Tag Archives: amar chitra katha

Paradise Lost

It’s a mixed blessing to be reading a new Amar Chitra Katha title. I hold ACK in very high regard, freely propounding that they are the best Indian comics, a school within itself, so new titles from them is a positive thing. Their company profile proudly states that they have over 400 titles in print, of which I’m sure 200 are excellent ones, and 200 are good.

Unfortunately this one is awful.

ACK has been releasing new titles since a slew of modernization took place in their organization. A fresh coat of paint is always a future-friendly move. So it is laudable that they are releasing new titles, and not just undertaking umpteen more reprints.

But what they haven’t capitalized upon is their experience in story-telling that has been honed over decades of focused efforts by the veteran creative team. In all possibility this is because the gap between their decline in the early 90’s and their revival now an entire generation has walked through their doors. So the venerable artists and writers have mostly taken their last bows, and now the house is almost starting from scratch. Or, so I feel.

As I read “Tirupati – The Lord of Tirumala” I was appalled by the incoherent story, which I had a hard time following, leave alone a member of their real target age group understanding. The unnecessary peg – trying to centre the story around Tirupati Temple (cashing in on its popularity) is something they hadn’t tried before this, and shouldn’t have either. The temple is just there for its name, while the story is about Lord Vishnu and his avataars, relationship, promises, yada yada – actually I really am not sure what it is about.

The fountainhead of ACK is now gone. Many of the old artists are gone. The sharp writers are gone. And with them the reputation of the house might well be on its way out. If that happens, then my faith in Indian comics will suffer a huge blow. Comics in India are exactly that right now – comics in India. They are not Indian Comics. ACK used to be that for me, an indigenous series, relying on everything original (even if questionable on the facts). But now they are a pale impression of their former self.

Here is my list of suggestions for ACK:

  • Since you aren’t breaking out new titles at warp speed, take time to get the stories right. Train writers, and editors. If you are doing so, then take it up several notches yet.

  • Try and get rid of the glossy colour feel to the art. The classic art was classic for a reason.

  • Expand beyond mythology and heroes to history and non-Hindu culture.
  • And while you are at all this – do something about Tinkle magazine. It is pitifully bad. Get back the folktales, get back the classic art sense, and create interesting, new characters (better than that fly and spider).

Well, all these are just what a devoted reader feels. They might not be the answer to ACK’s problems. But at least the right questions on where they are going so wrong should help. I realize I am asking for the past in the future, but that’s what ACK needs to project. Making it iPad friendly is all well and good, but making it reader-unfriendly is sudden death.

Then they’re just better off reprinting.

Indian Comics – Vision 2020

A question frequently on the minds of those of us who have been exposed to the larger world of international comics is – Can India produce writers like we see working in the field in the West? I think it is prudent to limit the question to writers of comics for now, and not to illustrators, for there are very good graphic artists in India, without doubt.

So what can I say with precision on this? Obviously nothing, but I can try and read the signs to see where things are headed for now. The answer is no, we cannot produce a Neil Gaiman, in the near future. But, yes, a decade or so later probably.

The thing to note here (like with so many other aspects of human civilization) is that there is a curve of learning and development in every field – economics, science and the arts. It is a classic bell curve – like this …

So we have initial periods where things are apprehensive, we have people trying out something new and seeing if others laugh or laud. That’s where are now. When things pick up steam the curve starts to rise, practitioners are appreciated. This gives them the chance to react to their own instincts rather than to public opinion. This gives us experiments with flashes of brilliance. The downfall happens when popularity breaks all boundaries of requisite talent and everybody plunges into the same pool, squeezing out all the water.

Now, this curve happens in the short term as well as in a longer term. Thanks to today’s connected world, influences are picked up overnight from across the globe and changes happen very quickly. So we have seen Indian writing in English go through sea changes in just 30 years. And we can expect the same in a shorter time from Indian comics.

Today’s comics are more in the ‘graphic novel’ genre and are trying to achieve a new standard of respectability. Therefore they are sticking to themes of conflict, both inner and outer, human psyche and social inequities. Just like what Indians refer to as ‘art films’ we now have ‘art comics’. They are not very different from what Indian writers in English are trying to do.

But now we see an essential next step approaching in writing – more and more people are trying their luck with English novels and we have the good and bad all vying for space. The great thing about art is that it finds worth in even the pedantic. Just as it is famously said that humans use every bit of a coconut tree, from its bark to leaves to the fruit to its husk and so on, art uses everything it is given. The writers we tend to value highly in popular art are people who digest everything. So Neil Gaiman, or Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, can take Greek and Egyptian mythology, modern politics, superheroes, supernaturals, Freud, androids, liberation armies, zombie armies, multiple narratives, non-narratives …and…and…whew…they take everything and add dashes to their story. Samuel Beckett won a Nobel prize by utilizing vaudevillian antics.

Neil Gaiman (Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy)

Indian comics had been following a certain trajectory till the new millennium – we had the Pran comics, Raj comics, Tinkle magazine and Amar Chitra Katha all doing their own thing. But that thing had become very tiresome after two score years. Heights of comics excellence had been achieved, but soon forgotten. The current trend has completely recast the mould, gone from school keds to Converse canvas shoes. People looked good before, but now they are trying something very new, starting from scratch. But until everyone has had a chance to try out these shoes, seen it on others, wanted to find their fit, we will not see those limited designer keds that some pay a fortune to wear.

And remember, white keds aren’t bad. There is no point in comparing colours and trying to find the best one, similarly we shouldn’t compare Indian comics writers with western ones since influences are different. Why compare people who are trying to achieve different things? See if what they have achieved stands scrutiny and see if their effort was honest. Those are the most reliable yardsticks.

V for Vendetta (Alan Moore, David Lloyd)