BookPDF Available

Adventure Comics and Youth Cultures in India



This pioneering book presents a history and ethnography of adventure comic books for young people in India with a particular focus on vernacular superheroism. It chronicles popular and youth culture in the subcontinent from the mid-twentieth century to the contemporary era dominated by creative audio-video-digital outlets. The authors highlight early precedents in adventures set by the avuncular detective Chacha Chaudhary with his ‘faster than a computer brain’, the forays of the film veteran Amitabh Bachchan’s superheroic alter ego called Supremo, the Protectors of Earth and Mankind (P.O.E.M.), along with the exploits of key comic book characters, such as Nagraj, Super Commando Dhruv, Parmanu, Doga, Shakti and Chandika. The book considers how pulp literature, western comics, television programmes, technological developments and major space ventures sparked a thirst for extraterrestrial action and how these laid the grounds for vernacular ventures in the Indian superhero comics genre. It contains descriptions, textual and contextual analyses, excerpts of interviews with comic book creators, producers, retailers and distributers, together with the views, dreams and fantasies of young readers of adventure comics. These narratives touch upon special powers, super-intelligence, phenomenal technologies, justice, vengeance, geopolitics, romance, sex and the amazing potentials of masked identities enabled by navigation of the internet. With its lucid style and rich illustrations, this book will be essential reading for scholars and researchers of popular and visual cultures, comics studies, literature, media and cultural studies, social anthropology and sociology, and South Asian studies.
This pioneering book presents a history and ethnography of adventure comic books for
young people in India with a particular focus on vernacular superheroism. It chronicles
popular and youth culture in the subcontinent from the mid-twentieth century to the
contemporary era dominated by creative audio-video-digital outlets.
The authors highlight early precedents in adventures set by the avuncular detective Chacha
Chaudhary with his ‘faster than a computer brain’, the forays of the film veteran Amitabh
Bachchan’s superheroic alter ego called Supremo, the Protectors of Earth and Mankind
(P.O.E.M.), along with the exploits of key comic book characters, such as Nagraj, Super
Commando Dhruv, Parmanu, Doga, Shakti and Chandika. The book considers how pulp
literature, western comics, television programmes, technological developments and major
space ventures sparked a thirst for extraterrestrial action and how these laid the grounds for
vernacular ventures in the Indian superhero comics genre. It contains descriptions, textual
and contextual analyses, excerpts of interviews with comic book creators, producers, retailers
and distributers, together with the views, dreams and fantasies of young readers of adventure
comics. These narratives touch upon special powers, super-intelligence, phenomenal
technologies, justice, vengeance, geopolitics, romance, sex and the amazing potentials of
masked identities enabled by navigation of the internet.
With its lucid style and rich illustrations, this book will be essential reading for scholars and
researchers of popular and visual cultures, comics studies, literature, media and cultural studies,
social anthropology and sociology, and South Asian studies.
Raminder Kaur is Professor of Anthropology and Cultural Studies in the School of Global
Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. She is the author of Atomic Mumbai: Living with
the Radiance of a Thousand Suns (2013) and Performative Politics and the Cultures of Hinduism
(2003/5). She is also co-author of Diaspora and Hybridity and co-editor of Arts and Aesthetics
in a Globalizing World, Mapping Changing Identities: New Directions in Uncertain Times, Censorship
in South Asia: Cultural Regulation from Sedition to Seduction, Bollyworld: Popular Indian Cinema
through a Transnational Lens and Travel Worlds: Journeys in Contemporary Cultural Politics. She has
also written several scripts for theatre at
Saif Eqbal is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance at
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He graduated in Political Science from
B.R.A. Bihar University, and Politics, and completed his master’s degree (with a specialisation
in International Relations) and MPhil from the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance
at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is the co-author (with Raminder Kaur) of ‘Gendering
graphics in Indian superhero comic books and some notes for provincializing cultural studies’
in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (2015).
‘With an irreverent verve wholly befitting their subject matter, Raminder Kaur and
Saif Eqbal take us on a magical mystery tour of north Indian superhero comics, a
genre which, despite its ubiquity and its tremendous popularity, has until now not
been given the dignity of a full-scale analysis. From its humble beginnings to its
current multi-mediated Indofuturistic avatars, Kaur and Eqbal offer us a fascinatingly
different globalization story. So, get ready: here be superpowers!’
William Mazzarella, Neukom Family Professor
and Chair, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, USA
‘An enthralling journey into the worlds of the superheroes of north India’s vernacular
adventure comics: colourful, larger than life and distinctively desi. Two enthusiasts
share their passion, exemplary fieldwork and historical and textual research to make
an exciting contribution to our understanding of contemporary popular youth
culture in mofussil India, from the golden age of the 1980s action heroes and super-
heroines to today’s millennial, Indofuturist fantasies. Insightful and enormous fun.
Rosie Thomas, Professor of Film, Westminster School
of Media, Arts and Design, London, UK
‘This fascinating and rich study of the popular visual culture of Indian adventure
comics is a timely and well-researched contribution on how India’s socio-economic
and political transformation from the 1980s has shaped young readers’ imaginaries
of the nation’s position in a globalising world. It convincingly brings to the fore
how these ‘superhero’ graphic media reflect complex turbulences related to diverse
forms of knowledge production and circulation, to changes in labour and gender
roles, and to the different facets and faces of nationalist dystopia and ‘Indofuturism’.
Christiane Brosius, Professor of Visual and Media Anthropology, Heidelberg
Centre for Transcultural Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany
‘A timely volume in our current age of surging nationalism in different parts of the
world. The superhero comics in India are analysed visually and verbally to offer critical
insights into its youth culture and its complex landscape of desire, action and political
conflict. With its focus on the intersection of the transnational and the vernacular, the
book enables us to grasp the slippery terrain of South Asian globalization amidst uneven
modernity and the reworking of indigenous philosophies for contemporary times.
Parul Dave Mukherji, Professor, School of Arts and Aesthetics,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
Raminder Kaur and Saif Eqbal
First published 2019
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
and by Routledge
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
© 2019 Raminder Kaur and Saif Eqbal
The right of Raminder Kaur and Saif Eqbal to be identified as authors of
this work has been asserted by them in accordance with sections 77 and 78
of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to contact owners of copyright
regarding the text and visual material reproduced in this book. Perceived
omissions if brought to notice will be rectified in future printing.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or
utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now
known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in
any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publishers.
Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or
registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation
without intent to infringe.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A catalog record for this book has been requested
ISBN: 978-1-138-20188-0 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-1-138-35868-3 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-0-429-43421-1 (ebk)
Typeset in Bembo
by Apex CoVantage, LLC
For Suraya and Sohana
List of figures ix
List of plates xi
Acknowledgements xiii
1 Action India 1
2 The making of modern mythologies 18
3 The golden age of the Indian superhero 46
4 Gendering graphics 63
5 A haven of super creativity 83
6 The fantastic familiar 101
7 The state of the nation 116
8 A forensics of evil 131
9 Readers’ worlds 152
viii Contents
10 In one of my dreams, I defeated America 173
11 Future presents 196
Glossary of key Indian adventure comic book characters 216
Index 221
2.1 Chacha Chaudhary (n.d.), Diamond Comics Digest, front cover 27
2.2 Bela and Bahadur, Jangal ke Chor (Thieves of the Jungle,
circa 1986), Indrajal Comics, front cover, courtesy
of 31
2.3 Fauladi Singh aur Robot Hunter (Fauladi Singh and Robot Hunter,
n.d.), Diamond Comics, front cover 33
2.4 Vinashdoot (1985), Raj Comics, front cover 34
3.1 Nagraj in the foreground with his spiritual guide, Gorakhnath,
in the background, Nagraj (The King of Snakes, 1986), Raj
Comics, front cover 50
4.1 The superheroine, Chandika, Super Commando Dhruv’s
aide (n.d.), Raj Comics, publicity image 64
4.2 Super Commando Dhruv with a schematic silhouette of
Dr. Virus behind him, Code Name Comet (2013), Raj Comics,
front cover 67
4.3 Nagraj and Visarpi recline on Sheshnag (usually associated
wth the Hindu god, Vishnu) with allies, Saudangi, Sheetnag
and Nagu, as part of the snake’s many heads (n.d.), Raj
Comics, publicity image 69
4.4 The superheroine, Lomri, vanishes from Doga’s view,
in Lomri (The Fox, 1996), Raj Comics, p. 19 72
4.5 The alter ego of Shakti, Chanda, encounters the supreme light
of Kali after being thrown virtually lifeless into a remote
valley, in Doga-Shakti (1998), Raj Comics, p. 12 76
4.6 Chanda as Shakti fighting the superhero, Doga,
Doga-Shakti (1998), Raj Comics, front cover 78
5.1 Professor Nagmani inserts a brain-controlling microchip in
Nagraj, illustrated by Pratap Mulick, in Nagraj (1986),
