Of comics, conventions and cosplay

Of comics, conventions and cosplay

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Of comics, conventions and cosplay

As the fourth annual Delhi Comic Con kicks off, Ananya Borgohain revisits the debate between vandalism and art It is that time of the year when Superman, the Avengers, Chacha Chaudhary, Flash, Batman, the Invisible Man, Suppandi, Aladdin, et al, join you for a symposium of fan convention. Comic conventions across the world are turning into a huge trendsetting wave effectively filtering into the mainstream. The graphic form is permeating into public art and serving several pursuits. Its radical attributes can generate entertainment as well as serve as an agency of dissent against the establishment at the same time. This debate between vandalism and art has been revisited in the annual Comic Convention in Delhi that started on February 7 and ends today. This year the event promises a fusion of dynamic versions of the comic world across the globe, from graphic novels to action figures, from costume competitions to gaming sessions, and so on. Not only that, experts of international repute have graced the occasion with their presence. Eisner Award winner Mark Waid, who has been a writer of characters such as Flash, Superman, Captain America and the Justice League is present along with the likes of multiple Eisner Award winners Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. Also present is David Llyod, who has been the illustrator of Allan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Pran Kumar Sharma, the illustrator of the famous Chacha Chowdhury, will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award today. Tinkle comics will also receive an award for their contribution to the Indian graphic medium for the last 30 years. So how does then this event draw a balance between popular mass culture and graphic literature? Jatin Varma, founder of Comic Con India says, “I believe it’s a line that overlaps a lot, because if you feature a Spiderman comic, you would also have Spiderman action figures, other accessories, apparel, DVDs and much more. We are unabashedly a pop-culture based entertainment event, which includes comics, films, television, gaming, animation, merchandise, toys and a whole host of things that would resonate in popular culture.” Ask him if those drawn every year are indeed comic-enthusiasts or merely subscribe to the modern fad of consumerism, Varma reasons, “I don’t agree with the tag of ‘modern fad of consumerism’, it’s an entertainment event that celebrates different aspects of popular culture, everyone who comes in takes away different things from it. I would put the number of active comics readers at about 1/3rd the audience.” Various foreign comic publishers and distributors see a prospective market in India. More than 100 stalls by Indian publishers including Amar Chitra Katha, Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster India, Scholastic India, and so on have set up stalls to exhibit their products. The 2000AD, Diamond Book Distributors, Cyanide & Happiness, Comixology, etc, have opened up their avenue for prospective Indian enthusiasts as well. “It is at par with its international counterparts. Maybe a little less cosplay here but the vibe is similar and the scale s as big as it is in, say, the UK”, says Ben Smith, an exhibitionist at the 2000AD stall. The UK-based photographer Venessa Champion notes, “It is a brilliant cross-section of people; a lovely atmosphere as well as the possibility of networking and distribution is assured.” “We are just four years into this and have certainly come up very fast. I am hoping that with more resonance in the Indian audience and with better access to content from within India and from abroad, we’ll keep growing”, adds Varma. The event will also mark the launch of some unique book projects. Lalit Sharma, the artist on the project World War One 1914-1918, says, “With the centennial anniversary of the beginning of WW-I coming up this summer, 2014 seemed the ideal time to bring out a book on World War I. It is a fascinating period of history and a complicated one. There are lots of shades of grey and most people really don’t understand why people were fighting. It was the first truly global and modern war and with the advent of tanks, planes and other technological breakthroughs it makes an ideal subject for a graphic novel. Our core readership will be high school kids from 12-16 but as with any good book, age should not be a boundary.” Books with themes of dystopia, violence, and the macabre are being increasingly consumed by the youth. At this event too, most participants are dressed not as a humorous or upbeat comic character but essentially as the evasive, mysterious anti-social elements. So do events like this then celebrate what is dark and gory? What perpetuates this urge to associate with and enjoy the evil?  Actor Luke Kenny, whose Zombie Rising Vol 2 will be launched at the event, says: “See, the young upwardly mobile Indians have their pop culture sensibilities sorted and are aware of all the new trends that are prevalent within the Western world. And as content becomes increasingly consumed on mobile devices, the tribe is growing. So there is a dedicated Indian audience for zombie-related products as well as a new audience that is willing to explore.” Kenny is right, the urban youth of today celebrates emancipation, at times to the extent of anarchy, which is why a comic convention then serves as the perfect forum for them to unleash their inherent aspirations on. “I am dressed as the Hawk Girl. This isn’t how I could dress in a normal office day, right? This event allows me to uncover the child in me. I can do what I wish, be who I want,” says Ekta Kapoor, a cosplay participant. “In this context I see the evil as a form of art. It’s creative and builds the prospects for more characters to be created,” adds Rhea Srivastava, another participant. Comic Con sure is the place to study the interplay of inner thoughts and actions of people. It helps one psychoanalyse the others as well as colour one’s own latent imaginations. Another interesting facet of the event is that it familiarises the masses with comics journalism. World Comics India (WCI), founded by Sharad Sharma, is the first organisation to present a methodical curriculum in comics journalism. Sharma says, “Comics journalism is a new phenomenon. Here creators use visual medium to tell the story or disseminate information. Comics journalists travel to one specific area to collects information, documents and incidents. They draw live sketches, collect visual information, draw info-graphics and later weave them all in one story format. These stories are usually presented in the same old comics format. I had designed a project in which 15 comics journalists were assigned to report on development issue; how these common people living in 15 different States of India see development in last 60 years of independent India. Though none of them was an artist, they were familiar with the basics of the comic making. It took four years to complete this self-funded project. These 15 stories were developed in several different languages; later after translation these were published as an anthology in both English (Whose Development) and Hindi (Vikaskaal Vipreet Buddhi) languages. Recently, we had 13 students from India, Pakistan and Nepal in the first batch and 15 in the second. We are still polishing and fine tuning the course.” Most visitors, at the same time, are oblivious of the history and contemporary essence of the graphic medium. While for many, political graphic novels like Parsepolis or Maus would be inspiring and moving, most participants claim to be non-readers, meaning, they “catch the popular animated shows on the TV and watch Batman; the Comic Con ensures masti and prizes and that’s why it’s worth it.” While on one hand, it builds the groundwork for international marketing, enhancement of creativity, moments of merriment and grandeur, who are these people who are drawn towards the endeavour? Was Walt Disney a genius or a perpetrator of the evil, stereotypes and lies? Is commercialism taking a toll on art? Is viewership hampering readership? To find out, either way, you have to attend the Comic Con!Source

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