Graphic novel is an art of storytelling which traces its past back to ancient era. The idea of presenting thoughts, emotions and moments of daily life through art, the most universally understandable medium has been accepted by the human communities since the formation of the human species. The oldest artworks in existence are the parietal art drawn on the cave walls or on large boulders. The earliest of such work has been dated to be around 40,000 years old at least.
The earliest evidence of Indian parietal art is from the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters in Raisen district of Maharashtra. This marked the beginning of Indian stone age. The paintings on the walls which count nearly to 640 are near 30000 years old, belonging to the Upper Paleothic era. The paintings which are now in a World Heritage Site, tells the story of lives of our ancient ancestors, mainly the scenes of them hunting.
Paintings of Bhimbetka
Picture Credits. Archaeological survey of India
Later developments that contributed the art of storytelling by pictures are the mural paintings such as the ones seen from 200 BCE in and around different parts of India. The murals from Ajanta, Ellora, Armamalai etc. These painting are frescos depicting the stories of religious context, chiefly from religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism etc.
Other methods of storytelling like the ones through pictures drawn on scrolls become popular in many parts of India. Phad paintings of Rajasthan are an example to this. The story teller narrates the contents of the Phad scroll to the viewers in the process of Phad storytelling. Other forms of oral narrated story telling using images/scrolls include Kaavad tradition in Karntakata, Garoda Scrolls, Cheriyal Scrolls, and Pattachitra. The works made under the Mughals like Hamza Namah and Anwar Suhaili are essentially books with text written over images. They draw similarity to the modern comics which also method a similar method of storytelling.
Chandamama (initially Ambulimama) (1947)
The history of modern Indian Comics begins with Chandamama, first edition of which was released in 1947. Started by two famous Telugu producers B.Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani, it was edited by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao who was well versed in Telugu. Chandamama aimed to deliver entertaining, educative and relevant content to its readers through its unique style of storytelling. The magazine which was known for its rich illustration had esteemed illustrators like M.T.V. Acharya, T. Veera Raghavan, Vaddadi Papaiah, Kesava Rao, M. Gokhale, and K. C. Sivasankaran. Chandamama was strictly not a comic book, it had illustrations on each page. It in fact laid the foundations of illustrated contents in Indian market.
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Published as Ambulimama in July 1947 in Telugu and Tamil, Chandamama was published two years later in Kannada and Hindi. It was later published in Marathi as Chandoba, in Malayalam as Ambili Ammavan in 1952. The book was later published in Gujarati (1954), English (1955), Oriya and Sindhi (1956), Bengali (1972), Punjabi (1975), Assamese (1976), Sinhala (1978), Sanskrit (1984) and Santali (2004).
In 1956, Aabid Surti created a comic strip involving the character of Dabbuji, who is a lawyer by profession, interferes in all the matters in day to day lives. The weekly reached a circulation of more than four lakh copies and is one of the longest running Indian Comics in the Hindy weekly “Dharmayug”.
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Pran Kumar’s Daabu (1960)
Pran Kumar Sharma when working with newspaper Milap, created the comic strip by the name Daabu. It revolves around the adventures of a bright teenage boy named Daabu and his mentor, Professor Adhikari. Daabu was among the first indigenous comic characters.
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Indarajal comics (1964)
In March 1964, The Times of India, launched a new series called Indrajal Comics. It contained mostly The Phantom series initially, but the later introduced various characters including mandrake, flash Gordon etc. The regional version came in Bengali from January,1966 and later in a few other Indian languages.
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Bantul the great (1965)
Known to be among the first superhero comic characters of India, Bantul (Batul) the great is an important part of Indian comic history. Created by Narayan Debnath. It first appeared and still appears in Shuktara, a children’s magazine. Inspired by a famous Bengalis Body Builder, the character acquired his super human strengths later, when Debnath was asked to add an aura of invisibility to his character by the publishers and readers during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971.
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Amar Chitra Katha (1967)
Founded by Anant Pai when he was working as an editor in India Book House, as an attempt to teach Indian children about Indian myths and our culture, it grew out to become India’s largest selling comic book series. Frustration of seeing Indian students unable to answer a simple question from Ramayana while having wide database on Greek and Roman mythology, made Anant Pai think of such an initiative. As the name suggests, Amar Chitra Katha includes picture stories (usually) in a 30-page format on stories of Indian culture and heritage.
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Following the feat of Amar Chitra Katha, Anant Pai and India Book House launched the first Indian Comic Magazine for children, Tinkle in the beginning of 1980’s which became a huge success.
Chacha Chaudhary (1967)
Created in 1971 for the Hindi magazine Lotpot by cartoonist Pran Kumar Sharma, Chacha Chaudhary became one among India its most loved comic characters and it was released in ten Indian languages. Chacha Chaudhary is highly intelligent old man who appears wearing red turban and a waist coat. In his adventures he is accompanied by his dog and alien Sabu.