Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cartooning in India, Part 2

In this second part of our look at Indian comic (I wasn't sure whether to describe Comic Digest and Comic World as comic books, comic strip collections or cartoon books, so I plumped for comic books) publications, principally those published by Diamond Comics, we are going to concentrate on the strips made in the US and the UK. The few UK strips, with the notable exception of Kettle and Christine's Beau Peep, are old pages from IPC's now defunct juvenile comics division. Unlike the old British comics the pages of Bewitched Belinda, Junior Rotter, and Joker came from, however, there seems to be little or no influence from Spanish, Belgian and Argentinian cartoonists. Unless, that is, those cartoonists from those countries who did so much work for IPC, are responsible for some of the reprinted horror or romance stories from the publications they worked for in the US.

I won't lie to you, at face value a publication like Comics Digest is probably the ideal publication from a cartoonist's point of view. That is, of course, providing, the magazine hasn't got a no contact with cartoonists outside the agencies it deals with policy in place. If it is actually in the market for new material, however infrequently, then it promises work and a large audience for a number of cartoonists, at a time when publications in the west are actually removing or dropping cartoons and comic strips. Providing it doesn't rely on a cosy deal with just one or two syndicates, then Comic Digest actually greatly resembles the sort of publication cartoonists like me have wished for some time. In some circles, cartoonists will often describe a publication that looks like a cross between a British comic and a Sunday Funny, full of colour comic strips and full pages, designed to be inserts for newspapers, or, and this would be in our wildest dreams, stand-alone publications.

Of course Comic Digest is not without faults: the production values sometimes slip and the lettering of some pages can be pretty poor, and there is a tendency to over-colour, I think. It also sort of amazes me that the publication actually does carry a feature like Junior Rotter, not that I don't like Trevor Metcalfe's drawings, it's just that it seems so odd to see a two-page Junior Rotter adventure rubbing shoulders wit Flash Gordon, Archie, and Calvin and Hobbes. Not that the quality of the work looks out of place, mind you, it's just that those are syndicated strips and JR is a character from a British comic. I really can't imagine who would be syndicating or supplying the work.

You know, I'm really very pleased about these publications because they tell me that India has the sort of respect for comics and cartoon strips that has been so lacking, over the years, here in the UK. Not that it should come as such a surprise, historically India has always had more respect for the visual language than we have, a fact I touched on in a post I made a while back about The Ramayana and the origins of the graphic novel, and the fact that the Indian comic book readers have good English and a liking for British and US comics is good reason for we cartoonists to look toward the Indian continent with a degree of optimism. The Indian market is a growing market, within a healthy economy, and there is surely reason to believe, if Comic World and Comic Digest are anything to go by, that there is likely to be an increasing demand for what we cartoonists have to offer. Needless to say, I hope, that we have to be ready and willing to put in the necessary effort to promote our work over there.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Indian Comics and Bollywood

A while back I was looking at a graphic novel from Indian, and it struck me it looked like a sort of Indian version of a Tintin bande dessinée - not that there's anything wrong with that. There was certainly more of a European influence, or at any rate a Belgian influence, than an American one; I thought. It was actually the first original graphic novel I'd seen from India, up until that point I'd only seen the Indian translations of Mandrake the Magician, and The Phantom. Oh, and one or two somewhat strange amalgamations of US superhero characters and Indian ones, working together on superhero business.

As much as I do love the Phantom and Mandrake, especially old adventures, the original work was much more exciting and it encouraged me to pay a little more attention to what is, after all, a very large and increasingly important market for cartoonists.

In fact, the Indian market is not only very large, it is vibrant and still growing. Small wonder then that this potentially lucrative, upwards of $300Mn industry, which publishes somewhere in the region of 125 million comics every year, has attracted interest from Virgin, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Disney. But it's the indigenous market that interests we fans of comicdom, because it has grown so phenomenally over the last 4 decades.

For many years, let's call it Pre-Pran Kumar Sharma (Pran), no indigenous comic character appeared in Indian publications alongside American and European strips. That all changed in 1960 when Pran's comic strip, Daabu debuted on the front page of Delhi's Milap. In 1969, Pran went on to develop Chacha Chaudhary, who along with his faithful sidekick Sabu, went on to become the most popular comic character in India. So popular did the character become that the TV adaptation of the comic strip strip ran six days a week, every week. In 1995, Pran was awarded the prestigious 'Man of the Year' award for popularizing comics in India.

Pran's Chacha Cowdrey is handled these days by the biggest indigenous comic book publisher in India, Diamond Comics, who amongst other publications also publish Comic World, a monthly comics magazine,featuring the adventures of amongst others, Archie, Garfield, Dennis The Menace, Beau Peep, Batman, Tarzan, James Bond, and Chacha Chaudhary, and I think British comic artists from IPC may find this a little extraordinary, Junior Rotter - which I think was draw by Trevor Metcalfe for Whizzer and Chips. It has a circulation of more than (I'm going to err on the side of caution here and say 20,000, but I did read it was much higher - any new info' would be much appreciated) copies per month.

In addition to publishing comics, the ever expanding and diversifying Diamond, whose stable of characters includes, Chacha Choudhary, Shrimatiji, Chacha-Bhatija, Mahabali Shaka, Agniputra Abhay and Ankur, has recently joined forces with License India to launch its catalogue as animated features, complete with full character licensing.

It certainly looks as if these are exciting times for comic book and cartoon characters, and indeed cartoonists, in India. Which makes a nice change from the doom-and-gloom over here and across the pond. The news looks similarly good in the field of animation. Just recently, Kids Animation India, part of the larger company Spacetoon India, announced, with the help of Bollywood actress Vidya Balanthat, the launch of its first animated TV series, Fafa & Juno, a cartoon about the adventures of a girl and a panda.

Pic purloined from Prokerala

I just spoke with my friend and fellow blogging cartoonist, Mike Lynch about this post and we touched on the fact our colleague Dan Thomson works for India's leading men's magazine, Royal (remember it is a magazine "for men"; although having said that, it is a very tasteful magazine). You can read Royal online here. He gets a nice credit on the magazine's staff rota too, which is always a nice plus for a cartoonist. I think we should add an example to this post, as it shows that the promising Indian market is also relevant to magazine/gag cartoonists.

All images remain the copyright of their respective copyright holders. Comic World copyright, Diamond Comics.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's All Downhill From Here

You soon learn, in gag or magazine cartooning, that you don't really know what is funny. The cartoons that make you laugh while you are drawing them, almost invariably don't sell, at least not right away. They probably sell eventually, or after the punchline has changed, but by then you certainly don't find them funny anymore.

I think the average strike rate for cartoonists is quite low; around 10 or 20%, so most cartoonists reckon on selling only 1 or 2 cartoons from a batch of around 10. If you sell more than that, its a good feeling, swiftly followed by a feeling of impending doom. Back in 1982 or 1983, I sent a batch of only 6 cartoons to Punch, and they took 3, or 50%. I knew it was an ill-omen; things could only go downhill from there.

There is something comforting in Cartoon Editors picking only 1 or 2 of your ideas. You have the impression of things ticking along just nicely. As far as you are concerned they are possibly just taking one every week because you are dependable - there isn't too much pressure on you as you sit down to knock out the next batch. Now, you take just one cartoon out of that equation, and you really are under pressure. When you submit regularly to a market that takes one cartoon every time you send and suddenly they no longer take any, then you really begin to panic. Oddly, the reverse is also true; they take three of your cartoons when they usually only take one, and suddenly you are under a whole load of pressure. What does it mean, does it mean you have to raise the bar this late in your career? Can it be that you've peaked, and it is all downhill from here?

So here is a batch I put together back at the end of 2008, before I took ill, and which I really didn't punt much, but which failed to sell. I just wasn't feeling it. Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to drawing the next batch, which should be an interesting exercise as I think I'm drawing differently; again.

You'll notice that these are mainly pencil and some wash and colour; that's because I tend to send roughs, or at least I did last year but I think in the current climate most publications will prefer finishes, so I'm likely go back to sending the finished article.

Although I haven't rushed back into drawing cartoons, I have kept myself busy drawing a strip and redrawing a couple of Tales from Lepertown stories and I'm currently cooking up one or two indie pieces for a couple of projects out there in the wild. Just the other day though, an idea for a cartoon came to me and I scribbled it down and I had another idea earlier today, so I'm pretty sure I'll have 10 over the next day or two and then, with luck, I'll start chucking them out again.