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India’s comic book scene is bigger than you thought

The comic book scene in India is about to explode to the next level– if you can light the fuse

Whenever the topic of comic books in India comes up, it mostly refers to the ‘golden-age’ classics like Chacha Chaudhary, Amar Chitra Katha and Raj Comics in their heydays. When it doesn’t, it is used to refer to international titles from houses like Marvel and DC available in India. What most of us, repeatedly, miss out on are the amazing titles and comic books being made right here, in our country, by an insanely talented lot of artists and publishers. These titles cover all kinds of stories, ranging from retelling our mythology to all-new, indigenous superheroes and more. We reached out to some of the most promising names in the Indian comic book industry right now and tried to understand what the contemporary Indian comic book scene is all about.

Creation

There’s no shortage of creators in India – and the comic book scene is no different. However, due to the prevailing image of comic books being meant for children, especially in our country, there hasn’t been a tendency to choose comic books as a means to tell meaningful stories. But that scene is changing now. Creators are working on developing something completely different and niche, the comic book scene in India is on the verge of a massive breakthrough.

Holy Cow Entertainment’s Aghori follows the journey of an ordinary man into a life as an Aghori to fight a conspiracy to bring about the end of days
(Courtesy: Holy Cow Entertainment)

One such major publisher in India right now is Holy Cow Entertainment. Multiple serialised titles like Aghori, Caster, Showcase and more form their portfolio. They also have a retelling of the Ramayana as Raavan’s story – check out our full review of the first three issues. They specialise in retelling Indian mythology in various ways and now they’ve even created a connected universe among their characters. Mumbai-based Vivek Goel, the founder of HCE, was formerly employed by Raj Comics as an Inker. He broke into the new comic book scene with Ravanayan back in 2011 and since then, Holy Cow Entertainment has made a name for itself in the mythological comics sub-genre.

Studio Kokaachi’s titles are visually unique

Studio Kokaachi is another name that is doing something very different. Their focus is far away from stories of superheroes and mythological retellings – they focus on real life. Studio Kokaachi’s work isn’t dependent on a particular artist. It’s managed by Pratheek and Tina, who come from a background in comics through Manta Ray, another comic book studio that shut shop in recent times. In fact, they’ve continued Manta Ray’s Mixtape series on in Kokaachi. They even have some completely free to read titles under the mantle of Zero-Calorie Comics that you can download from their website. While their website might seem to be the primary way to get Studio Kokaachi’s titles, they’re also available in about 40 stores across India.

“The main problem right now is to educate the audience,” says Tina, “We, as an audience, need to overcome the perception that comic books either need to be about superheroes, magic and fantasy or something that has a distinct commercial selling point. At Studio Kokaachi, we’ve been creating content for a grown-up audience for more than 7 years now. As the number of art design colleges grows in India, nowadays we are getting student-turned-artists who are on top of niche techniques and alternative methods of storytelling.”

Another interesting phenomenon that is contributing to the growing demand for mature comic books is the availability of mature video content. In India, the availability of high speed, accessible internet coincided with the growing popularity of video streaming platforms like Netflix, Prime Video and multiple homegrown platforms. Whereas content was primarily family-oriented before this, suddenly everyone had a device and individuals could be targeted. This led to the growing demand for more mature, dark and gritty stories from such platforms which have now primed the Indian audience for similar stories told through the medium of comic books.

Distribution

One of the major issues that the comic book scene faces right now is distribution. While legacy comic book publishers like Amar Chitra Katha and Raj Comics have an established network of distributors, up and coming names find it difficult to find exposure at the same scale. “Most of the titles that are changing the comic book scene in India are from Indie artists”, says Karthik from Comic Clan, “These artists develop their stories, do the artwork, take care of everything on their own – even the selling. Naturally, they cannot manage to do it at a large scale without taking something away from the creative aspect of their work.”

Comic Clan is a website that sells Indian and Western comics as well as Manga
(Courtesy: Comic Clan)

Due to the restrictive margins put up by Amazon and Flipkart, it becomes infeasible for creators to rely on these platforms to drive sales entirely. Even though publishing houses like Graphic India have a slew of titles on e-commerce platforms like Devi, Ramayana 3392 AD and more, even they’ve moved their focus to creating more diverse content, including animation, rather than focussing just on comic books. As a result, comic book creators have mostly been trying to sell their work through their own websites. To solve this problem, sites like Comic Clan have come up, where you get a number of titles under one roof.

We reached out to Comic Clan to understand how their platform works. Started a mere 8 months ago,they sport a really impressive portfolio of Indian, western and manga titles. Essentially, for most Indian titles, Comic Clan contacts the publishers and creators to stock a few of their issues, which are shipped to you the moment you place an order. If they are not in stock, you’re informed of the delay. “Sometimes, if the order is to be delivered in Mumbai, we do it ourselves”, says Karthik, “While most customers shut the door on us after the delivery is done, every once in a while we get to talk to some hardcore comic book enthusiasts, understand their passion for titles – both Indian and international.” For international titles, Comic Clan initially faced a huge turn around time due to shipping delays. To avoid this, they’re trying to tie up with authorised distributors of those titles in our country and bring down the time it takes to make them available. Another name that might pop up in the future in this area is The Comic Book Store Inc., which aims to set up physical comic book stores across the country and will be focussing on Marvel and DC comics.

Community

For a long time, Comic-Con has been the only forum for geeks to get together and form a community. While it has grown to a large scale event across multiple cities in India, somewhere along the way, the focus has shifted to TV and movies rather than comic books. That being said, Comic-Con is also a platform where Indie creators and publishers get to introduce their content to an audience that is hungry for it but largely unaware of its existence.

Indie Comix Fest is a growing platform for Indie artists to showcase their work
(Courtesy: Indie Comix Fest)

Graphic Jam!, Graphic India’s Facebook group for enthusiasts, is an online community where you will find more than 11,000 members sharing their own artwork, illustrations, characters or appreciating existing titles, franchises and work – not necessarily from Graphic India. Indie Comix Fest provides a platform for Indie comic creators to exhibit their self-published creations and reach readers directly. It is held across the country throughout the year and you can check events near you at indiecomixfest.org.

Future

There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to the Indian comic book scene right now – both in terms of indie creations as well as titles from established publishing houses. Comics are cheaper to produce, easier to customise and can be sold to anyone of any age without any technical barrier in between. While distribution and visibility do seem to be an issue, all it needs is the right push.

Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee

A former tech-support desk jockey, you can find this individual delving deep into all things tech, fiction and food. Calling his sense of humour merely terrible would be a much better joke than what he usually makes.