Mukhia and CSF members Sukhia and Lakhan coordinated their efforts to maintain peace in their village. brave and just and above all he is a common human without any imaginary super powers due to which a common man identifies himself with Phantom more rather than with any other so called super heroes. never kills anybody.19 The comic book narrates tales of Bahadur. his companion and ‘love interest’ Bela – also skilled in the martial arts – Vishal. During our meeting in Mumbai in 2003. For example Phantom is a complete teetotaler. Surti told me that he was busy and collaborated with Brahmania. Source: http://www.86.Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 179 theorists critiqued. Upon realizing the heinous ways of the Chambal Valley bandits. the village headman. Aabid Surti and Pramod Brahmania launched a website with digital uploads of old issues. Jaigarh (Figure 6). As part of their recent efforts to revive Bahadur.18 Downloaded by [117. strictly one woman man. Figure 5. which was a time of intense crime in central India. Explaining the team-work. a ‘close examination’ revealed that Phantom exemplified Indian culture: If we closely examine Phantom then he is a perfect Indian role model having all those qualities which we Indians adore.211. including his own dead father. honest. reproduced here with their kind permission. divide the shots and give directions. the son of a slain dacoit (Figure 5). Bahadur resolved to be a good citizen and formed a Citizen’s Security Force (CSF) to combat crime and violence. Based on the bandits and cops theme. The comic book launched in 1976 with Jagjit Uppal as .bahadur.

Bahadur is the first Indian Super Hero to appear in a comic.. but somehow I think they should revive him again into Comics or maybe a TV Series. Nevertheless the series continues to have a strong fan base and is a collector’s item. Bahadur ceased publication. What is he doing in a genre that (a) targets young men. The guy is a mind-medicine smoothie for the Oprah set. Blogging on an issue Seeds of Poison that was scanned and posted in the Comic Book Project blog. 2007). but still he is a Super Hero. A recent poster of the first Bahadur comic book cover signals a new beginning with Pramod Brahmania collaborating with Aabid Surti (Figure 7). Now. DesiGuru noted: Just finished the comics.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Figure 6. Bahadur’s Facebook. and (b) is filled with pain and ultra-violence and a whole lot of ‘Thwackkkk’? (David Segal. Phantom was marketed by Diamond Comics. Reproduced here with the kind permission of Alok Sharma. an enormous fan-following and through the interest of both Aabid Surti and the late Govind Brahmania’s son. it evoked a sensibility of Indian culture. I don’t like the current trends of Super Commando Dhruv or Nagraj. . an Indian boy named Pavitr Prabhakar will be revealed (Srinivasan 2005). Bahadur exemplified an Indian superhero. And he is sure one of the best.180 R.211. Bahadur does not have any super power. and would like to comment on the story too. etc. But the next time he unmasks. involves human emotions too. Khanduri Downloaded by [117. The story is touching and in true Indian tradition. This is so far one of the best Bahadur Comics I read. Triggered by an attractive website. New generation comics: Liquid Comics and transcreation Spider-Man.86. An autographed sketch by the artist Govind Brahmania. For fan-blogger DesiGuru.G. they call him. Although the Bahadur series was not based on a mythological theme. there is growing interest in reviving the series both in animation and in print. Bahadur comic books are witnessing a revival. Pramod. he is no more published.20 Although with Indrajal Comics’ closure in 1990. Washington Post. as like Phantom. Bahadur and Bela.

