Indie Spotlight: Meta Desi

Independent and small publishing houses publishing comics have it tough in India. Looking to at least break even on their investment, these publishers stick to the tried and tested public domain stories. The mythology genre offers readymade superheroes whose histories are already ingrained in the mind of the average Indian consumer, much like Superman’s story is known to all.
Meta-Desi Comics desires to do a little more than just being Desi, hence the prefix Meta. Writer and owner Akshay Dhar says that he aimed to create something with Indian roots, comics that could be identified by Indian characters and settings, that were influenced by western peers. “Once Upon A Time in the North”, is a two-part story spread over Volumes 2 and 3 of Ground Zero it perfectly sums up what he’s trying to do. Billed as a ‘curry western’, the story is set in a post-apocalyptic India in the near future and draws heavy inspiration from Sergio Leone movies.
Akshay came up with the idea at the very first Comic Con in Delhi, but put it on the back burner. Only in July 2012 did he start working on it in earnest, and he was able to launch their first anthology, labeled Ground Zero: Volume 1, by February of 2013. Volume 2 was released during the Mumbai Comic Con in December. The challenges of being an owner and a creator are many, especially in a growing and unstable market like the Indian comics publishing one. However he might have just figured out a great way to ensure he doesn’t fail by putting too much of his own money and time into one project, and also giving his collaborators free reign to create. Ground Zero, the thrice-yearly anthology, is a safety net which allows him to experiment, the ones that don’t work get scrapped and the ones that turn out to be very popular he plans to make standalone works.
The anthologies have a range of comics, some standalone, other serialized, in a variety of genres and styles. There’s a screwball comedy infused with pop culture set in a small Indian town that plays out like surrealistic children’s cartoon from the Nineties (Holy Hell); a bloody post-apocalyptic science fiction story (Desolation Runner); a fantasy set in prehistoric world with anthropomorphic monkeys and apes (The Last Baqani); a tale of enhanced Indian covert-ops soldiers drawn in manga style (Super Soldier Squad); and many more. This is mostly a result of a number of collaborators dotted around the country who contribute to creating the comics.
They plan to release their next anthology, Ground Zero: Volume 3, in April, bringing their current run of stories to an end. New characters and some old popular favorites will be back in Volume 4, whose tentative release date is sometime in August or September of 2014. You can catch them at their stall at the Delhi Comic Con, where the focus will be on promoting their comics with some merchandise on the side.