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A comical Affair
Jatin Varma, founder of Comic Con, talks to Angela Paljor about how visual reality and gaming will be major aspects in the forthcoming years
Comic Con is no longer restricted to children or to Delhi. Over the years, it has garnered a lot of attention among adults who love to relive their childhood fantasies through their favourite superhero comics and use the graphic format as a new tool of cultural expression and projection of urban metaphors. Today Comic Con has become a sub-culture of its own.
In 2011, around 25 exhibitors signed up for the first edition in Delhi and 5,000 fans showed up. By 2017 the Comic Con has grown to host shows across five major Indian cities. Last year, a total of 1,70,000 visitors showed up at the various events and over 1,000 exhibitors came on board.
“The market is being taken very seriously by the content creators and the international companies, along with the consumers, who are clear with what they expect from the market,” says Jatin Varma, founder of Comic Con and also a TV show producer cum publisher. He came up with the idea at the age of 25 and managed with a team of 20 people. “It started as a personal project and the only reason I wanted to do a Comic Con was because I was a fan and I wanted to publish a strip under my name. There was a time when to be a comic book fan in India was a lonely thing indeed. But now it is a culture in itself.”
The trend of releasing films at the Comic Con was something that he came up with while brainstorming for new experiences for visitors. “Baahubali fit the mould last year. It’s hard to say if the trend will continue as it is hard to get the dates, along with which the producer also has to be willing. Also, not all Indian movies work here as they have to compete with international films, which roll out comic book characters as big budget ventures most of the time. The audience, too, is more inclined towards Western comics, so we have to make sure we balance them out.”
For Varma, the content and the experience go hand in hand. “The VR (visual reality) dome of the Mahabharata was a part of our experiment. That’s one epic which allows for great graphic projections and we are glad that people enjoyed it. So, we are continuously on the lookout for partners who can add creative aspects.”
The organisers have also aligned the graphic storyboard idea to gaming, which has emerged as an interesting sidelight over the years. “Even the people who are not interested in it have been enjoying the experience. So, these are the two elements that we will definitely be expanding in the coming years.”
Varma feels that in India, comics are assumed to be for kids rather than for everyone, which creates a problem at the level of distribution. “On the international front, comics as an industry is blooming — people are going for web comics, animated movies and films based on comic characters. There is a strong potential out here as well, especially with the huge market. And from the perspective of our event, we try to provide platforms for the local comics and the creators of various characters.”
Comic Con has also expanded from its original scope, embracing everything that comes under the umbrella of pop culture. “Getting the international players to come into the market takes a lot of convincing as the returns in India are smaller and take a longer time. Also, there is never a ready market available in India. Though we have been successful, the process and the growth has been slow. I feel that it’s a half won battle for now.” But he is optimistic that as the market matures, so will the venture.
After Delhi, the festival will travel to various cities including Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad, but spreading it further has become a challenge in itself. While Varma wants to see Comic Con being a part of cities like Kolkata and Chennai, unfortunately “venues are creating a problem. For a live event, one needs a certain amount of space which is difficult to work out. But we are trying to tackle all the problems and will be taking it to places like Chandigarh, making it a pan-Indian culture.”
For Varma, planning is a nerve-racking exercise. “We don’t know what we will end up with. Being a part of the show, it depends on the partners. If Disney chooses to bring other Marvel properties other than just Star Wars — it ends up being a decision of the team as a whole.” However, bringing them along with the stars is tough, as aligning with the dates creates a problem. “The whole Star Wars conversation started in April last year and only then did it end up being a part of Delhi Comic Con.” But with smart innovations, Varma has more tricks up his sleeve.
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