with Pavitr Prabhakar Gotham Comics introduced a ‘transcreation’. but now children hardly know their names. Liquid Comics. a collaborative venture between spiritual healer Deepak Chopra. a dramatic change is underway. Gotham Media producer Sharad Devarajan. This dark age symbolized a bleak time for Indian comics when declining sales forced established brands such as Manoj Comics to cease production.211. This fusion superhero drew upon magic and mythology to .Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 181 Downloaded by [117. © Aabid Surti and Govind Brahmania.21 Considering the projection for Asian entertainment to be a significant generator of revenue.86. Pinky. Moving beyond their role of translation. Media analysts share growing enthusiasm that after a ‘dark age for Indian comics’ between 1997 and 2003. Nandan. Billu. and Hollywood/Bollywood director Shekhar Gupta. They achieved this goal with Spiderman Peter Parker’s reincarnation as Pavitr Prabhakar in Mumbai. A recent poster featuring the first Bahadur issue cover. reproduced here with their kind permission. Parbhat Comics and Tulsi and Manoj Comics. DC Comics and King Features. etc. Amar Chitra Katha. Lot-Pot. proprietor of the Ludhiana-based Jyoti News Agency (Bhagria 2005): Earlier we used to receive large number of children fond of reading Chacha Chaudhry. They just ask for Batman and Superman. The sentiment of those years is well-conveyed in the words of Darshan Singh. intended to produce a fusion comic book brand that would connect with a global readership. etc. there was also a great demand for Champak .235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Figure 7. Gotham Comics foray into comics was as a South Asian publishing licensee of several comic book brands such as Marvel. his son. The Indian Spiderman marked a twin process of making a global superhero a local while simultaneously taking a local hero and making him global (Khanduri 2005).. Along with these.

207).235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 unfold the Mumbai-based Pavitr Prabhakr’s adventures. Rajaram is a scientist who has worked with NASA and has collaborated with Dr David Frawley in writing about India’s history. However.) Vimanika’s USP is authentic (Vimanika co-founder. Vimanika demonstrates that comics. he informed me that he was never really into comics. in particular. Cast against Indian comic books’ longer history of alliances with Western comic book syndicates. Devarajn noted: ‘For Indian readers to see for the first time. In an interesting twist to Pai’s description of ACK’s pedagogical role. 2008. Comicology. The plot-work follows the storyline.22 When Arora and I spoke about his comics brand. Frawley. also . 9 June 2010). p. Karan Vir Arora.182 R. Dr Deepam Chatterjee and Dr Rajaram. this new version of Spider-Man bouncing off rikshaws and climbing local monuments like the Gateway of India will be great fun and hopefully bring in many new readers to experience this great character for the first time’ (Singh 2004). The plot is aptly assisted by the artists. It aims to create stories based on characters related to Indian. a closer look at Liquid Comics’ foray into mythology and comics would complement Ian Condry’s call to recognize the ‘diversity of paths that can lead to global cultural connections’ (2006. Recent additions to this genre include Vimanika. in partnership with Richard Branson. Asian and Celtic mythology. mythologies are a serious business. It also aims for the ‘portrayal of virtues that were common during that era but are looked upon with amazement and fear today’.) (Blogger Rafiq Raja. Vimanika: cool comics inspired by the Vedic text Vimanika Shastra. Khanduri Downloaded by [117. that comics are about comedy. Liquid Comics (now owned by Marvel) and its earlier incarnations Gotham Comics and Virgin Comics. Arora informed me that Chatterjee is among 37 scholarly experts on the Mahabharata.G. who breathe life to the concept with the exhibition of art. not seen so far in Indian Authentic Comics. color and inking. he is really a movie buff. 9 June 2010) Arora and Kanika Choudhary co-founded Vimanika in 2008. a treatise on aeronautics Look at the breathtaking artwork exhibited in Issue 1 of the series.86. Explaining his notion of transcreation. Vimanika is guided by two scholars. upon hearing about Virgin Comics coming to India. This left him to consider the potential of Indians themselves creating authentic and beautiful comics about their own mythologies and heritage. before it was reduced to a state of oblivion. he wondered at the paradox of a UK-based business promoting mythology and comics in India. Citing archaeological claims about the Ram Setu bridge and scholarship on the Mauryan empire in India. (It was once promised by erstwhile Virgin Comics. To refute what Arora perceives is a mistaken but popular notion in India. might offer a persuasive case for thinking about the global traffic in cultural forms mediated by large corporations. Despite its unexpected slow-down and change in proprietors. To ensure the veracity of the history depicted in their comics.211. as it is told either by the protagonist or the narrator. Liquid Comics marks a new generation of comics in India. Pavitr Prabhakar has also morphed into a reference point against which readers and comic book producers such as Vimanika imagine authentic Indian comics. 2010) (phone interview. for Vimanika mythologies are history and scientific: ‘we should focus on the past to learn about the future’ (phone interview. Arora believes the past was scientific – the weapons and physical abilities of the people of the past attest to that truth. Thus we get a chance to peek into the minds of the character which gives us a first-hand account of the action as it happens.