Raj Comics, p. 28 95
x Figures
5.2 Nagraj fights an adversary, illustrated by Sanjay Ashtaputre in
Nagraj ki Kabra (The Tomb of Nagraj, 1986), Raj Comics, p. 10 96
5.3 Nagraj fights a demonic octopus, Octosnake, sent by the evil
tantric, Vishkanya, illustrated by Anupam Sinha, Vishkanya
(Poison Maiden, 1996), Raj Comics, front cover 97
6.1 The evolution of the supervillain, Mkahamanav, as narrated by
Super Commando Dhruv to his friend, Dhananjay, a scientist
from the underwater city, Swarn Nagri, in Mahakaal
(A Mammoth Death, 1997), Raj Comics, p. 15 106
6.2 Many avatars of Nagraj in a tilism (labyrinth) along with
his assistant, Nagu, in Hadron (2008), Raj Comics, p. 5 109
6.3 Nagraj confronts the supervillain, Black Hole, in Hadron (2008),
Raj Comics, p. 55 110
7.1 Conjoined temple-mosque on the India–Pakistan border,
in Border (circa 2000), Raj Comics, p. 9 125
7.2 An enemy force running away from the melting ice, in
Barf Ki Chita (Funeral by Ice, circa 1988), Raj Comics, p. 30 127
8.1 The story of a legendary brave Roman soldier who could
even defeat elephants as discussed by archaeologists, in
Roman Hatyara (Roman Assassin, 1987), Raj Comics, p. 2 134
8.2 Grand Master Robo and his henchman, Agnimukh, attack
Super Commando Dhruv, in Grand Master Robo (circa 1991),
Raj Comics, front cover 136
8.3 The villainous Nagin sucks Nagraj’s superpowers, Nagin
(1990), Raj Comics, front cover 137
8.4 Shakti and Parmanu are crushed by the supervillain, Zero G
(1999), Raj Comics, front cover 140
8.5 Nagraj fights the supervillain, Samrat Thodanga, who has
kidnapped the wife of a forest ranger in Tanzania,
Nagraj aur Thodanga (Nagraj and Thodanga, 1990), Raj
Comics, front cover 142
8.6 Parmanu attacked by a huge supervillain, D r. Wo r m (2003),
Raj Comics, front cover 144
8.7 Advertisement for Raj Comics issues on Dracula (n.d.),
Raj Comics 146
9.1 Retailer of comic books at a railway station in north
India (2012), photograph by Saif Eqbal 154
9.2 The supervillain, Chumba, uses extremely powerful magnets
to cut a man in half with the help of his henchmen, North
Pole and South Pole. The final panel shows Super Commando
Dhruv with his aides, Natasha and Schweta, in Chumba ka
Chakravyuh (Chumba’s Trap, 1992), Raj Comics, p. 4 163
11.1 Comic Con, New Delhi (2017), photograph by Raminder Kaur 201
1 A reincarnated Hitler sits atop a leviathan monster made out of
a mass of human beings while directing his viral formula at the
superheroine, Chandika. On the bottom left are the superheroes,
Nagraj and Super Commando Dhruv. On the right is the guru,
Gypto’s spirit reincarnated in the body of a woman, Tanashah (The
Dictator, 1998), Raj Comics, front cover
2 Super Commando Dhruv on a motorbike against Globe Circus
burning, Pratishodh Ki Jwala (The Fire of Vengeance, 1987), Raj
Comics, front cover
3 Super Commando Dhruv and his aide, Blackcat, stand amidst
carnage caused by robots on the loose. Commander Natasha
stands aloof in a military outfit while Inspector Steel beats up two
villains, Hammer and Farsa (Axe), Rajnagar Reloaded (2016), Raj
Comics, front and back cover
4 Doga with smoking pistols in each hand, in Doga Poster
(circa 2010), Raj Comics, Collector Edition
5 The villainous Miss Killer confronts Nagraj and his aide, Sheetika,
in Mrityujivi (The Living Dead, 2011), Raj Comics, p. 11
6 Superheroes attack Haru, a rival of the gods, Kohram (Mayhem,
2000), Raj Comics, front cover. Clockwise from bottom left, they
include superheroes, Shakti, Anthony, Parmanu, Nagraj, Inspector
Steel, Tiranga, Doga, Kobi and Super Commando Dhruv
7 Doga accused of favouring one community over another during
interreligious riots, in Doga Hindu hai (Doga is Hindu, 2008), Raj
Comics, front cover
xii Plates
8 Superheroes – from left to right, Tiranga, Super Commando
Dhruv, Parmanu, Chandika and Doga with Nagraj in centre –
gear up to deal with beings from deep inside the Earth who
exist in darkness, and when on the surface, prowl in our shadows.
They are the Negatives led by the villainous General Andhaman,
Negatives (2013), Raj Comics, front cover
9 Supervillains and superhero aides surround Super Commando
Dhruv, in Maine Mara Dhruv ko (I Killed Dhruv, 1995), Raj
Comics, front cover. Clockwise from bottom left, they
include Bauna Waman, Barf Manav (Ice Man) aka
Dr. Verghese, Chandika, Grand Master Robo, Vanaputra, Lori, Dr.
Virus, Jingalu the Yeti, Natasha, Chumba, Kankaltantra, Dhwaniraj,
Cadet Peter, Suprema, Chandkaal, Samri, Blackcat and Dhananjay
This book zones in on adventure – specifically superhero – comic books, and how
they have carved out new territories, both incredible and wholly believable, in
the lives of young people in India from the mid-twentieth century. The authors
include Raminder Kaur, a writer and scholar who began reading and researching
Indian superhero comics from 2006, and Saif Eqbal, a research assistant and doctoral
scholar who has been reading the comics since the age of 6 from the 1980s. We
have come together to share our experiential insights and analyses for the book
due to the inventive and stimulating appeal of this print media from different yet
complementary areas of expertise.
We would like to thank all the people who made this project possible – most
importantly, to the comic book producers. They include those at Raj Comics who
were kind enough to share their time, thoughts and even comics with us in our
trips to the outskirts of the state of Delhi. We owe a sincere thanks to Manish Gupta
for kind permissions to reproduce the images from Raj Comics in this book, and
to Sanjay Gupta and Anupam Sinha amongst others, who talked us through the
intricacies of their comic book histories and representations. We would also like to
extend our warm gratitude to Gulshan Rai for his advice and permissions to repro-
duce some of Diamond Comics’ repertoire of superheroism; and to the author and
illustrator, Aabid Surti, for his recollections and permissions to reproduce images of
the dynamic duo, Bahadur and Bela.
Just as significantly, we are enormously grateful to the numerous comic book
readers who we encountered, many of whom are now well into their adult years.
They expressed several views and opinions that we have tried to incorporate into
these pages, keeping their identities and any organisational or institutional affilia-
tions anonymous. Where possible, we have allowed their voices to speak and offer
insights on the material. It is primarily for this reason that, while this is a scholarly
book based on long-term research, we have tried to write the book in an engaging
xiv Acknowledgements
style so as they too might be tempted to read it, and harbour ambitions to translate
it into Hindi in the future. For ease of reading, any vernacular terms cited in the
text are transliterated in the Anglicised version rather than presented with diacritics.
Our thanks extend also to the manuscript reviewers and editors, Professor Niraja
Gopal Jayal for her understanding and patience, and colleagues at the University
of Sussex who supported the research. Aside from contributions to travel expenses
from the University of Sussex’s Department of Anthropology, this particular
research was self-funded, born out of our passion for the project. Earlier fieldwork
on nuclear issues by Raminder Kaur was supported by the Economic and Social
Research Council (RES-000–23–1312, 2006–2008), and a later period by the Arts
and Humanities Research Council (AH/HOO/3304/1, 2009–2010) to write her
book, Atomic Mumbai: Living with the Radiance of a Thousand Suns. In the book, she
discusses the ‘atomic wonderman’, Parmanu, in a chapter that is not reproduced
here. A more theoretical version of Chapter 4 was published by the two authors in
2015 as ‘Gendering Graphics in Indian Superhero Comic Books and Some Notes
for Provincializing Cultural Studies’ in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies,
12(4): 367–396.
Last, but not least, we would like to thank our dear family and friends who saw
us through what seemed like the never-ending task of putting our conversations
and thoughts down in black and white, as we tried to capture some of the sparks of
energy and enthusiasm that comes from engaging with fabulous worlds of which
we are wont to dream.
The wandering soul of Adolf Hitler lurks around a portal that connects the world
of the dead to the living. It hovers around the body of a boy, Jeevo, who is in an
old church in India, the ‘gateway to the paraworld’. The boy is sitting in an ‘invoker
machine’ – a contraption designed by his father, an exorcist, to meet with his grand-
father’s soul, the late guru Gyoto.
Meanwhile, there is a fierce battle going on outside between Indian superheroes
and insurgents around a nuclear power plant that violently disturbs the ritual. At a
critical point during the invocation, Hitler’s desirous soul overwhelms Gyoto’s. When
possessed, the boy euphorically announces: ‘I am no more a human Hitler. I’m a spirit
endowed with paraphysical powers’ (Tanashah, The Dictator, 1998, p. 34). He adds:
I’m Herr Hitler! Adolf Hitler! Remember, how I gave hell to this world. But
before I could realise my diabolic dreams, allied forces hounded me and I had
to commit suicide. My desire to enslave human race remained unfulfilled. My
spirit wandered . . . but now I’ll destroy this world.
(p. 38)
The powers of the reincarnated dictator are so great that he can even resist the
tantric and poisonous snake powers of the superhero, Nagraj, the King of Snakes.
Neither are other superheroes any match for his powers – whether it be the highly
astute and acrobatic Super Commando Dhruv, or Chandika with her secret alter
ego, Schweta – a genius innovator and Dhruv’s foster sister.
Declaring that ‘destruction is our common goal’, the dictator makes an alliance
with the insurgents who had stolen a ‘mini plutonium bomb’ from the Narora
atomic power station. They have designs to explode it on Kashmir Day, a celebra-
tion in the border state’s capital in the presence of the country’s political leaders.
Hitler/Jeevo takes the extremists to a hidden cache of World War II–era German
2 Action India
arms and ammunition in Kashmir, where he also finds a khaki green National
Socialist uniform to don with leather accessories to boot. Now looking the part,
the dictator takes the rogues to Afghanistan, where they join Taliban guerrillas and
seek another ‘depot of arms’. Little do they know that Hitler/Jeevo’s intent is to
find a virus formula in an underground hideout in the region that he could use to
continue with his ambitions for global domination.
