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Friday, December 16, 2022 

India's industry sees a resurgence, and Rick Leonardi visits the country

India's Financial Express says the local comics medium is seeing a new rise in successes:
India has been no stranger to popular comics and their characters—the Indian comic book industry has been around since as early as the 1930s, and the late 20th century also saw the introduction of popular comics like Tinkle, Chandamama, and the mammoth Amar Chitra Katha. However, as Mandovi Menon of Homegrown points out, due to “mammoth foreign companies and the advent of video games, home video, internet and other major technological leaps”, there was a “major decline in the sales of comic books by the late ‘90s and most Indian comic book companies were forced out of the game.” Now, as the mature comic markets of the US and Japan are growing steadily, Indian players seem ready to catch up.

[...] One such player is River Comics, which is India’s first motion graphics app with voiceovers and music. Founded in 2017, it follows a subscription model with an annual Rs 299 subscription fee. In conversation with FE, Clarence Lawrence, chief marketing officer, highlighted how they intended to bring a domestic touch to an international concept, while also enhancing it technologically. “We have our own titles and artists from all around the world”, he says, albeit after clarifying that the app aims to bring in more people towards the Indian comic culture. The motion graphics add sound to the comics in English and Hindi for now, but they intend to add multiple languages as they grow. They have also collaborated with Bombay Lokal, a hip hop collective, for artwork as well as their anthem, which further elucidates how the company intends to stand out domestically. The Indian comic industry has a long way to go to parallel its international peers, but the emergence of a domestic scene and players can steer it into the right direction.
I'm sure that, with the right approach to marketing, they can rival Japan in selling western audiences on their products, along with the USA independent scene. What their creators need to do is avoid being PC, not water down their products, and that way, they can draw an audience.

Since we're on the subject of comics and India, artist Rick Leonardi, who attended a convention in Delhi, was interviewed by The Hindu, and brought up a few subjects like the mid-90s Marvel line of 2099, and the futuristic Spider-Man he and Peter David developed for it. I honestly didn't care for the announcement that it would figure into another Spider-Verse cartoon though:
Spider-Man 2099 is a very popular character among fans, and now, a lot of people are talking about it. How was your experience while creating that character?

It’s probably on everyone’s lips because it’s going to feature prominently in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The experience was a lot of fun. We created a really futuristic environment with very tall buildings, tightly packed together with lots of hot air rising between them. And that’s actually what gave me the idea for the gliding cape. The costume had a lot to do with as well.
Recalling that the previous cartoon seemed more like an example of modern PC pandering with several different variations on what originally began with Peter Parker, I just can't care about this news. And they miss how back in the 90s, the 2099 line only lasted about 6 years, and most of the titles there never ran long. Presumably, it's gained a cult following in the years since? However, the article does note something the original 2099 variation on Spidey had:
So, how did you design that signature costume?

Well, Peter David (co-creator of the character) said that he wanted Spider-Man 2099 to be able to climb a wall, much like the original character, but not because he was putting that sticky thing from his fingers. However, that doesn’t leave many options, except for little hooks coming out of his fingertips. The first drawing I ever did of Spider-Man 2099 was really just a hand with tiny little barks coming out of the fingertips. Then Peter David said the costume was something that the character, Miguel O’Hara, was going to have left over in his closet after going down to a Día de los Muertos celebration in Mexico. So, I thought, well, Día de los Muertos is all about skulls. So, we’re going to have a skull somewhere on the costume. But, it’s Spider-Man, so we might as well have spider legs too. So, skull plus spider legs. It pretty much designs itself after that. The mask is the original Spider-Man head mask but reversed. I put fins on it because I didn’t want to break up the silhouette. And there you are!
An interesting detail about David/Leonardi's take is that it cast a protagonist of mixed race in the role (he was of Mexican-Irish descent), without forcing the original white protagonist out of his role in the Spidey costume back in the present, as has since occurred with a number of other Marvel protagonists in the past decade (and even earlier with DC's). Not that Marvel under Quesada/Alonso/Bendis actually did this when they introduced Miles Morales, but at least at the time the 2099 line wasn't conceived for the sake of identity politics.
How are you finding the audience in India, particularly the audience that consumes comics?