For Arora. indicating a wider ambit of readers and the endorsement of media workers in the film industry. Those values are eternal.86. Claiming that ‘past conquerors have changed our history into myth’ Vimanika comics re-connects myth as history. Marketed as the first Indian graphic novel the U. But this history holds import for Arora because the values and character of people from the past serve as role models. is the founder and director of the American Institute for Vedic Studies in New Mexico. Dashavtar. 9 June 2010) (Figure 8). When Vimanika comics are ‘thrown out in the market. reproduced here with kind permission. Milind Soman. Spiritual healer Deepak Chopra. © Vimanika. there was some to which he could not connect.S. The comic book’s website features photographs of a prominent Bollywood actor. Cover of Vimanika’s graphic novel. When Arora read the Gita. Negotiations are also underway for licensing with mobile phone providers in India. Comics offer an ideal medium for education. in a launch of his comics. Comics will forge that connection. is among individuals who endorsed Frawley’s expertise. the co-founder of Gotham Comics. So is Vimanika another version of the successful ACK? Arora dismisses the idea and insists his comics are ‘cool’ (phone interview.Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 183 Downloaded by [117. and his gaze: ‘he is looking at you’. . Vimanika aims to reach Indian Americans and a broad readership in India through its claim of authentic renderings of Hindu mythology. his comics provide a foundation for a longer term plan to transition to animation films. Arora informed that his friends in Bollywood appreciated his comic book. Arora pointed to me his emphasis on Vishnu’s face being handsome.211. Vishnu is shown with two-arms instead of four as is the convention in popular iconography. Arora wants his comics to reawaken these values.. yet forgotten today and realizing ‘where we come from’ connects us to culture. there will be a market for the film even before it is launched’. signaling the logic of multiple formats that mark contemporary comic book production.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 known as Pandit Vamadeva Shastri. Vimanika readers are referred Figure 8.

‘the Hindu folklore inspired Devi’ (Twiddy 2007).23 Digital comics and cyberspace Siddhartha: wow everyone is a critic! Akshay : well. that is the beauty of the internet :) (Readers’ review of Level 10’s Shaurya. Business analysts estimate that the comic publishing market in India is worth 300 crore Indian Rupees (3 billion USD). There is no Indian character that Indian children can relate to. Arora criticized the association people made between his comics and Hindutva because he felt such critics have a wrong impression about religion. distribution and VAS make . proprietors such as Gulshan Rai of Diamond Comics believe they have a promising future: ‘Till now. Our desire is to create an Indian channel. collaboration with digital providers has opened new opportunities. Digital comics hold promise.211. the depoliticization and authentic culturalization of nation creates a distance from the not-cool ACK. a controversial brand of Hindu politics in India with strong transnational links (Khanduri Forthcoming). 2010.86.yes. leading comic publishing houses Diamond Comics and ACK media have turned to transforming their popular comic brand into animation films. Kindle and computers. Not only are their comics downloadable on the internet and on cell phones but also the publisher is digitizing older issues and re-inking them for a fresh look. These providers offer a separate subscription for manga and their comics include. 9 June 2010). To clarify. Comics have become a multimedia: their digital files are popular as VAS (value added service) for cell phone subscribers of Airtel. Arora asserted that his comics are not about politics. history and culture built around Hindu myths and comments on Comicology’s readers’ forum suggesting a toning down of the Hindu mythology ethos prompted me to ask Arora about his comics reflecting Hindutva. While animation invites considerable attention. New business models and vertical formats extend comics as digital media accessible through cell phones. Such reactions to religion are becoming a ‘mind set’. culture is evoked as the social and capital logic for animation films.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 to as Vimaniks and Arora reaches out to his readers through blogs such as Comicology and the Vimanika Facebook page. Sprint Nextel and AT&T offer GoComics. Arora situates his comics as ‘re-tellings’ which ‘create evolution’ and ‘not a revolution’. we have seen only foreign characters on cartoon channels. Once again. see note 27) Since 2008. he was a proud Indian rather than a proud Hindu (phone interview. which will show content of Indian relevance and stories of Indian culture through Indian characters’ (Turakhia 2008).G. their future is being tracked in the US too.. Vimanika Comics too has potential collaborations brewing. the leading Hindi comic book brand. Participating in online forums that accommodate anonymous comments means Arora receives both public praise and criticism. iPods. the historical context of Hindu mythologies. mythologies are written universally. Vimanika Comics’ insistence on a heritage. For Raj Comics.184 R. In response. Vodaphone and iPhone and can be downloaded or purchased online via Kindle. Such articulations of ‘mind sets’ bring into sharp relief that the notion of religion as a comfortable aspect of secularism and modernity is deeply enmeshed in public conversations about comics of Hindu mythology. This implicit re-classification of ACK by critics rests on the renewal of the category of the authentic with a new graphic style. In the face of scant competition. ‘Cool’ identities are in a comfort zone where manga stylistics. digital comics and the internet opened up new possibilities for comics. The economies of production. owned by Uclick.. Khanduri Downloaded by [117.24 This projection is expected to grow dramatically over the next decade (Vats 2010). Verizon Wireless.

with the winning drawing becoming part of Vimanika’s repertoire. Comics producers now boast attractive websites and readers’ forums.28 With Vimanika’s Sketch Karna contest. who can easily purchase paper-comics but those who are either don’t get these due to non availability (like NRI’s).235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Two themes are predominant in Indian comic book websites that invite readers’ participation: Indian artists for Indian comics and the reader as potential artist and co-narrator. For others paper comics are good enough as after all.211. According to Robert Hernandez. Among these Rafiq Raja’s Comicology has a strong following and is an excellent archive of comics. a person used to reading paper comics can not get the same pleasure while reading an e-comic. Abhi9. Arora of Vimanika is active on the Comicology blog. Abhi9’s comment about the ‘good interface’ digital devices and e-comics offer also reminds everyone that the pleasure of digital comics is not comparable to reading paper comics.. 244). 2009). a 12. To a particularly in-depth response which scored the issue 3/5. or those who have a love for gadgets. the winners would get a start to a career in comic book . For example. digicomics will become the new gold standard.000rs devices (iPod touch). comic book producers also have to be welcoming. Readers have offered their appreciation and criticism of Vimanika comics. browsing Comicology can offer insightful perspective on their productions. Comix. an independent comics-related website keeps fans and artists posted about opportunities. the senior vice president of Disney Publishing Worldwide. In addition to comics brands own websites. in India’s expanding market. pointing out among other things an over-reliance on religious themes. the diaspora. Arora wanted to encourage people to draw mythology. had to engage the critique27 : What’s with the coloring issue? Well if you read the issue more carefully you will notice that things are happening in different timelines and we are looking at different characters. fans also host independent blogs and create a social network.Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 185 digital comics a potentially viable business. or those who travel a lot. engaging and appreciative of the feedback.(Raj Comics reader.86. iPhones and Kindle are expensive gadgets and as Raj Comics readers noted in their messages on the publisher’s forum. On their public interface through Facebook. For proprietors of new comics brands. Comics proprietors engage in these forums by responding to readers’ comments.. Various comics invite readers to submit their artwork to harvest the possibility of launching a career as graphic artists. Through such forums readers can express their candid observations about specific issues and general trends. the artist. Rajesh. Level10 asked viewers to comment on the ‘pros and cons’ of their Shaurya issue.. This forum serves as exchange about comics and their history in India as well as the world of comics more broadly. (Rajesh Sharma 2010) Downloaded by [117. Publishers are eager about the process but its results are yet to be seen. The class dimension of digital comics and the gadgets which channel this content is unmistakable. and such people are usually capable enough to purchase. p.25 However. Readers’ forums frequently observe the disjuncture between a passionate fan following at home and the comic books producers wooing a global audience i. When inviting reviews. So we thought it was prudent to have the current timeline of the narrative in color while the flashbacks in thematic tones for each character. these cater to the NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) and people who travel – they can afford expensive gadgets26 : Moreover these are not targeted on us readers. Furthermore.e. digitization produces uneven access to technologies and media forms. It was done to make a clear distinction to avoid confusion. Such critique of digital texts also constructs a new category of the authentic and truly pleasurable: paper comic books. These forums signal the shift from individual media consumption to consumption as a ‘networked practice’ (Jenkins 2006.

