Comic Books and Indian Literature

Table of Content

The word ‘Comics’ is derived from the word greek word Komikos, and is used with reference to images which are used in a sequential narrative to manifest into a form of graphic literature. It is this sequence of narration that helps distinguish a comic book from a picture book. Comics as a form of art established itself in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It saw its way through the industrial revolution, and it can be safely said that although comics were popularised in newspapers and magazines not before the late 1890s, narrative illustration had seen an existence of many centuries.

Thereby, it is not a modern phenomenon that comic books are looked to as a form of literature. Many works such as the ‘Heroes of American History’ and ‘Fax from Sarajevo’ are refererred to as graphic nonfiction; Comic strips illustrating periods or events from history, especially the times of the World Wars. On the other hand, graphic novels such as A. D: New Orleans After the Deluge, tells us the stories of various real life New Orleans residents and their experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina. A revised and edited, hard cover version of A.

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D was published by Pantheon Graphic Novels in the summer of 2009. Traditionally, comics have long since been regarded as alternative forms of literature because of the factual knowledge that they provide. They have also, in an era of televisions and video games, maintained a culture of reading, even if metric patterns and conventional styles have had to be compromised for the sake of speech bubbles. Comic books have also been esteemed as treasure houses of cultural content as they speak, graphically of course, of myths and legends across the globe.

An example of this sort educational comic lies in the popular series The Adventures of TinTin by Herge, where the protagonist, TinTin, a young Belgian reporter, travels to different parts of the world (and in one instance, the moon) to cover important events, and then of course, is compelled to uncover the mystery that lurks beneath them. Although there have been debates as to whether it is proper to place comic books in the same slot as that of literature, ardent art and literary ritics like Andrew Hoberek, associate professor of English and director of Graduate Studies at MU, believe that its is not untraditional to call comic books ‘contemporary literature. ‘

He argues that if graphic novels can be taught in classrooms along with other literary texts, and can be translated to over fifty languages at a time, then there is no concrete reasoning as to why they cannot be placed in the same category as literature itself. “Graphic novels sort of seem to have some of the characteristics of contemporary literature,” Hoberek said. They get written about as though they are literature. They get taught in classrooms. All incoming students to Stephens College had to read the graphic memoir “Persepolis” over the summer. ” Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, uses pictures and text to tell the story of Satrapi’s life. In addition to the growing conscience that comic books can no longer be isolated by literary patrons as mere visual material, the Hugo Awards, 2009 made an enormous point by declaring The Watchmen to be the best novel of the year.

Apart from horrifying Science fiction novelists who had thus far seen to it that illustrated material was usually excluded from consideration, it put forth an important constructive to a long lasting debate by winning an award in the category for Best Novel and not Best Graphic novel. With enough evidence to safely say that comic books do, in fact, relate very comfortably to various genres of literature, this assignment can move on to tackle the element of pornography in comic books. The lifetime of adult comics can be traced back to the 1920s, over a decade before the official premier of the first comic book.

These comics were referred to as Tijuana Bibles; rectangular, eight page pamphlets with black printing on cheap white paper, and were printed illegally. The art was crude and sometimes, extremely racist. The plots usually revolved around the sexual escapades of well known political figures or movie stars. In the 1950s, William Gaines inherited EC Comics and began the production of a bevy of gruesome tales such as Tales from the Crypt and Weird Science, visual scripts containing extreme violence and illicit sexual situations.

Since there was no standard code dividing adult readers from the general audience, these comics made their way into the hands of millions of American children, and unsurprisingly, became a rapid addiction. Japan, of course, is another story altogether, as pornography there has many more layers than this project is going to delve into. To keep it brief, the word Hentai, is used in reference to pornographic comic (or Manga) and animation. The word literally means ‘strange’ or ‘weird’ in appearance, although it is commonly used in place of ‘pervert. Hentai comics have several sub categories, such as those of Incest, Yaoi (homosexual relations between two men), Yuri (homosexual relationships between two women), Bestiality, Erotic Lactation, tentacle erotica (scenarios involving bestiality, young girls and less often, boys, and rape), Lolicon (sexual situations involving under age, pubescent girls), Shotacon (sexual situations involving under age, pubescent boys), BDSM (sexual situations involving cases of bondage, sadism, submission and domination), Coprophilia (Feces), Urolagnia (Urinating) and many, many more.

Manga and anime have been translated over the years, into practically every language there is, and they are easily available online as sites such as mangafox. com, as well as youtube host them freely. Hentai has audiences from almost all age groups, as people discover it in their early teens, and keep experimenting with the different genres, even beyond their sixties. The easy accessibility of Hentai comics has ensured that they are the most popular form of erotic graphic novels across the globe.

