Laughing through our worries: The Indian web comics

  • Tarishi Verma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 26, 2015 11:41 IST

Indian web-comics are coming into their own. The credit for that goes mostly to young social media-friendly folk who are keen to highlight the current ills of Indian society while underlining their absurdity. All this without compromising on the key elements of the comic art - that bite of satire and that sense of fun. Indians and Indian-ness, Bollywood, existential angst, politics and feminism are all fit subjects to send up, and this they do with enthusiasm and style.

India has always been keenly interested in the comic form and the tradition of visual story telling with plenty of humour thrown in has come down to us from the patachitra of Bengal through Amar Chitra Katha comics, and wildly popular periodicals like Champak, Parag, Chanda Mama, Nandan and Tinkle. While some of these were aimed at children, the newer web-comics seek a more evolved audience.

Take Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land (CWTL, founded in October 2010) which has been satirising socio-political-economic issues for the past five years. One of its panels features a father lamenting that parents caught in the Bihar exam cheating scandal should have just made their kids work hard by enrolling them in fancy coaching classes, something that money can buy. That was an option that the parents caught clambering up school buildings and passing chits through windows to their children obviously did not exercise. CWTL knew exactly which satirical chord to touch. Run by a writer-artist team, it decided to talk "about things that go on around us, things that we rant about privately." The CWTL founders who choose to remain anonymous say they "like the idea of being masked avengers."

(Images courtesy: Tatkal Ticket Comics, Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land)

Sriram Mohan, 26, a researcher working on digital politics, who has been following CWTL for some years, says the web-comic is progressive, liberal and pro-poor. "It wasn't always so political. I really like it more now. It's certainly top of the pile," he says.

While almost everyone tackles larger social issues, some web-comics seem ready to specialise. As its name suggests, Sanitary Panels is a feminist web-comic. Rachita Taneja, 23, a human rights activist at an NGO, who started it last June, prefers to draw the figures by hand and then put them up as pictures. "I read about a man getting arrested for posting an anti-government image on Facebook. It annoyed me, so I made a comic, took a picture of it and shared it with my friends. They really liked it. So I started a Facebook page and continued to draw, take photos and upload them. It wasn't a conscious decision," she says.

Most webcomics follow politics closely and use news as a point of take-off. "Keeping up with the news is a huge part of my job at the NGO, which in turn, feeds into Sanitary Panels. I never run out of ideas for comics, considering the ridiculous stuff that happens on a daily basis in India," says Rachita.

(Images courtesy: Tatkal Ticket Comics, Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land)

Humour is political, and web-comics that use it to get their message across always have a loyal following. Avid webcomic reader, Chaitali Sinha, a postgraduate student in Mumbai, says she is "interested in feminist humour in general, and web-comics have the kind of humour that makes its point without offending people. It doesn't keep the public at arms-length."

The Royal Existentials comic uses Mughal miniature paintings to brilliant effect. One panel shows a daughter lamenting to her father about the pressures of living in a patriarchal society. In another, a queen shouts the king down for disturbing her train of thought. Founded by writer and filmmaker, Aarthi Parthasarthy, 30, in November 2014, the webcomic was inspired by David Malki's Wondermark which injected Victorian art with humour. "Being an art student and a history buff, I decided to do the same with Indian miniatures," says Parthasarthy.

Posted every Friday, the web-comic seems to address predominantly feminist issues, but Parthasarthy also tries to incorporate discussions on caste, existential angst and even international events. "The process is simple: I write about what is going on. A lot of it is a product of conversations that I have. I included the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the Peshawar attacks in my comics as well," she says.

Nevin Thomas, 25, a sports writer is a fan. "It's new age. It's brave. You don't see feminism and Indian heritage art together very often," he says.

Web-comics are triggering conversations on contemporary issues such as corruption, sexism, selfies and net neutrality. (

Image courtesy: Royal Existentials)

Most of these Indian web-comics are anti-statusquoist and are keen to speak against unjust social norms. "We are living through fairly harsh times now, and artists are going to speak up against our society's increasing regression in every medium. That said, it's not like all our web-comics are grim. My favourite, Sahil Rizwan's Vigil Idiot, has always been both joyful and hopeful," says graphic novelist Samit Basu, 37, author of The Simoqin Prophecies and The Manticore's Secret, among others.

The newest kid on the block is Tatkal Ticket Comics (TTC) which takes the comic into the nations trains to talk about life's conundrums in the Indian context. Prahal Ghai, 23, started the comic strip in January this year. "I wanted to write a blog on personal and societal problems that youngsters face in India but found text boring. A web-comic seemed more interesting and the train, an ideal setting for the kind of stories I had in mind," says Ghai.

TTC follows an episodic format with the lives of two youngsters Sachin and Akash who are trying to re-assess their country through its achievements and setbacks. "Sachin and Aakash are not amongst those who feel "Is desh ka toh kuch nahi ho sakta (Nothing good can happen in this country)". Neither are they of the kind who feel everything is perfect as it is. This is the generation that is open to change and wants to fix things," says Ghai about his characters.

An avid reader of TTC, Devika, 20, who is a student, likes the web-comic as she "could connect to the ways in which the two characters talk about contemporary issues."

Like the graphic novel, which continues to become ever more popular in the country, the web-comic too is becoming increasingly popular. However, the scene is still nascent and there is some way to go in terms of execution and reach.

"Web-comics are a new medium everywhere and it's impossible to judge whether their development has been adequate or not," says Basu. "These things happen organically and they take time. I'm happy that we have a few really good ones in India, and am really looking forward to many more."

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