While some ‘experts’ believe that Indian comics are far from being impressive, some believe that times have never been better for the Indian comic industry. Successful Comic Cons, impressive collaborations, better art, more engrossing stories, the year saw it all. From adaptations of vernacular literary works, to spreading a social message, comics this year explored avenues that were not merely restricted to the divine or the caped crusaders. Yes, there were disappointments, yes, at times, comics became successful solely because of the popularity of the creator, yes there were times when we gave up hope, plagued by one bad release after the other.
But five reads managed to make us realise that India has some great stories to tell. Stories that even the relentless cynic and the jaded critic can be proud of. Stories far away from crudely drawn lines, internet humour and badly executed memes.
#5. Ravanayan Finale Part 2
Easily one of the best graphic series inspired by Indian mythology, Ravanayan written by Vijayendra Mohanty and illustrated by Vivek Goel introduces the ten-headed demon-king Ravana to us in a unique, new way. Inspired by ancient scriptures, the Ravana we encounter in Ravanayan is an intelligent, aware man. He is knowledgeable and a fearless leader. But he has flaws too. Arrogant and insolent, he is quite a typical fallen hero who manages to pique both adulation as well as a profound sense of tragedy.
A result of excellent research, Ravanayan is elaborate, emotive and realistic- though it takes liberties with the depiction of Ravana, it stays true to the original story. But unlike other depictions of Ravana we have encountered so far, this one introduces us to him as a protagonist. A gorgeous man with locks of white hair symbolizing royalty. As the story progresses, Ravana grows to be a man who is a hero more than the villain he is considered to be.
Ravanayan is a story of the anti-hero, as told by the anti-hero. However, much as Holy Cow Entertainment breaks free from tradition to create this alternative narrative, they choose to remain true to Valmiki’s original ending where the virtuous emerge triumphant. The conclusion feels unimportant, though – it’s the slow build-up to the very last page that makes the story unforgettable and Ravanayan a complex and many layered narrative force to be reckoned with.
#4. Love Me Like a Psycho Robot
Brainchild of Akshay Dhar, Meta Desi is one of the most promising independent publishing houses of the country. With the motto to change the world of Indian comics for the better, this year Meta Desi proved that releasing great comics isn’t exactly a difficult thing to do.
The story of a robot called Love created out of corporate greed, Love Me Like a Psycho Robot is the social commentary everyone jaded with their soul-sucking corporate responsibilities needs to read.When evil corporate lords, the Fat-Cats, attempt to weed out hippies squatting on a rather valuable piece of land, Love is introduced as the only weapon that can solve this “crisis”. Except that Love is nothing but a lean, mean, killing machine.
Written by Valeriana Cretella and illustrated by Stefano Cardoselli, Love Me Like a Psycho Robot, as most enthusiasts will realise, is a publication by an independent European comic publishing house, Bookmaker Comics. But thanks to their partnership with ICBM Comics and Meta Desi, it is now more easily available to Indian fans as a special Indian edition, complete with a variant cover. Now the wiser ones can obviously point out that the creators are not Indian and this is actually a European publication with just a special cover for the Indian release. But we say that we would have a tough time finding a suitable replacement if we were to take you haters seriously.
#3. DOGS! An Anthology
Being a bunch of crazy animal people, we had initially picked up this anthology because of the cause behind it. With the promise of donating all the proceeds from the sales to animal aid organizations like Last Day Dog Rescue in Livonia in Michigan; Sai Ashram Animal Shelter in Chhatarpur and Red Paws Rescue there was no way we could avoid buying this one. But at the end of the year, we are glad that we did. We aren’t exaggerating when we say that this indeed is one of the best tributes to canines all over the world.
Published by Captain Bijli Comics and edited by Vidyun Sabhaney & Jeremy Stoll, DOGS! An Anthology is not full of your regular heart-warming tales of wags and licks. Neither is it your regular breed of aww. It is the relatively unexplored grayscale world of canines- from their perspectives.
From a contemporary take on the mythological hound of the underworld Cerebrus to a mutant Chihuahua in a post-apocalyptic world, this anthology introduces us to murderous thoughts, quiet contemplations, surreal day-dreams and very human emotions. But of all the stories, Orijit Sen’s Portrait of The Artist as an Old Dog is perhaps the most poignant and the most heart-breaking.
#2. Robots of Dharma
A 12 page comic book- the idea in itself is pretty funny when you are told about it. After all, with the hundreds of elaborately inked pages showcasing the bravado of gods and saints, the very idea a 12-pager about gigantic spaceships and robots does not seem particularly impressive in a world where the wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff can’t really be considered much of an exercise in imagination. But surprise, surprise! Hyderabad-based writer Jai Undurti and New-York based artist Stan Chou prove exactly how impressive a 12-pager can be.
A story that encompasses the past, the present and the future, Robots of Dharma: Sweet Memory Must Die begins on a rather defensive note as a robot finds Mr Ramesh lurking in the shadows beyond the fluttering pages of The Song of Wandering Aengus. Defensive and wizened, Ramesh’s indignation at being approached by a robot almost makes you believe that this could be yet another story of AI overthrowing humanity with hostility. But Undurti thankfully knows about the laws of robotics. He knows that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”
With 12 pages released already, Undurti promises 50 more in the months to come.
Far from the war-struck world in Moonward and far from the silent laughs of Legends of Halahala, Aspyrus is quite simply about an idea that manages to take over the entire world. Though Aspyrus grew from an unreleased part of Moonward, it took the shape of a dark comic, thought provoking and visually brilliant in 2014. Divided into three parts, the mostly-silent Aspyrus starts with a dreamer giving birth to a dream cute and adorable in a city created especially for it. As the act ends, Appupen introduces words that makes the book easier for the uninitiated to understand.
Act II sees the dream grow larger, leave the confines of its city and take over the world. And of course, he becomes grotesque and monster-like- soon assuming the shape of a dragon. But Aspyrus is nothing like the noble dragons we encounter in fantasy- he feeds on the minds of people and enslaves their thoughts. But in Act III, there is redemption in the form of a young girl who fights the monster responsible for the death of her father.
Satirical, sarcastic, thought-provoking and darkly humorous, the blue-tinted pages of Aspyrus does not let down the fan in me who eagerly waited for the next instalment of stories from Halahala. Yes, Aspyrus seems like yet another story where the good try to overcome evil, it has much more to it. It is a rebellion against consumerism and commercialism that defines the world we live in
Though all the stories of Halahala belong to the same fantastical realm, they shouldn’t be mistaken as sequels. They are merely stories of another world presented to us through the eyes of the friendly neighbourhood storyteller- Appupen.