As hard as you might try and escape extended family, every now and then you’re forced into a position where you have to interact with younger cousins. Significantly younger cousins. Once in the spot though, there are only two alternatives. The easier one is to sulk about the lack of vision your ancestors had to devoid you of any contemporaries. Adding salt to injury is the sheer intelligence and brashness of the adolescents giving you company. The other alternative is to immerse yourself in the moment and get a glimpse of what the future holds. On this rare occasion to my credit, I managed the latter. Since I was on the same couch as the tots, forced to watch the same shows as them and squint at the same stuff they were reading it did not take a degree in meta physics to sense their obsession with fantasy. Transformers, Dragonball, Ironman and awareness about the existence of characters from my era – Tin Tin , Astrix and Obelix.
That wasn’t the strange part though as i wasn’t very different myself. High five. But then, what struck me hard was a complete absence of Indian characters on their mindspace. No Chacha chowdhary, Nagraj, Shambhu Shikari in their stash of comic books.
It struck me deep enough for me to visit the neighbourhood Landmark and check on the Indian comics available. To my misfortune or the sign of the times the shelves did represent a cross section of an adolescent’s mind. A universe dominated by Marvel and Manga characters. A barely visible Amar Chitra Katha title in educational shelf but almost negligible presence of the yesteryears comic stars.
Nagraj, Super Commando Dhruv, Billoo, Motu Patlu, even Mandrake, Flash Gordon, all of them vanished, almost as a part of an evil plot.
“ What Actually happened to the Indian Comic Book Industry?”
History has it, that the comic industry in India is almost as old as its independence. The first comics introduced were the translations of western titles of the time like Mandrake, Flash Gordon , Rib kirby etc.
Its only in the 1960s that Anant Pai almost single handedly POWED! the true Indian comic genre by launching Amar Chitra Katha, and spawning an Industry full of engaging mythological and contemporary characters that captivated generations of adolescents and teens.
Ably supported by the likes of Abid Surti and Pran, the Indian comic industry grew in leaps and reached its crescendo in late 80s early 90s. When a huge variety of publishing houses were involved in the comic book industry Amar Chitra Katha, Diamond Comics, Raj Comics etc, dominated the shelves. Even the neighbourhood grocers were selling or renting these comics to kids, who were all too happy to lap up anything that came their way. Be it the genuinly good titles or hideous attempts like 3d comics of Amitabh Bachchan’s comic avtar “ Supremo”.
Around the mid 90s something started going horribly wrong.
The inexplicable Free Fall can be attributed to various reasons:
1. Cable TV& Internet – It affected many industries, killed travelling circuses, majorly hurt the fortunes of Bollywood and comic books couldn’t escape either.
2. Pricing and Distribution issues– The shelf life of a comic is even lesser than a magazine, with distribution tie up tilted in favor of retailers, which allowed them to sell back unsold inventory to publishing houses. Many publishers just got caught in the gamut of publishing and inventory management, failing to see the other threats looming on the horizon.
3. Consumer evolved fast, the Industry did not– with a change in taste of consumers and the multiple choices available to them, the industry just couldn’t keep up. Too many titles, Too many publishers cannibalising each other, whilst the dynamics of market were changing.
Think about it would any self respecting kid today be intrigued by the idea of “Chacha Chaudhary ka dimmag computer se bhi tez chalta hai”. They’d be like “Mera Bhi”.
After almost a decade of languishing in semi comatose state towards the middle of new millenium the Indian comic industry started taking small steps towards health again.
This problem however was not unique to the Indian comic industry. The biggest of them all U.S comic book industry too suffered same way. Check out the strip below:
Never as mature as its western counterpart or as creative as the far eastern variety there have been some very positive recent developments.
Amar Chitra Katha is leading charge once again. With Kishore Biyani led Future Ventures picking up 56% stake. The company now is valued at over 200 crores and uniquely positioed itself as custodian of Indian mythology for children. Venturing into an educational space and also planning a theme park.
Next up could be animation and action movies with its proprietry characters. With ACK focusing primarily on the educational and mythology side of things and focussing on the age group of 7-18, rest of the field is open for the 2 other biggies Diamond and Raj, along with new entrants and niche players.
Marvel-ing the Indian Comic – taking it to the next level
With renewed interest, Raj and Diamond find themselves in a unique position. To become the Marvel &/or Disneys of the Indian market.
The characters that Diamond traditionally developed were genial, soft , fun characters with Raj taking care of the Superheros and Vigilantes so it is clear the spaces they wish to occupy.
