Comics have been a prevalent feature in India since 1967. Amar Chitra Katha was one of India’s first comics, and it initiated the trend for Indian comics like Tinkle and Chacha Chaudhary, which were the most widely read Indian comics. The term ‘graphic novel’ was popularised by Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, who stated that a graphic novel was a ‘fat com
ic’ aimed at adult readers, that required its own bookmark.
Graphic novels in India used to be prominently mythological, which involved retelling of different stories from the Mahabharat and Ramayan, or children’s comics. However, over the years, many genres and thematic elements have developed. Mythological novels are still a rage, but themes like war, conflict, (Kashmir in Malik Sajad’s ‘Munnu’), social issues such as gender equality and consumerism (Appupen’s ‘Aspyrus’), novels based on Indian cities, and of many different kinds have become popular over the years. These are graphic novels about real-life people and their problems, and have finally broken free from the shackles of mythology.
There are already many graphic novelists in India who have established a name for themselves. Orijit Sen and Sarnath Banerjee were some of the first few to start writing about issues and themes relevant to modern time. Appupen is extremely popular in current times for his series about a fictional place called Halahala, which offers a critique of consumerism in popular culture. Women are not yet prominent in the area of graphic novels in India, with Amruta Patil as the forerunner, whose novel ‘Kari’ offers insight into the lesbian community. There are anthologies of graphic illustrations called ‘The Obliterary Journals’ and ‘This Side That Side’ which feature varied work from artists such as Sarnath Banerjee, Vishwajyoti Ghosh, and more.
Writing graphic novels is a tedious process, for the creation involves not only writing, but also illustration, with equal attention paid to both. Thus, though the art is fairly new in India, only about two or three decades old, there are not only publishing giants like Harper Collins who publish them, but also various independent publishing houses such as Blaft, Tara, Phantomville and Manta Ray Comics which exclusively print graphic novels. Indian graphic novelists have taken inspiration from prominent international graphic novelists, such as Art Spiegelman (‘Maus’), Marjane Satrapi (‘Persepolis’), Joe Succo, who are giants in the graphic novel world. One must notice that the Indian scene differs in a few ways – memoirs, apart from Malik Sajad’s ‘Munnu’ or ‘Stupid Guy Goes to India’ have not taken wind, mythological novels are still extremely popular, and women, apart from Amruta Patil, have not yet carved a niche for themselves.
With conventions like Comic Con India cropping up, and the vast world of web illustrations, web comics, anthologies and workshops that have been taking place in the country, there is no denying that the graphic novel in India is rapidly growing. More independent publishing houses are cropping up, and the distribution, sales and popularity of graphic novels are shooting up. It looks like the graphic novel is here to stay.