Beyond comic relief

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Feb 12 2012, 08:41am hrs
The story might be grimthe villains lay siege to Mumbai, creating terror, killing people, and the hero, despite fighting bravely, falls to the evil forcesbut it is a comic that the saga is featured in. Titled The Braveheart of Mumbai 26/11, the comic is part of a series called the 'Indian War Comics'. The series feature stories of heroes of the Indian Army, including Param Vir Chakra awardee Captain Vikram Batra and Ashok Chakra awardees Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Col NJ Nair, presenting in graphic detail the courageous stories of these martyrs.

It was while listening to a story about Captain Vikram Batra and his heroic deeds at Kargil that Delhi-based Aditya Bakshi, the son of an Army General himself, decided to create a series of comics based on India's war heroes. Captain Batra single-handedly overpowered five Pakistani soldiers after completing a perilous climb in hostile territory and weather. There was a lot of material available on him, but only in the regimental format of historical accounts, which would hardly appeal to children. I wanted to make these heroes known to the widest possible audience, and in a more permanent way than the odd TV programme, said Bakshi in an earlier interview. And, with the help of budding comic artist Pradeep Yadav, a 19-year-old student at the Delhi College of Art, Indian War Comics was born.

The Captain Batra comic, titled Yeh Dil Maange Morereportedly the Captain's favourite catchphrase while attacking enemy troopswas a big success, giving life to the endeavour and paving way for other similar comics.

The edition Braveheart of Mumbai26/11, although dealing with a topic that is sensitive and painful to many Indians, describes the events leading up to the 26/11 attacks with great clarity and vigour. It's easy to portray the event as a black and white sequence-by-sequence episode, but the comic form lends itself to dramatisation and detail that mere prose cannot replicate. The images portraying the villainsKasab and his cohortsand the hero, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, are rendered with care and imagination, providing a graphic counterpoint to the sparse commentary provided in the text boxes. By now, we all know what happened on that fateful day, how the terrorists entered the city, and how the city forces mobilised to counteract them, but the comic still keeps you riveted; you want to keep reading regardless. The images and colours are vivid and well-drawn, fully doing justice to the story of bravery and selflessness they are trying to portray.

An added boost to the Indian War Comics is their digital form, available free on the Aakash tablet and the iPad at a nominal price. The comics are soon going to be released in Hindi and several other regional languages, which will only serve to add to their appeal.

Clearly, Indian comics have come a long way since they first arrived on the scene in the 1960s. The earliest and most accessible way in which children growing up in India over the last three decades were exposed to historical figures and epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana were through Anant Pai's brainchild, Amar Chitra Katha. Uncle Pai, as he was affectionately called, led the blossoming of Indian comics, with lovingly illustrated stories from the Panchatantra, Jataka Tales, Indian epics and exploits of the witty and practical Birbal from

Akbar's court.

Previously, the only comics available in India were those imported from abroadTintin, Asterix and Obelix, Archie, etc. But started in 1967, Amar Chitra Katha brought about a welcome change of Indian stories being told in a manner accessible to both children and adults. With over 70 million copies sold over the last 40-odd years, the series is undoubtedly an international success. Apart from being highly educational and fun, the change Amar Chitra Katha brought about was the introduction of comics in regional languages, which took the comic format into the hinterland of India.

Soon, following the success of Pai's creation, others also joined the cause. Pran was the next big name in the Indian comic book scene, creating new characters like Dabu, Shrimatiji and the much-loved Chacha Chowdhary and Sabu. A little more than a decade later, in 1980, Tinkle comics entered the scene and took the Indian comic market by storm. With lovable and relatable characters like Shikari Shambhu, Kalia the Crow, Suppandi and several others, the series was a great success with children, who loved the humour and dialogue of the comics, and parents, who found great value in the moral lessons the comics taught the children.

Of course, these comics had to contend with foreign competitionlike the DC Comics and Marvel Comics superhero characters Superman, Spiderman, Batman and several othersbut they held their own in the Indian market, a testament to their longevity and the value they brought.

Recently, a new trend has been seen in the Indian comic book space. Comic styles like the Japanese Manga have been making deep inroads in the urban comic book market in Indiaseveral Indian comic book artists have been experimenting with the style, adapting it to the Indian market. There is even one such endeavour to make a comic book based on the Mahabharata in the Manga style, due to be released soon.

The trend started by Uncle Pai (may he rest in peace) hasn't been allowed to die out, and there is no doubt that he would have given his blessing to this new series in Indian comics, educational and inspiring as they are.