One laugh at a time for the comic industry amid pandemic
Zines, webcomics and now virtual comic cons—here is how the industry is changing amid the pandemic.
Remember superhero Sabu? The alien from Jupiter who was Chacha Chaudhary’s constant companion? Or the simpleton Supandi in Tinkle comics? A child in 1980s India may not have had iPods and Kindles, or even Levi’s and Coke, but comics such as Champak, Chandamama and Balarama more than made up for all of this and more. A couple of decades later, with cable network streaming MTV into our homes and Super Mario rushing to save the princess, the comic culture was dealt a death blow.
That was until 2011. Jatin Varma started Annual Indian Comics Convention with its first chapter in February in Delhi. Encouraged with the response, it quickly metamorphosed into the Comic Con Express and travelled across the country.
Before the pandemic hit, Varma was looking at hosting the biggest yet Comic Con India (CCI) event in Bengaluru. But not one to wallow in something that was not in his hands, Varma has now kickstarted CCI’s first digital event.
The annual Pop Culture Forum and the Comic Con India Awards is available on CCI’s social media handles this year. Varma had mixed feelings about a virtual con. "You cannot truly make a live experience virtual. Having said that, there are many elements to the comic con that can truly go digital," he says.
Besides sponsorship, the entire system of revenue generation was severely impacted this year, he says. The comics culture in India is not really a robust one. Of course, everyone loves the movie experience of watching Iron Man defeating Thanos, or even spending a couple of hours with Archie and his Riverdale High gang, but it rarely goes beyond that. Still, makers are hopeful.
Last year was a record year in the sale for comics worldwide. In India, with the launch of Virgin Comics in 2006, comics got somewhat of a revival, though Raj Comics and Diamond Comics continue to dominate. For old school fans, nostalgia for Indrajal remains high, and the cult characters of Amar Chitra Katha are evergreen.
Among the relatively new players, Holy Cow Entertainment and Abhijeet Kini Studios stand out. Also, the digital following for webcomics is growing in a big way, and Garbage Bin is its best example. Many like Tinkle are digitising their content to reach more readerships.
Varma says, "Comic book stories and characters no longer reside in just the books, they also find a place in TV, films and more. This transition is giving way to an entirely new generation of fans." Besides, there is the added advantage of zines—slim and easy-to-print pamphlets. Artists and comic book writers collaborate to produce these from home.
It's the perfect tool for newcomers to sell work at small gatherings. Varma believes that in the future, one can expect a lot of live-action adaptation of Indian comics as well as Indian creators, breaking through in the international market. He hints that even the CCI plans to create original content in the coming months.
Around the world
Several global comic cons were also forced to go online. To gain entry at the iconic San Diego Comic-Con, one had to subscribe on their official YouTube page. The virtual #SaveDaredevilCon debuted an energising calendar of prerecorded panels and live roundtable discussions.
The coordinators of the 78th World Science Fiction Convention—the WorldCon New Zealand—also chose to go online. Warner Brothers is planning to host the DC Fandome on August 22.