Being at the Comic Con, on until Feb 10 at Dilli Haat, makes you feel a bit like Alice just after she’s fallen down that rabbit hole and into Wonderland. A warrior out of Manga wanders past trailing kids in superhero costumes in his wake, women with pink hair brush past boys in Darth Vader masks and Sponge Bob Square pants and Ninja Hattori pose for pictures.
“It took an hour to get painted,” says student Neel Borooah, dressed as Dr Manhattan from Watchman, as he blinks luminous eyelids set in his very blue face and makes his way towards the Cosplay registration booth.
Competition for the prizes for best costume is fierce and Shruti Sharma dressed up as Harleyquinn from Batman complete with black and white face paint looks like a definite winner.
“It took me four hours to piant myself. First I tried poster colours but when they kept peeling off, I used acrylic colours mixed with calamine,” she says sashaying away to check out the stalls with their comic books – everything from Witchblade, Hachette’s Sudarshan Chimpanzee, selections from Blaft and collector’s copies of Bela and Bahadur and Mandrake encased like precious contraband in translucent plastic, funky mugs, cheeky t-shirts featuring among other novel characters a corpulent Super Mummy in a navvari sari.
There is much that’s serious too about the Comic Con where sessions on the actual creation of comics were held and everything from Manga to Amar Chitra Katha and American comics were discussed.
VK Karthika chief editor of Harper Collins India who was part of a panel discussion on the rise of Indie comics – the publishing house has brought out the work of, among others Sarnath Banerjee, Vishwajyoti Ghosh and Amruta Patil – says graphic novels are “a growing market but a small one”.
She points out that while comics might not seem serious, the form actually “lends itself to dark subjects”. Ari Jayaprakash’s self-published 800 page Kuru Chronicles set in an apocalyptic Kolkata that merges the Puranas and the Rig Veda with modern questions of sexuality and violence is definitely both serious and dark.
“It’s very much adult content,” he says explaining that the Chronicles, which are also part of a multimedia experience that includes music and dance and have been presented at venues across the country, is deeply political.
While the carefree crowds mill around the stalls set up by international participants like Top Cow Productions and Drawn and Quarterly, at Jantar Mantar, a group of Kashmiris peacefully protesting the hanging of Afzal Guru are being beaten up by police and goons with tilaks.
You learn about it on Twitter while a boy with giant Mickey Mouse ears wanders past. The effect is schizophrenic and around you the city is rendered mysterious; at once joyous and brutal, celebratory and vicious and in the end, utterly unknowable.