Of comic culture and conventions in India

WCI logoAn eleven-year-old girl had a birthday coming up. While swinging in the school Scott McCloudplayground she blurted out to me, “I do not want a birthday party. I do not want any gifts. When you are a child, you can ask for many things. All I want is a book on how to draw cartoons.” Her mother who was flummoxed. There were only two options I could think of at such a short notice: 1. Recommend Scott McCloud’s classic Understanding Comics but it would not be possible to get it in time for her birthday OR 2. Contact Sharad Sharma of World Comics and seek his advice. I did the latter. Sure enough he did have a slim manual that had been produced in-house on how to create cartoons.

Sharad Sharma should know. After all  World Comics Network ( http://www.worldcomicsindia.com/ ) promotes the use of grassroots comics as a medium of self-expression. Since it began in the mid-nineties, Sharad Sharma has conducted over a 1000 workshops in remote areas and trained over 30,000 people. He has also begun a Comics for All: A World Comics Network Bulletin. The latest issue that I read, Comics in Education, consists of comics made by people around the world discussing education. Some of the topics covered are on identity, cultural and linguistic diversity, displacement, sexuality, humanity, mental health, communalism, adult literacy, and rights. The newspaper is multi-lingual but the synopsis of comics are available in English. The cover has snippets of comics and speech bubbles created by government school teachers in Uttar Pradesh, India. Sharad Sharma and his colleagues trained 70 teachers in sequential art and they in turn trained another 700 teachers. 

 
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CCI logoMeanwhile the hugely popular Comic Con India will have its first event of the year in Bangalore ( 3-5 April 2015). Links are available at: http://www.comicconindia.com/ and http://www.comicconbangalore.com/ . It promises to be quite an extravaganza with celebrities such as Natalia Tena ( from Game of Thrones and Harry Potter fame), Rana Daggubati of Bahubali and comic book artists such as Greg Cappullo ( X-Force, Quasar, Spawn and Batman), Mark Millar ( Wolverine) and Paul Azaceta ( Graveyeard Empires) participating via Skype. (In the past, storytellers such as Neil Gaiman Mark Millarhave participated in Comic Con India  via Skype too.  The picture in this blog is of noted Neil Gaiman in conversation with Sam Arni, Comic Con India, 2014author, Sam Arni in conversation with Neil Gaiman. )
 
This year, Comic Con has announced a list of awards. This is the fourth year of the awards in India. The nominees for the fourth edition are: 
 
Best Graphic Novel
Best Graphic Novel 
World War One
Rumi
Sholay
Simian
Nirmala and Normala
Best Pencilller/Inker/Penciller-Inker Team
Gowra Hari Perla, KAKAA Fableri
Abhijeet Kini, Holy Hell, Meta Desi Vol. 2
Zoheb Momin, Item Dhamaka
Harsho Mohan, Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel
Harsho Mohan, Aghrori 11
Lalit Kumar Sharma and Jagdish Kumar, World War One
Sachin Nagar, Kaurava Empire Vol. 1
Sachin Nagar, Kaurava Empire Vol. 2
Harsho Mohan, Chakrapurer Chakkare
Sabu Sarasan, Ayodhya Kand
Zoheb Akbar and Arijit Dutta Chowdhury, Jatayu and Nandi (Divine Beings)
 
Best Colourist
Sanman Mohita, Futile, Blind Spot
Vipul Bhandari, Cross Hair, Blind Spot
R. Kamath and Prabhu, Item Dhamaka
Neeraj Menon, Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel
Prasad Patnaik, Aghori 11
Sachin Nagar, Kaurava Empire Vol. 1
Sachin Nagar, Kaurava Empire Vol. 2
Vijay Sharma and Pradeep Sherawat, World War One
B. Meenakshi and Pragati Agrawal, Space Doughtnut, Tinkle 276
 
Best Cover
Abhijeet Kini, Ground Zero #2
Sumit Kumar, Parshu Warriors
Sumit Kumar, Devi Chaudhrani
Mukesh Singh, Ravanayan Finale Part 2
Rahil Mohsin, Rumi, Sufi Comics
Priya Kurien, Bookasura
fox and crow posterCulpeo S. Fox, The Fox and the Crow 
 
Best Writer
Alan Cowsill, World War One
Rajani Thindiath, Dreams: My World in My Head, Tinkle Holiday Special 41
Lewis Helfland, They Changed the World
 