During World War II, Hitler’s scientist, Schindler, had been developing an ‘M- and
B-virus’ that could help the dictator to control the minds of others. M stands for the
Mother and B the Brood. The M- and B-virus establish a similar relationship that
‘a hen has with her brood of chickens. The brood follows her and blindly obeys her
every command’ (p. 69). After Schindler learns of the Fuhrer’s suicide, he too kills
himself out of a sense of loyalty, even though he was successful in his experiment. His
research lay unknown to the world in his hideout for over half a century.
The mission of Hitler’s soul is to find the formula, imbibe the M-virus himself,
and inject the B-virus into the atmosphere so as it infects all human brains. When
the mother and brood are in bondage, he could enslave humanity and subject it to
his whims. After having located the virus formula, Hitler/Jeevo moulds individu-
als into ‘a monstrous pile-up of people in humanoid shape’ (p. 82, Plate 1). Sitting
on top of the mountain of human bodies and surrounded by Nazi tanks, he gloats:
‘As more people join my brood, the stronger I become’ (p. 83). This huge leviathan
would make the possessed boy powerful enough to control the planet and even the
universe. While in his human form, Hitler would have been able to control only
the minds of humans, as a supernatural force his powers are increased manifold to
the point that he could give regular form to the irregularity of innumerable souls,
dead or alive. As evil reincarnate, his ‘devilish para-powers’ can soak up the energy
and power of malevolent spirits. The Hitler monster boasts:
I’m a power grid of the energy of millions of spirits and evil forces. It will go
on multiplying. All the energy of the souls of living and dead worlds. . . . Evil
forces pooling in me. . . . Then sun, stars and cosmos . . . and god.
(p. 87)
Meanwhile, the superheroes ally with Gyoto’s spirit, who incarnates himself in
Jeevo’s mother. They gather their wits to overcome this dystopian threat. As the
supernatural dictator sucks up bodies and souls for his leviathan, we can well imag-
ine his frenzied laughter echoing over the rugged mountains and valleys, and omi-
nously expanding into the solar systems to present a challenge to divinity itself.
Action comics in India are our remit; young people’s experiences and imaginaries
our perspective. We turn to the comic books that have held young minds captive
through the genre of adventure, encompassing heroic, superheroic and villainous
figures. Although liberally drawing upon historical and religio-mythical narratives,
Action India 3
they revel in new exploits for the modern era. While they may encompass action-
based escapades and detective stories with heroes demonstrating exceptional intel-
ligence among other talents, the core of this book is focused on superhero comics
and what they mean for young India.
It is often cited that India now has the world’s largest population aged 10–24,
and that since the 1990s in particular, it has had a thriving youth culture.1 But there
is an important backstory to youth culture, by no means coherent or unified, that
goes back to earlier decades from the mid-twentieth century. We trace it through
our focus on adventure comics – an ensemble of material that represents a creative
transference between indigenous and foreign, familiar and innovative, ancient and
topical. Among the escapades, the stories might envelope contemporary concerns
such as political insurgency, assassinations, communalism, corruption, smuggling
and include striking events such as the 1998 nuclear tests in Pokhran, the terror
attacks in Mumbai in 2008, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, or
further afield with the abominable attacks against the World Trade Centre Towers in
New York City in 2001, all for and from the perspective of the young.
As we can see with the opening tale in Tanashah by Raj Comics, a counterfactual
account of mid-twentieth-century history is telescoped onto the South Asian land-
scape to give superheroism and villainy another edge. Supernatural, meglamaniac
and separatist forces are unleashed to plague humanity. In the attempt to defeat
them, Indian superheroes are heralded as a national and international force to be
reckoned with and written into the pages of world history.
Needless to say, in the end, Hitler fails in his spirited endeavours to conquer the
globe again.
A view from the global south
With its emphasis on Anglophonic material, studies of vernacular language adven-
ture comic books have been conspicuous by their near absence.2 The available
work in the interdisciplinary field of comics studies mainly focuses on adventure
comics in the US, Europe and Japan, with occasional chapters or articles on com-
ics in other regions.3 With respect to South Asia, the predominant focus has been
on religio-mythological and historical comic books, namely the Amar Chitra Katha
(The Immortal Picture Story) series produced mainly in English in India. From the
late 1960s until the 1980s, Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) has dominated the Indian
comic book market. In their heyday, they proved to be tough contenders for for-
eign competition. With their sanctioned and illustrative stories, they largely focused
on tales from religious texts and ancient epics such as the Mahabharata and Rama-
yana, folklore as well as on legendary characters, saints and freedom fighters. The
comic books have had much success and support, particularly from elder genera-
tions intent on the moral, cultural and national instruction of the young. For some
time, the popularity of age-old narratives through the comic book form encour-
aged a national-cultural revival in India and amongst its diaspora. Accordingly, the
material has become the focus of much scholarship interested in Indian popular
4 Action India
culture and the way familiar subcontinental stories are reworked for the comic
book format.4 But the significant factor here is that ACK comic book readership
was largely among affluent upper-caste Hindu boys and girls from metropole and
urban areas.5 Moreover, these comic books were predominantly bought by parents
to instruct rather than simply entertain their children, and even schools in India
have subscribed to the series as a pictorial form of pedagogy. They form part of an
adult-orientated literature boomeranged for young people, rather than a literature
that necessarily reflects what the young may be most instantly interested in.
What needs to be fully taken on board is the proliferating area of action or
adventure tales for youth in the global south. Unless they were involved in the craft
of their production, sale or rental, rarely did adults take a look into these comics.
As a predominant subgenre of adventure comics, superhero comics have played a
remarkable role in forging young readers’ interpretive communities. These super-
heroes follow in the flight paths of American ones like Superman, Captain America and
Spider-Man, but with very distinctive features. An extensive focus on the features
of Indian or desi superheroism is well overdue.6
Desi superheroism
Drawing from the jurist, Learned Hand, who presided over a court case on super-
hero copyright infringement in the US in 1940, Peter Coogan outlines four features
of a superhero.7 Even though Coogan only foreground male paragons, we widen
our reference points and analyses on superheroes to encompass female crusaders, but
revert to gender-specific terms when there is a need to identify differences between
them. The generic traits of superheroes are comparable to those in India. First, the
superhero should be a selfless individual with a social mission to eradicate evil and to
protect the oppressed. Second, this individual has special powers – mythical, magical
and/or technological. Third, the superhero’s nomenclature and the presence of an
iconic costume distinguishes his/her identity from the heroes of detective comics or
other genres. Fourth, s/he might also have a dual identity, an alter ego.
Basing her work on ACK, Karline McLain expands the list to six characteristics
for the new-age superheroes, maintaining that they hold true for the Indian case
with minor additions or substitutions as the case might be.8 The six features are
extraordinary powers, enemies, a strong moral code, a secret identity, a costume and
an origin story that sets the stage for further adventures. With this template, McLain
takes recourse to the example of the semi-divine Ram, whose main exploits in the
Ramayana are reproduced in some of the ACK comic books. She adds that these
comics are a combination of ‘sacred and secular, myth and history to produce a
national canon of superheroes’.9 However, as McLain herself acknowledges, Ram is
not the be-all and end-all of Indian superheroism:
Rama is a god in human form, and the Rama comic book is therefore not a
fictitious tale of the victory of good over evil but a Hindu devotional story
told through the comic book medium.10
Action India 5
Heroic as they may be, the characters in ACK do not necessarily qualify as super-
heroes as goes the convention in comics studies. Ram is a human deity, whereas
Indian superheroes are not divinity or worshipped in the same sense, but bond with
the reader through their fantasies of the superhuman.
Tales from the scriptures and epics in comic format are not so much the mak-
ing of modern mythologies, but mythologies adapted for the modern era.11 Vernacular lan-
guage superhero or adventure comics, in contrast, do present the making of modern
mythologies for the Indian context. The stories in these Indian vernacular adventure
comics may follow a mythic template of heroes pitched in a battle of good against
evil. They may invoke customary ideas to do with ethical conduct as they might
also do in ACK. But they are not entirely predictable, underlining their affinity to
the revelatory sequence of the modern novel rather than the pre-learnt familiarity
of mythic tales.12 As we explore in later chapters, we note the specific features of
five main types of modern-day Indian superheroes. In their own ways, they register
another pulse on young people’s imaginaries by marvellously addressing historical,
religious, mythical, social and ethical discourses along with commentary on new
developments in science, technology and politics. They are, as James Lovegrove puts
it for science fiction in general, ‘a bellwether of the zeitgeist’.13
Adventures through ‘imagewords’
In its sequence of images interlaced with textual strips, panels or speech and
thought balloons, theorists have pointed out the mutual dependence between word
and picture. In one of the seminal studies on comics, Coolton Waugh defines them
as having a central character who recurs in various issues and through his/her antics
becomes cherished by the reader. They are complemented by a sequence of images
that might be complete in themselves or a part of a larger narrative, accompanied
with text in the illustrations.14 Will Eisner highlights how the repetition of images
becomes a style of story telling that creates a ‘grammar of sequential art’, where
words become part of the picture that the reader has to analyse in a simultaneous
visual-verbal manner.15 Going further, Scott McCloud points out that comic books
are not just an object but a medium of communication.16 He settles down to a defi-
nition of comics as ‘juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence
seeking to evoke an aesthetic response in the reader’.17
While the focus on the ‘aesthetic response in the reader’ is a welcome one,
McCloud’s definition of comics is ahistorical, and the elasticity of his definition
might even be extended to cave paintings, as Aaron Meskin suggests.18 On another
point of validity, Robert C. Harvey submits that McCloud does not place enough
emphasis on words and texts as an integral part of the comics, but words are what
distinguish comic books from simply illustrative panels.19 David Carrier prefers
to call this simultaneity as ‘verbal-visual interdependence’ and an essential part of
post-1930s comics, while Kristie S. Fleckenstein sees them conjoined as ‘image-
word’.20 Similarly, on the subject of graphic narratives, Pramod K. Nayar describes
them as part of a ‘dual narrative strategy of sequential dynamism and iconostasis’.21
6 Action India
This image-text, sequence-stasis interdependency is not, however, straightforward.
