Interview: Jatin Varma, Anant Sagar, and Akshay Dhar on Bringing Indian Comics to NYCC
— Charline Jao (@CharlineJao) October 7, 2016
I attended a panel titled “Rising From the East: The Indian Comics” at New York Comic Con, where Jatin Varma, founder of Comic Con India, Anant Sagar, writer and artist for Meta Desi Comics, and Akshay Dhar, founder of Meta Desi Comics gave attendees a crash course on the comics scene in India. I live-tweeted it with pictures any everything, which you can check out above!
The presentation introduced interesting titles that build on established genres around mythology and realistic stories as well as less conventional narratives. (There’s even a Chariot Comics about giant robots, Gandhi, and Nazis!) In addition the three talked about the challenges of dialects, distribution, and more. After the panel, the three agreed to talk to me for a bit about what it was like hosting the panel and how they see the Indian comic scene changing.
TMS: So you guys hosted the first panel on India comics in NYCC. Was that something you were very aware of or was it something you realized later on?
Varma: I’m claiming it’s the first one because no one from the ReedPOP team has told me it’s not [laughs] but we didn’t think of it as “the first one.” We just pictured it as, “We’re all coming here to kind of network and talk to people so a panel would be a great thing” and I was able to convince them to give us a slot and it became the first ever.
TMS: It felt very beginner-friendly with the history lesson.
Varma: Yeah, we just wanted it to be very introductory and we didn’t want to assume that anyone would have any idea. So we wanted it to be very simple and basic.
TMS: How have you been enjoying your Comic Con so far?
Dhar: It’s been amazing we’ve had a lot of fun and met people who have been great to talk to. Especially at the independent comics booth, they’ve been really nice meeting us and talking to us about their experience.
Sagar: We’re all trading stories back and forth, like “Oh that’s what I was doing 5 years ago. I get it.”
TMS: Something I was really curious about was that during the slide-show there were a lot of great looking female characters but we didn’t get a look at a lot of female creators. Is that kind of indicative of how things are right now?
Varma: There are a few writers, and one or two artists but I think mostly writers. But they’re not necessarily comic book writers, they’re female writers who write for other publishers and some of the indie publishers reach out to them for stories. Overall, in the India scene there aren’t many women.
TMS: Is that what the demographic of people creating comics is like?
Sagar: There are actually quite a few of them, but most of them want to get into what we called “the most serious graphic novels.” They’re not writing as many superhero comics right now, but they’re starting to and we’ve been talking to some of them. Some of them have worked on these, and we’re trying to bring new ones with them. But it’s not easy because they hesitate do something a little more mainstream as well.
Dhar: We actually have an artist whose worked with us for all three issues she’s illustrated, inked, and colored.
TMS: During the panel the three of you were talking about breaking out of what are more conventional genres like slice-of-life or mythology. How would you describe that?
Varma: It’s kitch, it’s everything. Everything under the radar.
Dhar: Part of the reason I picked Desi for the title is because Desi just means Indian. And meta is just something that’s a little different. So the idea–They’re Indian but a little different from what we’re used to.
TMS: Where can we find your comics?
Varma: As of now, Amazon India is the only place and there’s an app called Readwhere which is an Indian e-reader, reading app that’s free and you can download it.
Dhar: As far as non-Indian places go there’s a company called Drive Thru Comics, a lot of our comics on there now.
TMS: If someone knew nothing about Indian comics, what titles would you introduce them to?
Dhar: At this point, I’ll probably go with my own [laughs] because we need the publicity. We have a pretty popular title called Holy Hell! which is a comedy book. That’s the one that’s been popular locally and at the conventions, it spun from an anthology into it’s own series which is pretty rare for India, an ongoing comic now.
TMS: Varma, how do you see the convention here and in India similarly/differently?
Varma: There’s a massive difference because the market here is much bigger, in fact, most of the stuff people that people want to consume is produced in US so of course you get a larger turnout and content.
But at the end of the day, I think there’s similarities in terms of what people want, cosplayers, what they’re into, how people become friends and get obsessed about different things. I saw Barb posters saying she’s missing. You see stuff like that back home as well so even though this is a bigger show the fans are pretty much the same in terms of what they want and what they like. I think that’s because over the last 5 years, maybe a decade, with the net everyone has access to everything. So even if we might be able to physically get a lot of the books, not that I endorse piracy, but it’s allowed a lot of people to get aspirations about consuming the same content. So it makes my job difficult because people expect NYCC in India, and we’ll slowly get there. But I think we’re the same in that sense. And we’re all pretty much doing the same thing.
TMS: There are also people at NYCC though that kind of lament how blown-up it is, and wish it was a smaller, more intimate experience.
Varma: And we get that same complaint back home now because when we started it was just 13 booths, I forced him to dress up, I was in cosplay and we got our friends and family to show up. And a lot of people liked that and look back at it. And it was much easier.
TMS: Have you had any great geek-out moments?
Sagar: At every turn.
Dhar: I think my favorites were meeting Walt Simonson and getting actual comic artwork from Brian Clevinger who created Atomic Robo, my favorite comic ever. Plus I got to meet Alan Tudyk today, I’m a long-time Browncoat!
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