This pioneering book presents a history and ethnography of adventure comic books for young people in India with a particular focus on vernacular superheroism. It chronicles popular and youth culture in the subcontinent from the mid-twentieth century to the contemporary era dominated by creative audio-video-digital outlets.
The authors highlight early precedents in adventures set by the avuncular detective Chacha Chaudhary with his ‘faster than a computer brain’, the forays of the film veteran Amitabh Bachchan’s superheroic alter ego called Supremo, the Protectors of Earth and Mankind (P.O.E.M.), along with the exploits of key comic book characters, such as Nagraj, Super Commando Dhruv, Parmanu, Doga, Shakti and Chandika. The book considers how pulp literature, western comics, television programmes, technological developments and major space ventures sparked a thirst for extraterrestrial action and how these laid the grounds for vernacular ventures in the Indian superhero comics genre. It contains descriptions, textual and contextual analyses, excerpts of interviews with comic book creators, producers, retailers and distributers, together with the views, dreams and fantasies of young readers of adventure comics. These narratives touch upon special powers, super-intelligence, phenomenal technologies, justice, vengeance, geopolitics, romance, sex and the amazing potentials of masked identities enabled by navigation of the internet.
With its lucid style and rich illustrations, this book will be essential reading for scholars and researchers of popular and visual cultures, comics studies, literature, media and cultural studies, social anthropology and sociology, and South Asian studies.
List of Plates and Figures. Acknowledgements 1. Action India 2. The Making of Modern Mythologies 3. The Golden Age of the Indian Superhero 4. Gendering Graphics 5. A Haven of Super Creativity 6. The Fantastic Familiar 7. The State of the Nation 8. A Forensics of Evil 9. Readers’ Worlds 10. In One of my Dreams, I Defeated America 11. Future Presents. Glossary of Key Indian Adventure Comic Book Characters. Index
‘With an irreverent verve wholly befitting their subject matter, Raminder Kaur and Saif Eqbal take us on a magical mystery tour of north Indian superhero comics, a genre which, despite its ubiquity and its tremendous popularity, has until now not been given the dignity of a full-scale analysis. From its humble beginnings to its current multi-mediated Indofuturistic avatars, Kaur and Eqbal offer us a fascinatingly different globalization story. So, get ready: here be superpowers!’
William Mazzarella, Neukom Family Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, USA
‘An enthralling journey into the worlds of the superheroes of north India’s vernacular adventure comics: colourful, larger than life and distinctively desi. Two enthusiasts share their passion, exemplary fieldwork and historical and textual research to make an exciting contribution to our understanding of contemporary popular youth culture in mofussil India, from the golden age of the 1980s action heroes and superheroines to today’s millennial, Indofuturist fantasies. Insightful and enormous fun.’
Rosie Thomas, Professor of Film, Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media, University of Westminster, UK.
‘This fascinating and rich study of the popular visual culture of Indian adventure comics is a timely and well-researched contribution on how India’s socio-economic and political transformation from the 1980s has shaped young readers’ imaginaries of the nation’s position in a globalizing world. It convincingly brings to the fore how these ‘superhero’ graphic media reflect complex turbulences related to diverse forms of knowledge production and circulation, to changes in labour and gender roles, and to the different facets and faces of nationalist dystopia and ‘Indo-futurism’.’
Christiane Brosius, Professor of Visual and Media Anthropology, Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany
‘A timely volume in our current age of surging nationalism in different parts of the world. The super hero comics in India are analysed visually and verbally to offer critical insights into its youth culture and its complex landscape of desire, action and political conflict. With its focus on the intersection of the transnational and the vernacular, the book enables us to grasp the slippery terrain of South Asian globalization amidst uneven modernity and the reworking of indigenous philosophies for contemporary times.’
Parul Dave Mukherji, Professor, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India