Thierry Groensteen prefers to see the relationship in terms of metaphors of multi-
plicity: one where the story does not read continuously as one might find in a book,
but space and time become discontinuous and irreducible to a linear reading.22
This, he argues, is the ‘foundation of the medium’, a foundation that is steeped in
diversity rather than grounded in coherence.23
We take these points on board as well as explore the specificities of the ‘aesthetic
response’ of vernacular adventure comics among their readers, but we do not limit
our focus to a formal analysis of conjoined images, words, balloons, strips, panels
and/or pages. Rather, our focus is on the graphic stories, and how these imageword
adventures are socially, culturally and politically framed, as much as they frame the
social, cultural and political worlds of those who produce and read the comics.
The illustrious comic book series provided by Raj Comics has a prominent
place in the psyche of north Indian Hindi-speaking children. This is especially the
case amongst boys aged between 6 and 16 in the 1980s and 1990s, some of whom
have continued to read the comics into their adult years. Based in Burari on the
outskirts of the state of Delhi, Raj Comics has played a major role in introducing
and energising stories about scientific innovations, philosophies, histories, social
issues, current affairs as well as attributes of superheroism and villainy to young
people in the Hindi-speaking belt of India. Not only have they been transfixed
with the characters and stories in these comics, but the comics’ easy availability at
virtually all train and bus stations, large or small, has made them an integral part of
the myriad journeys that young people have taken, both physically and emotion-
ally. These journeys range from the ordinary to the fantastic, the stupendous to the
ridiculous. They feature adventures with alluring characterisations, heroic and vil-
lainous, and those that lie somewhere in between.
Modernities in the backyard
Vernacular adventure comics lie at the intersection of metropolitan and mofussil
imaginaries – they are not so much about how metropolitan imaginings and outputs
such as cinema have represented the rural or mofussil, but how the latter represent
modern life in cities across the country and globe through the panels of vernacular
comics. These intersections are cross-cut by young people’s more local circuits of
engagement, those who grew up in mofussil and semi-urban areas of India that also
extend to the outskirts of city centres. As a medium for non-elite or lower middle
class youth, they have been sidelined in narratives about globalising India.24
While comic books are a definitively modern form of communication reflect-
ing global trends in graphics, aspects of modular modernity exist only as hints and
hybrid transformations within their pages and among their creators and readers.
Building upon what Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar calls the “multiple moderni-
ties” thesis’, the production, content and reception of vernacular adventure comics
are marked by instances of what we call ‘modernities in the backyard’.25 Multiple
Action India 7
modernities are not just on a scale of differentials between nations – the axes of the
formerly colonising and colonised, the global north and south, and so forth – but
also within and across the region and nation. To seek these other ‘modernities in
the backyard’ requires going beyond Anglophone literature and the dominant hubs
of capital and global cosmopolis in order to allow marginalised material and those
that engage with it to speak in their own terms. In this endeavour, we foreground
historical, textual and ethnographic material, hoping not to asphyxiate it with too
much heavy theorisation.
When we do so, we notice how vernacular adventure comics look outward to
other times and spaces as much as they turn inward to embrace the lifeworlds of
the young reader. They indicate an osmotic seepage of regional, national and global
currents and cross-currents that, while having an earlier history that could be traced
back to colonial times, for the purposes of our focus on vernacular adventure com-
ics, emerges mainly in the 1970s with earlier precedents in the form of comic strips
and illustrated magazines. With the availability of syndicated comic books from the
west in India, the relaxing of government control on paper quotas for publishers,
and the influence of vernacular pulp literature and Doordarshan state television
entertainment programming, desi superheroes such as Nagraj materialised to take
on international terrorism in mid-1980s comic books. In their manifold adven-
tures, they are shown navigating fantastic as well as actual territories such as Britain,
China, Japan, Myanmar, the US and countries in the Middle East, making foreign
lands more imaginable to a young reader who cannot travel abroad.
The 1990s saw the marked influence of neoliberal policies and market deregu-
lation with the establishment of new entertainment options in audio-visual and
digital formats. These changes led to trans/multinational collaborations, creative
start-ups, along with a proliferation of new media, stylistic developments, as well as
experimental ways of sharing graphic outputs online for wider audiences. But the
competitive drive and availability of new outlets also meant that the struggle for
survival became much more ferocious. A handful of vernacular comic book pub-
lishers endured, but most were delivered a deadly blow as their erstwhile readers
began to turn to other media.
By the start of this millennium, Indian comic book houses that survived the
lean patch tried to strengthen their national status and export standing. More and
more upwardly mobile Indians travelled to the cities and overseas for education
and work opportunities, taking with them a storehouse of memories embedded in
their favourite comic books. In the process, the vernacular comic books became
pricier and less affordable to mofussil audiences who are not able to move on. They
became geared towards metropolitan and transnational audiences keen to have a
desi riposte to the language of global superheroism. This digest of Indian vernacular
adventure comic books, therefore, is not quite a story of globalisation from below,
and certainly not from above, but one from a meandering muddled middle that
preceded the formal beginnings of neoliberalisation under Finance Minister Man-
mohan Singh’s policies in 1991.26
8 Action India
Young spheres of action
So how have adventure comics helped forge youth cultures in India, ahead of and in
conversation with film, televisual and other media? What characterises these comic-
centred cultures of (re)creation, representation and consumption? How were they
influenced by, and simultaneously distinct from adult-centric cultures? What do the
alluring and almost magical qualities of superhero comics conjure up amongst their
readers, past and present? And what light does a focus on fabulous fiction bring to
young people’s dreams and fantasies?
By tending to these questions in this book, our research adds substantial depth
and dimension to the available literature on post-1990s youth in South Asia. There
is now a well-established literature on the sociology and anthropology of childhood
and youth, as is indicated in the numerous books and journals available on this
theme.27 In their particular ways, they concur that these are historically and socially
constructed categories. In India, childhood has received the most attention in terms
of psychoanalytical, historical and sociological analyses.28 It has been distinguished
from the lives of teenagers and those older. Acknowledging that adventure comics
may be targeted at a more narrow age bracket, when it comes to superhero comics,
people from across the above age ranges read them.
Our adoption of the terms, youth or young people, is therefore amoeboid. As
goes a common Hindi idiom – thora adjust hua – it is ‘a little adjusted’ to accom-
modate the consumers of comics throughout the decades. They range from those
aged between 6 and 16 when Indian superhero comics proliferated, but they also
extend to those who recall, treasure and continue to read comic books into their
late teen and adult years – kidults, for want of a better term. This is necessarily a lens
on the horizon of then as much as it is on the filters of now, as we try to ascertain
young people’s worldviews from former decades. Such a then-and-now lens defies
the stiff parameters of age-specific youth cultures as it does legislative calibres that
stipulate children or minors become adults at the age of 18.29 Our focus on young
people is therefore elastic, filtered and fractured, embracing children, teenagers and
young adults, and affected by cleavages to do with class-caste, region, religion and/
or ethnicity to a greater or lesser extent. When we need to emphasise the younger
end of this continuum or to differentiate them with regards to parents and guard-
ians, we will use the term, children. Otherwise, we will use generic terms such as
young people or youth to include older readers who construe superhero comics as
both history and nostalgia, archive and alive. Through their varied optics, we will
be able to glimpse the Golden Age of Indian superhero comics in the 1980s and
1990s, and their part in making the cultures of young people when comic book
circulation and readership was at its zenith, as well as reflect on more recent trends.
When it comes to studies of youth cultures, a debt needs to be paid to their
emergence in mid-twentieth-century Britain with the rise of cultural studies.
There was a concerted effort to move beyond economic production as the histori-
cal dynamic of capital to the role of consumption in forging new identities. Along-
side was a drive away from the Frankfurt School’s legacy of high and low/mass
Action India 9
culture binaries towards a Gramscian focus on the contradictions and contestations
of marginalised and subaltern cultures. By the 1970s, several perspicuous studies
emerged that foregrounded working-class and lower-middle-class youth cultures.30
Progressively, the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality with respect
to class formations became an integral part of such works on popular culture in the
global north.
While a focus on youth had powered research on popular culture, when it comes
to considering South Asia, it is studies of public culture that have ignited specific
studies on youth cultures – less so subaltern or popular culture studies.31 Public
culture – conceived as a contested ‘zone of cultural debate’ following Arjun Appa-
durai and Carol A. Breckenridge – was taken up to explore the mediated inflec-
tions of postcolonial cultures.32 But the fallout has been that young people seemed
to have slipped away as a specific point of reference. Directed at mainly adults
or families, young people in early public culture studies have been seen more as
appendage than as agents. They were either subsidiaries to be orchestrated or a part
of the silent and suppressed. When they appear with respect to public culture, it is
as post-1990s children of liberalisation largely located in the throes of metropolitan
and urban heartlands.33
Accordingly, youth culture is seen to be ‘invented’ or only emergent in 1990s
India, particularly through young people’s engagement with politics and the con-
sumption of mass media such as music, television and films in a refracted mirror of
the west.34 This invention of ‘new youth cultures’ is premised on the commodifica-
tion and (inter)national visibility of the urban middle classes. But what were ‘old
youth cultures’ about? What did young people do before or in areas away from the
metropole heartlands, where there is little electricity or entertainment outlets, when
television sets were sparse and going to the cinema difficult? How can we conceive
of young people before the era of neoliberalisation – as subjects to be socialised,
consumer adults-in-waiting, or as budding agents who enacted their own wills on
their environment and created their own spheres of action, real and imagined? Did
youth even exist before the 1990s in the sense that we understand the term today?35
A focus on vernacular adventure comics enables us to address these questions. In
doing so, we emphasise the more fluid cultures of young people as opposed to youth
cultures in an invented sense. The task is to deconstruct the commodified notion of
youth cultures, and to revisit culture as constituting the lifeworlds of young people
in all their acquiescent and antagonistic multiplicity akin to the emphasis in early
studies of youth culture. This is not to say that there was an entirely alternative
subculture or resistive representational field for young people, only that there were
different circuits and agonistic relations with respect to mainstream culture.36
While by no means the sum total of their lives, adventure comics are an impor-
tant fragment of what young people could call their own cultural circuits.37 Even
though they might have sourced money from their family members to buy or rent
the comic books, the cultural circuits remain peripheral to the world of adults. Fol-
lowing Roseann Liu et al., we see youth as ‘creative cultural agents in their own
right’.38 Through considering the available material, we can begin to appreciate
10 Action India
what the cultures of young people might have looked like since the mid-twentieth
century. Through analyses and interpretations of the vivid tales in these comic
books, we can begin to develop an intimate analysis as well as a broader overview
of their expressive articulation along class-culture dynamics.