I asked Arora how he picked the winning entry. To get a sense of cool graphic sensibility. and readers in India and the anthropological perspective. © Vimanika. The winning entry and a few deserving a special mention are hosted on their website (Figure 9). style and emotion and explained. Vimanika draws upon the Manga style and fuses it with Indian mythology.vimanika. ‘those drawings were all posing – they had style but were missing emotion and authenticity’. a need to bring more energy into indigenous comic books and on the other hand to encourage emerging artists and comic book proprietors to address regional markets of non-English readers.186 R. Alok Sharma of the comic blog Chitrakatha. I show the multiple ways in which culture is constructed and serves as a sign for claiming identity and difference in new generation comics such as Liquid and Vimanika. reproduced here with kind permission. Due to its linguistic diversity. this paper situates shifts and continuities in comic books in India. A review of discussions on India’s comic book scene suggests diverse opinions: on one hand. 14 June 2010). ‘Anatomy – basic anatomy we look at has to be art. For Arora this was a winning entry because of the movement and emotion depicted in the scene. Compared to other submissions to the Karna contest. Authenticity was a key theme for Arora because he believed it was critical for specific comic book genres. in India comic books have carved distinct regional histories. Arora identified three elements: anatomy.86. Comics as mass media embody a creative space and show the pedagogical processes at work and the imbrications of culture with profitable business.G. Artwork has to connect with the dilemma of the character.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 Figure 9. Khanduri Downloaded by [117. Thinking through the conceptual lens of culture – a framework shared by comic book producers. McKinney 2008). namely. summarizes it eloquently: . mythology. [In the winning drawing] Indra is in tears’ (phone interview. Arora clarified. Conclusions: a new scene Complementing the proposal that comics merit critical analysis as history and culture (Witek 1989. Source: http://www. Vimanika’s Sketch Karna Contest’s winning entry by the reader Dildeep Singh.211.

though analysts critiqued ACK’s overarching Hindu framework as part of a process that marginalizes other cultural experiences. Indsight. blogs such as Comicology are a space for pedagogy. A surge of new series that marks the change in comic books culture ties to the liberalizing of India’s economy in the late 1990s. The plethora of readers’ forums emerging either as an element of comic book publishers’ websites or as individual blogs has resulted in an unprecedented engagement among readers as well as with comics producers. For example. the Comic Project. teaching how to read comics and how to make comics. In particular. Transnational business and artistic collaborations.31 Secondly. Recently. the digital interface might provide a new lease of life. comic book readers now have an interesting array of roles: they review comics. as part of fan network. further extends the use of culture as focal concept for addressing comics. Through their acuity.211. World of Devil. readers publicly share their insight and are attuned to comic trends and its diverse history in India. and Facebook pages of Raj Comics and Bahadur are among the several fan sites that attest to the internet as the medium for networking about all things cultural.Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 187 There are couple of players in Indian market even now. drawings and their own comics to herald a new generation of Indian comics. unease with the anti-Semetic tones of the re-issued 1930–1931 comic book. emergent technologies. Downloaded by [117. Readers’ engagement with comics as culture offers a space to think through the ways in which dominant frameworks of race.29 The comics landscape in India. social and capitalist logic for comic publishers and readers. The duality between textual analysis and readers’ reception in the context of Indian comics echoes a persistent anxiety about the role of comic books. comic book readers in India critique scripts and artwork and present themselves as potential comic book artists. is fast-changing. Comic World. which scholars tended to prioritize through the popular ACK (1976–present) and Indrajal Comics (1964–1990) comic books. Chitrakatha.86. Blogs such as Comicology. readers remember these comics among their pleasurable childhood moments. For struggling brands such as Raj Comics. This makes the internet an ethnographic site for studying India’s comic book culture. the emerging market in graphic novels and digital formats of print comics – all indicate a growing visual literacy in and market for comic books. readers’ enthusiasm for Indrajal Comics’ Phantom series shows that fans interpret colonial narratives’ civilizational mission to construct positive images of Indian culture. and Hindu culture are re-interpreted. TinTin in the Congo led the British Commission for Racial Equality to consider it unsuitable for children. Comic brands such as Vimanika invite the public to contribute scripts. In this new moment. Indrajal Comics Club. In India’s new comic scene. flickr images of Indian comics. To have a wider reach in India. but all of them are busy playing in their niche markets – Raj Comics still has a grip on the northern and central belt. Diamond having a wide distribution across India concentrating on kiddie stuff.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 . reception and mediation. Phantomhead. Mediated by the internet. ‘culture’ continues to be a central concept providing creative.30 Newly kindled debates on the social role of comics in India as well as its growing relevance as adult reading material that involves diasporic audiences and transnational production. I offer three perspectives on India’s comic scene: First. I show that beginning with the earliest comics in India – ACK. Similarly. Vimanika and others are still confined to big cities. thanks to the language of publication – English. the more successful brands ACK and Diamond Comics also re-invent themselves by morphing into digital comics and exploring animation films. transnational production networks. gender. ACK-India. engage with other fans and submit their own artworks and scripts. which is geared toward adult readers. Finally. analysis and immediacy. I contend that the current digital scenario will need new analytical framework for studying media production. and adults in a growing middle-class market. publishers have to publish these comics in Hindi.

