The Year of the Sleeping Dragon

2015! The year when nothing earth shattering happened. However, history will still fondly remember it as one of the most happening years in the realm of Tamil comics and children’s literature.  Why do we say that? To decipher further, we need to retrospect and turn the pages of history.

South India -Tamil language in particular -has always been a pioneer in most of the literary initiatives, and children’s literature is no exception. The first children’s magazine, Baala Theebigai, was published 175 years ago in Tamil by Nagercoil Prachara Sabaai.  It still remains a mystery which is the first ever authentic Tamil comic, though the author has filler comics which were published in the regular magazines in the 1940’s.

Here we would like to mention that the first ever comic was published in 1954 and the first ever graphic novel was published on the day of Tamil New year in 1956. Recently, I had the privilege of interacting with the artist, Maya who drew the first ever colour comic series in Tamil (and it was published in 1956, no less), and we discussed heavily on the paradigm shift in the comics and children’s literature in Tamil. To add to the statistics, Tamil’s first ever digital graphic novel was launched way back in 2005. These are all parts of history. Let’s move on and have a look at 2015, in which history got created.

In the current scenario, there are all indigenous comics and graphic novels. In the case of classic twins, a parallel world is functioning silently. Yes, we are talking about the market of translated comics and children’s literature. Starting with the translated versions of the ACK and Indrajal comics in the mid 60’s, this market is still thriving and growing. Currently, there is one major player in the Tamil comic sector, Lion – Muthu comics and reaping the fruits of being a monopoly. About 48 comics and graphic novels, numbering more than 5,600 pages, saw the light of day this year, much to the glee of the readers.  However, these are all translated works of Franco Belgian comics and reprints of UK’s golden oldies.  To add one more stat, the comic book with the highest print run was a title from the British nostalgia. Does the name The Steel Claw ring a bell?

It does right?

So what exactly is happening in Tamil comics and children’s magazine? The answer is a curate’s egg. Before delving further, let us learn about the major players of the field:

  •   Thulir (Monthly)
  •   Gokulam (Monthly – Available in Tamil & English)
  •   Chutty Vikatan (Fortnightly)
  •   Minmini (Published in 10 Months of the Year)
  •   Chinna nathi (Monthly – Stopped for the last 6 months)
  •   Champak (Translated Tamil Monthly)
  •   Tinkle Star (Translated Tamil issues)

All these magazines have a circulation in mere thousands. Apart from this, all the leading Tamil newspapers have their own weekly children’s supplementary book. Though the market situation is lively, it needs a huge push up. There is definitely a demand for this product. However, the catch is that the suppliers are not in trend with the current demand. They are still evolving in the late 80’s and the 90’s. Chutty Vikatan has shown a remarkable aligning pattern with the changing times, others are yet to catch up.

When it comes to indigenous work, the cup remained almost empty. Note the word almost. Yes, there were certain mentionable works this year. One such commendable effort was director J S Nandhini’s bi-lingual graphic novel Sivappu Kal Mukkuthi (The Girl With the Red Nose Ring) and as it had already featured on TheGraphicSlate, am moving on to talk about a monster.

Chandrahaasam

Chandrahaasam

Yes, a sleeping dragon awakened this year and it roared and how. Can you imagine a graphic novel priced at Rs 999/- and still having a six digit print run in India? When did that happen last time? Well, to my limited knowledge, there is no “last time”. And to add to the awesome numbers, here is one more: The pre booking of this graphic novel was about 60% of its print run. Go on, check the record books and then agree that these are huge numbers, REALLY HUGE NUMBERS.

We are talking about the Vikatan media group which is set to celebrate the 90th anniversary of their first print magazine Ananda Vikatan which is still going strong as the No.1 Tamil weekly magazine. Though Vikatan has a children’s magazine of its own, they have launched a new imprint titled Vikatan Graphics and to make it more memorable, they celebrated the launch with its first Graphic novel Chandrahasam.

Penned by the Sahitya Academy winner S Venkatesan, this graphic novel was brought to life by the uber talented Coimbatore based artist Bala Shanmugam. Speaking to the artist, I came to know that the entire 148 pages huge book was a result of the hard work he put in for more than a year. And going by the sales figures, the second part of this series will be fast tracked.

Tamil Nadu’s neighbouring state, Kerala, has a rich tradition in literacy and literature. They have set the benchmark for the children’s books and the print run for these still evoke a respect from the rest of India. The following are the major players in the field:

  •   Balabhumi (Weekly)
  •   Mathrubhumi Minnaminni (Weekly)
  •   Mathrubhumi Chithrakatha (Monthly)
  •   Baala Rama (Weekly)
  •   Kallikudukka (Weekly)
  •   Kahaiyum Niravum (Monthly)
  •   Balarama Amar Chithra Katha (Fortnightly)
  •   Thathamma (Fortnightly)
  •   Kuttikalude Deepika (Fortnightly)
  •   Magic Pot (English Weekly)
  •   Tell Me Why (English Weekly)
  •   Champak (Monthly – Translated Magazine)

Most of these magazines have an impressive circulation with certain biggies quoting numbers in lakhs. However, most of them were print translated works of Disney, Marvel, and Tinkle stories in Malayalam, and indigenous stories or creations are regionally restricted in growth.

Kannadal Childrens Magazine Tunturu Cover

Kannada Children Magazine ‘Tunturu’ Cover

Karnataka is a vibrant market for all other things. However, when it comes to comics and children’s magazines, there is a huge potential to be tapped. Currently there are very few comics and children’s magazines in Kannada and the prominent are:

  •   Tunturu (Fortnightly)
  •   Champak (Monthly – Translated Magazine)

B S Raghuram, the man behind the success of the annual Bengaluru Book fair, has tried out something radically new by converting the most popular Kannada literature works as comics and graphic novels. But, that was some time back. Recently there was an independent comic issue where the popular Kannada Film star was educating the children with the ways of life.

If you think that there is very little regional comics content in Kannada, think about Telugu. There are very few magazines which are published for the children and currently these two are the leading magazines:

  •   Balamithra (Monthly)
  •   Champak (Monthly – Translated Magazine)

Some time back, a children’s magazine was launched by the then governor of Andhra Pradesh. Though it got enough media mileage, the magazine, Shruthi, couldn’t sustain in the longer run.

With the year gone by, so what’s in store for 2016: Let’s figure out…

  •   Director J S Nandhini is launching her second Graphic Novel (Bi lingual)
  •   Chutty Vikatan is launching a new comics series titled as Inspector Dev
  •   A Tamil daily News paper for exclusively children is all set to be launched
  •   Vikatan Graphics is all set to bring couple more graphic novels
  •   Tamil’s first ever Indigenous comics syndicate is to be launched
  •   A leading media house is all set to launch their comics magazine in Tamil.

Though the comic industry in the southern part of India is big, there’s still a lack of original content. But with time, slowly things are changing and we can witness original content being produced which will be like a fresh air to the southern comic industry.

(These are purely personal views of Comics Historian & Writer, King Viswa and AnimationXpress.com does not necessarily subscribe to these views)

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