Monthly Archives: February 2011

I say "Comic Jump", you say "How High?"

I must have come across as a hick when it came to public light that I wasn’t aware of Level 10 Comics. They are all the Rabhas it seems (Rabhas = Rage in Sanskrit, the relevance of the choice of word will only be evident to readers of their magazine).

Level 10 Comics, of Bangalore, have started a comics magazine called “Comic Jump” a few months ago. It is a monthly and has 7 issues so far. They carry 3 serialised stories, all with their own team of creatives and fan followings.

But, “Comic Jump”? What does that even mean? It seems to be a shout back at Weekly Shōnen Jump, which is one of Japan’s favourite comics magazine. But it seems an odd choice of name given that they don’t follow manga sensibilities except on their cover/poster art and some rare pages. It does give them an energetic vibe and a chance for the name to become iconic because of its sheer pseudo-jargon sound.

But it does indeed jump, because it is Indian comics like I have rarely seen. It is a world-class production. The art is like one will see in the newest DC-Marvel titles, and the script is refreshingly capable of sounding Gen-X/Y/Z, whatever it is now.

I was lucky to get introduced to the magazine when I did because I swooped in and bought the collected first 5 issues as a box set, which meant I didn’t have to wait in agony for a new issue every month. The first story arcs of “Shaurya”, “The Rabhas Incident” and “Northern Song” were completed over 2 days, and I am safely hooked to it all (though more to some than the others). I must give credit where it is due to the duo of Shreyas Srinivas – Suhas Sundar who bring out this magazine every month and also write some of the features. Starting and sustaining something so new is never easy.

I do get some vibes, though, that some of the fans of this comics magazine feel that Comic Jump is the only good Indian comics magazine around. Maybe this is because the stories are like the popular ones in the West (zombies, teen superheroes), or because the artwork  is in the mould of the DC-Marvel schools, or because it is in good English (though editing errors abound). One fan wrote in saying that “An Indian comic is pretty good news in itself”, which made me grimace a little. It would seem that comics are not recognized in unfamiliar forms. I agree that it is one of the best I have seen, but it often lacks in originality. And as long as that is there, it will always aspire to stand apart. I cannot offer a solution, originality is something I have been seeking in my own life and every time I feel I have come close it darts out of my reach. So when I haven’t found it in over two decades, I cannot blame someone for not finding it once every month.

The true Jump will come. And it will come after a long run-up. Indian comics readers needed a splatteringly good zombie story, a good-looking bunch of superheroes in Mumbai, and a good medieval hero story. This is the need that has been fulfilled here.

Some glimpses below (photographs, so please excuse the quality)- Shaurya (note the NY-ish Mumbai skyline), Northern Song and The Rabhas Incident

Re'CON'naissance

Comic Con came after a long wait, buzzed non-stop for two days, and went. It left me with half a dozen new comics, two aching legs, and a bunch of comrades in this comics guerilla movement.

Honestly I had never felt attracted to the idea of a Comic Con, you don’t get attracted to things you don’t understand. But the two days when it unfolded before me were like a blurry rewind of the main events in the comics story in India so far, which ended in my going “Aaaaah” and “Ahhhhh” (the difference is slight but important – one is a moment of realization, one is a moment of joy).

I am among the newest members of this league, not as a comics-lover, but as a comics soldier in the mission to give comics their due. People have been making, publishing and writing about comics for a while now. Some for 2 years, some for 5, some for 15 ! The sound of it is almost intimidating, but in hindsight I could rest easy, for the people I met these two days did not believe in a hierarchy.

I went in with little expectation, as I said. With luck I made a chain of acquaintances, all of whom summarily received my business card. Some even knew me, thanks to the Bloggers for Comic Con page. Likewise I had heard of my fellows the same way. A moment of surreal camaraderie descended when we had a group of new faces all identifying each other, not by their names, but by their URL’s. “Oh, you’re Comicology”, for instance.

We were all united by our curiosity of two things here, one was to see in person the people whom we only knew by their work (I met Abhijeet Kini for instance, who is a lot larger than I thought), the other was by our curiosity to see how big the comics scene in India was, and try and predict for our sakes how big it could become. On the second matter we safely concluded that the next edition, in Delhi or Mumbai or Bangalore, would be epic. Many times bigger and with much more participaton since this one proved the viability of it all. Organisers broke even, fans arrived in droves, sales were brisk. All good, my friend.

Rain played spoilsport on the last day, and at least two people I knew saw nothing except the indoor venue. But as a fellow blogger wrote, rains on the Con was also a sign of heavenly benevolence. That is the way I would like to see it too (though that’s from someone who had already made 32 trips of every stall there).

And, let me not forget all the costumed freaks. I didn’t expect more than one or two hapless souls to come in fancy dress, but lo and behold, many did. Freaks that didn’t let nervous pansies like me get in the way of the ultimate act of devotion to their comics. Kudos all you all.

I would like to mention names here, of people I met, with whom I talked comics, and who made these two days really bright and optimistic for me. Akshay Dhar, Vijayendra Mohanty, Saad Akhtar, Himanshu Singhal, Vivek Goel and Mayank Khurana. Credits to Rafiq Raja, (“Oh, you’re Comicology”) who gave me a lot of his time, and from whom I hope to learn what goes into a successful comics website.

Just one grouse. Can we please do away with the term “Fanboy”?

Following Conventions

A Comic Con is about to happen in India. You may ask “Yeh Comic Con Kaun?” though I don’t think you will. I will tell you either way.

A gathering of writers, illustrators, publishers and readers of comics, at a large venue, with a sufficiently informal atmosphere (that’s important) – say like the Jaipur Literature Festival is to books.

I had heard of this event, funnily enough in some comics themselves. It became such an uncanny experience, that of seeing fictional comics characters interacting with real comics creators and being told how they made these comics. Talk of existential crisis! Move over Pirandello. Readers of Tinkle in India might remember a similar story where a busload of familiar characters visit the Tinkle office in Mumbai.

What became clear even then was that this is where the audience gets to meet the creators, and this is where the audience comes as their favourite characters.

The chance to meet so many practitioners of this medium is really the carrot. Meet the parents of your dear fictional friends, all. See the people who are celebrities to avid readers. Really, why would a comics-lover want to pass that up? And it works both ways, since it allows each side (the producers and the consumers) to reach out to the other. And since it isn’t dedicated to any one person, the atmosphere remains art-centric.

According to me, comics exude a closeness between the creator and the reader like no other. The creators work largely alone, without many magazines wanting to interview them, without a team that assists you. The reader doesn’t go to a large theatre, they don’t discuss them in reading groups.

And that’s good, in a way.

But it is important to get out of home once in a while, and what’s better than a sunny February weekend? Everything that is not benefit-driven requires a culture that values it, and it is the same for comics. It is probably no surprise that the sharp rise in comics production and studies came together with the rise of Comic Conventions in the USA, Japan and Europe in the 1970’s.

It is the same here, since comics are seeing a re-birth in India. It works perfectly for me, being at the right place at the right time, to get to know more about the talent and plans of the practitioners in India.

And yes, I look forward to the costumes, to the book signings, the workshops, talks, releases, awards, and everything else that is a part of this culture, because I am a part of it too.

Indian Comic Con

19th-20th February 2011

Dilli Haat

New Delhi

Swadesi Movement

Sometimes things take you by surprise. Like when an unshaven man has been trudging through rough forests trying to find a likely place to clear and settle in, and he suddenly comes upon a village with all the benefits of animal husbandry and agricultural land. Surprise!

That was akin to what this naïve explorer of all things comics keeps on feeling every time he comes upon lesser-known practitioners of comics in India. Who’d-a thunk that there was so much talent out there already? If you are anything like me, under the false assumption that comics in India primarily revolves around the triumvirate of Political Cartoons (viz Laxman) – Uncle Pai’s empire (Tinkle, ACK) – Hindi Comics of the 80’s/90’s, and that new graphic novels are the next-in-line-for-promotion, then welcome to the corner of the classroom. Here we will all read Comix.India

I was told about this magazine by a friend a few months ago, but somehow categorized it as a graphic design journal, not willing to believe that these were comics (very unfamiliar looking). But a recent acquaintance with a certain Bharath Murthy (aka, Actionist) cleared cobwebs. Murthy is the man with the plan to create a space for comics creators in India. He started this magazine, four volumes old now, which takes contributions from all and sundry, and selects the best ones for printing. Seeing how experimental comics by amateurs aren’t exactly hot potatoes for publishers-distributors it is printed and shipped on an order-by-order basis.

The content offers up some pleasant surprises, and some less so. Since it is a collection of 7 comics stories (not including the editorial comic) I cannot offer any blanket judgement, I cannot offer any review. Some of the stories here are reportage, not fiction, some have excellent artwork, one is by a non-Indian (Slovenian). Homogeneity goes out the window.

What this magazine throws at you is a lot of anticipation, of the creators, the reader, and the magazine itself. Everybody becomes a part of this nouveau movement, independent Indian comics, wanting to see where it goes.

As a reader, and supporter of the art(s), I couldn’t be happier and I will give you 2 reasons why:

  1. There are a lot of amateurs who want to make comics
  2. Their craft is already very mature

I am all praises for this book, though it shouldn’t be inferred that the content is flawless. I guess it is something like the armed forces, where you respect them deeply because you know what they are doing is allowing you a good night’s sleep, though you aren’t unaware of their shortcomings either. Totally inappropriate analogy, I’m sure, but I think it gets the idea across.

Comix.India is then a representation of comics creators, full-time and part-time, for whom this line of work is a burning desire. Many of them have other career choices behind them, but all of them seem to have this childhood bond with comics. For them this is a great platform to try and gauge people’s reaction to their work.

This is why it is important to support an independent magazine like this – to try and foster the all-important culture that has to build around any art form. The talent is there for people to see for themselves, so why not spare some time for it?

Since you won’t find this book at any shops (purchase from comixindia.com) you may never get to see the contributors’ effort, or even hear of them. To do my bit I will end by giving you the contents list here, with some thoughts on what each of these stories meant to me.

  1. From the Editor by Somesh Kumar is an edgy piece to start with. He has spent the past few months putting this together and gives us a surreal piece on crafting editorials. He, along with Upasana Mehndiratta have crafted the front and back covers (respectively) as well
  2. Things Big and Small by Akshay Dhar, Ankur Amre, Arjan Vir Singh, Vivek Goel is the most young story of this collection. It voices concerns that the creators seem to associate with on a personal level – identity, peers, loneliness, though all without being depressing
  3. The Vanished Path by Bharath Murthy is non-fiction reportage of the author’s (plus the missus’) trip to Sarnath. It is demi-Manga style, interspersed with photographs and archaeological history
  4. Ramalama Cuu Cuu by Domen Finzgar is the only story here with a soundtrack. The artwork is very good, though its shapelessness and the overall layout make it a very tough read
  5. Prisoner on Block W by Lavanya Karthik starts not-so-promisingly as the umpteenth writer’s angst story I’ve read, but redeems itself with a beautifully executed ending
  6. Bahdeinkhlam by Nandita Basu is a comics diary entry (I don’t mean that condescendingly) of the author’s experience of a local Meghalaya festival, made enjoyable by its detailing of local customs and eccentricities
  7. Heat of the Hell in Chernobyl by Prabhat Williams has a sense of purpose, that of telling the story of industrial disaster and human folly. I must say that both the art and the text could be improved several notches, but I would also request the creator to write more such, because such stories, spread through this medium, are very necessary as an educational tool
  8. Passing By by Varun Dhanda is the most whimsical tale here with the malleable protagonist taking a train journey. The creator is probably the youngest of the lot here, but his story and his artwork grabbed my attention like nothing of late. The style of drawing is especially noteworthy, being a mix of technical drawing (like on a graph paper), hardcore pencil sketching, and the nicest use of varying perspectives

‘Comix.India  Volume 4 = The Real Stuff’

Bharath Murthy

Somesh Kumar (Editor)

2011