Editorial by Andrew Dodd, editorial director, Campfire
DELHI: It has never happened before, but it’s sure to happen again. Last weekend, fifteen thousand comic book fans gathered together in Delhi for India’s first ever Comic Con.
The two-day convention was a phenomenal success, far exceeding the expectations of both the organizers (Twenty Onwards Media) and the participants. In its inaugural year, this annual comic con provided a much-needed platform for publishers, retailers, writers and illustrators to meet with each other, and with their fans, in a relaxed environment. Most of the 35 companies present boasted sales much above what they had anticipated. Campfire graphic novels, for example, raked in more revenue during the first day of the comic con than in 10 days at the Delhi Book Fair, whilst Level 10 Comics and Vimanika sold out of all their stock by half way through the second day.
Sales, although important, were of course only one aspect of the event. A programme of workshops, activities and book launches literally took centre stage in a dedicated area at the hub of the venue. This allowed the publishers to showcase their work to the public in a fun and interactive way.
The location itself acted as the perfect backdrop for this kind of event. Dilli Haat is a venue which has been created to replicate the feel of a traditional Indian marketplace. It offers handicrafts, food and cultural activities from every part of India. Therefore, the infrastructure necessary for a comic con was already in place, with catering, parking and the stall setup being taken care of. Holding the convention in such a place allowed the comic book industry to increase its exposure to the general public. With thousands visiting Dilli Haat on a daily basis, it was great to see people previously unaware of the comic book medium being drawn in by what they saw. There was a perfect blend of lifelong enthusiasts and curious newcomers, and it was awesome to see them mingling.
Some of the enthusiasts made a particular effort to stand out from the crowd –- and did so brilliantly. Inspired by the chance to win one of various prizes, many attendees turned up in full costume, as a comic book character of their choice. From American superheroes such as Superman, Wolverine and Harley Quinn to local Indian heroes like Chacha Chaudhary, all those who dressed up appeared to be having a great time.
In addition to the costume contest prizes, and of much greater importance, was a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to Anant Pai. Anant Pai is the founder of Amar Chitra Katha, the most successful comic book publisher in the history of Indian comics, and his work in converting Indian epics, mythology, history, folklore and fables into the comic book format is unprecedented. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to him by another legend of Indian comics -– Pran Kumar, the creator and illustrator of Chacha Chaudhary. With both the old guard and the new innovators of Indian comics all present in one place for the first time, this festival and celebration of comic books had a true feeling of completeness.
With India’s comic book and graphic novel market still in a fairly nascent stage, this was the perfect time for the subcontinent to have its first event of this nature. The air of optimism regarding the current state of Indian comics was tangible to anyone in attendance. There was a buzz about the place, and a real feeling that this is the kind of platform that will catapult the comic book format into India’s public consciousness.
That said, most Indians are not totally unfamiliar with comics. Since the late 1960s, publishers such as Amar Chitra Katha and Diamond Comics have been hugely popular with a large portion of the Indian market. However, the popularity of the medium plummeted in the 90s, with the advent of satellite television and, more specifically, animated series on Cartoon Network and Pogo. This, along with the prevalence of games consoles and the internet, has meant stiff competition for all varieties of publishers -– not least those focusing on the comic book medium.
And that is why the recent steady growth in the popularity of this medium, culminating in the industry’s ability to stage such a successful comic con, feels like the start of a renaissance period for comics in this part of the world.
All the signs from this spectacular weekend are positive. From the attendance figures and the sales revenues to the press coverage and the general excitement of the public, comic con has certainly proved that there is a place for comics and graphic novels in the hearts and bookshelves of people in India, and that big things lie ahead for all those involved.
Here’s to next year, and an even bigger and better Comic Con India in 2012.