Bengaluru Comic Con: Meet the creators of War and Peas, Brown Paperbag Comics, Bakarmax and more
Akshara Ashok is excited. It has been over five years since she started Happy Fluff Comics, which talks about body positivity, sexual and mental health, among other serious and non-serious topics through an adorably goofy character. What began as an antidote to boredom in college has over 220 thousand followers on Instagram now. The page’s success has allowed Akshara to practise her passion. Her followers do not merely like, share, and comment on her Instagram posts, they also give her commissioned works and buy her merchandise. They mean a lot to her. She, hence, regularly interacts with them on her page. And for the first time, she is going to meet them in person at Bengaluru Comic Con.
“I have never done this before. So, I am a little nervous,” she says.
Akshara apart, Bengaluru Comic Con, which is returning after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, will see artists such as Jonathan Kunz (co-creator of War and Peas webcomic), Sailesh Gopalan (creator of Brown Paperbag webcomic), Sumit Kumar (creator of Bakarmax, an animation and comics studio), and publishers including Amar Chitra Katha, Raj Comics, River Comics, and more. The two-day event also includes an 80,000 square-foot gaming arena which will host multiple tournaments and interactions with celebrity gaming content creators. There are events for cosplayers. Attendees can also experience panels, workshops, and several performances over the two days.
The stars of the event, however, are comics. “We have a dedicated section at each show, where we invite creators and indie publishers each year as guests. We curate it each season to showcase upcoming talent. We aim to support the comic book community as much as possible and leverage our platform for fans to discover their work,” says Jatin Varma, the founder of Comic Con India.
The enthusiasm and engagement for comic-related things in Bengaluru, he adds, is arguably unmatched by any other Indian city. “There is a lot of curiosity for all things creative and a willingness to try something new, that I do not see anywhere else.”
A new breed of artists
Ever since the first Comic Con India 10 years ago, the comics scene has changed tremendously. The growth of social media platforms spawned a new breed of webcomic artists, who were largely absent around a decade ago.
Sumit, the creator of Bakarmax, was a part of the first Comic Con India. Comics in India, he reckons, were largely restricted to the print medium. “That is not the case anymore,” he says. “We see more and more webcomic artists these days. The growth has been gradual; not explosive.” Sumit, interestingly, began his career in print — interning with cartoonist Pran Kumar Sharma, the creator of the popular Chacha Chaudhary comics — before moving online with his webcomics.
Jonathan, the co-creator of War and Peas, says, “When [Elizabeth Pich and I] started our comics in 2011, there were a couple of other webcomic creators like us. The scene was small and familial. Now there are dozens of thousands of accounts. The potential of webcomics is unleashed and you can see new artists emerging every day.” A large chunk of War And Peas’s audience is from India. “We think the potential of India as a market is huge but we’re happy knowing that people enjoy our comics nonetheless,” adds Jonathan.
Sailesh, one of Jonathan’s favourite comic artists from India, agrees that webcomics are becoming an increasingly popular medium to tell stories and communicate ideas. “More than the popularity of it, I am intrigued by the various unique styles of webcomics, in both storytelling and art,” he adds.
One of the reasons for this diversity is the minimal gatekeeping in the online space. Artists can talk about whatever they want with little restriction. Hence, they perhaps enjoy greater freedom on social media than traditional publishing houses in India.
However, is being a webcomics artist a stable career option in India?
Career in comics
Advice for aspiring artists
Jonathan Kunz, War and Peas: Get a part-time job that pays the bills. When you are starting, you need to be reassured and don’t feel pressured all the time. When you see your work is being picked up, you will still have every chance to jump in the cold water.
Sailesh Gopalan, Brown Paperbag Comics: Draw, draw, draw! A lot of people are looking for methods or shortcuts to popularity, but the substance is what carries an idea to success. Also, share your work with others, whenever you can.
Sumit Kumar, Bakarmax: You might not reap short-term benefits being a comic artist in India. So, ask yourself if you are ready for it in the long term. Ultimately, it’s about whether you enjoy it or not.
Akshara Ashok, Happy Fluff Comics: Not having a regular paycheck can be a cause for concern. It is the case with every freelancer or any independent creator. Once your project takes off and you learn how to manage your finances, you will feel some stability.
Though Akshara has been an independent artist for the last few years now, she admits the uncertainty of not having a regular paycheck bothers her occasionally. “When I started, I used to compulsively post two comics a day. Now, I try to work out a work-life balance and post whenever I can,” she says, “At the back of your head you always have that fear that you need to be consistent or people might stop following your work. Because there are tons of other artists out there.”
Though most webcomic artists do not have to comply with the rules of a publishing house, they are still at the mercy of the social media platforms where they publish their creations. Akshaya, for instance, says Instagram’s recent hyperfocus on Reels affected static comic artists. “I, too, was forced to make reels. I later told myself, ‘Let’s stick to what we want to do.’ I don’t mind doing the occasional reels. I don’t want to make that my bread and butter.”
Apart from the platform, the kind of content can cause challenges too. Sumit, who creates political comics, says, “The situation has become tough for artists who criticise the government. Though some brave artists continue to do that.”
Despite these challenges, Jatin observes two recent positive developments in the Indian comics space. “Streaming services and movie studios are licensing comic book IPs in India to develop them into full-fledged live-action series. The other development is that Indian talent is getting recognised internationally, with several writers and artists actively working with international publishers such as DC, Marvel and more.”
The social media webcomic industry, Sailesh says, still operates on indirect revenue where you need to catch the attention of sponsors or collaborators who would wish to commission or partner with you. “In terms of self-publishing indie comics, there are a lot more social events where artists can promote and sell their work,” he adds, “So, it’s gradually becoming a potentially viable career. Some day, I hope to confidently say that it is.”
Bengaluru Comic Con is on November 19 and 20 at the KTPO Trade Centre, Industrial Area, Whitefield.