By Akshay Dhar
Thank's to everyone who's checking this article out – it's a companion piece to the recent post covering the Bangalore Comic Con 2014 and is basically a run-down of all the newly released comics that I was able to get my greedy hands on!
The Indian comics scene has come a long way from where it was half a decade ago, when a few of us decided to try and have our own little Comic Con with a couple of stalls and some half-arsed comics. This present line-up of new releases is a true testament to that, flaws and all.
The industry and the professionals working tirelessly to keep it alive have both gotten stronger. They make mistakes, learn from them and are surely and steadily finding their feet and a comfort zone with their abilities and limitations – there's still a ways to go, but I think there is more and more promise for the comics here and for injecting fresh perspectives to a global audience with each passing year.
Ka-Kaa #1: The Shaman Trials (Fablery Publications)
Story : Ananth Maruthi Perla
Art : Gowra Hari Perla
Indian manga-kas! Rejoice!
Manga has always been something I've read in limited amounts now and again, but still enough to be able to get a handle on a lot of the little tropes and tricks and stylistic choices that make a good and entertaining manga.
The creators of this new series are very clearly not just fans but serious ones who seem to have not just made a manga-esque comic, but made an out and out manga. The most amusing thing for me being that it is an Indian-made manga that doesn't deal with Indians, but the more cliched "Red" Indians, i.e, a Native American setting.
The comic itself concerns the usual evil spirits and good spirits, an anti-hero with history, the battle for humanity and all that – not the most inspired, but great fun enough. The first chapter actually confused the hell out of me and I almost stopped reading a few pages in, but in the interest of a fair review, I slogged on – and genuinely surprisingly, a third of the way in, the creators seem to have found a flow to the story and the action which kept me entertained.
It helped tremendously that the artwork is just great, very, very manga – the point where I think one couldn't differentiate it from a comic produced in Japan. Every detail in the artwork was just perfect for the kind of simple manga actioner that we are given, with just enough detail to make the black and white artwork really work AND as a bonus, the book made, printed and reads right to left and back to front like a traditional manga! Major kudos to the creators and publisher for having the guts and (dare I say it!) balls to take such a chance in the nascent Indian market.
The size of the book at a mere 5×7" is a little troublesome and does take away from some of the cooler pages of art and action, but it's a small point.
Fun, crazy and with a totally loony and unlikely hero, this is a great little (literally!) comic for any fan of manga. It made me curious about the next installment where our "hero" I gather is making his way up the ladder of mystical power – here's hoping these boys get a chance to keep making these because they've got what it takes.
SCORE: 6.5 / 10
Parshu #4: Mayhem (Orange Radius)
Story : Raveesh Mohan and Priyank Loonker
Art : Tarun Kumar Sahu (art), Dheeraj Kumar and Naval Thanawalla (colours), Aniruddho Chakraborty (letters)
The latest instalment in the newest superhero franchise, a quick recap of his origin: a young man whose family is brutally killed comes into possession of a mystical Axe belonging to an ancient warrior-sage of legend named Parshuram. He takes up the name Parshu and with the help of a police inspector named Prakash as the only one who knows his secret identity, he starts to fight crime in the streets of Mumbai.
Mayhem picks up the story with a new adventure and brings in new artist Tarun who has previously worked with Chariot Comics and there is definitely a marked improvement in every aspect of his work, making his action sequences undoubtedly the highlight of book. While he still needs some work on consistency of faces and his layouts, the overall artwork is very nice apart from a couple of pages and panels at the very start of the book.
What works against an otherwise perfectly good comic is the scripting. The story concerns the emergence of a new threat in the form of former underworld kingpin Rahu deciding to revenge himself on the city for imprisoning him for eight years and unleashes a wave of death and destruction. The game is upped when he comes into possession of another mystical artifact – a mace – which makes him more than a match for our hero and the police. Overall the plot and concepts are sound and there is definitely a very good comic in here somewhere, but personally the dialogue, poor lettering, cliched characterisations and numerous little details peppered throughout (such as choosing to have Rahu released instead of escaping prison considering the degree of evil attributed to him at the start), give one a feeling of implausibility or poor narrative choice.
In the end, Parshu is a comic that tries to be too many different things and in the end seems to have too many voices that end up getting in it's own way. I am curious to see what comes next as this is definitely a marked improvement over the past issues, but I very much hope they can do better sooner rather than later if they really want to be taken seriously as a new face of super-heroics.
SCORE: 5.6 / 10
Subbu's Code (One-Shot) (Fablery Publications)
Story : Balasubramaniam Meganathan
Art : Avisek Chowdhury
This one was a pleasant change from many of the other comics I've seen recently – it's light, breezy and fun and generally all-ages friendly. A lot of the Indian comic publishers have largely been creating more intense and at times mature comics, which is great, but (1) variety is the spice of all things in life and (2) stuff like this is nice for kids who want something new their parents may not object to buying for them.
The main comic concerns out "hero", Subbu, who is an utterly fear-ridden and superstitious fellow. He believes in any and every kind of omen or "sign" and worries constantly – to the point where he has written a book about the failings of the rationalists of the world. But chance or the fates conspire to create a funny chain of events that lead to Subbu being the quintessential wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
All in all it's an amusingly told tale with little references to Indian society and pop-culture in a fairly subtle way and is a fun little read. Where it falls short though it overall quality of production – mainly the editorial which I felt let too many errors and poor choices in narrative and dialogue get to the final pages, taking away from the overall experience. Meganathan has a nice sense of humour for his style of story-telling but he definitely needs a lot more practice.
The art however was somehow spot-on for the simple and fun comic we are getting and while not fantastic, shows that with a little more work under his belt, Chowdhury could do great work down the line.