Now although the Indian comic book industry remains quite immature when placed in comparison with the Japanese industry, which is the largest producer of serious graphic novels in the world, it cannot be ignored that in spite of that, Indians have had a long tradition of comic readership. Additionally, it has been noted that Indian cartoons are stylistically more similar to western comics than Manga or Manwha (Korean), and the rest of India’s Asian neighbours.

The distribution of Indian comics is over sixty years old, and the earlier versions such as Chandamama, are adaptations of scenes out of classical epics, such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. In the 1970s, Pran Kumar Sharma gave birth to many popular comic book characters in India, such as Billoo, Pinky and Chacha Chaudhary. However, unlike the comic book industry in Japan which recognizes potentially mature medium, comic books in India remained confined to a young readership.

Among the local languages, comic strips were mainly about nationalism, and creating vulgar illustrations of British lords, and heroic depictions of the nationalist leaders, visually similar in stance and personification to Western superheroes. The middle years saw the rise of Amar Chitra Katha(s), a series of comic books started by Anant Pai of the India Book House, with the objective of teaching children of famous historical figures, especially those in the religious texts of Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Sikkhism and Hinduism. The series now has four twenty six volumes.

This success inspired the publication of other comic series such as the Chakra Comics and Tinkle. The latter, till date, happens to be one of the highest selling comics in India. Raj Comics happens to be one of the most successful publishing houses in India. It has brought to the front popular character such as Nagraj, Doga, Super Commando Dhruva, and Parmanu. It is Virgin Comics, however, that brought about a revolution in Indian comics. Their products are highly westernised, mature, and served to create material suitable for adult readers as well.

The first series, Devi, was published in 2006, and that acted as predecessor to various other stylistically similar series such as Snake woman, The Seven Brothers, Voodoo Child, Shadow Hunter and the like. However, the Virgin group pulled out of Virgin comics and a new company, Liquid Comics, with the same core team has taken over the publishing house. Now, pornography in Indian literature has always been a touchy topic because most criticisms bordering the issue of vulgarity are countered with the view that Indian text does not indulge their readers with porn – it only offers Erotica, which is another cup of tea altogether.

It has however, with the rise of modern intellect in the country, been agreed upon, that Indian literature does, in fact, contain pornography, and for that matter, enough of it. At the same time, distribution of pornography remains illegal in India, whereas, conflictingly, accessing the same does not. While the history of erotic Indian texts trace back to the world renowned Kamasutra, it definitely does not end there. Erotic texts with Indian plots are found largely on the internet today, especially in sites like www. asstr. org/~indian_inc/ and www. humandigest. om/ which offers stories such as Gopi, Purnima, Rupu, Meena and many more. A majority of these stories deal with incestuous sex, and that gives us a very Freudian insight into the Indian mindset. The general Indian consensus in the free porn market, which says that the most pleasurable kind of sexual relationship is that of a mother and a son, takes us back to the Oedepus Syndrome – one of Freud’s most heavily criticised analogies which state that every son, is at a younger stage in his life, sexually attracted to his mother, and every daughter, to her father.

As they mature, however, societal regulations help them suppress these unorthodox desires. This brings us to pornographic Indian comics. Truth be told, many Indian comics in the past have contained sexual undertones which they have been highly criticised for. The graphic series Amar Chitra katha, for one, has been frowned upon for creating visually enticing female figures. The style used in Virgin comics have been called ‘too mature’, and comic strips depicting movie stars in revealing clothes, too controversial. None of these criticisms however have had reason enough to be called serious.

That is, until, the birth of Savita Bhabhi. Savita Bhabhi – The Sexual adventures of a Hot Indian Bhabhi is India’s first porn website. The series feature the explicit sexual escapades of Savita, an Indian housewife. The site, savitabhahi. com was launched in March 2008 and produced series of fully coloured comic strips with humorous, yet, as is claimed by a large majority of its readership, sophisticated plot lines, unique for its Indian setting. They are based on the adventures of Savita, a young Indian housewife, who is well aware of her sexuality, knows what she wants, and how to get it.

Frustrated with her workaholic husband, she finds her own relief by seducing door to door sales-men, neighbourhood cricket players, cousins and relatives from around the world, and on one occasion, a grey bearded, and rather obvious stand in for Amitabh Bachchan. Although pornography is illegal in India, the notorious and sensual porn artist has attracted over sixty million fans and the site administrator, who is also one of the anonymous creators and goes by the screen name ‘Deshmukh’ says that although seventy percent of the traffic comes from India, the site also has visitors from the USA, the UK and over eighty other countries.