On a related note, the Indian middle class is often distinguished between its ‘old’
and ‘new’ avatar, the former with its emphasis on the salariat civil servant; the latter
with its more entrepreneurial spirit enabled by state deregulation particularly from
the 1990s.39 As we cross historical eras, youth too might be given their old and new
inflections. Those that bought vernacular adventure comics would be largely from
mofussil middle classes – those who live in small towns and semi-urban areas where
the vernacular is preferred over English. While they range from the lower middle
to relatively more comfortable classes, they are distinct from the jet-setting cosmo-
politan lives of social elites or metropolitan middle classes who, as Leela Fernandes
states, play the most ‘national visible role as the agents of globalization in India’.40
These visible agents might well dismiss the mofussil middle classes as provincial and
immature – in a word, ‘backwards’ in not just a socio-economic sense. This indeed
has been the rap for their literature, vernacular adventure comics cast off as dispos-
able and derivative: ‘a slavish imitation of foreign comics’, as one Indian commenta-
tor put it.41 Aspersions about the ‘copy-cat’ qualities of subcontinental superheroes
are likewise apparent among those placed in other regions of the world, vernacular
comics having been viewed through a very myopic and partial lens.42
Without prejudice, we concentrate on young people from mofussil middle
classes as the most pervasive readers of these vernacular comics. They are mainly
from low- to mid-level income backgrounds whose families have enough to invest
in their education rather than have to put them to labour. Some children might
even have a small amount of pocket money. They read vernacular comics while
‘waiting’ or doing ‘timepass’ as Craig Jeffrey describes lower-middle-class young
people who aspire to get a salaried post.43 But the waiting trope need extend to
their younger years during their period of schooling – the vestibular play area next
to the waiting room presided by their anxious guardians. Readers might include
the children of small shop and business owners and managers, petty agricultural
landlords and people employed in the public sector and private-public enterprises
such as Indian Railways and Coal India Limited. On the subject of caste, readers
are generally from middle-order castes such as Other Backward Castes (OBC), but
lower castes and Dalits too are present. Indeed vernacular comic books have found
favour across a broader range of readership rendering caste of minimal use to our
study.44 The readers might also extend to children from lower-working-class and
rural families when considering rental outlets for adventure comics that end up
being recycled for another entertaining lease of life, thus implanting rhizomatic
roots and shoots to our enquiry.
The scope of the research
Fieldwork for the book was conducted from 2010 until the present day in annual
bouts of month-long fieldwork with producers, distributors and readers, with an
Action India 11
earlier period of research that goes back to a year in 2006. This was pursued
through participant-observation, focus groups and semi-structured interviews in
mainly Hindi with a degree of English code-switching, as is colloquially common.
Most of those consulted were young males in the age range of 15–37, but we also
talked to some female comic readers. With an array of comics in hand as flicking
points of reference – ‘comic book elicitation’ – we conducted about 30 interviews
with under-18-year-olds, and 70 interviews with students and professionals in three
north Indian districts.45 Most were conducted together in south Delhi, with a few
conducted individually in Muzaffarpur district in Bihar and Dhanbad district in
Jharkhand. Some of our interlocutors we returned to on subsequent occasions with
more extended conversations on superhero comics.
Many of the young people living in south Delhi were recent migrants from
other north Indian states, from whom we attained further insights. Virtually all had
grown up reading superhero comics in states otherwise designated by the acro-
nym, BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), or ‘sick
states’ playing on the Hindi term for sick, bimar.46 In 2000, Bihar was split into two
with Jharkhand as a new state. These states including their capitals were particu-
larly run-down in the 1980s and 1990s. These were the decades when many of the
youth grew up – a period when the regions were undeniably ‘underdeveloped’,
and where superhero comics had a pertinent role in providing outward-bound
flights of fancy and fantasy.
We also conducted semi-structured interviews with about 20 senior people for
their historical recollections and abiding interests in comics, plus about 30 people
who made, sold or rented out comics, some of whom were avid young readers
themselves. These more structured occasions were supplemented by participant-
observation and chats over chai around tea stalls, retailers, college and university
campuses, residences, comic book fairs and events, and train stations and journeys.
These transport hubs were in fact the site of thousands of migrants who travelled
to Delhi for work and education every day, particularly from the neighbouring
states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Since the late 1990s in particular, owing to a
lack of higher education and work opportunities, and considering the rise of vio-
lence and yet decline of policing in mofussil regions, families in these north Indian
states began to encourage their older male children to migrate to the cities with an
anticipative ticket to upward mobility.
As the first authored volume on vernacular adventure comics in India, we admit
that there is a lot to cover and not enough space to do so. The book is only a study
on the changing facets of mofussil middle-class youth cultures in so far as they
relate to adventure comics – how this media reflects, refracts and (re)produces their
social worlds. Vernacular adventure comics are windows on much larger historical
and socio-political contexts, some of which is necessarily the subject of further
research, and some for which there exists plentiful other work signposted in the
endnotes. Even though we begin with a national overview of adventure comics as
they relate to young people’s cultures throughout the last century and end with a
focus on their orientation today, the main address is superhero comics that circulate
in the Hindi-speaking belt of north India. There are other more specific histories
12 Action India
to be done, particularly to do with comics in Bengali and south Indian languages, a
detailed study of which is outside the scope of this book.47
The next three chapters cover the lay of the land, concentrating on the main
figures and narratives of adventure comics in India. By outlining the Nascent,
Golden, Dark and Platinum Ages, we provide a necessary postcolonial corrective to
assumptions about their singular development in the global north. In Chapter 2, we
introduce and situate the rise of adventure comics in India in a context of incipient
trends in colonial and post-independent contexts from the mid-twentieth century.
A history of the rise of comic books is drawn out with a focus on indigenously pro-
duced comic strips and ‘pocket books’ such as those published by Diamond, Indra-
jal, Tulsi and Manoj Comics. This is supplemented by a focus on early adventurous
crime-fighters such as the masked Phantom (later Indianised as Vetal), the avuncular
Chacha Chaudhary with the ‘brain faster than a computer’, the dacoit-fighting
Bahadur with his kung fu aficionado and cohabiting girlfriend, Bela, and the emer-
gence of fantastic India-grown superheroes such as the robot with feelings, Falaudi
Singh, and the friendly blonde alien, Vinashdoot. Along the way, we highlight how
artists such as Pran Kumar Sharma carried over skills acquired in calendar arts,
developed in ACK magazines, and then deployed in early adventure comic books,
bringing several traditions of artistry together. We consider film veteran Amitabh
Bachchan’s foray as his superheroic alter ego, Supremo, along with his pet falcon
and talking dolphin in comic books devised specifically for children. We also learn
about television programmes and how they sparked a thirst for Indian extra-
terrestrial action. They included Indian-produced and syndicated programmes such as
the US series Star Trek, along with the broadcasting of major events such as Rakesh
Sharma’s journey into space as part of a 1984 joint programme between the Indian
Space Research Organisation and Soviet Intercosmos. We concentrate on these
earlier episodes of heroism before they firmly shape-shifted into desi superheroism
in the 1980s.
Chapter 3 plunges into what we have called the Golden Age of the Indian
superhero at a time of increasing political and economic turbulence. Light will
be shone on the brahmand rakshak, or protectors of the universe, so we can begin
to appreciate characteristics of the foremost superheroes. They include ‘mytho-
modern’ protagonists such as the muscular snake-like psychic, Nagraj; (extra)ordi-
nary superheroes such as the former circus artiste and now quick-witted superhero,
Super Commando Dhruv; transhuman superheroes such as the automated police
officer, Inspector Steel; forest guardians such as the synergetic Kobi and Bheriya;
and enraged avengers such as the dog-masked ‘angry superhero’, Doga.
Chapter 4 highlights the need to gender graphic narratives. We consider how
women such as Chandika and Schweta are portrayed in superhero comics, before
focusing on attributes of masculinity or, more to the point, hypermasculinity and
their symbiotic relations with representations of femininity in their more mun-
dane, superheroine or villainous forms. With a focus on Raj Comics’ unique series
dedicated to the superheroine Shakti, who owes her spiritual-physical powers
to the omnipotent Hindu goddess, Kali, we end by looking at how indigenous
Action India 13
philosophies are reworked for contemporary times in the struggle against gender
inequality and violence.
Chapter 5 takes us to Burari, a fairly ordinary place on the outskirts of the state
of Delhi that has the unique and perhaps surprising claim to be north India’s his-
toric heart of supercomics creativity. We reflect upon some of our conversations and
observations with an eye to considering the recent history and creative energies
behind Raj Comics. Honing in on early superhero comics and characters, we out-
line the key creators’ contributions in this ‘mofussil hub’ as a distinctive expression
of ‘modernities in the backyard’.
