Akshay Dhar looks back at an eventful year in comics

January 2-2019
Guest Column | Looking back at an eventful year in comics – Akshay Dhar

2018 was absolutely one of the best years till date, for me and my team at Meta Desi Comics and ICBM comics. For others, perhaps, perhaps not. But before I branch in that direction, I want to give a bit of a gist of where the comics industry stands as of today – as I have experienced it.

The year was definitely a banner year for the community of comic fans (and fans of related media) with a seemingly never-ending flow of TV shows – from DC’s Arrowverse to Marvel’s varied serials to the launch of DC’s Titans on their direct service to several others – as well as movies and of course loads of new comics from the various indie comic publishers to be still in the game. As an Indian comic fan myself, I thought it was a great year.

Of course there are the events. The biggest across the board is of course Comic Con India which travels to four major cities annually-Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore and Hyderabad (yes, that’s what I call them even now!) Comic Con boasts not just the biggest event in terms of size, but also is the one that brings in talent from other countries, including writers, artists, actors and more.

This year serious comic fans got to see and meet amazing talents like Sana Takeda (Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Daredevil), Matthew Rosenberg (X-Men, Punisher: War Machine, Multiple Man), John Layman (Chew, Batman, Leviathan), Peter Nguyen and of course Vladimír Furdík, the actor who plays the Night King on Game of Thrones. As usual, the show had a load of detractors and complainers that it’s not a comic-con and it’s a march event and a money grab, but for those who had to come and enjoy the show and the cosplay and guests and comics and goodies – it didn’t matter. We had a grand old time in all four cities!

There were also others trying to buck the trend and do something different, a good example being the guy who organised the Indie Comix Fest – a much, much smaller scale event focusing on JUST comics and specifically indie comics as the name denotes. They made one minor error in that. their shows were organised/timed too close to some of the Comic Con events which may have gone against them in some small way, but the idea and the intent is fantastic and the comic- reading part of the community needs more such things to allow the talent that wants to make more original Indian content a chance to showcase itself.

This last part to me personally is HUGELY important because it’s the one biggest flaw in our system as it stands today: If you want to be a comic creator in India, where do you go and how do you get into the business? And if you do make your own, how can you possibly connect with readers and make it even close to a viable way to earn a living or in fact even just make back the cost of the comics and your time and effort?

Being an indie comics creator in India is really damn hard. Don’t get me wrong, it’s way better than it was eight years ago when I was getting started – but we’ve still got a long way to go before it’s got a more creator friendly/supporting system.

On the plus side, thanks to the growth of interest in the medium and it’s off-shoots and thanks to the increasing number of events around comics – big or small – the space for Indian comics to be seen and to find a chance to survive (and maybe someday thrive) is slowly growing.

All that said, the year also had a truly devastating moment for the true believers out there as Stan Lee, comics icon and legend and more, passed away and even though he was over 90 years old, many of us were still shocked. It was one of those moments when it feels like an era has ended and the community at large mourned him and in an example of the creativity and positivity that I love about some parts of the community (and that Stan himself fostered), there was an outpouring of positivity, of ideas, of webcomics and such in the face of a sad time. It was bittersweet.

Remembering Stan Lee at Mumbai Comic Con 2018

Lastly, I wanted to touch on webcomics – something that people love to talk about and praise and rightly so. In the Indian scene in particular, webcomics have not just caught on as something people love to follow, but there have been several that have been very intelligent and creative and socially conscious and not just entertainment. Their success is great for the industry as a whole because they bring in more casual readers and even some non-readers into the medium of comics – but a caveat to bear in mind is that almost none of them are supporting their creators financially.

That last bit brings me to the part that I know everyone (myself included) hates to talk about – money. People recoil and don’t like to address this GIGANTIC PINK ELEPHANT in the room but it’s about time they did. Because if we don’t, the truth is that those with big money backing them (and often they’re people in it for the money and money generating I.P’s first and foremost) will thrive and those who love comics and are more creative and artistic and indie, will slowly die out – and in fact it will lead to the conventions and events to truly become all about making money. The comic buying public has come a long way in supporting and taking a chance on Indian original content – but if you ever were to get an honest answer from the many indie publishers, there is still a lot of support needed if they are to keep doing what they are doing.

This was a good year for the publishing that we do at Meta Desi because we did out fifth issue of parody/absurd comedy series Holy Hell and an all-women creator fourth volume of the anthology Ground Zero. They were big moments for us and we loved travelling the country and meeting people who liked what were doing and supporting us – many coming for the fourth or fifth year running to meet us – and for the first time since 2013, we felt like maybe, just maybe we could actually see this becoming our main business or something like it.

It was definitely a big year, one where publishers and creators gained new ground, where the community grew and showed that it was still here and still alive and it was a hopeful year. In some respects, with a lot of dark and saddening and disturbing stuff happening around us in India and globally, it’s these things, these smaller things that give us little joys and help us connect to other people and to let our imaginations soar the skies and dive the depths and more – they are what help us stay hopeful and for a little while think it can be better. They help remind us there are good things to hope for and imagine.

So I close by saying again – it was a good, hopeful year for comics and fans. Yet, we have miles  to go before we can sleep and some harsh truths we need to deal with, but years like this one make me think we may have a chance. Like the heroes in the comics (but not the DC movies I’m afraid), it gave me a glimmer of hope and made me believe we can do this and for now I choose to hold on to that and would like my final words here to be to the comic readers out there: I hope you all have an amazing new year and a heartfelt thank you to every one of you that helps and supports this still young field in finding itself as it grows and evolves. Cheers all and a very happy new year!

(This article has been contributed by Meta Desi Comics founder Akshay Dhar and AnimationXpress does not necessarily subscribe to these views).