The plots are based on fantasies submitted as input by fans. The comic strip has been translated into over ten Indian languages. Savita Bhabhi herself, with her well endowed, hourglass figure, can be called the typical female daguerreotype that Indian men love to fantasize about. That is the exact intention with which the creators have tried to portray her. Savita Bhabhi is meant to be recognised for who she is; a culturally altered pornographic comic with a few adapted features of a Japanese Hentai, a characteristic which makes her the face of what could be India’s most famous sexual export since the Kama sutra.

As a matter of fact, Savita Bhabhi has been described as harking back to the sensual and playful spirit of the Kama Sutra. The comic strips mark a clear departure from the earlier unsophisticated trends in India which included tasteless pornographic magazines found only in the shadows of the corner most rack in shops with paint peeling off its walls. “I do think that India was waiting for some mature and contemporary pornography,” sociologist Patricia Oberoi told The Independent. “And this is certainly Indian. A number of the themes are no doubt universal but the settings are very Indian. The site was rated India’s forty fifth most visited site in February 2009 and fell in the category of the top hundred sites in the world before its ban the following June. The government of India took steps to ban the popular comic after incidents such as that of a Delhi Student sending a sexually explicit text message to his teacher (the site was said to be the influence) and also, the entertainment sector forwarding a complaint when an Amitabh Bachchan look alike appeared in the series as one of Savita’s sexual exploits.

It appears that Savita Bhabhi’s popularity came at a huge cost, as the portrayal of a married woman as a promiscuous adulteress, raised the hackles of a still- conservative country. One such affected is N. Vijayashankar, a Bangalore based techno-legal information security consultant, who waged a campaign against savitabhabhi. com. He put forth his argument: “Cartoons are a more participative medium. Videos don’t do as much damage. When a child is watching a cartoon, he imagines himself as the character.

This has a deeply corrupting influence on our youngsters. This, apart from the fact that an Indian name was being used in such an obscene cartoon, is what led me to make the complaint,” Vijayashankar said. “A child will see a Savitabhabhi among his relatives. ” Ironically enough, after an analysis of the Indian mindset as in depth as the one above, when Vijayshankar was asked if his theory had any scientific basis to it, he clarified that it was his own psychological interpretation. Vijayshankar has had no education in psychology.

Savita Bhabhi fans and supporters however, came up with a counter ‘Save Savita Bhabhi Project’ and protested that the comic strip had become the face of freedom in a liberal India. The series was said to represent a sexually repressed middle class, as well as a female circuit, and go the extra step forward so as to extract elements of frustration out of a culture of holding back, thereby allowing indulgence free lease. Sites like savesavita. com were set up to channelize support and action against censorship. Wow, India has now joined the elite club of China, Iran, North Korea and suchlike in the area of Internet censorship,” said graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee on the ban of Savita Bhabhi. However, disappointment held up for Savita Bhabhi supporters in the form of the site administrator for savitabhabhi. com revealing himself as Puneet Agarwal, one day before apologising to his fans and closing down the Save Savita Bhabhi Project. He backed his decision up with reasons relating to personal and family issues.

Nevertheless, much to the delight of fans and supporters, Savita Bhabhi is back as of 2010. The only new hitch in the story is that readers have to subscribe to it on kirtu. com now, and pay a certain amount each month in order to get to the material. This has led to a feeling of general animosity amongst the under age population who were illegally accessing the porn site before, but has acted to set a certain level of regulations which allows the government to view the site in a more favourable light. Savita Bhabhi has, in the course of the last two years, played many roles.

It has played the role of a piece of art, serving to please millions across the world; it has played the role of erotic literature, attracting its audience with its irresistible sensuality; it has acted as a story, engaging a growing population over the seas; it has been translated into almost as many languages as a few Mangas, only in around one hundredth the time period; it has brought to the limelight a new era of sophisticated porn in the country; it has given birth to new ideas of creativity, freedom and liberalism.

It has brought together a group of people across different cultures, speaking different tongues, to mourn and fight the death of a beloved character, much like a time in history, when large gatherings of supporters mourned the death of Sherlock Holmes. It has brought a unique kind of unity in India, one that cannot be defined conventionally, but one that, all the same, has been brought about by pornography.

Or for that matter, something a lot bigger than just pornography. Something that is bound to go down in the history of this country. Savita Bhabhi, her exploits, her misadventures and her battles, are more than a literary legend – they are a phenomenon.

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