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Comic punch

A host of Indian comic book makers are re-energising the comic book industry in India. Most old timers — Diamond, ACK, and Raj Comics — established in the print domain, are now looking at newer spheres even as new or emerging players such as Level 10 Comics, Vimanika and Liquid Comics enter the market with new products and plans, reports Rachit Vats.

business Updated: Feb 14, 2010 23:19 IST
Rachit Vats

A host of Indian comic book makers are re-energising the comic book industry in India. Most old timers — Diamond, ACK, and Raj Comics — established in the print domain, are now looking at newer spheres that include e-comics, television, mobile, Kindle, social networking, DVDs and home videos, even as new or emerging players such as Level 10 Comics, Vimanika and Liquid Comics (earlier Virgin Comics) enter the market with new products and plans.

The target group is no longer just kids. According to market estimates, the Indian comic publishing industry is now about Rs 300 crore in India, with around 12.5 crore copies sold per year. There is room to sell even more, says the industry. Its extension into other media can make it significantly larger.

Take Diamond Comics. Beyond its licensing agreement with Walt Disney (India), it is now eyeing the television space. The company, which claims to sell four lakh print copies a month, will launch a 24x7 cartoon TV channel based on its characters, by end-2010, in Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam and Telugu. Its joint venture partner, Media Guru Solutions, will invest Rs 500 crore on the channel.

Gulshan Rai, MD, Diamond Comics, says, “The comic business is in a very good position now. Our core focus is the cartoon channel’s launch. Our production quality will be equivalent to those of the foreign channels.”

Manish Gupta, president, Raj Comics, says, “The business has seen multiple highs and lows in India. Only a few publishers who set up base in the 1990s were successful. Later, many other players tried entering the market but failed. In the recent times, there is renewed activity and a few new players are coming into the business. Existing players are also looking at newer verticals.”

Gupta believes new players will only expand the market and create more interest with consumers. “While our real focus is on print, we are looking at expanding into digital and animation.”

Raj Comics’ Doga is being made into a film in association with Sony Pictures Entertainment. The comics maker will roll out special Doga books for the movie launch.

ACK Media says the market is growing rapidly and it expects to grow by around 40 per cent over the next few years. ACK recently forayed into home videos and plans to launch at least 75 new titles by the end of 2010. It is also looking at releasing a movie of its popular comic character, Supandi.

Samir Patil, CEO, ACK Media, says, “There is no more a comic book industry as such as it spreads to other media. Our distribution model spans digital, home video, and mobile as well.”

Over the next two-three years, ACK plans to invest US $10-15 million. Two of its films, Sons of Ram and Tripura: The Three Cities of Maya are under film production in association with Turner. Also, it is offering subscriptions online for its digital products. Patil claims that at least 30 per cent of ACK’s business comes online. It has also tied up with Tata Docomo, allowing downloads of its comics on mobiles.

ACK aims to reach 1,000 stores across 20 cities by June 2010 for its home videos. The company has already sold 40,000 home videos. Popular titles including Tales of Shivaji and Birbal are being re-printed.

Besides bookstores, ACK sells its products online via amarchitrakatha.com and other tie-ups with dotcoms such as indiatimes.com and rediffshopping.com.

Liquid Comics (formerly Virgin Comics, owned by the Virgin Group) is looking at growing on a cross-media diet. The Virgin Group exited the comics business that it had founded in 2005 in a joint venture with Gotham Entertainment, in mid-2008. The business is now being revived.

Suresh Seetharaman, co-founder and president, Liquid Comics, says that the market, though nascent, is growing rapidly. “We are looking at the digital space in a big way, though the first step is to strengthen the comics publishing business, which is still in incubation.”

Level 10 Comics expects to launch in May. Its co-founder, Shreyas Srinivas, says, “E-comics are definitely on the cards. With the advent of the iPad, Kindle and other e-readers, we foresee tremendous opportunities in e-comics. Plus, digital content can be disbursed throughout the world without distribution woes. However, phase one will concentrate on the traditional print medium.”

Level 10 Comics is still in the process of finalising its initial print run for various titles. It will follow a different strategy wherein each of its titles are broken up into ‘seasons’, each season would have three titles as ongoing series, and each season would encompass six months. For season one, Level 10 will launch three titles. It will also roll out a comic journal targeted at a slightly more mature teens-plus readership.

Vimanika Comics, started in 2008, launched its e-comics a few weeks ago. The company is now looking at clinching deals with telecom players for mobile downloads. It is also working on converting its comics brands into animation films for Cartoon Network.

Karan Vir Arora, founder, Vinamika Comics, says, “Comics are now online, mobile and in print. These parallel verticals help generate more revenues. The business is solely dependent on how good the content is in print. Our aim is to build a foundation in the publishing business and simultaneously expand into other verticals.”