From Chapters 6 to 8, we analyse the main themes of superhero comics, begin-
ning with cultures of fabulous science. These provide the spine to Indian superhero
comics that include a debt to developments in modern science along with inventive
or miraculous ideas that have their provenance in Indic religion, mythology and
folklore. With such resources, all kinds of creative possibilities are imagined, phe-
nomena that one of our interlocutors described as ‘scientific magics’. The scientific
magics may manifest themselves in the origin stories of protagonists, good or bad,
in the struggles and battles between such characters, and as part of gadgets, events
and the environment that they inhabit and seek to alter. In the process, we revisit
science fiction as it is widely understood in the west with some significant modifi-
cations that we elaborate in terms of the ‘fantastic familiar’.
Chapter 7 examines conceptions of the nation and state as manifest in superhero
comics. The ‘truth-seeking’ superhero executes various tasks to protect the nation,
and in the process, engages with (and sometimes even disengages from) the state
apparatus such as the police and the army. This range of ‘in/exclusion’ extends from,
first, the superhero who personifies both the nation and the state together. Second,
the superhero might disengage from the state in a mission to provide a corrective
to corruption that festers in policing and bureaucratic institutions, but s/he may
continue to form an alliance to valorised aspects of the state apparatus, as with the
army fighting for the country. Third, there are times where the superhero might
disengage altogether, even from the holy grail of the army, and be foisted into the
spotlight as a vigilante or outlier, yet one who has a popular sovereignty as the apex
of a divorced yet pure patriotism.
Chapter 8 moves our focus to the darker terrain of dystopia and horror, and how
like a double helix, current and imminent threats to cherished social values and
national security rotate around each other in the superhero universe. As an ‘essen-
tial evil’, criminals and dictators, aliens and mutants, mythological and folkloric
demons, even Dracula and ancient Egyptian mummies, are liberally scattered across
the comic books. Without such dark forces, there would in fact be no superhero.
Chapters 9 and 10 take us to young readers’ interpretive communities with a
focus on the reception of superhero comics when they were growing up, mainly in
the 1980s and 1990s.48 We begin by considering in more detail consumption pat-
terns and alternative youth cultural circuits of superhero comics that have generated
a diversity of meanings and conceptual mappings. The subsequent sister chapter
takes us deeper into the subterranean worlds of comic book readers’ dreams as
14 Action India
conjured up by the title sourced from one of our interlocutors: ‘In one of my
dreams, I defeated America’. The ‘dreams spectrum’ – whether they be as aspira-
tional ambition or as somnolent journey – manifests itself in the way comic books
catalyse young people’s fantasies about personal powers, super-intelligence, out-
standing technologies, vengeance, justice, geopolitics, romance, sex and the incred-
ible potential of masked identities enabled by the internet where and when it
became accessible from the mid-1990s.
We end with Chapter 11 that charts what we have described as the current Plati-
num Age. This is a fiercely intensive neoliberal period accompanied by the develop-
ment and maturation of new superhero ventures, production technologies, television,
film and transmedia projects, trans/multinational collaborations, and the consolidation
of comic book creative talent in diverse fields in a contested zone where other forms
of media – audio-visual-digital – vie for monopoly in transnational spheres. Describ-
ing the phenomenon as Indofuturism, we address some of the new characters and
themes that have crystalised as part of narratives of millennial desi superheroism when
Hindu nationalism is on the resurgence, adding saffron hues to graphic ventures.
With our multifaceted approach entailing histories, textual and contextual
analyses, and excerpts of interviews with the creators, retailers and readers along
with their views, reviews and reveries, we hope to provide an exciting and incisive
documentation of a hugely neglected modern history of Indian young people’s
lives. The adventures play a potent part in stimulating imaginaries of all kinds while
combating modern fears and anxieties through super/heroes ready to defend their
principles, beliefs, nation and planet. As such, they are an essential avenue to the
psychosocial worlds of youngsters. If not always the case in the present era due to
the onslaught of multiple entertainment channels, there is no denying that adven-
ture comic books form an integral, diverse and vibrant part of the history of youth
cultures in the subcontinent.
1 See below and Monica Das Gupta, Robert Engelman, Jessica Levy, Gretchen Luchsinger,
Tom Merrick, James E. Rosen (2014) The Power of 18 Billion, Youth, Adolescents and the
Transformation of the Future, New York: United Nations Population Fund. www.unfpa.
org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN-SWOP14-Report_FINAL-web.pdf. Accessed:
September 9, 2017.
2 A parallel argument has been made for literature in general when English-language books
have received more transnational attention in the west. See Pamela Lothspeich (2009) ‘The
Mahabharata’s Imprint on Contemporary Literature and Film’, in Popular Culture in a Glo-
balised India, eds. K. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake, Abingdon: Routledge.
When we invoke west/ern in this book, we rely upon Stuart Hall’s notion of it being
both a geographical and powerful discursive space that connotes power and privilege as
well as, in this case, hedonism and excessive materialism. (1992) ‘The West and the Rest:
Discourse and Power’, in Formations of Modernity, eds. Stuart Hall and Bram Gieben,
Cambridge: Polity Press in association with the Open University.
3 As Charles Hatfield reminds us: ‘the heterogeneous nature of comics means that, in prac-
tice, comics study has to be at the intersection of various disciplines’ (2010) ‘Indiscipline,
or, the Condition of Comics Studies’, Transatlantica: American Studies Journal, 1(1–18): 1–2,
Action India 15
Comics in other regions are foregrounded in John A. Lent, ed. (2015) Asian Comics,
Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi; and Islamic perspectives in A. David Lewis
and Martin Lund (2017) Muslim Superheroes: Comics, Islam and Representation, New Haven,
CT: Harvard University Press. Analyses of international or transnational comic books are
provided by Mark Berninger, Jochen Ecke and Gideon Haberkorn, eds. (2010) Comics as
a Nexus of Cultures: Essays on the Interplay of Media, Disciplines and International Perspectives,
Jefferson, NC: McFarland; Daniel Stein, Shane Denson and Christina Meyer, eds. (2013)
Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Narratives: Comics at the Crossroads, London: Blooms-
bury; and Rayna Denison and Rachel Mizsei-Ward, eds. (2015) Superheroes on World
Screens, Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. Otherwise, comics studies scholarship
has highlighted issues to do with cultural diversity in the west, as with Carolene Ayaka
and Ian Hague, eds. (2014) Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels,
New York: Routledge.
4 See Karline McLain (2009) India’s Immortal Comic Books: Gods, Kings and Other Heroes,
Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press; and Nandini Chandra (2008) The Classic
Popular: Amar Chitra Kathas, 1967–2007, New Delhi: Yoda Press. Other accounts include
Frances W. Pritchett (1996) ‘The World of Amar Chitra Katha’ and John Stratton Hawley
(1996) ‘The Saints Subdued: Domestic Virtue and National Integration in Amar Chitra
Katha’, both in Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia, eds. Lawrence A.
Babb and Susan S. Wadley, Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania University Press; Sanjay Sircar
(2000) ‘Amar Chitra Katha: Western Forms, Indian Contents’, Bookbird, 38(4): 35–36; and
Gaurav Puri (2009) ‘Reading History in Comics: A Case Study of Amar Chitra Katha
Visionaries’, dissertation, Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad.
5 McLain, India’s Immortal Comic Books, p. 22 .
6 There are occasional articles and chapters on Indian superhero comics as exemplified by
Aruna Rao (2001) ‘From Self-Knowledge to Superheroes: The Story of Indian Comics’,
in Illustrating Asia: Comics, Humor Magazines, and Picture Books, ed. John A. Lent, Hono-
lulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press; Sandya Rao (2007) ‘The Globalization of Bol-
lywood: An Ethnography of Non-Elite Audiences in India’, The Communication Review,
10: 57–76; and Nandini Chandra (2012) ‘The Prehistory of the Superhero Comics in
India (1976–1986)’, Thesis Eleven, 113(1): 57–77. There are also transnational perspectives
provided by Shilpa Dave (2012) ‘Spider-Man India: Comic Books and the Translating/
Transcreating of American Cultural Narratives’, in Transnational Perspectives on Graphic
Narratives, eds. Denson, Meyer and Stein. There are brief mentions on the Raj Comics
superhero, Nagraj, in Suchitra Mathur (2010) ‘From Capes to Snakes: The Indianiza-
tion of the American Superhero’, in Comics as a Nexus of Cultures, eds. Mark Berninger,
Jochen Ecke and Gideon Haberkorn. There is also a chapter on the superhero, Doga, in
Gyan Prakash (2010) Mumbai Fables, New Delhi: HarperCollins; and a chapter on the
‘atomic wonderman’, Parmanu, in Raminder Kaur (2013) Atomic Mumbai: Living with the
Radiance of a Thousand Suns, New Delhi: Routledge.
7 Peter Coogan (2009) ‘The Definition of the Superhero’, in A Comics Studies Reader,
eds. Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, Jackson, MS: Mississippi University Press, p. 77. See
an important corrective by J. L. Bell (2009) ‘Judge Hand in the Land of Superheroes’,
April 29,
html. Accessed: November 20, 2017.
8 McLain, India’s Immortal Comic Books, p. 1.
9 Ibid., p. 3.
10 Ibid., p. 2.
11 See Richard Reynolds (1994) Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology, Jackson, MS: University
Press of Mississippi.
12 See Umberto Eco (1972) ‘The Myth of Superman’, transl. Natalie Chilton. Diacritics,
2(1): 14–22, p. 15.
13 James Lovegrove (2012) ‘The World of the End of the World’, in Strange Divisions and
Alien Territories: The Sub-Genres of Science Fiction, ed. Keith Brooke, London: Palgrave
MacMillan, p. 102.
16 Action India
14 Coulton Waugh (1947) The Comics, New York: The MacMillan Company, p. 14.
15 Will Eisner (1984, 1985) Comics and Sequential Art, Fort Lauderdale, FL: Poorhouse Press,
p. 8.
