India Insight

Comic books try new ways to keep Indian readers hooked

For 11-year-old Jahanabi Prasad, it’s a busier month than usual. After eight hours at school, she returns home for a quick lunch before attending classes for her annual exams a few weeks away. Still, she always finds time to read her favourite comic book series.

“I like Tinkle … Its characters are funny. And the stories are nice. Unlike regular books, it is colourful too, easy to understand,” said Prasad, a resident of Noida, a suburb east of Delhi.

Some 600 kilometres to the south in the tourist city of Udaipur, 12-year-old Bhaskar Sinha buys comic books every two weeks. His favourite character is Shikari Shambu — a bumbling, faint-hearted jungle explorer who ends up trapping animals on the loose and saving people‚Äôs lives by accident.

Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu are also the best,” said Sinha, referring to the old man whose brain is said to run faster than a computer, and his giant-sized companion from the planet Jupiter. Both popular characters were created by cartoonist Pran Kumar Sharma.

Prasad and Sinha are among a new generation of comic book fans that gives some hope to India’s comic book publishers who are trying to keep their readers despite the lure of satellite television and the Internet.

In India, grassroots comics rule where media cannot reach

Devender Ojha was a student in high school when he created a comic strip about a headmaster who used to turn up to class drunk. The teenager made copies of his work and displayed them in his village in Uttarakhand. It wasn’t long before it got noticed.

“After that, that headmaster was sacked from the school and new headmaster came there,” said Ojha, who is now 24 and has turned his adolescent doodling into a career as a newspaper cartoonist.

Ojha was trained at a World Comics India workshop and is one of thousands of volunteers working with villagers in India’s heartland. They organise workshops where people learn to draw and depict topical issues — such as genetically modified cotton or radiation exposure — on A4 sheets joined together to make four-panel strips. The organization’s founder, Sharad Sharma, describes them as “grassroots comics“.

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