Homecoming for the superheroes

NIVEDITA GANGULY PRIYA SHETH | Updated on August 23, 2012 Published on August 23, 2012

Of heroes and heroics: In the past six months, demand for Tintin, Spider-Man and Asterix comics has picked up.

The popularity of movies such as Spider-Man and Batman have revived demand for comics featuring these larger-than-life characters.

It’s not just Sheldon, Leonard and their geeky friends from the popular TV sitcom Big Bang Theory who are hung up on comic books and superheroes.

If brainy is the new sexy, then superhero comics are the new cool must-have. And the tremendous box office success of comic-based franchises such as Batman and Spider-Man have led to a resurgence in demand for the once nearly-forgotten superhero comic.

Including in India. “Superhero comics are selling much more after the movies have released. We have seen a 30 to 40 per cent increase in sales of these comics,” says Rinkush Nagda, Assistant Store Manager, Landmark, Navi Mumbai. Like most major bookstores, Landmark now has a separate section for comics.

While Batman has caught the imagination of the teenagers and adults alike, children are more drawn towards the action-packed series of Spider-Man comics and the adventures of the young Belgian reporter Tintin, while Spidey rules the pre-teen market.

Spider-Man comics priced Rs 75-Rs 200 are seeing much demand from the 10-plus age group. “After the movies released, we sold about 100 copies of the Spider-Man comics. We are seeing good demand for Tintin and Asterix comics as well,” says Sanjeev Kamat, Assistant Store Manager, Kitab Khana.

Although Tintin the movie released last year, these comics are still in demand. Book store managers say these comics fall in the ‘evergreen’ category. Not only are they seeing sales of entire sets (34 to 36 books), but also of individual books in the Asterix series.

Oxford bookstore in Mumbai, on an average, sells at least 10 of the Tintin collection (a set of 22 titles) every month. Tintin has been translated into 80 languages and sold more than 350 million copies worldwide.

And the buyers are no longer kids. The expensive comics and graphic novels are seeing more buyers in the 20-30 age group. “Marvel comics are slightly more expensive as they are imported. More than children, we have seen adults buying these,” says Vipin Vassanthan, Store Manager, Crossword Book Store – Kemps Corner. Marvel comics are in the Rs 800-Rs 1,000 price range.

Pavitr Prabhakar & friends

With the market soaking up all offerings and hungry for more, some home-grown superheroes have emerged to fight evil – and keep the cash registers ringing.

Spidey got an Indian avatar in 2004 and re-emerged as the young Pavitr Prabhakar – the Indian character of Peter Parker. A joint project between Marvel Comics and Gotham Entertainment Group, the Indian version of Spider-Man was launched to coincide with the release of the Spider-Man 2 film.

Interestingly, Indian superhero comics date back to the Sixties and were no less powerful and popular. One of India’s earliest superheroes is ‘Batul the Great’, created during the 1960s.

A Superman-like character, he had a well-built body, was so strong that he could stop a train and smash walls, and slaughter whales and sharks barehanded. Even bullets could not pierce his chest.

However, Indian superhero comics caught on in a big way from the early ’80s. Indian comics, at that time, were all about larger-than-life heroes and their exploits. Among the popular ones, Chacha Chaudhary (Diamond Comics) and Detective Moochwala ( Target magazine) were instant hits.

Today, the most widely read comics are Diamond Comics, Raj Comics, Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha. These have established wide distribution networks countrywide over the last three decades and are read by lakhs of children in different languages.

According to estimates, the Indian comic publishing industry is worth over $100 million and is expected to grow more in the coming years.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the industry was at its peak, a popular comic could easily sell more than five lakh copies over the course of its shelf life of several weeks.

Today, it will sell between 50,000 and 60,000 copies over a similar period.

Second-hand scores

This fascination for the world of comics has also been driving up the sales of second-hand comics collections in bookstores. Scour through the piles of books at second-hand stores in Mumbai’s Fort area and you can discover a small kingdom of comics. Booksellers say that in the past six months, the demand for comics has picked up, especially for collections of Tintin, Spider-Man and Asterix comics.

“These are fast-selling ones. Many of our old collections were sold out within a month after the release of the Tintin movie,” says Pramod K., who runs a second-hand bookstore.

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Published on August 23, 2012
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