Well, this is my first time in India, and I am getting some really good questions from fans at the booths and earlier at the panel. I mean, there are some very, very acute readers here. I’m puzzled why Marvel Comics are not more widely available here. That’s a crime. You guys clearly have an appetite for them. So when I get home, I’m going to complain.
With all due respect to Leonardi, if we're talking about more modern output since the turn of the century, India's audience isn't missing anything. Most of Marvel's products since have been increasingly far-left propaganda, and an early example of this would have to be the Marvel Knights take on Captain America from the post-911 era, which was downright offensive. At least Leonardi's right about the following:
What do you think about the popularity of comics around the world and also in India?

As magazines, they are not doing as well as they were once upon a time. We used to measure sales of the magazines in the millions. Now, it’s tens of thousands. On the other hand, the characters who are in the magazines are featured in movies that are producing billions of dollars worth of business. The question really is — what are comic books for? Maybe they’re just for introducing a character to the cultural mainstream so that they can be used in movies and so forth. We may just be an incubator. The real life starts after.
That's making a far more accurate point. It's virtually the problem - comics have been turned into little more than an excuse for film and TV adaptations, which I decided along the way I was no longer going to watch. And the printed products themselves only see printings in thousands, not millions, which makes it all the more a joke. The worst part is that if we look at titles individually, even some of the most prominent never sold over a million for each month's copies in past decades.
What do you think about comics being adapted into animations?

As they say, the wider the exploitation, the better for the character and for the company. It’s interesting to watch, for example, the Star Wars franchise — the life that a lot of the characters took on in the cartoon versions was amazing. I mean, for a long time that was really all that existed. If you wanted more Star Wars material, you had to turn to the animated version.
One must wonder what he thinks of the woke turn the SW franchise later took under Kathleen Kennedy at Disney Corp, which has led to it losing audience and interest. That said, I think animation would make a far better focus for comicdom proper, but not only would the producers have to prove a commitment to marketing and promotion for adults, they'd have to avoid going a PC route along the way to boot.
Do you have a favorite comic book adaptation?

Well, in the world that’s divided between Superman and Batman, I’m a Batman guy. So, I like anything that Batman is in.
And here, once again, we have an unfortunate situation where the Masked Manhunter is placed on a higher level of value than the Man of Steel. I'm as much a Bat-fan as the next person, but this has long become way too much. Especially when Leonardi makes it sound like he adheres to predisposition for liking a product, not story merit.
Since you’ve been in the comic industry for a very long time, what are the changes that you have seen in the art form and in people’s taste for comic book art?

I have been doing it for 42 years, which is quite a long career. And I often wonder, were I to bring back one of those 12-cent comic books that I remember as a kid — with terrible colour on bad paper — will a reader today who is used to paying $5 and getting 24 pages of computer-generated full-colour on glossy stock, even recognise it as a comic book? It’s an experiment and I would like to try it sometime.
Some could argue today's comics are unrecognizable, based on how the mainstream's long derailed their classic creations from what made them work, all for the sake of leftist political indoctrination. And why must we be used to paying $5 for just 24 measly pages of a magazine tale? It's ridiculous, right down to Leonardi's refusal to admit this is a sad situation the companies went through after being bought out by corporations, or not arguing why serious reparations are needed.

