Comic Con Bangalore: More pros than a con

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18-Nov-2016

 

Story Highlights

  • The enthusiasm at Comic Con was mostly centered around Marvel and DC.
  • How do Indian comics stack against Western comics in the Indian market.
  • Why are we not borrowing more from Indian mythology and putting more effort in the production of our Comics.

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The good news is that Comic Con Bangalore has outgrown yet another, bigger venue. The not-so-good news is that Comic Con Bangalore has not grown.

Bear with me. This isn’t another complaint against there being more merchandising stalls than comic book stalls, about the unmanaged crowd and stepped-on toes or even about bad air-conditioning. I’ll put up with all of these for the love of comics, but the issue is far bigger than that. The reasons Comic Con Bangalore has not grown – and why the Indian comic book industry has not grown much either – has nothing to do with the organisers and everything to do with us, the ‘comics’ fans, and to some extent the Indian comic book creators as well.

Don’t we Indians appreciate comics? Of course we do! I had a chat with Joe Harris, who knows a thing or two about comic books and comics fans. He’s the writer of the X-Files comics, worked on Batman & Firestorm at DC, on X-Men at Marvel (the list goes on), has seen his fair share of comic conventions and an overall nice chap who says ‘Thank You!’ like he means it, because he does. And he told me that while he finds that there is no mass appreciation for comics in India, amongst comic book fans, he finds the same level of enthusiasm that he has seen elsewhere across the world.

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Joe Harris, writer of the X-Files comics, was at Comic Con Bangalore 2016

But sadly, this enthusiasm for most stops with DC and Marvel. If one were to define ‘comics’ going by the preferences and knowledge of a majority of the visitors at Comic Con Bangalore, it would only be called ‘comics’ if a) It has superheroes and b) these superheroes are Superman, Batman, Flash or anyone from the Avengers. (Before the true fans skewer me, let me clarify I am talking about the ‘majority’ not all of you! And needless to say, everyone knows all generalisations are false, including this one.)

I was at the Red Streak Publication stall, where Abhishek Bose, the man behind Red Streak, was telling me about his creation, the pyrokinetic superhero Adhish, when a young couple walked up to see the books, and the guy with a dismissive shrug said, “I want some Flash stuff yaar, not this, let’s go.” And in the spirit of giving the paying public what they want, all of the digitally-printed posters being sold on the artists alley, and most of the sketches and prints for sale, were of the famous superheroes, and popular series like Breaking Bad and Sherlock. The last two are not from comics, but that’s where Comic Con Bangalore goes beyond just comics to being a celebration of pop culture and geeky pursuits like gaming, a sub-culture within a sub-culture. All credit to Comic Con India for finally giving Indian geeks a common platform and a venue.

Raj Comics didn’t have a stall at Comic Con this year, unlike last year, because people went looking for Superman comics and found Nagraj instead. That’s like hating a masala dosa for not being a burger.

But coming back to comics, that’s where it stands today. Perhaps this refusal to go beyond Western superheroes and give Indian comics a fair chance is an urban phenomenon, and more specifically one prevalent among the English-speaking, English-reading comics fans? Perhaps that’s why the Indian characters that have been hugely popular, and commercially successful have all appeared and written originally in Hindi, like Chacha Chaudhary, Nagraj and Super Commando Dhruv to name just three. Maybe this is the reason why Raj Comics didn’t have a stall at Comic Con this year, unlike last year, because people went looking for Superman comics and found Nagraj instead. That’s like hating a masala dosa for not being a burger.

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But to each his or her own. Krrisshh (or is it Kkris; Krishh?) is perhaps the superhero we deserve, and don’t necessarily need. And why the only ‘Indian’ comic book superhero that crossed our shores in a biggish way, was the travesty that was Spider-Man India – a superhero we didn’t deserve, and definitely don’t really need.

Maybe some of the blame falls on the Indian creators themselves for not giving Indian comic book fans. Most of the Indian comics are still riffing on the same old mythology, remixing and re-contextualizing gods and demons. There’s only so far you can go with that and so much a comic book reader can take. Especially when the text is clunky and riddled with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, which interrupts the reading to say the least.

Case in point: One of the big titles launched at this year’s Comic Con misspelled the name of the lead protagonist right there on the blurb! (Yes, Rakshak, I’m looking at you!).

When not borrowing from Indian mythology – not to say that’s necessarily bad, mind you – it’s a familiar take on a familiar story. Like the other big launch that happened at this year’s Comic Con, Space Junkies, sounded at first to me like the Guardians of the Galaxy, a rag-tag bunch of characters out there in outer space getting into adventures of all kinds. But it was only after I actually read the comic book did I realise that it is in fact just like a diluted Guardians of the Galaxy, but with cheesecake. And yes, Stan Lee’s Chakra the Invincible comic was launched (like it was launched at last year’s Comic Con and perhaps will be launched again next year one hopes).

I ended up buying all the Indian comics up for grabs and on sale, some which I plan to actually read. The rest of the purchases are to be considered my contribution to the Indian comic book industry

It’s not as dire as I make it out to be. There were a whole bunch of other titles, like Jataka Manga, which got sold out like many other titles. More power to you Meta Desi Comics, ICBM Comics, Holy Cow Entertainment, Yali Dream Creations and Vimanika Comics! Vimanika launched an intriguing comic, Doctor M, a medical thriller based on a real-life homeopathic doctor, written by Shashank Avvaru, whose infectious enthusiasm for comics one hopes to see continue for very long.