Best Continuing Graphic Series
Chiyo, Tinkle Digest
Ravanayan, Holy Cow
Beast Legion
Dental Diaries, Tinkle 
 
Best Illustrated Children’s Book
Tinkle Digest 276, Tinkle
Pashu, Puffin
The Fox and the Crow, Karadi Tales
Malgudi School Days, Puffin
 
Best Children’s Writer
Sean D’Mello, Tantri the Mantri: The Dream Team, Tinkle Tall Tales 4
Ruskin Bond, With Love from the Hills
Arundhati Venkatesh, Bookasura
Devdutt Pattnaik, Pashu
Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan, Ayodhya Kand
 
Best Publication for Children
Tinkle Holiday Special 41
Tinkle Digest 273
CN Remix, Pepper Script
Bookasura, Scholastic
Ayodhya Kand, ACK
 
Lifetime Achievement Award
Aabid SurtiAabid Surti
 
Nirmala and NormalaOf these I have only read Nirmala & Normala ( Penguin), The Fox and the Crow ( Karadi Tales), Pashu ( Puffin India) and World War One ( Campfire). Every one of these book is distinctive in style, plot and genre. The jury is not going to have an easy time picking the winner in each category. The only element common to the diverse books nominated are they have the potential of reaching out to an international audience, even if they have originated in India. Maybe this is keeping in step with the spirit of Comic Con India in going global. On 3 September 2014, a press release issued stating, “Comic Con India (CCI) today announced a joint venture with Reed Exhibitions; part of the FTSE listed Reed Elsevier Group, to grow the pop culture space in India and bring world class events to Indian fans. The Comic Con India team will work closely with the ‘ReedPOP’ division of Reed Exhibitions, the largest producer of pop culture events in the world. With this JV in place, CCI enters the burgeoning ReedPOP portfolio of pop culture events which includes New York Comic Con, PAX, the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, Oz Comic-Con, Singapore Toy, Gaming & Comics Convention and Star Wars Celebration among many others.” ( http://www.reedexpo.com/de/Pressemitteilungen/2014-Press-Releases/Comic-Con-India–Reed-Exhibitions-Enter-Joint-Venture-to-Produce-Experiential-Pop-Culture-Events-for-the-Burgeoning-Indian-Market/  )
The culture of comics, including have specialised standalone bookstores, having a community of comic connoisseurs, focused conventions such as a Comic Con where artists, comic legends, actors, fans etc can mingle and meet are at an advanced stage of evolution in mature markets such as USA and Europe. This experience is still at its infancy in India. So having Comic Con India spread across four cities– Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai — is a good beginning to popularise this particular genre. Having said that, importing a tried and tested model of a popular culture convention into India lock, stock and barrel without tweaking it may result in a distancing from the very market the format is trying to make an impact in. Only time will tell!
Meanwhile as a response to Comic Con India, there are already attempts by some Indian comic artists to come together to launch an alternative platform. At first many of these artists and illustrators were hopeful that Comic Con India would fulfill the crying need to create a platform where professionals from this creative sector met and discussed their art. Unfortunately many feel that this event has” turned out to create a market for western comics rather than promoting the Indian comics and artists”. So they formed COMIX. According to Sharad Sharma, one of the promoters of this idea, “the idea is to have a 2-3 days meet/seminar/workshop for a limited 100-150 artists, illustrators, media critic, publishers etc). Comix is an amalgamation of all visual storytelling art forms under one platform, comics, illustration, and cartoons.  It is a unique attempt to form a platform which brings people connected to line art under one creative roof. …Comix will construct a forum to discuss creator rights and ways to safeguard them. It will also talk about the limitations and pressures, such as, censorship that creators face. Making comics more inclusive, multilingual and multi cultural, Comix is all for crafting an equal opportunity environment.”
Here is hoping that future editions of Comic Con India, COMIX and any future grouping that may emerge ultimately work together in strengthening the comic culture in India. Maybe existing platform could only be made more robust and relevant to the local audience, market and readers by bringing together diverse voices under one roof much as in the world of book publishing — the World Book Fair organised by the National Book Trust brings together a wonderful and wide variety of publishers and opinions.
Postscript: As I was about to upload this article on my blog, I received an email from Comic Con India saying: “We regret to announce that artist Paul Azaceta has had to cancel his visit to the Bangalore Comic Con. He had been looking forward to coming down to India but due to an urgent personal reason he had to cancel his trip. He sends his best wishes to all the fans and is looking to forward to attending the show in future.”
2 April 2015 

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