Here's another article from the Indian Express about Leonardi's attendance at New Delhi's convention, and here's more of what he told about Superman and Batman:
Leonardi’s published works in Marvel and DC Comics are not too different from each other. The artist, however, admitted that there is one difference: that in the “field between the two sets of characters”. “DC has a longer heritage than Marvel. It, therefore, feels like an older, more mature place. Now that I think of it, it’s interesting how in my mind, the world breaks down into two camps — there is the Superman camp and the Batman camp. Superman is somebody who is given a power and must decide whether to be moral about it. Batman is somebody who had a terrible thing happen to him, accepts the responsibility to do something about it, and has powers conferred upon him as a result of having taken that responsibility.”
Upon reading this, I felt disappointed, as it obscures the premise of the loss of Superman's home planet Krypton, and the many inhabitants whose lives were lost when it exploded. This has the effect of making it sound like Batman's motivated, but Superman's not. It's very dismaying Leonardi didn't stress any of that story history for the Man of Steel, since how isn't it possible for him to be motivated by the loss of his own original homeworld? Very disappointing.
He drew a parallel with Stan Lee’s Spider-Man (Marvel) and its famous adage, “With great power comes great responsibility”. “It is the opposite [of DC], where with accepting great responsibility, great powers will come your way.”

He said that the readership gets divided between these two themes of Marvel and DC, often touted as ‘rivals’.

According to the celebrated artist, the character of Richard John “Dick” Grayson, or ‘Nightwing’ is pretty interesting and perhaps his favourite. “…because he can go all the way from Robin to the successor of Bruce Wayne as the brooding knight. He can span that entire range; he has got a lot of unexplored richness still. In the same way, Cassandra Cain as ‘Batgirl’ is a character that DC needs to go back to and re-examine, because there is a lot of potential there.”
If he'd look at the post-20th century resume of DC/Marvel, he'd see it's way past the point the potential he speaks of would work properly. When you have such awful ideologues running the store, the chances are zip.
Elsewhere in the conversation, Leonardi said it is crucial for comic book artists to remember they are “not in the business of drawing pictures for [their] own pleasure”. “It is a job, not an exercise in self-actualisation. It is not something you are doing just for fun. You actually have a role to play,” he told this outlet.

“There is a myth that you can draw whatever you want [as a comic book artist] — you cannot.”
I hope that's not some PC leftist allusion he's making there, though it could probably be a good lesson for lunatics like this European artist. But if you look at the poor quality of Marvel's art, and DC's, from the past decade, then it all depends on one's definition of how drawing is being done. If anything, some of the artists they were hiring under Axel Alonso were only in it for the money, and that's not a good direction to take either.
Comic book characters, when they are adapted on the big screen in a live-action format, assume a new personality. On which actor he thinks has done justice to a comic book role they depicted in a film or show, Leonardi said: “It takes us back to Batman. He is a character that supports a lot of interpretations. You have got the Batman from the original comic books, the Batman from the ’60s comic books, Batman from the TV series, and so on. In each interpretation, he is sound in his own way. It is a testament to the richness of that character. So, I will take Batman, a character been played so many times.”

The artist said he has enjoyed both Michael Keaton’s Batman as well as Robert Pattinson‘s, calling them both “valid”.
And I call them overrated. They hardly age well, that's for sure. But Leonardi's once against taken a favoratist position, elevating Batman to a higher degree at Superman's expense.
On India-centric characters, he said he needs to get out and see what Raj Comics are all about. Leonardi debunked the myth that breaking into comics means working for big names like Marvel and DC. “You need to get an Indian industry going that is completely separate, autonomous and uninterested in whatever is happening in America,” the artist concluded.
Well at least here, he's getting somewhere. In fact, it's become laughable how everyone seems to think they should be working for Marvel/DC in some way or other, as though their income entirely depended on it, to say nothing of their artistic talent. Which is idiotic. Based on where they are now, owned as they are by conglomerates, that's why creators shouldn't be granting the Big Two any legitimacy anymore. Better still, they could show the courage to speak up and say if they believe the Big Two have strayed far from what made them work, along with competent continuities. Maybe India's industry could serve as a good example of how to lead the way in artistic value in the future. Let's certainly hope their creators recognize what's gone wrong with USA's mainstream, and won't try to enter it at all costs.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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