Pop Culture, Level 10, Vimanika, Holy Cow, Twenty Onwards, Leaping Windows, Manta Ray, iRock. These are names of companies in India, whose products go under equally interesting names: Hush, Retrograde, Munkeeman, Widhwa Ma-Andhi Bahen, Zombie Talkies: Bloodfest in Bollywood, Adventures of Timpa, Werehouse, Uud Bilaw Manus: Back with a Vengeance, Ravanayan. We’re talking comic books and graphic novels, the latter being longer stories than in comic books. All these companies, with all these products, some of which will be launched later this month, are Indian. The Indian consumer, of course, is still to mature from the belief that comics are only for kids, though awareness is growing.
Bookstores, which earlier used to stock comics on a part of one shelf perhaps, are now creating generous space for multiple titles in comics and graphic novels. The Landmark bookstore in Andheri, a Mumbai suburb, stocks 4,000-5,000 titles — international and Indian.
"Graphic novels and comics are fast-selling items at the store," said Sandeep Singh, in charge of the books section at this Landmark store. "Indian authors are a big draw and there are dedicated buyers in this genre. Amar Chitra Katha and Chota Bheem fly off the shelves." The store sells around 10-15 graphic novels and comics daily, of which Indian authors and comics account for around two copies a week. There is great interest towards this genre and when we offer discounts, like now, the books get sold quickly."
That’s good news for the genre and the publishers are doing their best to push up awareness and sales. Following the Comic Convention — or Comic Con — held in some international markets, February 2011 saw India’s first Comic Con in Delhi, started by Twenty Onwards Media. The two-day convention attracted 35 companies and 15,000 visitors. A Comic Con spokesperson said, “Campfire graphic novels raked in more revenue during the first day than in 10 days at the Delhi Book Fair, whilst Level 10 Comics and Vimanika sold out all their stock halfway through the second day.” Graphic novel Ravana: Roar of the Demon King is a Campfire publication.
Later this month, several new titles will launch at the Comic Con Express — the travelling version of the Indian Comic Con — to be held in Mumbai. Jatin Varma (Twenty Onward Media), founder, Comic Con, who also has a publishing house, Pop Culture Publishing, will launch five graphic novels — Munkeeman by Abhishek Sharma, writer and film director (of Tere Bin Laden fame); Widhwa Ma-Andhi Bahen! by Adhiraj Singh, Zombie Talkies: Bloodfest in Bollywood by iRock Media, Retrograde by Akshay Dhar and a comic, Adventures of Timpa.
Said Varma: “Graphic novels are relatively new entrants in India. Single issue graphic novels are more profitable than comics and have a longer shelf life. The gestation period might be slightly longer, but it is usually worth the wait.” Since the comic/graphic reading genre is still nascent in India, the industry has to make the initial efforts to create a consuming audience.
“The biggest problem is lack of proper distribution channels, which is why publishers like selling via direct channels such as our convention or book fairs, where you get to interact with your audience, get feedback and sell directly. Constant feedback helps as a comic project is much more than a book — if you develop the characters and popularise them, you can create multiple revenue lines such as merchandise and animation. But everything takes time,” said Varma."It is not that India does not have talent but the genre is so niche, most buyers price sensitive, that the publishers, writers and the artists are currently focused on getting the public to read their work," said writer Akshay Dhar.
Pratheek Thomas, co-founder, Manta Ray Publishers, Bangalore, concurred: “Most of us do it for the love of it. Financial viability is not the big point now.” Thomas wrote India’s first silent graphic novella, Hush, which has only sketches and no words. “From our point of view, it did excessively well.” Hush sold at Rs 195. Most comics in India sell below Rs 100.
“The comic industry started in India as early as the 1960s but our creators were still mostly unknown, except for few such as Aabid Surti, Anant Pai and cartoonist Pran,” said filmmaker Alok Sharma. He is making a documentary — Chitrakatha — on Indian comics, to release in 2012.
“Getting funding is not easy,” said Shreyas Srinivas, founder, Level 10 Entertainment. The company publishes its monthly magazine, Comic JUMP, targeting 18-30-year-old urban consumers. So far, 12 issues, priced at Rs 100 each, have been published. The company hopes to break even by end-2012.
“We have completed our first round of VC funding,” said Srinivas. “For the medium to be termed as a success, it should go to the next level of merchandising and digital applications. We will launch our digital format in November.”
Vivek Goel, a comic book artist who started Holy Cow Entertainment five months ago, has published three books, distributed by India Book House. The first volume of the graphic novel, Werehouse (three 20-page stories) was priced at Rs 80 each for a limited 500 copies. Ravanayan, a 10-series comic book has, from its third issue, become double-sized (two issues in one). Each single issue came for Rs 40; the double issue sells at Rs 70. Holy Cow plans to publish six comics and one graphic novel yearly.
There is Comix.India, which accepts publishes stories with illustrations online on Pothi.com, with an additional print-on-demand model. The digest has 180-300 pages and sells at Rs 299-399. Kailash Iyer, a designer who is now managing it, said, “Even if the order is for just one book, Pothi will print it.” Comix.India has released four volumes, each based on a theme. The fifth volume, with humour as its theme, will be released soon. Profits are shared by Comix.India, the authors and Pothi. Writers can also buy the book directly from pothi.com at a discounted `author’s price’.
Then there is a circulating comic library, Leaping Windows, which delivers comics at your doorstep. The Mumbai-based library has over 2,000 comics, graphic novels and the difficult-to-find and expensive Japanese comics, Manga. With Rs 1,500 for a three-month subscription to Rs 4,500 yearly, and annual registration fees of Rs 500, the customer can place orders online. Leaping Windows will start a reading room in November for a nominal entry fee and tie up for a cafe, informed Utsa Shorn, partner.