comic books

How comics are redrawing the way mythology, politics and movies are talked about

Edgy art, digital extensions, and new talent have transformed the traditional formats.

Far from the madding crowd of million-dollar Hollywood budgets and star studded panels, there thrives an Indian comics scene that has become, perhaps, more relevant today than it’s ever been before. Thanks to the Internet and the digital age, the old school comics that have been a staple for generations of readers, like Tinkle and the classis from Amar Chitra Katha, are reinventing themselves, keeping pace with younger readers and devices. The web-comics space has also opened up with a new and increasingly talented group of artists, who aim to post their work on cyberspace rather than in print.

Mythology and superheroes

Much like in the fiction market, myths and their varying adaptations seem to reign supreme. Besides the redoubtable Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), whose mythological comics have taught hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of readers all they know about India’s myths, a couple of other publishers, including Campfire and Graphic India, are playing in this space.

Campfire’s “Mythology” genre has a large number of titles, many of them following the story of one particular character. Their comics are not restricted to Indian mythology either – some of their comics, such as Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians and Genesis: From Creation to the Flood visit pantheons and belief systems from other parts of the world. It is the artwork of these titles that really sucks readers in – the gods and heroes are all angular and statuesque figures, the colours are spectacular, and the action moves quickly. The dialogue of these books is fairly traditional, with no attempts at modernisation. There are no dudes or babes.

Graphic India, on the other hand, uses myth in the same manner as its American counterparts DC and Marvel do: as a backdrop to modern superhero stories. Shekhar Kapur’s Devi, for instance, works much like Alan Moore’s Promethea series.

Similarly set in a futuristic, dystopic city, this series has a young woman (Tara Mehta) discovering herself to be the vessel of a greater power which she must use to save humanity from evil forces. She uses a divine capability, but she is not a god, and still retreats to her human form when the battle’s lost or won. Again, it’s the illustrative style that really stands out here. Mukesh Singh’s artwork is stunning, forcing readers to turn page after page and devour Devi’s adventures.

Graphic India also launched what I find to be their most compelling myth-retelling, the Ramayana 3392 AD series. As the title might indicate, this sequence retells the Ramayana in a futuristic setting, where advances in technology explain the strange settings and the powers of the heroes.

The Ram of the series is a quietly intense, pensive man, the dialogue is modern (not too futuristic for readers in the 21st century to grasp, however) and again, the artwork is stunning. Graphic India’s strengths seem to lie in their illustrators, and the imaginative daring of their storymakers. If you want a fresh take on Indian myth, and are tired of the overflowing novel market, these are the comics for you.

Digital reach

The comic industry seems way ahead of its more traditional counterpart when it comes to the digital scene. The bigger houses, such as ACK, are pulling out all stops to get their products onto different media. Though currently only available for tablets, the ACK app allows users to purchase and download comics directly onto their devices. Tinkle, one of the house’s more popular magazines, now has a video channel on YouTube (Suppandi & Friends), which marks what Creative Director Neel Debdutt Paul calls the company’s “first real foray into animation ».

What’s interesting is how Tinkle has married its print content to interactive, digital innovations. Besides the videos, there’s an interactive app, Blippar, which works when paired with a print edition of Tinkle – after downloading the app, you simply point the camera at a specific page of the magazine and voila! extra content pops up. “The entire page is a marker for Blippar,” Paul says.

The move to digital media has enabled a new generation of comics creators to take to the field as well, perhaps much more easily than they might have done just a few years ago. Sahil Rizwan’s The Vigil Idiot, a web-comic that reviewed Bollywood movies with the most stark of illustrative styles (stick figures) has achieved phenomenal success, and has now been published as a book.

Bangalore-based illustrator and comics creator Kaveri Gopalakrishnan sees many reasons for the success of webcomics. Along with being extremely accessible, she believes that web-comics have something to say. “As a reader, I’m not excited by DC and Marvel stuff online, because I’ve seen it already but many web comics have content which is really relatable,” she adds.

The range available to those who want to read in this format is truly astounding. From Rohan Chakravarty’s Green Humour which highlights conservation and environmental issues, to Aarthi Parthasarathy’s Royal Existentials, which, in the creator’s words, “uses Indian vintage art and imagery to tell stories of historical (and contemporary) angst”, Indian web-comics creators are sailing into uncharted seas.

The contemporary language, the delivery of entertainment in a five-panel strip, which can be read in all of two minutes, is an irresistible pull, promising immediate gratification for the smartphone generation. There’s no need to invest heavily, time or money-wise, to be entertained by a comic strip anymore, and the frequent updates guarantee freshness.

Words as weapons

While comics have always relied on both words and images to make their point, some genres place a greater emphasis on witty observation than others. Unlike the mythological comics, which can rely on visuals to tell the story, political comics use gentle – and sometimes, not so gentle – prods to make their point.

Take for instance, Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land, a web-comic that uses stock characters, usually delivering monologues, to make political observations. The creators usually leave the stinger for the last panel, leaving their readers with something to think about. The posts are topical, witty and sometimes even bleak.

This is not an optimistic strip and seems to reflect a darkening sociopolitical atmosphere. This is effected by often simulating the viewpoint of those in power, delivering justification for various events and opinions. The pairing of this holier-than-thou sentiment with less than conventionally appealing imagery sets a strange, dystopic tone, setting in motion the kind of reflection that a conventionally told graphic narrative might not have. No wonder Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land has also just been published as a book.

It’s true that comics have had a long history in India, well before Marvel and DC arrived on the scene. It also seems like they’ll continue to thrive here, thanks to the efforts of creative people and the love shown to them by dedicated readers. Of course, there are still questions about what kind of comics will thrive. But writers, artists and the comics industry as a whole is showing that it does have an interesting and alternative way of depicting the world.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.