Graphic novelists shake up world of Indian comics

Tue Mar 1, 2011 11:58pm EST
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By Atish Patel

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Characters from centuries-old myths and folktales have adorned the covers of children's comic books in India for decades, but a new wave of graphic novelists has emerged to shake up the art form.

Their quest for ultra-Indian superheroes has created new crossover comics aimed at both children and adults, while others have boldly gone further, tackling issues such as suicide and homosexuality -- taboo topics in much of India.

"We are the new recorders of history. That's how I consider myself," said Sarnath Banerjee, whose graphic novel "Corridor" is set in New Delhi and delves into politics and sex.

"I write, I see through my own eyes and I put it out."

Generations of young Indians have grown up with the Amar Chitra Katha series based on Hindu epics and mythology, and it remains one of India's best-selling comic books series.

But the success of Banerjee and others, such as the pioneering 1994 black-and-white "River of Stories" by Orijit Sen that dealt with the social and environmental impact of a controversial dam, are prompting changes even among such traditional comic publishers.

Some are also looking to create brand new superheroes that are quintessentially Indian to see off competition from the likes of Spiderman and Batman, who have gained popularity with the onslaught of American cartoons and movies on Indian TV.

Indian superheroes are not the "cape-flying, spandex-wearing guy who is flying about, but a guy who is practical, who has an Indian outfit, who can connect to an Indian," said Karan Vir Arora, editor-in-chief of Vimanika Comics, a Mumbai start-up.   Continued...