Manoj Gujjaran and Savita Pai for their help with obtaining permission to use ACK Media images.235] at 02:51 27 March 2012 A version of this paper was presented in 2005 at the South Asia Institute. Pramod Brahmania and the management at Vimanika. see Abu-Lughod (1991). I want to acknowledge and thank the many bloggers who recorded their memories of the early years of Indian comics. For their generosity in permitting use of their images. Rofel’s analysis highlights the contributions of postcolonial scholarship in formulating the multiplicity of I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their comments and helpful suggestions. University of Texas at Austin. Drawing upon Anne Rubenstein’s critical reading of anthropological studies of culture and its impact on popular and official perception of the social role of comics (1998).com/photo. see Allison (2000. Sharma observed that Raj Comics usually published 50. 116). In particular. which preceded the Kalpana issue. Rao (2000). (Personal communication). Super Commando Dhruv and Doga among others) and 30.php?newsid=148173 http://www. Time constraints prevented a discussion with Nandini Chandra and I want to thank her for informing me of her recent article and for her support. Notes 1. comicology. 15. p. 7. 8. These statistics are from a 2004 report cited in Nayar (2006. I thank Aabid Surti for an informative conversation about his creation Bahadur and Karan Vir Arora for sharing details about his publication. For a succinct summation of the debate.expressindia. I do not discuss these brands in-depth due to space constraints. Sharada Sugirtharajah and Alok Sharma offered valuable comments for which I am grateful. Ahuja (2007). .org/blog/2006/01/06/immortal-picture-stories-or-amar-chitra-katha/ Friese (1999) details this dimension of Phantom comic books. Ahuja (2007). Each of these comic brands deserves attention. culture and comics in more detail in Khanduri 2010b. In past years. Nia Parson. Vimanika.Facebook. http://indsight.188 Acknowledgements R. several individuals related to the world of Indian comics engaged with me and shared their 3. 2. McLain’s insightful discussion of the Kalpana issue situates ACK’s script within the Virangana tradition of sacrifice (2009.000 copies mark. For a fascinating selection of comics in India see the Comicology blog: http://www.000 copies of their A-list characters (Nagraj. 9. 16. I am grateful to Alok Sharma for alerting me to the fact that Raj Comics’ sales are larger than all Indian comic book brands added together. 17. I am grateful to Savio Joseph. http://cities. At the time I was in India for my fieldwork. I thank Aabid Surti.000 copies of their B-list characters (Bankelal and Parmanu among others). Newspaper accounts and television coverage attested to the emotional response to Chawla’s death. 4. Khanduri Downloaded by [117.86. 13. Special thanks to Alok for permitting me to use the late Govind Brahmania’s sketches of Bahadur and Bela. Comicology blog.G. 12. p.php?pid=1015024&fbid=1337439151296&op=2&o= global&view=global&subj=75907274697&id=1090643819 Chandra (2008) has written in-depth about the diasporic market. However. I discuss links between anthropology. 11. 14. 5. 5–9).html For a perspective that critiques the culture concept. While researching for his documentary on Indian comics. Finally. Space constraints limit me from including a substantial body of literature on this subject. other comic brands barely crossed the 10. 10. 6.211. Khanduri 2010a and 2010b. pp. 86). In various interviews Pai often recalls ACK’s beginnings and the Vivekananda episode.

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