• The graphic novel in India
• A focus on mythology
• New directions
Corridor (2004), by Sarnath Bannerjee, is often credited with being the first Indian graphic novel, although some also say that Orijit Sen’s A River of Stories (1994), a pictorial narrative about the Narmada Dam Project, could also possibly be given that place. However, both can be said to have an important place in modern Indian graphic narratives, and Corridor was certainly the most popular and publicized from among these early graphic novels. In recent years, publishing houses seem ever more willing to take a chance with the genre in India, especially as there now seems a larger audience than just young readers to aim at, given the literary qualities that the graphic novel seems to have. Moreover, comics and graphic novels have also seen a rise in their use for educational purposes worldwide. This new enthusiasm for graphic novels in India, coupled with their growing acceptance around the world, seems to indicate that comics may be about to see a boom; the success of Comic Con India 2011 shows that this is no false hope.
However, not everything is rosy: with growing mass appeal, there is a fear that comics in India may turn out to be mere mass produced clones of each other, rather than taking chances with creativity. Already the themes of pictorial narratives in India seem to be getting crystallized. A report in the Hindustan Times, quoting comics creator Abhijeet Kini, says: The Indian graphic novel market may be growing, but most storylines oscillate between themes of mythology and superheroes. “It’s sad, in a way. Most comic books which are ‘Indian’ in nature borrow from mythology. Others replicate superheroes from the West,” says Kini. (Hindustan Times, 2011) Given India’s rich mythology, it’s not surprising that a lot of writers and artists find inspiration from there. However, as Kini says, there is always the danger of getting stuck in a rut. Nor is everyone very pleased with events like the Comic Con. Sarnath Bannerjee, the author of Corridor, says in an interview with the newspaper DNA: “Events like these simply adhere to the 'India shining' narrative that the west is so fond of and focus only on the marketing aspects. We also need to look beyond the mythology steeped comics currently being churned out by Indian publishers and see how we can use comics and graphic novels as a medium to provide a complex understanding of a country like India.” (Guha 2011) So while there are already some murmurs of discontent, the very fact that comics and graphic novels are being discussed so openly and even critically, point to a rejuvenation of the genre in India, and this is probably for the better, for both publishers and writers, and eventually, even for readers.