The Chariot comics & Meta’Desi comics for the first time have collaborated under a new brand, ICBM (Indian Comics Badass Multiverse, to be precise!) Chariot was established in the year 2009 by Aniruddho Chakraborty with an aim to revolutionise the comic space in India. Some of its work includes action and super-natural styled books like VRICA, Damned and Eklavya. Meta’Desi on other hand chases the dream of taking Indian comics to the next level. As the name says it all; it believes in making experimental comics with a bit of a ‘Desi’ touch to it. Akshay Dhar is the founder of Meta’Desi and Ground Zero is his prized possession. Speaking exclusively to AnimationXpress.com’s Niyati Handa, both Aniruddho and Akshay reveal their plans on this new partnership and much more. What is the idea behind coming together under the banner ICBM? What kind of capital are you investing in this venture? Aniruddho: First off, something like this has never been attempted in India before and this is indeed exciting territory we’re getting into. As Chariot Comics, in Akshay and the Meta-Desi crew, we found a team that speaks nearly the same creative language as we do. That, in my opinion, is essential when you are looking at a combined label/imprint model. Beyond collaborating on costs, marketing and outreach I am also very excited on the prospects of what we can do together in comic books – and we’ll be announcing some collaboration under ICBM by the end of the year. Akshay: Meta Desi got started because there were too few new publishers here in India and fewer still who wanted to take a lot of chances with their content and in fairness to them, they can only put their resources into so many comics at a time and there are a LOT of creative people who want a shot. But it’s been hard and after some thought we figured that there was no reason for guys like us to be carrying all the load alone and it would be helpful – financially and otherwise – to follow the Image Comics model of two different labels/imprints operating under a single umbrella name. Money-wise, I’d have to say I can’t put a number on it because we live literally comic-to-comic since there is no corporate backing – all funding is literally from our own earnings, blood, sweat and tears (seriously, it’s in the ink somewhere!). Aniruddho: Plus we’re hoping the formula of 1+1 = 3 will work with this collaboration. Additionally, as a Bengali I know that anything that saves money is always a very good idea! What will ICBM basically focus on (is it only comics or also look at anime and other mediums)? Are you already planning your first venture? If not, when do you intend to start? Akshay: For now I think we’re going to stick with comics – hell, if someone offers me a TV series or movie I wouldn’t say no, but basically I want to focus on comics for now. The currently in-production comics under both Chariot and Meta Desi will continue as they have been planned and we will be announcing our full release schedule and new comics very soon. Aniruddho: Psst…motion comics? Akshay: Alright fine – we’re also considering motion comics. Happy? Aniruddho: Yes, yes I am. Meta’desi’s focus is on characters with a ‘desi tadka’, whereas Chariot on other hand focuses on super heroes and social awareness, so are you guys planning to mix both the genres in order to come up with something innovative? Akshay: I thought we were already doing something mixed up and innovative with both of these! (laughing) But honestly, we both have had stand-alone as well as recurring characters we want to build more on – there is nothing concrete, but we do hope to build in a cross-over somewhere down the line. Truth is that this is like a set of universes (or Multiverse as all us comic-fans know it!) where we are building multiple comic universes through our comics – if some of them happen to bump into each other along the way… Aniruddho: Yes of course, like I said earlier, I am very excited about the collaboration aspect of this combined label more than anything else. Our regular titles like VRICA & Damned & Ground Zero will continue this year as per schedule and we aim to solidify the cross-over aspect of ICBM by end of this year. Mixing genres should be fun! And multiverses are the standard cheat code for creating crossovers in comics – there I said it! What are your marketing strategies? How big will the team be now (illustrators, script writers, etc)? What is your target audience? Akshay: The target audience? For me, anyone who likes a good story. Period. The Meta Desi team is a bit of a rotating roster because it’s creator-owned system means that the creators working with us at any given time are contracted for the duration of a particular comic and after that they may or may not do the same or another comic and new people are coming on board all the time – it’s very exciting and a load of fun! I have no clue about marketing besides sharing stuff with our readers and with our fellow comic fans online and at conventions – Aniruddho? You got any ideas? Aniruddho: The fact of the matter is that the main marketing avenues independent publishers have are the Comic Cons – that’s the easiest way to reach the target audience, especially the buying one. Apart from that there’s of course online avenues like amazon.in and rajcomics.com, but to us that’s secondary. With this collab, we’re pitching our combined muscle (Biceps 36 inches Clash!) to wrestle these opportunities at Comic Cons and online. In-store retail is a distant dream, but we’re hoping we can crack that together. Going down the memory lane, how has been the journey for Chariot/Meta Desi Comics till date, what were the hits and misses? And what is the way ahead… Akshay: Well… it’s been a great journey and like any such road, it had its bumps. We did really well with our first anthology but even all the people involved acknowledge where it fell short – it was a first comic and while it was good, it had flaws. But you live and learn and so we made a better second edition and even from that we’ve learned and are improving the next one. The biggest HIT has to have been that the readership has been very kind and so many have given us a shot and more importantly, many have emailed us and found us online and at conventions and talked about what they enjoyed in our comics and for any creative person, that’s what really makes your day, your week, your year – money is a necessity, but genuine appreciation of what you created, that is priceless. The biggest MISS for us was Mumbai Comic Con where the sales of comics were poor across the board – merchandise and all did well but for us in particular and publishers in general, I think Indian comics were surprised to find that Mumbai had the lowest comic-buying audience and it was a bit of financial hit given we all pay to travel and be there. Aniruddho: Hahahaha! Akshay’s love for Mumbai Comic Con is legendary. As much as I love Mumbai, it’s the only city where I have been haggled for over prices of comics – after a 40 per cent discount already, which I think is hilarious. As for hits and misses, I had already covered that before with AnimationXpress, but a special shout out to Annual Comic Con India 2014, that was a big hit for us and of course the love and support we’ve received for the main titles like VRICA. Finally, do you really believe the Indian market is welcoming the graphic comics? What is the future of comics in the country? Is digital the way ahead (getting onto mobile apps and social media)? Akshay: It is and it isn’t – I keep sticking to this point. The market IS growing and people are really getting into it, but it says something that in a country of a billion people, most of us publishers will attend four conventions in the biggest cities where people attend in hundreds and thousands but we struggle to even break even – people need to be braver and at least be more willing to support the smaller local publishers instead of buying hundreds of thousands of Rupees worth of imported comics that they can order online all year around. We’re both trying digital, it’s not a great mover right now but I think it will definitely be a strong part of comics in the future. We will always have print comics but not exclusively. Options and difference in pricing for the two (digital = cheaper) and whether you are a collecting type of reader will determine which you prefer. Aniruddho: My point always has been and this is something I’ve stressed all the time is that the audience needs to grow up – there’s only so much mythology to go around and read and we need to get over the obsession with it. Only then can truly original new content grow and be accepted. There are tons of companies doing new cool stuff – the audience needs to be brave and accept the new – good or bad. And give feedback, most importantly give feedback! Akshay: Yes! The feedback thing! We keep asking all readers: “If you don’t try out the new and tell us what you liked and what you didn’t, we can’t give you what you want!” What are the challenges ahead for ICBM and how do you intend to overcome the same? Akshay: Not killing each other? 😀 Sorry, seriously though, the main thing is constantly improving on the comics we make and finding new ways to connect with the readers – and of course keeping our venture alive as long as possible. How we’re going to do that, I have no idea. I figure we’ll cross each bridge as we come to it. Aniruddho: Akshay’s right, that apart from constantly improving and connecting with the audiences, the idea with this venture is to manage the sustainability aspect of being independent publishers – and I know we both want to be here long-term and not be a fly-by-night like some others have been before us.