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Jataka Manga by Meta Desi Comics was among the Indian comic books that got sold out

So for good or for bad, I ended up buying all the Indian comics up for grabs and on sale, some which I plan to actually read. The rest of the purchases are to be considered my contribution to the Indian comic book industry, long may it live and prosper and give us viable alternatives to western comics and stories, and may their creators be well-known and famous.

That’s the other trait of the ‘vast majority’ of the comic books fans at the Comic Con: the utter and complete ignorance of the creators, the writers and artists of their favourite characters. I asked about a dozen people, completely at random if they knew Bob Kane or Jack Kirby or Pran, et cetera and all I got were puzzled blinks. The only comic book creator that the ‘typical’ Indian comic book reader is aware of is, you guessed it, Stan Lee.

In fact, on Day Two of the Comic Con, there was a discussion on the main stage between Akshay Dhar of Meta Desi Comics and Joe Harris (yes, the very same mentioned above) during which the audience – mostly standing because of the limited number of chairs – got an overview into Harris’ career as a comic book writer, his experiences and insights into comics in general and X-Files in particular. And then, among the two questions asked to Joe Harris, was this one: “You have worked in the comic book industry for so long, have you met Stan Lee?” Well played, Stan Lee sir.

How ironic then, that when I asked Joe Harris if he had a message to give Indian comics fans, he said, “Pay attention to the creators of the comics. Let your love of comics extend to – and help develop an appreciation of – the people behind those comics, the writers and the artists who you need to recognise.” Indian comic book fans, please take note.

Another area that Comic Con Bangalore played no small role in jump-starting was Cosplay. And this year was no different. The number of cosplayers was way higher than last year. And not your purchased-costume-I’ll-wear-to-the-fancy-dress party kind, but costumes created by the cosplayers by their own effort (and surely with a little help from their friends). The kind that wins you cosplay competitions. Apart from the obviously apparent love of cosplay that Bangalore’s cosplaying community seems to have, the prize money surely helps, and a chance to compete at the national and international level, something that Comic Con Bangalore has delivered upon.

I have yet to see a Wolverine or Joker cosplay based on the comics.

Of course a lot of the cosplay was Hollywood-inspired, with Wolverines trying to look like Hugh Jackman and Jokers modelled on Heath Ledger’s Joker. I have yet to see a Wolverine or Joker cosplay based on the comics. Hollywood, with its global pervasiveness, blockbuster budgets and carpet bombing marketing efforts will always win against poor old comics and the creators. “Hollywood distracts,” said Joe Harris, “but no one owes comics anything.”

So while for many Comic Con Bangalore may have felt like more of the same, it wasn’t so when it came to cosplay. Says Nikita Jadwani, marketing professional, anime and comics fan and long-time cosplayer, “For me, this year’s Comic Con was definitely meh this time. It lost the essence and presence of genuine comic book lovers and became mainstream in a bad way.” But her enthusiasm and ebullience returns when speaking about cosplaying, “Beautiful, wonderful and talented cosplays. Cosplay makes you feel like you belong to this humble and artistic community that is so supportive, helpful and friendly of whatever you cosplay as. I just wish the crowd was more evolved to appreciate the detailing and work gone into cosplaying rather it being a fancy costume.” On a side note, Nikita cosplayed as Sora from Kingdom Hearts, and about five people out of 50 recognized her cosplay, even with her keyblade.

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Nikita Jadwani, an enthusiastic cosplayer, who dressed up as Sora from Kingdom Hearts. Pic: Rohan Jain

So my takeaway from this year’s Comic Con Bangalore is that it was another hopeful step in the right direction. But the leap is yet to come. And the onus to ensure that is not just on Comic Con India, but on the Indian fans and readers who need to be more accepting of non-western heroes and non-superhero comics, on the Indian comic book creators to give us good stories and a viable alternative to American and western-inspired comics, and back on the Indian fan, who will learn to translate his love of comics into an appreciation for the artists and writers as well. Comic Con India has made a good start, but this ‘new beginning’ has been going on for five years now, and needs to be taken up a notch, and the super-fans will follow.

My takeaway from this year’s Comic Con Bangalore is that it was another hopeful step in the right direction. But the leap is yet to come.  

The closest to perfect summation of the mixed-bag that was this year’s Comic Con Bangalore comes from Sharat Satyanarayana, startup enthusiast, sci-fi fan and comic collector, when he says, “Some things about Comic Con Bangalore haven’t changed since it’s inception: crowd flow planning is missing and the space is never enough, the ventilation/air conditioning is severely lacking and the focus is mostly on the big brands: DC/Marvel. Earlier, I enjoyed discovering new indie talent: writers and illustrators; however this time there seemed to be more emphasis on businesses offering various peripheral products rather than comics. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few stalls offering new and varied international comic publications at competitive prices. I hope next year, Comic Con India will resolve some of the long-standing issues and involve more comic book creators, artists and writers, rather than just small businesses offering big brand collateral products.” I can almost see Joe Harris nodding in agreement to that bit about involving more creators. One can always hope.

Hope, Emily Dickinson wrote, is the thing with feathers. And I look forward to the day when Comic Con Bangalore and the Indian comic book industry will take wing and well and truly fly.

Until then, live long and prosper, dear reader. If you too went to Comic Con Bangalore and have a thing or three to say about it, or if you agree – or disagree – with anything above, have your say in the comments section below, leave a note on the Factor Daily Facebook page or tweet to us with the hashtag #NWWonFD.

I hope to see you back again next week for another edition of New Worlds Weekly on FactorDaily.


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