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Comic/Art: Giving Hindu Mythology An Illustrated Update

Illustration for article titled Comic/Art: Giving Hindu Mythology An Illustrated Update

A new exhibit in LA County is making waves for displaying Indian comics, noting: "the goal of the exhibit is to demonstrate how India's artistic legacy of heroic narratives and archetypes has been embraced by comic-book creators."

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Curator Julie Romain noticed a link between the the grand tales told in epic paintings that detailed the stories of Hindu deities and modern comics that took the old legends and updated them to appeal to a new generation.

This is one reason the show also includes a series of storytelling paintings, called Paithan, named for the region in central India where they originate. The 19th-century paintings in this small collection were used by traveling storytellers. "This is probably the closest parallel to the comic book, because it's a sequential narrative," Ms. Romain says. [...]

One could say the history of Indian comics has come full circle since its relatively recent beginning in the 1960s. For apart from a lone strip, "Daabu," created by Pran Kumar Sharma in the early part of that decade, Indian comics unfolded largely with reprints of "The Phantom" and "Superman." These were sold to Indian newspapers by Anant Pai, a newspaper executive credited for launching the Indian comic-book industry.

In the summer of 1967, Mr. Pai was watching a television quiz show and became disturbed because none of the contestants knew the name of Rama's mother, yet they could answer correctly a question about the Greek god Zeus. Add to that the burgeoning popularity of American comics in the subcontinent and Mr. Pai (or "Uncle Pai" as he is best known) decided it was time for India to stake its own claim to the genre.

Later that year he launched his Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Picture Stories) line with an adventure series about Krishna. Today the company sells about three million comic-book reprints a year in more than 20 languages.

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The exhibit also features modern comics with a decidedly desi spin:

Not that all of them ignore their American counterparts. For example, once in the show's main exhibition space, visitors will instantly recognize the familiar red-and-blue human arachnid portrayed in a 2004 cover from Marvel Comics' "Spider-Man: India" series.

In fact, Ms. Romain says: "You see more and more a similarity to American comic books and also a retelling of iconic American superheroes. Basically the entire story of Spider-Man and Peter Parker has been lifted and inserted into an Indian context." So instead of Peter Parker it's Pavitr Prabhakar. Aunt May becomes Auntie Maya and Mary Jane Watson is Meera Jain.

The exhibit is showing at the LA County Museum of Art, through February 7th.

Hindu Gods' Avatars On the Page [WSJ]
Heroes and Villains: The Battle for Good in India's Comics [LACMA]

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Add to that the burgeoning popularity of American comics in the subcontinent and Mr. Pai (or "Uncle Pai" as he is best known) decided it was time for India to stake its own claim to the genre.

Later that year he launched his Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Picture Stories) line with an adventure series about Krishna.

I LOVED those books as a kid. I have hundreds of them lying around at home. Every Indian kid I knew had them. I've never thought of them as comic books but that's exactly what they are.

Random aside: It is very refreshing to be able to look at a picture on a mainstream website and really be able to say, "Wow, that girl looks like me." (I mean, minus 10 pounds, but still. Love it.)