In the last decade or so a number of other players have emerged. A lot of them have a western origins coming with the hypothesis that India is a young market and the comic book consumption pattern must in shape and size be analogous to what has happened in the west. Therefore you see a number of them adopting a dark more mature identity focussing on the 18-30 age group. This includes Illustrated Orchids, Level10 comics and some other independent outfits.
Solution and Opportunities
1. Focused Segmentation & Targeting When you think about comics, you associate it with kids and teenagers but an average age of a comic reader is mid-twenties. Moreover globally 1 in 4 readers of comics is over the age of 50. So marketers have to understand the psyche of the Indian consumers and create content appealing to the sensibilities, and latent opportunity in the market.
2. Creating groups and sub groups of consumers – An extension of the previous point, success of Manga is a precedent to the scope of sub genres. It has genres from action – horror – comedy – drama – hentai , touching themes like homosexuality , Manga comics have created something for everyone.
3. Collaborations and Conventions – Not a solution in itself but conventions allow creators to take a more macro view of the demand and competition. Pretty sure you have heard of San Diego Comic Con. A similar initiative was launched in Delhi a year back. The first ever Comic Con in India was held in Delhi In Feb’11. This year building up to the 2nd instalment of Comic Con (even though there has been a Mumbai version, so this could qualify as the 3rd) , ComicCon express is visiting cities all across India promoting comic books.
4. Break Clutter – Graphic Novels have always labelled as the comic book for adults, a relief from the conventional themes of a comic book or a novel.
Even though there have been some some titles such as Somnath Banerjee’s Corridor there isn’t anything iconic that has come out in the art form yet. We’re waiting and watching.
5. Web Comics – If you cant beat them, join them say. Online is but a platform a media that has been adopted for almost all kinds of consumption today. Globally this is not different even for comics. Most top titles today are available and consumed in the digital format. DC comics now has both digital and hard bound versions both equally priced around the $2 mark for the latest issue.
Web comics also means that it is near free to reach out to a large audience if you produce great content. However, the only successful Indian web comic one can think of is Savita Bhabi. Sexual escapades of a Indian housewife captured the eyes and ears of every youth and adult in India. Some found it controversial others found it as a symbol of the ultra-liberal society fact is it was banned eventually.Tech-savvy fans however saved Savita from complete exile in her home country and makes us wonder how we haven’t yet seen something perhaps not so (porno)graphic coming out of the comic Industry?
6. Movie adaptations – When Disney decided to take over Marvel Entertainment, they didn’t spend all that money to get deeper into selling comics, what they paid was the intellectual property of 70 years of stories featuring thousands and thousands of characters. The biggest growth area in Hollywood in the past 10 years has been superhero movies , so this takeover worked marvellously(pun intended). Out of the 25 highest-grossing films of all time, four are recent Marvel adaptations.
With big production houses like Reliance and UTV , a step in similar lines can not only be beneficial for them but also for the phoenix-ing comic industry.
If a Big studio backsup a Nagraj or a Super Commando Dhruv movie. It will work, wouldn’t it? I guess where Sharukh Khan went wrong with RA.One was he made the movie first. Why did he now just adapt Super Comando Dhruv?
7. Merchandising – The merchandising of IP rights can be a lucrative addition to the business strategy. It is an important way to improve the visibility and appeal of products on display in retail outlets. Batman , Wolverine all have adorned the faces of t-shirts but have you ever seen any of our Indian Comic Characters make it? Maybe because people are apologetic about Saaboo being their favourite character. He wasn’t western you see. But now that we are slowly relieved of that hangover this could be a revenue stream.
Just to enumerate the power of merchandising. Star wars the iconic movie series – Box office ticket sales till date : 2.1 billion USD , Merchandise sales till date : 5 billion USD +.
8. Comic Book Store – Where do you buy your daily dose of Comics? Your newspaper vendor perhaps or maybe the Book depot at the nearest mall but what this industry is perhaps also lacking is a fully-fledged comic book store which not only deals with comic book but also merchandising of products.
9. TV Programming – Manga comics have successfully made the transition from comic books to Animation with Dragon Ball Z and Akira , so much so that Manga as a term is used for both now.
Similar trend was seen in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Indian comics made their way to the tube.
- Vikram aur Betaal was inspired by a series in the comic Chandamama
- Nonte Phonte and Honda Bhonda spawned animation films
The possibilities are endless and it’s about time the industry puts on its cape takes out that sparkling sword and works it charm.
And yeah, just in case you are interested the 2nd Annual Comic Con is at Dilli Haat in gorgeous weather between 17th and 19th Feb.
We’ll be there and we’re curious as to how many of the 90,000 odd comic con fans on FB will attend. Outta here now WOOSH!