Comics and graphic novels are one of the most beautiful and engaging forms of storytelling. Long before Spiderman, Batman and Superman came to India, we had our own homegrown superheroes. If you were born anytime before the 2000s, chances are the names Nagraj, Parmanu, Doga and the beloved Chacha Chaudhary are familiar to you. You probably grew up reading their stories and following their adventures.
How it started
It all began in the year 1947. Just around the time when we gained independence, the first comic – Chandamama was released. Founded by noted Telugu movie producers of the time, B. Nagi Reddy and Aluri Chakrapani, the comic was initially published in Telugu only. It was aimed at teaching kids about the rich culture and history of our country and the vivid illustrations were inspired by mythological epics including Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Almost 2 decades later, Times of India launched Indrajal comics. At that time, international comic houses had little to no visibility in India. Comics such as Asterix and Obelix, Tintin and Archies were available but were too expensive to become a phenomenon. Indrajal comics changed this by bringing international heroes, including Phantom and Mandrake to India.
By 1970s the comic book scene in the country had been growing steadily, but the options were still limited. Either they were adaptations of international superheroes or mythological stories retelling the epics. This was to soon change. Pran Kumar Sharma was a young cartoonist working with a newspaper. He started a comic strip featuring a teenage boy named Daabu who went on adventures along with his mentor Professor Adhikari. This was soon followed by the epic Chacha Chaudhary and other famous comics of the time and gave Pran the credit of making Indian comics a household name.
Around the same time, another famous series was born. India Book House, one of the leading publishing houses of the time, launched Amar Chitra Katha. It started off to a poor reception as the first ten issues were Hindi translations of famous western classics such as Snow White and Cinderella. Realising that this wasn’t working out with the Indian audience, Anant Pai, the editor of India Book House at the time released Krishna, an illustrated retelling of the stories and adventures of Krishna. This was a huge success, and numerous other series spawned using the same formula making Amar Chitra Katha a household name.
Following the success of Amar Chitra Katha, Indian Publishing House published the first Indian comic magazine called the Tinkle.
It contained a wider range of content and the stories aimed to teach kids science, moral values and history. The series still is immensely popular and gave birth to a number of famous characters, including Supandi and Shikari Shambu.
Age of the Indian superheroes
1985- Early 2000s
By this time, comics in the western world mostly based on superheroes and had garnered a huge following, making Spiderman, Batman and Superman household names.
While back home we had only limited options in terms of superheroes to look up to. A couple of years ago the famous Diamond Comics had come out with India’s first homegrown superhero comic dubbed the Fauladi Singh. The actual superhero revolution came around 1985. Raj Comics came out with a number of indigenous superheroes such as Super Commando Dhruva, Nagraj and Doga. These Indian superheroes instantly clicked with the Indian teenage audience and became immensely successful. They even gave birth to a new kind of rotating comic book libraries, usually run by local general stores, where you could rent a comic book for a day (ask your father about them if you are too young to have been born in the ‘golden era of Indian comic books’).
The 2000s to Present
The beginning of the new millennium brought about much change, mostly good, but some bad too. New technologies changed our lifestyle, interests and culture. Comic book sales started declining as people moved towards other forms of entertainment. Many publishing houses shut down. Attempts were made to revive the industry in the country, both by Indian and foreign publishing houses. Marvel launched its first Indian superhero – The Dhoti clad Indian Spiderman, to moderate success. Indie artists were supported by publishing houses like Campfire Graphic Novels which published interesting retellings of older classics like Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes. Overall it was a sad and slow time for the Indian comic books and artists.
The turn of the decade marked a change. Thanks to popularity and easier accessibility of international comics, and also an increase in indie artists releasing original content, the comic book genre started gaining momentum.
The first Comic Con in India was organised in 2011 and was a success, giving both fans and artists a platform to interact and showcase their skills and love for the art form. Since then, Comic-Con has been organised every year across the country and has become bigger and better with every passing year. A few ‘first time in India’ records were also made and broken during this time. ‘An itch you can’t scratch’, a graphic novel by Sumit Kumar, an up and coming artist became the first graphic novel to get sold out in the country.
Holy Cow Entertainment was set up as a comic book publishing house and found success with a creative title, including Ravanayan, a retelling of Ramayana with Ravan as the protagonist.
Image Comics, one of the leading name in the industry internationally, published Abhishek Singh’s ‘Krishna- a Journey within’ making him the first Indian artist to be published by one of the biggest names in the industry.
The last couple of years have given the fresh hope to the art form and made people realise there is no dearth of talent in our country. Quality talent which can rival the best of the worlds. We need to support these artists more though, and help them out in any way we can, be it sharing their works, or just talking about it with fellow comic enthusiasts.
Famous Indian Comic Book Characters
An extremely intelligent happy go lucky old man ‘Jinka dimaag computer se bhi tez chalta hai’ (his brain is faster than a computer)who lives with his wife, a street dog named rocket and a giant alien from the planet Jupiter called Sabu.
A funny guy, who does exactly what he is told by his employers, Supandi often falls into funny situations of his own creation. His stupidity and faithfulness are two of his ‘virtues’.
A specs wearing reporter by the day called Raj, he fights crime and evil with his superpowers thanks to a blessing by a snake god.
Super Commando Dhruva
One of the most famous and inspiring superheroes and also a personal favourite, Dhruva has no superpower, except his ability to talk to animals.
Doga is a fearless anti-hero, who doesn’t think twice before killing criminals and is called ‘Mumbai ka Baap’. He is one of the darkest and grittiest characters in the Indian comic books.
Let’s support more of these Indian artists by reading and sharing their arts and stories and hope we get to see Doga and Nagraj on the big screen soon.