NEW DELHI – Move over Superman, here comes Superkudi (“Kudi” being the North Indian Punjabi word for girl). Dressed in a striking blue salwar kameez – a traditional Indian outfit – with a flourishing red chunni (scarf) styled as a cape, the buxom Superkudi served as the mascot for Comic Con India – a three-day event that concluded Sunday in New Delhi – reflecting how east and west blend in India’s burgeoning comic culture.
Launched last year by New Delhi-based publishing and content company 20 Onwards Media, Comic Con India saw over 35,000 visitors with sales of Rupees 5 million ($ 100,000), double from its first year, according to organizers. Held in the open air environs of the popular Dilli Haat market known for its traditional handicrafts stalls, Comic Con India featured about 50 exhibitors including event co-sponsors such as Walt Disney/Marvel who showcased their upcoming titles, The Avengers and John Carter. The Walt Disney Company recently strengthened its India presence followings its acquisiton of diversified entertainment conglomerate UTV Group. “There was a need for a platform like Comic Con India to promote titles like The Avengers and John Carter which cater to a target audience that is rapidly growing,” said UTV Motion Pictures CEO Siddharth Roy Kapur.
“The fact that we had major partners such as Disney/Marvel and leading Indian companies such as (iconic comic book publisher) Amar Chitra Katha, among others, made the event attractive for all kinds of exhibitors,” added Comic Con India and 20 Onwards Media founder Jatin Varma.
Comic Con India also welcomed international guest speakers such as acclaimed artist Robert Crumb (known for the popular Fritz The Cat and Keep On Truckin’ comics) and his artist-wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb, The Comics Journal editor and Fantagraphics Books co-founder Gary Groth and Drawn Quarterly publishing house founder Chris Oliveros.
“This is our first time in India and perhaps this could inspire us to create something based on our visit,” said Crumb.
“It is great to be here because this reminds me of the exciting times when comic conventions first started out in the sixties and seventies in the U.S.,” added Groth.
More importantly, Comic Con India showcased a growing tribe of Indian content creators ranging from comic book and graphic novel publishers to merchandise brands. As one of India’s oldest and most respected comic publishers, Amar Chitra Katha – owned by Mumbai-based ACK Media – has a rich 400-plus-title catalogue based on Indian mythology and epics. “Our titles largely target the pre-teen audience but many parents have grown up reading ACK comics,” said ACK Media CEO Vijay Sampath, adding, “We are now expanding our content library across multiple platforms such as films.” ACK Media promoted its upcoming animation film Sons of Rama based on characters from the epic Ramayana.
However, a new generation of content creators are pushing the envelope, a trend spearheaded by New York-Bangalore-based Liquid Comics, originally launched as Virgin Comics in 2006. Its catalog includes contemporary takes on Indian folklore and epics while offering titles created by film directors including Shekhar Kapur, John Woo and Guy Ritchie, among others, including comic legend Stan Lee who is creating Chakra – The Invincible, a new Indian superhero character.
Recent entrants such as Bangalore-based publisher Manta Ray unveiled graphic novel Hush – featuring no words – about a girl sexually abused by her father. Another new entrant, Mumbai-based Level 10 Entertainment launched Daksh, about a devil figure “banished to earth because he dared to love in hell”. Penned by well-known comic creator Shamik Dasgupta, the English text includes Hindi profanity. “We are creating content for a growing audience that is constantly exposed to international idioms,” said Level 10 Entertainment creative director Suhas Sundar who has himself co-created The Rabhas Incident, a zombie series set in Bangalore.
Zombies are gaining favour with another title, Zombie Talkies: Bloodfest in Bollywood, launched last October at Comic Con Express Mumbai (the “traveling” version of the main event) as a joint venture by film production banner iRock Media and 20 Onwards Media imprint Pop Culture Publishing. The title will be accompanied with upcoming release Rock The Shaadi, currently in production, starring leading actor Abhay Deol and actress Genelia D’Souza-Deshmukh.
“Going forward, we hope to make this event truly Asian by attracting participants from neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and of course, Japan as there is growing interest in manga and anime,” said Varma. Japanese manga artist Yukichi Yamamatsu launched his title Stupid Guy Goes to India – based on his experiences living in Delhi in 2004 – published by Chennai-based Blaft Publications.
And if there is a comic convention, can costumed fans be far behind? The daily “Cosplay” costume competition – with the top prize being a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland – attracted a host of characters including Luke Skywalker, Poison Ivy, The Joker, The Crow and yes, even Superman who finally met his match in Superkudi.