Akshay Dhar writes from Comic Con India in New Delhi:
I think I'm ready to die now.
Well no, not quite, but I'm definitely a little closer to being content enough to shuffle loose this mortal coil willingly after the event that was the recent Comic Convention here in Delhi, not least because of my interview session on-stage, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
There were many of you that read my earlier article on the Mumbai Comic Con in December (thank you!), but while that was a nice enough event and all, it pales in comparison to this, it's far bigger and more bad-a$$ predecessor. Delhi was the first Indian Comic Con ever, it has since also remained the biggest and most popular of the roving quarterly event and this year just continued to up the ante as the venue moved from an open exhibition space/garden area to a stadium and for the first time ever for such an event, had paid entry.
At the start, people were nervous. Of course they were. But then something wonderful happened and all of us had our hopes fulfilled as the words from the forever classic and wonderfully cliché and over-used line came to pass – we built it and they came!
Right from the first of the three days of the event, there were people aplenty. There was the whole gamut from toddlers to totally greyed our grandparents and everything in between as well as a whole host of cosplayers and hardcore geeks and fans of all things nerd-culture to be found. Sure there were lots of those who knew nothing and had been dragged along by that one geek in the family or some such, but you could see that every single person was at the very least entertained to see all the goings-on at the event.
The best part? Because it was a paid event, the crowd though not as large as it might have been based on last year (it was not AT ALL a small crowd as you can see from the pictures here!), but it was a more interested, more fun crowd as the roamers who used to wander in before and were the few annoying spots at previous conventions – harassing cosplayers, making a mess or being just plain irritants – were not to be found!
The event itself covered an insanely vast range of events and topics. There were comic launches like Stupid Guy Goes BACK to India by Yukichi Yamamatsu, Zombie Rising #2 from Chariot Comics and Pulp Quarterly #2 from The Pulpocracy. There were also all kinds of things from quizzes to contests to special screenings of fan-favorite shows like Sherlock and the wickedly fun House of Cards as well as of course, panels with several big names in the industry globally.
What was particularly heartening for me as not just a fan but as a writer and small-press publisher myself (Meta Desi Comics! …yes, I do shameless plugging…) it was fantastic to see more stalls actually selling comics and books. While there are many who bemoan Comic Con – both in India and in the US – as a merchandising event and a gimmick where the original intent is lost, I beg to differ. I've grumbled with the best of them at how the comics are not given a bigger chunk of respect at the events but I've come to realize that for EVERYONE there, it actually was being given. Sure, there was lots of merch and swag to be had and lots of gimmicks, but if you manned a stall like I did and spoke to the other small-press guys and took the time to really try and observe and talk to the people around, you could see the massive majority that was there because they had been a comic fan.
They may not be as into it as some of us uber-geeks or collectors or just fan-boys who've been in it for years, but Comic Con was a place where they were reconnecting with their childhood, where they were getting a chance to partake in something that till now they were told was for children or just "silly" and was looked down upon. These same guys may only really know the X-Men or Spider-Man from the movies, but it had been a step to bring them back into the fold of fans – some will pick up comics again like my friend, others will not. Isn't that the whole point?
AND as Mark Waid points out in this youtube video, he saw more young kids and women at this convention than he has at any of the American ones, to me that goes a long way because it means these kids got to see all the crazy costumes, maybe wear their own and to see all the comics and maybe get a few and some toys and such and in the end, that is a big part of all this, to bring kids into the fold and to ignite their imagination. To me that's what comics can do in ways that other mediums just cannot. This reconnecting to youth was not just for the superhero set who knew Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and such either. There was a fantastic mega-booth setup as a mini-museum where there was a lovely mixed display from the Charles Schultz museum which connected to so many generations.
Of course I can't leave out the cosplay, even more so because of what it consisted of this time around. Normally we have gotten used to several Wolverines and Rorschachs as well as the occasional store-bought or very badly/hurriedly crafted Batman and Superman, etc. But this year the cosplayers really took up the challenge – whether it was because of the grand prize which was a ticket to the New York Comic Con or just a love of costumes, you'll have to ask them. Personally I think it was a showing of fan-love as we had everything from a squad of Avengers lined up to a chain of young girls Minion-ing it up Despicable Me style to a varied mix of popular and more niche characters like Gambit of the X-Men.
There were even some pretty elaborate and creative ones that clearly had a lot of painstaking effort put into them like Hawkgirl, Galactus, Hellboy and my personal favourite – Big Daddy from the Bioshock games with a working drill-hand, and just so you know, this last one was not some big dude in a costume, it was one gutsy girl who took a couple of months to build the thing! Hands down, the ladies of all ages, shapes and sizes were at the convention in force but they definitely took the cake with some of the cleverest and most interesting cosplay choices at the convention.
Even though I was stuck behind the booth table a lot of the time, I had no complaints because the people who came by were both interested and interesting and we had more sales in just the first day than at the entire 2-day event in Mumbai. I was able to get a good sense of the event and the greatest part was hearing from people who had known our work from before and who wanted to talk to us and give us feedback and show support. It's stuff like this that gives us little guys a sense of hope, a feeling that we are not just wasting our time and that people are actually getting some joy out of what it is we do.
Unquestionably though, the highlight for everyone was the international names that were present. We had some publishers come down last year, but this year saw the folks from Diamond Distributors set up a stall and interacting with all the local publishers and writers/artists as well as (oh yeah!) 2000AD taking a stall all their own and of course for the first time, big-ticket writing and art talent coming to spend time with the fans. We were extremely fortunate – to the point that some of us didn't believe it – that this year we had a lineup that consisted of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, the extremely talented Brazilian duo behind stuff like Daytripper and Casanova, along with one of the best new writers in my view in John Layman (Chew, Detective Comics), David Lloyd of V for Vendetta fame and my personal hero, Mark Waid.
Each of them was given a session on stage where they got to talk about what they do and get asked questions by both a chosen interviewer as well as the thronging fans in front of the stage – for example, Layman spent his stage-time with Aniruddho Chakraborty who is the writer of Vrica by Chariot Comics, while Lloyd spoke with local fan-favorite Abhijeet Kini, artist to artist. My personal coup in all this was that I got to be the guy who conducted a one-hour discussion on-stage with Waid and that was such a total joy as both a fan and aspiring writer – the man is just so much fun to chat with that I could have gone on with that conversation for hours if I wasn't in danger of being pulled off-stage.
I'd like to close out by saying that the event was to my mind an unmitigated success. It broke new ground for such an event in the entire country and honestly, in the entire immediate geographical area outside the country as well. It was an event where the majority of the attendees had a blast, where the majority of the exhibitors (especially the small-press and indie publishers) were happy at the response and where those of us who have been slogging at this for the past 4-5 years before anyone even believed such a thing could happen… well we feel vindicated and all I can do is rip off some old school and say we've come a long way baby!
*All photos in this article and in the photogallery are by Zafar Khurshid whose blog is http://khurshidzafar.
Akshay Dhar is a slightly quirky nutter but mostly a decent chap – he's been writing for several years now with stints at Maxim India, as a freelancer and comic publications including "Retrograde" from pop culture publishing and "Showcase: Sheshnaag" from Holy Cow entertainment apart from acting as EIC for Indian fan-site Comic Addicts. He's also the founder of the creator-collective Meta Desi Comics and loves to read, write, explore music, travel and aims to daydream further than anyone has done before!
You can check out his writing and artwork here: