Utter the words ‘Internet’, ‘comics’ and ‘free’ in the same breath, and the words ‘online piracy’ crop up inadvertently. But don’t worry; we’re not urging you to download off Piratebay. We’re talking about graphicindia.com, a website dedicated to Indian graphic novels. The comic site features works by writers Samit Basu, Samik Dasgupta and Siddharth Kotian among others. But here’s the best part — you can read an ongoing series for free, one chapter a week.
“The model of free comics is nearly 60 years old. In America, since the beginning of the genre, you would get free promotional comics. DC even has a ‘free comic book day’. The idea is to take the same model online,” says Basu. His newest novel, titled Unholi, is a sort of apocalyptic take on Holi. Brilliantly (and somewhat eerily) illustrated by artist Jeevan Kang, it depicts a zombie attack in Delhi on the day of the festival. For now, you can read the first four chapters online, while Basu works on the rest of it.
Other interesting reads worth a look, include a Ramayana set in the year 3392AD and a horror series called Untouchable. There’s also Devi, a graphic novel about a goddess who looks more like a superhero in her leather overalls. A comic by Stan Lee (who co-created Spider-Man, Ironman and Thor, among others) about a superhero in Mumbai is one of the most awaited novels on the website.
If all the content is available for free, how do the novels (and publishers Liquid Comics, who run the website) make money? “In a digital age, the greatest value for any content company is to build loyal audiences,” feels Sharad Devarajan, CEO and founder of Liquid Comics. He and his team intend to build their audience-base through free content and hope to have them buy a physical copy or the e-book subsequently.
With the launch of specialised comic book libraries in the city and the Comic Con taking place in three cities across the country, has the audience for the genre grown or does it remain as niche in India? Devarajan says, “Five years back, comics were still perceived to be kids products. Now, a new generation of Indian creators have begun expanding the boundaries of the medium.” Basu adds, “The market is building slowly. It’s free, so the readership is big. When you have to pay for it, it’ll be a different story.” Irrespective, for those of us who love a good graphic novel, there’s no reason to complain.