Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
tgbc : Tell us something about yourself. And your passion for India!
Mara : My name is Mara Thacker and I am living the dream working as a South Asian Studies Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. People always ask me how I got into studying India because, although a few innocent folks have assumed I have some sort of Indian ancestry the truth is that I am American Jew from Richmond, VA. It all began with a boyfriend during my first year of college. He was a charming Konkani boy who introduced me to Indian food and films (fun fact #1: the first Bollywood film I ever watched was Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge). I fell in love with those things, and so even though our relationship ended I had developed a passionate interest in India culture (fun fact #2: my personal collection of Indian fiction has more than 100 books and has come with me on two cross-country moves) and signed up for a Hinduism class at my college, William and Mary. The professor was so interesting and inspiring that I took every class he offered and ended up with a minor in Religious Studies. I also spent a semester in Pondicherry, India which sealed the deal for me and I knew that I always wanted India to be a part of my life. Since it all began I have spent about ten months of my life in India, mostly in Pondicherry and Jaipur, though I have also traveled around quite a bit for shorter visits to other cities. My next trip will be in February and I will go to Delhi, Bengaluru and Dhaka, Bangladesh.
tgbc : The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has the largest collection of children’s books in the US. What prompted you to create a collection of Indian comic books?
Mara : There is a professional organization for South Asian Librarians called the Committee on South Asian Libraries and Documentation (CONSALD) that has a sub-group that is dedicated to cooperative collection development—that is we coordinate what we select for our libraries to ensure that our separate collections all contribute to a complete national collection. In 2012 each of the roughly twenty participants were asked to declare an area of specialization, which would be a niche specialty that we would agree to cover as comprehensively as possible on behalf of the national collection. I chose comics because I saw that nobody in the U.S. seemed to be collecting them at all systematically and because I have a background in Indian visual and popular culture studies. It helped too that our Undergraduate Library has a small but growing graphic novel collection and they generously offered funds to help buy South Asian comics.
tgbc : How do you source these titles?
Mara: The foundation of the collection came from a 2012 buying trip to India where I bought everything that I saw available at the Delhi Comic Con and the New Delhi World Book Fair. This included a complete run of Amar Chitra Katha in English and Hindi, a large selection of Hindi comics from Raj Comics, a selection of Diamond comics, and some colorful new series from Vimanika, Holy Cow, Pop Cracker, and more. We continue to get comics from the Library of Congress field office based out of Delhi, as well as from DK Agencies. Another vendor, Biblia Impex, has also offered to start acquiring comics for us.I have begun looking for private collectors who may like to sell their collections and am interested particularly in getting vintage and out-of-print comics. And of course I will be returning to India and the Delhi Comic Con in February to buy more again.
tgbc : What about titles that are no longer in print?
Mara : For out of print titles I am seeking out private collectors and will be looking for comic shops when I’m in India this February. DK Agencies and Biblia Impex are also keeping an eye out for me. I was able to score a lot of vintage comics off of e-bay, but thanks to the bureaucratic vagaries of being a state-funded institution, the purchase had to be routed through an approved vendor which was somewhat complicated and expensive. I am continuing to look for new sources and solutions in this area. If you are reading this and have some suggestions please get in touch with me!
tgbc : What are the emerging trends in the Indian comic space?
Mara : One trend is an increasing market for digital comics, on computers, mobile devices and e-readers. Even Amar Chitra Katha, which has not changed too terribly much in terms of aesthetics and topics over the years, has an app now for iOS and Android. There has also been some discussion about how Hindu gods and goddesses have received a modern makeover by some of the new publishers. For example, Shiva in the Vimanika Comics series looks pretty ripped. On the other hand, there have also been some comics and graphic novels in recent years that use traditional folk art styles. I guess what is happening is that as the Indian comic market continues to grow and develop, artists are feeling more freedom in their stylistic choices, so sometimes the myths are re-told fairly literally and sometimes they are re-interpreted or loosely adapted. And sometimes the artwork may have a Western or even Japanese feel, but sometimes it may feel distinctly Indian. There is room in the market for all of these things.
tgbc : Graphic novels had not really started as a genre for children. Do you see a change happening there?
Mara : I think there are plenty of comics and graphic novels out there that are geared towards and appropriate for children, but I still think teens, young adults, and adults are the primary readership for many of these materials. Particularly in those instances where the content may be a little more graphic (pun intended). In particular, some of these books contain violence that might be better suited to a more mature reader.
tgbc : There is a spurt in comics for children and some believe that comics lend themselves to better learning amongst children. What is your view on that?
Mara : I’ve heard that but my own opinion is that it’s not that comics are necessarily better– there is still plenty of value in reading traditional prose and poetry. Comics just require a different kind of reading which may speak well to the way the younger generation processes information. I will also say that comics have been useful to entice young reluctant readers, especially young boys, and anything that gets a child (or anyone for that matter!) to enjoy reading is fantastic.
tgbc : Which are your favorite comic series from India?
Mara : I enjoy many of the Raj Comics series because I use them as a fun tool to practice my Hindi. But I also really enjoy Vimanika Comics because I think they have really high quality, colorful artwork. In fact, my library enlarged a scan of the cover of the second volume of their Dashaavatar series to hang on our wall as artwork (and to proudly advertise our collection). And because I have always enjoyed Shiva mythology, I have enjoyed their series on Shiva as well.