On February 19, 2011, Dilli Haat, an Indian handloom-and-craft bazaar in south Delhi, found itself hosting something quite different: the country’s first comics-based national convention. And that’s how Comic Con India was born.
Founder Jatin Varma remembered counting everyone who walked into Dilli Haat that day in February as an attendee. Entry was free. Now tickets for Comic Con, which is held annually in Mumbai, Bengaluru and, most recently, Hyderabad start selling weeks ahead. Thousands attend.The latest edition in Delhi will run from December 9-11 in Okhla.
Varma, an Economics graduate from the University of Washington, was just 23 when he launched Random Magazine, known for its spoofs on Bollywood, celebrities and popular culture. The magazine folded two years later, but Varma, an avid comics collector who had attended Comic Con in the US, decided to start an Indian franchise. And it paid off: organisers are expecting over 30,000 people at Delhi’s Comic Con, making it the biggest one in India so far.
The first such event - the Golden State Comic Book Convention - was held in 1970 in San Diego by a group of local comic book fans. The world of comics has exploded since - what was once restricted to a popular but niche publishing industry, now includes some of the world’s biggest entertainment brands. Marvel is perhaps the best example of that transformation. The nearly bankrupt publisher kickstarted its growth by licensing its iconic superheroes to television shows, movies, videogames and retailers (from clothes to water bottles). Ten years later, Disney bought Marvel for $ 4.3 billion.
You no longer need to be a comic book enthusiast to enjoy Comic Con. It’s now a world where good old superheroes (Spiderman and Wonder Woman) and Hollywood legends (Luke Skywalker) coexist with alternative icons, gaming, merchandise, immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences and even wrestlers! Fans of wrestling: there is a dedicated “zone” where you can play out the exaggerated entrance of your favorite wrestlers, complete with lighting and sound.
It isn’t just comics making it to the big screen, but also the other way around. Baahubali, a Telugu film that grabbed national attention for its visual effects (and record-breaking earnings), will have its own stall at this Comic Con. They have an “experience zone” where via VR you can step into the fictional world of the movie.
There is a gaming zone where winners can together earn Rs 19,58,000; and cosplay or the art of dressing up as your favorite comic book character. At the end of each day, one winner takes walks away with Rs 50,000. All these winners then compete against winners from other cities at Comic Con Chicago.
Book lovers, don’t fret because books are still at the heart of Comic Con: over 10 new titles will be launched this weekend, such as The Legend of Azad, the story of an Indian samurai superhero; The Age of Immortals, a tale of Aghoris; and Shivaay featuring a Yeti from Bhutan. Indian comics, according to Varma, “have a long lineage” and are worth experiencing because their rich, varied plots are a mix of myth, imagination and superheroes. And they’re cheaper than international titles.
Delhi’s Comic Con is also ideal for beginners. “Hyderabad [Comic Con] is more laid-back,” said Varma. “Bengaluru likes their comics and sci-fi. Bombay is interested in television and films. Delhi wants a mix of all these.”
What: Alto Delhi Comic Con 2016
Where: NSIC Exhibition Complex, Okhla Industrial Estate
When: December 9-11, 9 am to 8 pm
Nearest Metro station: Govindpuri
Buy tickets here.