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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Q&A: Comics have lost ground to cartoon films

Anant Pai is best known as the creator of the famed Amar Chitra Katha series, which pioneered the telling of Indian folk tales, legends, myths and history through the comic form. Launched in 1967, the series has since run into over 400 titles and grossed sales of 86 million copies.

Can you recall for us the origin of the Amar Chitra Katha?

In February 1967 in Delhi, there was a quiz show on Doordarshan and one of the questions was, 'What was the name of Ram's mother?' None of them could answer. The funny thing is, moments later when the compere asked about some Greek goddess, they all knew. That struck me.

On my return to Bombay, I got associated with a children's magazine. The first issue had a poem called Daffodils and a story about a boy named Robert Warrington who longed to see London. I thought this was really strange. I have nothing against foreign authors or books based in foreign countries, but why should an Indian children's magazine have such a story? That was how it all started. I took the Amar Chitra Katha (ACK ) concept to several publishers and eventually, India Book House liked it.

Q: How has the ACK series evolved over the years?

Till 1969, we lost money, but after 1970-72, we didn't look back. It had started as a monthly, but soon we made it a fortnightly and then we began having three issues every month. The titles sold 20,000-60,000 copies.

Q: There is a certain criticism that the imagery in the comics is a little sexist.

We did get some criticism for it, but these were artworks done 40 years ago. I think our major influences were the sculptures
of Ajanta, Ellora, the work on Kalamkari cloth, etc; all traditional Indian art forms. We may have been a bit over-influenced by it (laughs). But forget the first 25 titles or so, we have toned it down now.

Q: What about the accusation that there isn't enough representation of various minority groups and communities?

I don't think that's true. I have tried to promote national integration though the series. We have done Jesus Christ , which has been a big success. We have done several on Muslim figures such as Babar, Humayan, Akbar, Chand Bibi. You know, when I go to Assam, they are so pleased...they tell me they have read Joymati and Lachit Barphukan. We have done all the Sikh gurus...

Q: Can ACK sustain its appeal in the face of Disneyfication? Children these days seem more acquainted with superheroes like Spiderman than Indian historical figures.

That is partly our mistake, we need to do more to promo

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