August 22, 2014

The creator of ‘deshi’ superheroes

আজকের নিউ এইজ এক্সট্রা সাপ্লিমেন্ট এ বের হওয়া
During the late 80s, a storm blew over India and Bangladesh. Rather than a natural storm, this was a comic book storm- created by a single man named ‘Pran’. You can hardly find anyone in their mid-twenties or thirties now in India or Bangladesh who do not know his name.
In fact, they can even recall the smiling face of Pran from their Diamond Comics collection. Children in those days collected piles of those low cost newsprint comics rather than POKEMON stickers or playing candy crush.
Pran passed away on August 5, 2014 leaving more than 500 comic book titles for those kids. He also left behind a mystery: How did he become so successful by selling inexpensive newsprint comic books that starred desi characters including an aging uncle, two children and similar characters?
His most popular character was undoubtedly Chacha Chowdhury. The character emerged at a time when there were countless superheroes swirling in the Indian market directly imported from the west. The Superman type heroes, wearing briefs and tights, apparently looked odd in the South Asian culture where common people usually wore kurta and saris. Pran had pinpointed on this perspective very intelligently.
As he had said, ‘You cannot draw Indian Comics without drawing Indian people.’ He even criticized the attempt to turn Spide-rman as an Indian by dressing him up in a Dhoti over the globally-recognized Spider-man costume. It was a funny attempt as he had addressed.
Pran began drawing his Indian characters with very simple funny stories and the rest was a history. Millions of copies were sold per month over India and other countries. Diamond Comics literally kicked out a huge chunk of foreign standard comics from the local markets.
Pran felt that a nation requires its own characters and its own heroes. Heroes who would not fly from the statue of liberty or sit over the top of a gargoyle fitted rooftop in the dark Gotham City. Pran introduced some familiar characters like Chacha Chowdhury, Pinky, Billu, Raman, Channi Chachi, Shrimotiji etc. Incredibly, all of these titles were almost equally popular and it was a huge success as a business. Pran actually shows a path about how to survive and grow in a so called ‘open market’.
Against muscular and cutting edged superheroes, Pran placed a tiny big headed middle edged person who can not fly. But has a brain that is ‘smarter than a computer’. He can make anything fly with his brain. He has a sidekick called Sabu, who is a 70 feet tall alien from Jupiter. Sabu served the action purpose. But the uniqueness was that all the stories were taking place in a very common courtyard and neighborhood. All the characters were Indian and they could be found in India.
Pran’s attitude reminds us of the ‘Common man’ by RK Laxman. He used to put very simple characters in every drawing or cartoon of his. This common man technique works for every single creative person.
Pran has criticised the tendency of the present generation to copy western visuals. It is okay to follow and learn from them but it is not appropriate to reproduce the same visual.
Diamond comics was also very popular in Bangladesh where another legendary cartoon magazine called Unmad was working with the same principle. After 36 years of continuous publication, the big-glasses adorned rabbit-tooth character is already a part of the South Asian cartoon history.
Though there is still no developed market for comic books in Bangladesh, Unmad is a very inspiring platform for aspiring artists and entrepreneurs. In a world of internet, TV and cellphone, Unmad is exhibiting Pran’s technique to remain strong and unique as the internet and other media are not completely generating our own visuals.
A generation has grown reading Pran’s diamond-like Comics and the legendary Unmad. This generation along with the younger generation shows how big the untapped comic books and cartoons market is in Bangladesh.
As Scott Mccloud wrote in his book titled ‘Understanding Comics’, a huge portion of the population has not been addressed yet through comic book. He suggested producing new genres for unexplored age group, gender, ethnicity, religion etc.
For Bangladesh, where majority of the people do not love to read too much text ( in fact most of them do not know how to read) and for a world where nobody has enough time to keep tracking series of textbooks- may be comics is a formidable alternative.
In a cultural fight, it can be a very good weapon too. Pran and Unmad magazine has proven that the people as well as readers do not expect glossy printing filled with anatomically perfect flying superheroes. They rather love to read some characters who they can easily identify in their own surroundings. Pevople love to read their stories. People love to see their visuals. This was Pran’s secret and his legacy.
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1 comment:

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