Tinkling the comic bell with Rajani Thindiath

In a country like India which boasts legendary storytellers and eloquent wordsmiths, Tinkle was the first to present stories in English. Published initially in 1980, the comic book would go on to shape the growing years of so many Indian children as it rose to become one of the most popular magazines in the country. Started by India’s most revered comic writer Anant Pai, the comic digest introduced us to the chucklesome-yet-fascinating world of Supandi and Shikari Shambhu. Now over three decades later, Tinkle continues to go strong. The editor-in-chief Rajani Thindiath spared a few words with us as she spoke about the success of Tinkle, upcoming stories, the future of Indian comic industry and a lot more. With an influx of new comic stories and characters over the years, where do you think Tinkle stands in the Indian comic industry today? Tinkle has always been a magazine and it is fortnightly now. So it wouldn’t be a fair comparison as Tinkle has a circulation reach since the last 37 years, whereas graphic novels – because of the nature of the book – tends to be sporadic and go over a period of time. So there is no comparison actually. How has Tinkle adapted to the changing trends of the comic industry? We didn’t adapt to the changing trends of the comic industry, we adapted to changing trends among the readers. In the sense that we have been since 37 years, we started Supandi, Shambhu and so on, but the child of the new millennium is very different from the child of the Doordarshan era. So we keep talking to children, have workshops for them, interact with them. Thus, we do know what they like to read now, what they don’t like to read now. You have seen a lot of character series like Dental Diaries which are meant for our readers. So, yes the evolution is constant. What is it about Tinkle that the Supandi and Shikari Shambhu stories of the bygone era are talked about even today? For once if you look at it, the characters themselves are iconic. Because if you look at who they are, how they are illustrated, I can’t think of other characters who stood out much. Supandi has a square head with three strands of hair, whereas by nature he was a cheerful goof. In case of Shikari Shambhu, he had a hat which covered his eyes and these are well thought out things that creators that time came up with. So, no one is really surprised of their enduring popularity. On a lighter note, why was it named Tinkle? Can you share the story behind its name? Mr.Subba Rao, who was the then the assistant editor to Anant Pai, was the one who proposed a scientific, secular kind of a magazine. So they were discussing a name for the magazine and at one point their meeting was interrupted by a phone call to Mr.Rao and he said I will give you a tinkle back. So Mr.Pai said this is a good name because it is the sound of the bell. So eventually they decided to keep that as a name. What do you think is the reason for Indian comic industry’s downfall in the recent times? From what we have seen so far here and around the world, the interest in comics is actually rising. So is the interest in reading. Now one may not read on paper; they may read it on some other device. In fact, reading is increasing because back in the 80s there weren’t cell phones and tablets to read. You just had newspaper. So reading had actually increased now. And in a huge country like ours, whatever numbers you achieve looks minor in comparison to the population. Where do you see the comic industry five to ten years from now? From what I have seen in the past 10 years or so, a lot of graphic novels have come out. But a lot of them are also darker issues, serious issues. I hope there will also be issues on a more lighter note for the light-hearted. And also hope more people do turn this into a very strong industry since there are more masses involved in it right now as compared to that in the 80s and 90s. So what I expect in the next ten years is that if there is an effort to communicate in a way that is entertaining, comics should be able to make it large. Do you have any new characters coming up? Or any changes in the old ones? To start with the changes in the older ones, Supandi was always portrayed as the servant for many, many years but we have chose to let him wreak his havoc everywhere. So he can be a copywriter, a swimming instructor, an assistant archaeologist or a photographer. They can see a range of possibilities that opens up. Whereas Shikari Shambhu is no more a shikari as in today’s India we cannot accept something like that. Now he is more of a specialist forest ranger who is brought in for advice but he remains afraid of animals still. In terms of newer characters, we have brought in Super Weirdos and Wingstar. In the horror genre, we have Dental Diary and Buchki and the Booligans; in the first edition of July we have included a new hostel series called Nois, which the latest. It’s about four kids, about the pranks played in hostels, the bullies and all the fun. Are there changes in the packaging—earlier it was Tinkle thin, Tinkle digest, Tinkle yearly volume? It is what I said earlier. Tinkle is always evolving and has to since the readership is changing every year. We address what the children like to see, what they like to read. So if you see today’s cover as compared to that of two years ago it would be very different. And that’s not because we are re-packaging but when we meet children we come to know what they like and we are just reflecting that. Is there a new edition coming up now? Since we are now functioning fortnightly, our first copies for the month of July are already in the stands. So the second fortnightly will be out on 15 July, 2017. How does the team work in Tinkle? We have a very strong team of writers, artists etc. who are highly imaginative and talented. We all come together, brainstorm together and come up with a concept and work on them together. What’s the most memorable moment of working at Tinkle? Actually it’s been ten years since I joined so there are loads of memorable moments. But my first one was the day I joined Tinkle, it happened to be the birthday of Anant Pai which was 17 September. I realised that it was a kind of blessing for me. After so many years also my office joining on the birthday of Uncle Pai still remains close to my heart. Tinkle also has an app on Google Play. Can you explain the purpose of it? The entire aim of the magazine is commercial. So it’s not an archival or library edition. We will be trying different platforms where we can reach our readers better. Any major projects by Tinkle planned for the coming months? Our anniversary issue will be in November. So we are working on it and will have new characters which I won’t be able to disclose now as they are still very much in the planning stage and a lot more other things as this would be our fiftieth year.