16 Scott McCloud (1993) Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, New York: HarperCollins
and Kitchen Sink Press, pp. 2–23.
17 Ibid., p. 199.
18 Aron Meskin (2007) ‘Defining Comics?’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 65(4):
369-379, p. 370.
19 Robert C. Harvey (2009) ‘How Comics Came to be: Through the Juncture of Word and
Image from Magazine Gag Cartoons to Newspaper Strips, Tools for Critical Apprecia-
tion plus Rare Seldom Witnessed Historical Facts’, in A Comics Studies Reader, eds. Heer
and Worcester, p. 25.
20 David Carrier (2000) The Aesthetics of Comics, Pennsylvania, PA: Penn State University
Press, p. 26; Kristie S. Fleckenstein (2003) Embodied Literacies: Imageword and a Poetics of
Teaching, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
21 Pramod K. Nayar (2016) The Indian Graphic Novel: Nation, History and Critique, New
Delhi: Routledge, p. 21. See also Chapter 11.
22 Thierry Groensteen (2007) The System of Comics, transl. Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen,
Jackson, MS: Mississippi University Press.
23 Ibid., p. 9.
24 On a useful summary of globalisation and consumerism and its relevance for ‘non-elites’
in India – those who stand between the affluent and the poor - see Steve D. Derne
(2008) Globalization on the Ground: New Media and the Transformation of Culture, Class, and
Gender in India, New Delhi: Sage.
25 Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar (2002) ‘Toward New Imaginaries: An Introduction’, in spe-
cial issue, ‘New Imaginaries’, Public Culture, 14(1): 1–19. See also Jean Comaroff and John
L. Comaroff, eds. (1993) Modernity and its Malcontents: Ritual and Power in Postcolonial
Africa, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
26 As such, the book adds to studies of globalisation, notable among which are Arjun Appa-
durai (1996) Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis, MN:
University of Minnesota Press; William Mazzarella (2003) Shoveling Smoke: Advertising
and Globalization in Contemporary India, Durham, NC: Duke University Press; Christiane
Brosius (2010) India’s Middle Class: New Forms of Urban Leisure, Consumption and Pros-
perity, New Delhi: Routledge; and the edited decennial volumes by the Association of
Social Anthropologists published by Routledge in 1995.
27 See, for instance, Philippe Ariès (1996 [1962]) Centuries of Childhood, New York: Knopf;
Allison James and Alan Prout, eds. (1990) Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood, Lon-
don: Falmer Press; and Robert Levine and Rebecca S. New, eds. (2008) Anthropology and
Child Development: A Cross-Cultural Reader, London: Blackwell.
28 See Sudhir Kakar (1978) The Inner World: A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and Society
in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press; Ashis Nandy (1984–1985) ‘Reconstruct-
ing Childhood: A Critique of the Ideology of Adulthood’, Alternatives, X: 359–375; Sat-
adru Sen (2005) Colonial Childhoods: The Juvenile Periphery of India 1850–1945, London:
Anthem Press; and Sarada Balagopalan (2014) Inhabiting ‘Childhood’: Children, Labour and
Schooling in Postcolonial India, London: Palgrave MacMillan.
29 This is another colonial hangover from the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.
30 See Simon During, ed. (2007) The Cultural Studies Reader, London: Routledge.
31 On the relevance of this material for wider debates in comics studies, cultural studies,
anthropology and postcolonial studies, see Raminder Kaur and Saif Eqbal (2015) ‘Gen-
dering Graphics in Indian Superhero Comic Books and Some Notes for Provincial-
izing Cultural Studies’, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 12(4): 367–396. On
another view on the debate between public and popular culture, see Christopher Pinney
(2003) ‘Introduction: Public, Popular, and Other Cultures’, in Pleasure and the Nation:
The History, Politics and Consumption of Public Culture in India, eds. Rachel Dwyer and
Christopher Pinney, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Action India 17
32 Arjun Appadurai and Carol A. Breckenridge (1989) ‘Why Public Culture’, Public Culture,
2(1): 5–9, p. 6.
33 See Ritty A. Lukose (2009) Liberalization’s Children: Gender, Youth and Consumer Citizen-
ship in Globalizing India, Durham, NC: Duke University Press; and Mark Liechty (2003)
Suitably Modern: Making Middle Class Culture in a New Consumer Society, Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press. On an overview of diverse youth cultures, see Mary Bucholtz
(2002) ‘Youth and Cultural Practice’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 31: 525–552.
34 Vamsee Juluri (2002) ‘Music Television and the Invention of Youth Culture in India’,
Television and New Media, 3(4): 367–386.
35 See Liechty, Suitably Modern, p. 209.
36 See Pinney, ‘Public, Popular, and Other Cultures’, p. 7.
37 Paul du Gay, Stuart Hall, Linda Janes, Hugh Mackay and Keith Negus propose that
‘cultural circuits’ be envisaged with regards to five elements of any cultural text or arte-
fact: its representation, identity, production, consumption and regulation. These elements
all play a part in comic books circuits, but are not a structuring device for this book.
(1997) Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman, London: Sage and The Open
38 Roseann Liu, Amanda Snellinger and Elizabeth Lewis, ‘Youth’,
curated_collections/7-youth. Accessed: December 20, 2017.
39 There is a vast literature on the highly plural and complex dimensions of the Indian
middle classes. See, for instance, Pavan Varma (1998) The Great Indian Middle Class, New
Delhi: Viking Publishers; William Mazzarella (2005) ‘Indian Middle Class’, in South Asia
Keywords, ed. Rachel Dwyer,
pdf; Leela Fernandes (2006) India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Eco-
nomic Reform, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press; and Brosius, India’s Mid-
dle Class. Most concur that the neoliberal era has led to the emergence of a professional,
consumer-orientated ‘new’ middle class quite distinct from earlier models associated
with Nehruvian India before neoliberalisation in the 1990s.
40 Fernandes, India’s New Middle Class, p. xiv.
41 Cited in Rao, ‘From Self-Knowledge to Superheroes’, p. 59.
42 See Raminder Kaur (2011) ‘Atomic Comics: Parabolic Mimesis and the Graphic Fic-
tions of Science’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 15(4): 329–347.
43 Craig Jeffrey (2010) Timepass: Youth, Class and the Politics of Waiting in India, Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, p. 2.
44 See Liechty, Suitably Modern, Chapters 8 and 9.
45 On the comparable method of photo elicitation as used in interviews and ethnography,
see Heidi Larson (1988) ‘Photography That Listens’, Visual Anthropology, 1(4): 415–432;
and Daniel Harper (2002) ‘Talking About Pictures: A Case for Photo Elicitation’, Visual
Studies, 17(1),
46 See Ashish Bose (2000) ‘North-South Divide in India’s Demographic Scene’, Economic
and Political Weekly, May 13–19, 35(20): 1698–1700.
47 On other regional comics, see Jeremy Stoll (2017) ‘Comics in India’, in The Routledge
Companion to Comics, eds. Frank Bramlett, Roy T. Cook and Aaron Meskin, New York:
Routledge, p. 90.
48 On the emergence of reception studies of comic book readers in the west, see, for
instance, Matthew J. Pustz (1999) Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers, Jackson,
MS: University Press of Mississippi; Benjamin Woo (2011) ‘The Android’s Dungeon:
Comic-Bookstores, Cultural Spaces, and the Social Practices of Audiences’, Journal of
Graphic Novels and Comics, 2(2): 125–136; Mel Gibson (2012) ‘Cultural Studies: Brit-
ish Girls’ Comics, Readers, and Memories’, in Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and
Methods, eds. Matthew J. Smith and Randy Duncan, New York: Routledge; and Ofer
Berenstein (2012) ‘Comic Book Fans’ Recommendations Ceremony: A Look at the
Inter-personal Communication Patterns of a Unique Readers/Speakers Community’,
Participations: A Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 9(2): 74–96. There are, hitherto,
no such studies on readers in South Asia.
... Raj was particularly successful with costumed superheroes, such as Nagraj, Super Commando Dhruva, and Inspector Steel. And even though most publishers marketed to a Hindi speaking audience (Rao, 1999) through small libraries that rented comic books, these Hindi comics found their way to a wide, diverse, and appreciative secondary audience (Kaur & Eqbal, 2019). ...
... Such observations apply as much to the "imagewords" (Fleckenstein 2003) of graphic novels as they do to the larger genre of comic books (Kaur and Eqbal 2018). Donna E. Alvermann, Jennifer S. Moon, and Margaret C. Hagood (2000) argue that because we are living in a multimedia world, we need to learn new ways of doing things, and this is particularly true with regard to media literacy. ...
Full-text available
With our focus on an “ethno‐graphic novel” on the Sri Lankan civil war and the forcible displacement and migration of Tamil survivors, we make two main propositions while reflecting on the “graphic narrative turn” that has emerged in anthropology in recent years. First, we inscribe drawing into the “writing of cultures” where words have held a superior status in ethnographic representations. Rather than seeing drawings as perceptive tools for recording scenes in fieldwork alone, we extend them to a representational practice where they can have a deep, intricate, and equivalent entanglement with words to create synchronous affective intensities among a larger audience. Our second proposal follows Jean Rouch on cinéma vérité to interrogate assumptions about truth and fiction as portrayed by film representations. We propose a theory and practice for graphic novel production that we have termed vérités graphiques (literally, graphic realities). This describes the collaborative and interactive engagement with people's contributions and views, and their distillation and fictionalization through the ethno‐graphic form. We diverge from cinéma vérité, however, by highlighting a truth‐fiction spectrum that further challenges the presumed objectivity of what is seen, experienced, co‐created, and revealed.
