Are the comic lovers a bunch of middle aged persons scrounging in old book shops? ‘No’, says the author.

I always believed that my generation, who were kids in the Seventies, were the last of the die-hard comic book lovers in India. From the eighties onwards kids succumbed to the siren call of Television and, later,  mobile phones, the Web, X boxes and gaming consoles to have any time for anything as mundane as reading comics.

Only a few geeks from the younger generations still read comics and most of them were into the angst-ridden, borderline psychotic men and women in tights who dominated the comic book scene at the time.  By the turn of the century, the only comic book lovers left in India appeared to be yours truly and a bunch of old fogeys of similar tastes.

One of my younger friends who still retained a taste for comics used to laugh out loud at the thought of what he called ‘a bunch of middle-aged men scrounging through stacks of old books and magazines in dusty markets in search of the comic books they loved as kids’. Twenty years on my friend is an old fogey himself and still an avid comic reader though his scrounging is mostly on auction sites on the internet. Welcome to the club, kiddo.

The first Indie Comics Festival

In 2018 the first Indie Comics Festival was held in Kochi on a relatively small scale, testing the waters so to speak.  The second was held in 2019 on a grander scale. The organizers included my friends Sreeram and Tony Davis of ‘Comics Collective’ who have also conceptualized and shot several episodes of a series on comics in Kerala called ‘ Katha Vara Kathakal’ which is available on YouTube and is a must-watch. I was invited to attend and participate in a panel discussion on comics. The other panelists were my fellow enthusiasts Arun Prasad and Narayan Radhakrishnan. I made the trip expecting a half-empty venue and a few lacklustere participants who were basically there to get out of the rain.

To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. The venue was packed and buzzing with activity. There were a number of youthful participants, independent comic enthusiasts and creators who loved the medium and had the ambition and drive to create their own comics. Each table had a fresh-faced individual eager to interact with the visitors and share their infectious passion for the medium. I went from table to table, meeting them, leafing through their creations and buying quite a few to be savoured at leisure once I got home. One of the young comic creators I met was a young man named Sanid Asif Ali. I recognized a kindred spirit and spent quite some time chatting with him and ended up buying a copy of one of his creations.

Other young creators I met included Prateek and Tina of ‘Studio Kokkachi’ and Parvati Menon aka Winged Peach , creator of the webcomic ‘Yakshi’ ( Witch in Malayalam). I bought a copy of ‘ Yakshi’ a quirky take on an old theme. Think an indie version of Wendy the Good Little Witch with echoes of the French character Melusine as also Little Itch , the bad little witch from Little Lulu.

Lakshmi turned out to have roots in Irinjalakuda which is now turning out to be a happening place on the comics map of God’s Own Country as it is also home to the affable Mohandas Menon, artist on the iconic Malayalam comics characters Mayavi, Kapeesh, Dakini and Luttapi. He is also the artist of the Kerala-themed issues of Amar Chitra Katha including the classic ‘ Thacholi Othenan’, ‘ Marthanda Varma’ and several others plus another  favourite ‘ Bal Ganesh’.

A few days back Sanid sent me a message about a comics anthology called ‘Hope On’ which is a collection of narratives by artists and writers created during the Pandemic and narrating stories of love, companionship, sharing, and hope during the despondency and despair of the pandemic. He asked me whether I would like to read the anthology and provide some feedback. I jumped at the offer and purchased the book (which Sanid provided at a hefty discount) and it arrived a couple of days back. The book was accompanied by a card with a lovely little caricature of yours truly by Sanid and Rameena.

That thoughtful gesture alone made it worth the price of admission and the lovely cover in pastel shades by Nitya Menon made the book seem all the more enticing. The book contains five stories narrated by Neha Gupta, Padmakumar N., Nirosha Shanmugan, Sheeba S. Nath, Sneha Cecil and Jayasree K.S. The artists on the stories include Sanid himself, Nithin Mathew who has co-edited the book with Sanid, Aakash, Parvati Menon, Geeti Barai and Jeslina John. The story covers are by Tejus S. Most of the collaborators met during the Indie Comic Fests in 2018 and 2019.

Feareless youngsters

The comics and caricatures on view at Indie Fest 2019 included several on political and current themes, fearless and bold in a post ‘Charlie Hebdo’ world where every other person you meet wears his political inclinations and ideology on his or her sleeve and brandishes it in your face at the drop of a hat. I was impressed by the courage and conviction these youngsters had, they were not afraid to stand up and be counted and speak out for what they felt was right. Pete Townshend and the Who could have been speaking about this generation when they sang ‘ The Kids Are Alright’.

This anthology though has no such incendiary themes. All the stories are women centric which , to quote the blurb on the back ‘capture the real life vignettes of women who find kindness, compassion , love and self worth during testing times’.  These are simple stories , stories you can easily relate to and empathise with. The illustrators have various influences from  ranging  from ‘ligne claire’ to ‘manga’. The very last panel of the final story in the anthology seemed to encapsulate the thread that runs through all the stories. There’s always hope. Hope On.

The anthology can be ordered online at www.studioniyet.com  and is heartily recommended . These talented creators need to be encouraged to ensure that the comics medium in India thrives and flowers and attracts  readers other than a bunch of  middle aged persons scrounging in old book shops. The next Indie Comics Fest is slated for September, 2022 in Bengaluru at Rangoli Metro Art Centre  and after that Kochi will again host an Indie Comics Fest on October 2 nd at French Toast, Kacheripady. As they used to say back in the Swinging Sixties ‘ Be there, or be square’.

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Vineeth Abraham calls himself a “complete, utter and unapologetic bibliophile”. He owns a large personal library and resides in Irinjalakuda, Kerala. In Shelf Life, Abraham writes about reading, books, and beyond.

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