SERIOCOMIC (35)

By: Bishakh Som
August 28, 2019

One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.

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AMAR CHITRA KATHA

Every two years, my parents would take me to India for a two-month “homeleave.” We would go there in July and August, when temperatures shot up to the ’90s, the humidity was at near 100% all the time, and the government-sanctioned blackouts (“load shedding”) occurred every day. I loved seeing my cousins and aunts and uncles, but I would pine for the A/C and comfort of our Manhattan home.

One source of solace, though, were the Amar Chitra Katha comics that my folks would buy for me. These were sold everywhere — at the magazine stall, in the grocery and fish market, and at the Oxford book store on fashionable Park Street. These comics told the story of the Indian subcontinent from many angles: adaptations of religious texts like the Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana; stories of historical figures like Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian freedom fighter; retellings of fables like the Panchatantra, a collection of parables with a cast of animal characters.

I’d spend hours poring over these comics, admiring the elegance of the linework, the attention to detail in the costumes and hairstyles, reveling in tales of derring-do and sheer adventure in what were often religious texts.

I gravitated to the stories of women: Mirabai, the musician and tireless devotee to Krishna; goddess Durga, whose image adorned many walls in our Bengali home; and my favorite, Laxmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, a warrior queen who put up a spirited resistance to British rule in the mid-1800s. These and many other stories were known to most Indian children but for me, living in the US and only occasionally having the chance to visit India, ACK comics were my personal tutor in the history and culture of my motherland.

Only later in life did I come to terms with the problematic nature of some of the representation within ACK comics: the heroes of all the stories (gods, warriors, historical figures) were depicted as light-skinned, while demons, villains and other unsavory characters were darker-hued; despite India’s large Muslim population and the important role Islam has played in India’s history, most of the stories in the ACK catalogue skewed towards Hindu representation; and some thorny historical details, like Subhas Chandra Bose’s alliance with Nazi Germany during World War II, are quickly glossed over.

Despite these prickly issues, I still have a place in my heart for ACK comics. Not only did they instill in me a sense of what it means to be Indian (however complicated that sense may be), but these comics spurred me on to become a comics artist myself. I hope in my own work that I am able to open up the world that ACK bequeathed to me, by actively deploying representations of complex South Asian characters — darker-skinned heroes, transgender protagonists, women of all body types — with a multiplicity of stories to tell.

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SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Comics, Enthusiasms

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