[India's first Comic Con at New Delhi, February 19-20, 2011]
Apologies for using a clichéd pun, but hundreds of people who landed up at Dilli Haat on the 19th of Feb for India’s very first comic con, must’ve shared my sentiments.
No, none of us really expected to see a San Diego Xerox – you can literally count the number of major comic-book players in India on your fingers – but we certainly expected some action.
To begin with, there was nothing at all to indicate any event going on anywhere in the precincts – no banners, no flyers, no placards, not even pamphlets.
You entered Dilli Haat as usual, and craned your neck in every possible direction to spot anything that looked like an ‘event’. You saw nothing. So you ambled, and toddled, and waddled ahead, wondering if you had got the day wrong by any chance. But no. You did pay for the ticket, right?
|Karan Vir from Vimanika|
At the end of the long walk, when you’d almost crossed over the arena, you finally spotted – right at the very end – something. One tall, yellow tower announcing India’s first comic con!
And now ... there are about six stalls to your left, six stalls to your right, and a stage in the centre at the back.
Okay, freeze! And frame.
That’s the solo-panel grand event we’re really talking about – never mind the hype. Yes, that’s the scene that made the nucleus of the entire comic con over the two days.
All right, there were a few stalls ‘inside’ – the back of beyond, that is – but had no takers! Obviously. And yes, you saw about three or four comic-book figures in all doing the rounds.
No exaggeration. Ask the eager beavers who landed up at the venue with their childhood days (or children) in tow to ‘witness the spectacle’. I’ve worked with graphic novels earlier, and I had seriously been looking forward to a great experience, if on a miniature scale. I was terribly disappointed.
As a child I was never a part of the Superman-Batman-fan brigade (though I loved the Spiderman movies), but I remember being fed on Indrajal (Phantom – The Ghost who Walks, and whose face must never be seen by a mortal or he’d meet a terrible death; Mandrake – the striking magician with a mysterious half-brother; Bahadur – the very Indian hero, and several others ), and loads and loads of Archies, Richie Rich, Casper, besides Chacha Choudhary, Billu, Pinki, Amar Chitra Katha, and Tinkle.
Those days, many parents like ours took the comic-books route to initiate their children into the world of English.
It was sad that there seemed to be hardly anything substantial for the pleasure of children. Not that there were better wares on offer for adults.
Between, where were the children? I barely saw any.
It took me all of ten minutes to see everything there was see (I had three and a half hours to kill before heading to another venue for another programme). Then I sat down for the workshops. The first was conducted by a former colleague, as an introduction to writing a script for a graphic novel in the genre of mythology. It was a decent though tepid beginning. But the ones that followed were a series of exercises in self-promotion, sans any concrete substance. Dry attempts at humour fell flat. Bored audience left their chairs mid-session and headed for the routine attractions of Dilli Haat instead.
Frankly, we could have done better. We organise Bookaroo every year, we do numerous book fairs, we boast of grand literary festivals in Jaipur and Kolkata, and poetry festivals in Hyderabad et al. Then why couldn’t we organise a simple thing like a respectable comic convention?
The response was overwhelming both from participation and footfall front.
There were fifty participants, thirty-five companies, and over thirty workshops.
Invisible? Did they need magic ink to materialise? How come I never saw them? I was there in person for a full three and a half hours – peak time.
Oh, all right; I wasn’t there on day two (I had sincerely hoped it would showcase something better) – but there were others who were. And they reported pretty much a similar scenario, if better attendance.
As luck would have it, it began to pour heavily at about four in the afternoon the second day (the stage was outside in the open). So, half of the workshops must’ve been washed out – literally!
It wasn’t all bad though. There were at least two positives: a fancy-dress contest – which did see some interesting participants; and comic book sales.
India does have a lot to showcase – not only for children, but also for adults. Take the creator of Kari, or Corridor, or the forthcoming Kalpa. Why weren’t they all there?
Let me grant that something was better than nothing. But I certainly hope that that ‘something’ would translate into something scintillating next year. We’re sure capable of it.