The main stage at Delhi Comic Con 2015 echoed with cries of “Amar Bari Tomar Bari Naxalbari” on Friday afternoon — a tad discordant in the “popular culture” festival.
The occasion was not the launch of a Naxalite manifesto but a comic book, which takes its title from the popular cry of the rebels, written by artist Sumit Kumar and published by New Delhi-based Horizon Books.
The novel is priced at Rs 300. Asked if a book on the Naxalite movement — which fashions itself as Robin Hood’s merry band to the tribals and rural poor being crushed by the state machinery in collusion with large corporate entities — should have been free, Abhinandan Sekhri of newslaundry.com, who made an e-version of the book available for free on his website, coolly claimed: “No, it would not have been viable for the publisher.”
Bhuwan Shrivastava, the publisher in question, pointed out the problems he encountered in getting the book printed. “When the printer saw the word ‘Naxal’ on the title, he refused to print it. I had to get the book produced at night.”
“We try to make viable business decisions,” said Sekhri. “We live in a post-ideological world.”
A world well represented at the event, where everything, from a violent political movement to nostalgia about snail mail, could be packaged and sold.
Hosted by Comic Con India at the 10,000 sq ft NSIC grounds in Okhla, the event was described as “the biggest pop culture event of the year” by its organisers. Its name is deceptive because comic books are only a part of this comic book conference.
Some of the guests include Rob Denbleyker, author of Cyanide and Happiness, and Ty Templeton. But the press note issued by the organisers listed the participation of Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor in the HBO drama Game of Thrones, above both Denbleyker and Templeton, as a “huge attraction”.
There is, of course, no lack of comic books or art. Major players in the segment such as Random Comics, Vimanika, HarperCollins, and Dorling Kindersley, as well as independent artists have put up about 250 stalls.
But bookstores standing cheek-by-jowl with other stalls could get a little distracting.
Graphic designer Neema Gupta, who bought a cell phone cover depicting a stylised Marlon Brando as the Godfather Vito Corleone for Rs 600, said: “I was looking for comic books, but I can’t seem to find any.”
Besides Amar Bari Tomar Bari Naxalbari, two other books were released on day one — World War II: Under the Shadow of the Swastika (Campfire Graphic Novel, Rs 360) and Eldrith Chronicles (Vimanika Comics). One could also pick up the regular superhero comics, or the new graphic novels such as Malik Sajad’s Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir, described by one fan as Kashmir’s Maus (For the uninitiated, Maus is a genre-defying graphic novel by Art Spiegelman describing the experiences of his Jewish father in Nazi Germany).
To be fair though, merchandise other than books seemed to be attracting more people and selling faster.
There was even a stall, Sole Threads, selling flip flops. Asked why they thought a comics conference would be the right place to sell footwear, their designer Ritvika Chopra said: “It’s usually young people — teenagers, college students — who come here. They are our target customer.”
Chopra is not new to the comic con scene — she had a stall last time as well. Her flip flops are priced between Rs 200 and Rs 400. She claimed to sell about 200 a day. “Sunday (the last day of the three-day event) will be even better,” she said.
One of the more interesting stalls belonged to start-up Battees, owned by Harnehmat Kaur and Shivani Saran. A visitor could buy a postcard for Rs 50. If you posted it at the stall — yes, one could do that — you would get a discount of Rs 20.
“We are trying to get people into habit of writing letters again,” said Kaur.
They commission artists to create the postcards, each of which has the details of its creator. They also sell hand-knit woolen caps, which were hanging merrily in front of their stall though winter seems to be playing truant this year.
But not everything was for sale. One could pick up Priya’s Shakti at the Rattapallax stall for free.
Its creator Ram Devineni, a documentary film maker, said he had been inspired by the protests after the December 2012 Delhi rape. “I had initially wanted to make a film but it turned out to be a book.”
The Russian Woodpecker, the last film he was a part of, on the Ukrainian revolution, was selected for the Sundance Film Festival.
An initial glance at his book, illustrated by Dan Goldman, and one might think it is garish and unrefined. But as Devineni explained, one could scan the pages and they would turn into animation on the device one was using.
The total cost of the project was $125,000, claimed Devineni but the book was being distributed free because its purpose was spreading information and awareness. Of course, it could be done because Devineni had a generous Ford Foundation grant.