Comics in India: An Overview
• The comics scene in India today
• Is there an Indian comics tradition?
• From oral narratives to Amar Chitra Katha
In February 2011, the first Indian Comics Convention, ComicCon India, was held in New Delhi. It was generally well-attended and marked a formalizing of the comic book culture in India, with a lot of book publishers, both established ones like Amar Chitra Katha, and up-and-coming ones like Vimanika and Manta Ray, putting up their work for comic book lovers. More importantly, it also pointed to a sea change in the attitudes of Indian readers in general towards comics. In India, comic books have, generally speaking, long been thought of as products aimed almost exclusively at children. Adults often believe that comics are children’s fare, and expect children to ‘outgrow’ comics at some point. But this perception now seems to be changing. The coming of the graphic novel has helped to rekindle interest in comics today, and although not everyone accepts them as ‘literature’, the future of comics in India seems bright. But where did this all begin? How did comics first arrive in India? Is there an indigenous Indian tradition for sequential pictorial narratives? These are some of the points that this article seeks to investigate and possibly answer, and in doing so, it gives a brief overview of the history of comics in India.
First, the article traces the genealogy of comics in India through Indian sequential pictorial art through the ages: Buddhist sculptures and paintings have long been used as a narrative medium; the walls of the Ajanta caves in India are covered with paintings using themes from the Jataka tales and the life of Gautama Buddha. The Deccani scrolls of the 17th to 19th centuries, the Chitrakathis of Paithan (narratives divided into pictorial situations, each of which was represented on a rectangular panel), and the Phad-bachanas of Rajasthan (again situations arranged in pictorial episodes and used for folk performances) provide further proof of the development of pictorial narratives across sub-cultures and geographical regions in India.
But, in keeping with the larger oral tradition of the country, a lot of these visual narratives were used as aids for oral narratives. Written text was, relatively speaking, hardly used. Sequential art in India never really got to a point where text was used together with images on a large-scale, and as some oral narratives began to die out, their corresponding visual narratives also became marginalized. Thus, when comics appeared in India, in the mid-20th century, they had no written native precedent to fall back on, and these early Indian comics often looked abroad for inspiration. Later, a seminal moment in Indian comics was when Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) was launched by India Book House, in 1967, with the intention of making mythological and religious texts, as well as stories about historical events and figures, more accessible to children. A host of Indian publishers followed suit, and more Indian characters, strips and comics made their presence felt. Today, India is increasingly involved with the comic book form: graphic novels and webcomics are the latest to draw the attention of creators and readers alike.