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Transition from print to digital is inevitable in comic industry: CBAM summit

Storytellers should find the most effective way to reach children, say experts.

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NEW DELHI: The comic book industry is a well-recognised part of Indian popular culture, having produced many familiar cultural icons like Suppandi, Chacha Chaudhary, Tenali Raman, Detective Moochhwala, Shikkari Shambhu, Mayavi, and Akbar-Birbal. The industry was at its peak during the late 1980s and 1990s, when it flourished with a record number of sales. 

However, post 2000, the Indian comic book scene hit a major stumbling block due to the arrival of television in almost all households, along with the introduction of video games in middle-class families. Sales and circulation plummeted, and comic book publishing companies either folded or merged. It was a ‘do or die’ situation – and as the saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Now, it is commonplace to find digital versions of comic books; be they Indian or foreign publishers, everyone has an online buying option that enables readers to access their comic on the device of their choice – mobile, tablets, laptops etc. And with television and smartphones continuing to hold sway over new-generation children, the industry is facing an inevitable shift where print comics are losing their prominence to the digital format. 

In the Comic Books and More Summit & Awards 2021 (CBAM 2021), organised by Animation Xpress, a division of the Indiantelevision.com group, several industry experts talked about the progress of the Indian comic industry, and the swift transition from paper comics to digital mediums. 

We’ve already seen this conversion to digital happen before, with books and newspapers; comic books have proved to be no exception.

"We had Amar Chitra Katha comics. They used to publish new editions every month. We used to collect it. We used to exchange it with our friends and make sure that it was circulated privately within them. And most of these comics were available in school and public libraries. And there was one more thing I remember was Sportsweek. Along with the comic book, we used to eagerly wait for Sportsweek as well. So, we all grew up with that culture, and today we suddenly see that the digital ecosystem has taken the centre stage,” recalled FICCI chairman of AVCG Forum and Punnaryug Artvision founder Ashish Kulkarni. “We have a lot to really see as to where, in which direction things are going. According to me, in the comic industry, the print medium is the greatest foundation medium.”

Global Comix director of business development Eric Tapper asserted that the digital medium is currently dominating, and is going to dominate the comic industry in the coming years. 

"The next-gen audience is looking for access to stories and content at their fingertips and the transition from books to mobiles/tablets is the product of time. The next-generation audience has the access to stories and comics at their fingertips at any moment, and creators can polish their stories and can engage a much broader audience," said Tapper during his speech at CBAM 2021. 

Storytellers should find the most effective way to reach children, and it is the best way to stay afloat in the industry, suggested Tinkle editor-in-chief Kuriakose Vaisian.

Said he: "In India, the most challenging thing is to acquire new readers. I do feel the market is still there, the challenge might be to reach out to the kids on devices that they are comfortable with. [Print] might not be the way to go.” 

Balarmax founder Sumit Kumar revealed that problems with the distribution network is one of the biggest challenges faced by creators in the country. One of the best ways, he remarked, to overcome this issue is by initially publishing web comics, and gauging readers’ response to the product before taking the call to go into print.

"The distribution network isn't strong in India, hence we decided to go ahead with webcomics. It's much easier to first come up with the webcomics, see if it works and then we go ahead to publish it," said Kumar. 

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