Background:In the past, much study has been undertaken on comics' cognitive and affective impacts. Few of these studies, however, sought to broaden our understanding of readers' perceptions, interests, and prior knowledge in educationally generated comics. As a result, this article analyses the motivation, obstacles, and requirements for implementing and designing additional marketing tactics for Indian comic book producers.
The study of Indian comic book superheroines holds tremendous potential for analysing issues of gender, colour and other social processes in the Indian socio-cultural milieu. Among Indian vernacular comics, Shakti, Visarpi and Chandika are three popular women characters, each possessing a unique socio-cultural representation. While Chandika and Visarpi are supporting characters in popular male superhero comics, Shakti has her own independent identity. This paper relates the socio-cultural positioning of these characters to their costumes and analyses the importance of costumes in the construction of any superhuman character in comics. In doing so, the paper critically analyses the costumes of the characters mentioned above. Chandika, socially placed within a traditional Hindu family, dresses up in a purple costume and a mask, which covers her almost completely. Visarpi and Shakti’s costumes, on the other hand, leave a significant portion of their bodies uncovered, while still conforming to traditional aesthetic values. Taking these superheroines as subjects of study and locating them within broader pop-culture and comics studies, the paper comparatively analyses the costumes and socio-cultural location of these Indian superheroines and their western counterparts, and argues that costumes further the reiteration of the patriarchal ideas of dependency, social status, morality and femininity.
From the 1980s to the early 2000s, Raj Comics went from selling 3 lakh copies a year to adorning railway bookstalls in Central India. Despite being absent from the multimedia convergence moment enjoyed by comic book characters worldwide in the first two decades of the 21st Century. Nagraj, their most successful superhero character boasts a dedicated fanbase that continues to engage with the rapidly vanishing superhero Nagraj. This paper focuses on ‘Khajana’, the Nagraj mini-series, to study the technique of serialisation and its contribution to the creation and endurance of such a fanbase online. The paper examines ‘Khajana’ by locating it at the intersection of the commercial superhero genre in India and the interactive felicity of millennial Nagraj fans. Such an intersection conceives serialisation and interactive felicity as the conditions of possibility for a fandom around an absent commercial entity.
Full-text available
India has often been considered to be a land of myths in many media of western discourses be it movies, comic books or academic texts (Thapar, 1990: 01). In order to refute this stereotypical representation of India many contemporary Indian authors and critics have gone out of the way to claim for India a status of progressive modern state which has nothing to do with myths. The present paper however contends that myth making and progressive modernization are not mutually exclusive as far as the Indian comic book industry is concerned. The paper will try to present the Indian comic book superheroes and their engagement with myth making. At the same time we will also try to see if the process is regressive in its very functioning. The chief contention is that comic books themselves are subversive in their very way of functioning within the larger rubric of the popular cultural arts. Having said that, we will try to see as to how myth making which is supposed to confirm to and reinforce certain cultural plenitudes are in logger heads with this subversive tendency of the comic books in question. One is not saying that the same could be true for each and every comic book but it could be true in some. This possibility of the subversion of the myths being created and deconstructed is interesting within the gamut of the comic books which has hitherto been understood by the traditional academia to be very 'simple' and 'naïve'. The study hopes to explore these texts for their ability to initiate the creation and/or consolidation of psycho-social-political complexes in the minds of the young readers regarding ethnic, nationalistic, political and performative identities. The paper will focus on an analysis of the power of the coloured pages of these texts to grip the attention of a large cross-section of youth more easily and retain it more successfully as opposed to the other print medium of prose. One of the reasons for this appeal and seeming ability of the comic books to create a
Full-text available
When compared to the bombast of nuclear tests, nuclear submarines come with the relatively quiet fantasy of victory-to-come against neighbouring nuclear adversaries. Such political expressions are making their mark in Indian popular culture that hitherto had little commentary to offer on submarines. Outlets such as film and digital media on submarines rest on an aporia that resonates across the pleats and folds of secrecy and publicity: there is a felt need to keep covert underwater vessels under wraps, yet also an irrepressible desire to glorify the technological achievement and political posturings enabled by thesecond strike capability of a nuclear armed and powered submarine. Highlighting the tensile allure of both stealth and spectacle, the article considers the ways submarines make a mark in Indian audio-visual and digital media alongside the affective resonance of submarines more widely. By understanding their hegemonic dynamics, we can begin to raise questions about the ongoing nuclearisation of the Asian region and neighbouring arterial seas described here as the Asian seascape.
Full-text available
The cumulative effect of the (post)colonial predicament is to see cultural productions in the global South such as films, comics and artworks, as imitative, transformations or, at worst, travesties of originals in the West, thus denying agency to those who develop them. Eurocentric legacies impel the development of discursive approaches which enable an appreciation of postcolonial cultural productions without seeing them as shadows of a master print. In this article, I propose that theories of mimesis need to be shifted away from planar mirrors of reflection and adaptation to coeval vectors of parabolic intersections where the ontological status of ‘original’ and ‘copy’ is put under question. With this approach, I consider the emergence of superhero comics in the context of a post-liberal and nuclearized India with a particular focus on fictions of science, superheroism, the state and gendered universes with respect to the comic book series on the atomic superhero Parmanu.
From Gary Larson's The Far Side to George Herriman's Krazy Kat, comic strips have two obvious defining features. They are visual narratives, using both words and pictures to tell stories, and they use word balloons to represent the speech and thought of depicted characters. Art historians have studied visual artifacts from every culture; cultural historians have recently paid close attention to movies. Yet the comic strip, an art form known to everyone, has not yet been much studied by aestheticians or art historians. This is the first full-length philosophical account of the comic strip.Distinguished philosopher David Carrier looks at popular American and Japanese comic strips to identify and solve the aesthetic problems posed by comic strips and to explain the relationship of this artistic genre to other forms of visual art. He traces the use of speech and thought balloons to early Renaissance art and claims that the speech balloon defines comics as neither a purely visual nor a strictly verbal art form, but as something radically new. Comics, he claims, are essentially a composite art that, when successful, seamlessly combine verbal and visual elements.Carrier looks at the way an audience interprets comics and contrasts the interpretation of comics and other mass-culture images to that of Old Master visual art. The meaning behind the comic can be immediately grasped by the average reader, whereas a piece of museum art can only be fully interpreted by scholars familiar with the history and the background behind the painting. Finally, Carrier relates comics to art history. Ultimately, Carrier's analysis of comics shows why this popular art is worthy of philosophical study and proves that a better understanding of comics will help us better understand the history of art.
The buffoonery over the country's population crossing the one billion mark is no doubt hilarious, but we have allowed ourselves to be carried away by numbers and failed to grasp the more fundamental demographic issues facing our economy and society. One such issue is discussed here.
Public Culture 14.1 (2002) 1-19 TThe idea of a social imaginary as an enabling but not fully explicable symbolic matrix within which a people imagine and act as world-making collective agents has received its fullest contemporary elaboration in the work of Cornelius Castoriadis, especially in his influential book The Imaginary Institution of Society (1987). Castoriadis was drawn to the idea of the social imaginary in the late 1960s as he became progressively disillusioned with Marxism. Reacting against the deterministic strands within Marxism, which he regarded as both dominant and unavoidable, Castoriadis sought to identify the creative force in the making of social-historical worlds. The authors of essays in this issue, while familiar with the work of Castoriadis, are drawn to the idea of the social imaginary for a different set of reasons. Writing more than a quarter century after the publication of The Imaginary Institution of Society, they are responding to a radically different intellectual and political milieu signaled by the cataclysmic events of 1989 and their aftermath. A majority of these authors were brought together in a working group nearly two decades ago by the Center for Transcultural Studies (CTS), a Chicago-based not-for-profit research network with close links to the Public Culture editorial collective, to investigate how globalization of culture and communication is transforming contemporary societies. The intellectual mood at that time was optimistic. There was a renewed interest in the concept of civil society and its political counterpart, the public sphere, precipitated by political developments as well as intellectual interventions. In the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe, the Leninist model of governance (i.e., the state-directed total mobilization of society to achieve revolutionary ends) was collapsing under its own weight. Here the idea of civil society seemed to offer an alternative that was neither confrontational nor partook of the usual Cold War anticommunist rhetoric. Minimally, civil society refers to the existence of free associations that are not under the control of state power. But in a stronger sense, as Charles Taylor (1995: 208) notes, civil society is said to exist "where society as a whole can structure itself and coordinate its actions through such free associations" and, further, whenever those "associations can significantly determine or inflect the direction of state policy." It was hoped that the Soviet bloc countries could gradually reform themselves structurally by nurturing and expanding the institutions of civil society and thereby paving the way for democratization. At the same time, democratic movements were also resurgent in much of Asia and Latin America and authoritarian regimes seemed to be on the defensive everywhere. New social movements with demands that ranged from human rights and cultural recognition of minorities to gender equity, public health, and ecological protection were spreading across the globe. Here the idea of the public sphere became highly relevant. It seemed to capture something that was missing in earlier discussions of civil society by pointing to institutions such as coffeehouses, salons, publishing houses, journals, and newspapers that could nurture public discussion on issues of common concern that would ideally have an effect on public policy. The idea of the public sphere, as elaborated by Jürgen Habermas, also drew attention to the fact that new forms of subjectivity necessary for the development of democratic public criticism arise in and through circulation of discourses in multiple genres, such as epistolary novels, literary magazines, and newspapers. If civil society was made up of nongovernmental institutions that create a buffer between the market and the state, the idea of the public sphere seemed to identify and promote those institutions that were crucial for the development of democratic debate and will formation. The CTS working group's discussions of these issues drew upon advance copies of the English translation of Habermas's The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989). The tumultuous events of the late eighties and early nineties -- the downfall of the Soviet Union, the liberation of Eastern Europe, democracy movements in Asia, Tiananmen, and the Rushdie affair -- not only confirmed the centrality of these two concepts but also gave them a global inflection. The initial impulse was simply to extend the terms...