SCORE: 3.8 / 10
The Caravan: Blood War #1 (Yali Dream Creations)
Story : Shamik Dasgupta
Art : Tamal Saha (pg 1-17), Vinay Brahmania (pg 18-27), Vishwanath Manokaran (colours pg 1-17), Sumit Kumar + Abhishek Singh (cover)
The new installment in Indian fan-favourite writer Shamik Dasgupta's new series The Caravan is now here. It's nice to see the supernatural – vampires in this series thus far – being presented in a way that is different from the versions we see by-and-large under the Judeo-Christian mythology.
This time around we find ourselves in the middle of an ongoing struggle between some dangerous bandits (dacoits) and the residents of a small hill-town called Devgarh which they are threatening. The towns-people are under the leadership of their Thakur, Surya-Pratap Singh, and his lovely and fiery daughter Madhurakshi and the writer does a reasonable job of showing a side of India that is under-appreciate in real life – a community of average people that are not divided by communal differences. They are doing their best to arm and prepare to protect themselves from the bandits led by their feared leader Bheriya Khan, while also preparing for the annual festival of Holi. Dark times need glimmers of hope but dark shadows are hard to get out from under.
Dasgupta has been writing comics for many years and so his skills for putting an entertaining story have developed well – giving us a good read with a decent balance of story and action. He has a good hand at keeping his stories accessible but also distinctly keeping the cultural details well wrapped into he narrative. But as has been the case with many of his comics, I find he crosses that fine line between marketable and quality stories into more "sales-friendly" territory, going for stories that are simpler and have less depth or point to them and feel more gimmick-y. Understandable, but it keeps a comic from being great read and instead more just an entertaining one. Also, I feel compelled to point out that the cliff-hanger splash-page at the end felt definitely in poor taste and an example of the shock value choices that Shamik sometimes chooses.
The art also suffers somewhat – partly because the styles of the shockingly large set of pencillers, and partly because between them they have hugely different styles. The first half is a more realistic style (almost Jim Lee-esque at points) but then the second half veers wildly into a more comical and cartoonish one. This is of itself not too bad but is problematic because the story starts with an intense, serious tone which suits it fine and then suddenly changes to this light and comical look which not only clashes but manages to come at the most violent and action-packed parts of the comic. Whatever the reasons for this choice, the result sadly is a point against an otherwise fine comic.
It is worth a read and if they can learn from their flaws, could lead to further instalments that would be a great step forward for Indian horror stories.
SCORE: 5 / 10
The Wreck Age #1 (Crimzon Studios)
Story : Avinash Singh and Vijay Verma
Art : Pramit Singh (pencils), Amit Ghadge (inks, colours), Khushnaz Bode and Amit Ghadge (letters), James Stone (cover)
This is the comic that most divides my opinion out of all the releases – it is the comic with the most potential.
The first real Indian science fiction comic of its kind, the setting is a uniquely post-apocalyptic world in which the whole planet has been divided into a handful of "kingdoms" of sorts, each known by the race that inhabits it, a list that includes: a machine race, Lycanthropes (werewolves if you prefer), zombies and of course good old humans struggling to stay alive. Throw in a mysterious race of aliens popping in and out with bloody results and you have a fantastic mix.
The mythology of this world – which is told in remarkable detail in just this first comic – is intriguing and draws in fans of the genre. Where they stumble is in their characters, perhaps because they are trying to do too much in just one issue, but the result is a situation where as a reader there was not much to connect to and that is a dangerous place to be when telling a tale.
The art too shows the experience of Crimzon Studio's crew who have worked with the likes of Zenescope and others, giving us a nice and consistent comic that is a huge plus in their final tally against many of their local peers. The designs for the races and the overall look alone are worth giving this comic a try if you like sci-fi.
The only drawback is the lettering and some editorial errors which either break the flow when reading or just jar at you as poorly fitting the moment – but thankfully these remain few and I hope they can do better and give us a really great comic in the next issue which I am eagerly looking forward to reading.
SCORE: 6.8 / 10
TNT – TaraNath Tantrik (Speech Bubble Entertainment)
Story : Shamik Dasgupta
Art : Bikash Satpathy (pencils and inks), Vishwanath Manokaran (colours), Sumit Kumar and Abhishek Singh (cover)
Shamik makes his second entry into this list, the only person with two releases to his name.
This time around he is revamping an old regional story from the state of Bengal here in India, the original of which I've sadly never read so rather than draw comparison, I will simply take this comic for what it is here and now.
This is most definitely the best writing overall that I've seen from this writer and is the smoothest read from start to finish. The story is a good kick-off for a new series as we get introduced to the supporting cast of characters in TNT's friends Vibhu and Shankar and Shankar's girlfriend Sneha. There is a very limited presence for our hero in this issue which works out well to build his aura of mystery as this somewhat John Constantine-eque anti-hero, especially with hints about his youthful quest for the dark arts leading to dark experiences that have made him the strange and quirky man he is now, though how his character will pan out in the future issues I cannot say given how little we see of him.
What IS great is the way that mythologies of all kinds are weaved in here, to quote Vibhu from the comic itself:
"…the Lovecraftian lore tells of deities far older than Christianity and Hinduism is the oldest surviving religion. I won't be surprised if some of the 'old ones' survived in our millions of Gods and Goddesses. They are actively worshipped even now."
In short, there are the beginnings of a potentially awesome take on both familiar mythologies and horror tropes as well as a new flavour to Indian horror that I'm quite looking forward to based on this first issue.
Couple this with some very taut and sleek artwork and you have a comic well worth the entry price and one I would recommend to horror fans who are in the mood for something new.
SCORE: 7 / 10
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: