Guest Column | Creating the actual comic ‘industry’ – Bharath Murthy

There is no doubt that the comics medium has grown and diversified in India over the last 10 to 15 years. However, it has been a slow process and much needs to be done to nurture it in the years to come. On one hand, we have a handful of graphic novel releases every year and a few monthly magazines that have continued to survive despite the odds. On the other, there are a growing number of artists who make their own self-published comics. There are also a few small publishers bravely trying to tell stories that would otherwise never see the light of day. And yet, the world of Indian comics is very tiny and marginal. I continue to hold that, the key reason for this is the lack of sustainable monthly comics magazines printed in black and white. I have made arguments as to why such magazines are economically viable only in black and white. We need new publishers willing to create such magazines in this format. Such magazines need to reach a national readership. Only such a sustained effort over years can create a comics ‘industry’ that we all talk about, but doesn’t yet properly exist. We also need magazines that consciously appeal to a female readership. That said, I’ve been trying to do my bit. I have started a new comics anthology series for adults called Vérité, which will release soon. We have also started Indie Comix Fest, for self-published comics. I see fests like this being an important part of creating a comics culture from the ground up. Every six months, it’s an event that brings artists and readers face-to-face in one location, and gives a chance for a general public to access new comics work. It helps put the spotlight on comics as a form of creative expression. For artists, it is a chance to interact with readers and get direct feedback. I see only positives in doing such events. The more comics artists take chances and tell stories that are dear to them, the more the culture will grow and new talents can be nurtured. But as I said above, the crucial element that is missing is the existence of black and white comics periodical magazines on the national level. When I was a kid, monthly children’s magazines such as Target sustained a whole generation of cartoonists, who at least got some space to do comics on a regular basis. New styles of drawing were allowed expression on those pages. Today, we need magazines that sustain long stories in comics. That’s the way to developing the next generation of comics artists. People often wonder why Indian comic books don’t get made into feature films. Of course, the assumption here is if Hollywood’s doing it why not Bollywood? It took many decades in Hollywood for movies based on comic books to become the global blockbusters they are today. The reality in India is that comics are read by a tiny percentage of the population, and have never been a form of mass entertainment… yet. For that to happen needs the sustained effort of publishers. No wonder then that Bollywood producers are hesitant to sink money into big budget effects laden movies based on Indian comics. They are unsure if a general public will buy it, since the books themselves have only a small readership compared to size of its potential audience. I believe these things cannot be engineered and calculated, just as the peculiar and unique form of popular cinema in India emerged out of a set of socio-economic conditions and could not have been the result of market surveys and quasi-scientific analysis of audience tastes. What we comics artists certainly can do is to take the production and dissemination of comics into our own hands and not wait for some golden age to magically appear. The first thing is to increase the number of new comics appearing every month. For that, there’s only one way… to keep drawing. I’m hopeful that a new generation of artists will build on the earlier one and the Indian comics scene will be all the more richer for it. (This article has been contributed by Indie Comix Fest co-founder Bharath Murthy and does not necessarily subscribe to these views).