Monday, February 28, 2011

The Father of Indian Comics: Anant Pai

“What is really important is providing role models, A nation marches ahead, provided it has role models.” and providing us with these he himself became one.
Uncle Pai is no of 24th of feb he has passed into legend, like the tales he told us through his comics. As the creator of Amar Chitra Katha comics and Tinkle- the magazine for children! he is undoubtedly a major figure in Indian Pop culture & occupies a unique and pioneering place in its publishing history.

Vasavdatta cover: Pratap Mulick / Tinkle cover: Ram Waeerkar. Among the most prolific of the ACK artists who defined  the aesthetics. Waeerkar was particularly versatile so his cartoony style is the Tinkle standard.
 There have been many imitators but none have come close to the status of Amar Chitra Katha comics as THE comics for Indian culture. Probably because it was the first and laid the foundation of the graphic retelling of the myriad dusty tales from this ancient land.. probably because it had some of the best artists and writers contributing to it consistently.. but I suspect it had more to do with the force of Uncle Pai's personality.

While a single vision can often fall in the danger of being autocratic, and there is criticism that he let personal preferences decide important  matters...( hey cut was his project!!) Pai was probably no more guilty of these negative influences than Walt Disney or Stan Lee would have been.. Each individual is a player in culture, molding his circumstances as best as he can creatively, trying to achieve success... and then, great success brings some dissent. What is remarkable is the ACTUAL impact of the comics itself on the wet clay of the generations that greedily received them. That impact is overwhelmingly positive!!!

But Amar Chitra katha-isation can now be taken to mean an over simplification which, seeing its overwhelming influence in the popular art of India including television and cinema's mythologicals and historicals ( in design and often in content too) is dangerous in its seeming authoritativeness. Not to miss its impact on animation itself. I feel that most Indian animation films that deal with mythology often start with sourcing the Amar chitra Katha comic of that story and then go downhill from there!!

   ACK Art: Pratap Mulick Rama
The maze of history and mythology can be quite a tangle wood to present in a coherent way.. one man's hero may often be perceived as a villain by another. I found myself rooting for Akbar in one comic and siding with Rana Pratap in another.. but this confusion of feelings has led to a desire to know and ultimately a more rounded perspective of the processes of history and the development of nations. But concerns are often expressed about the impact on young minds of such superficial demarcation of good and evil in complex historical context. But all people I know grew up fine people!! mostly..!! ;)

Elephanta was my first ACK mom bought it on a school-trip to the caves when I was about 3 or 4.. Stories of Shiva as depicted in the caves located off the Mumbai shore. Evocatively illustrated by C.M.Vitankar , the beginning of my artistic journey as well as love for Shiva, which has led to my film for ACK, TRIPURA a legend of the mighty Destroyer!
I feel that the sheer volume of material that was processed and made available to children in a pleasing and easily digestible format is astounding!! My love for History and mythology, drawing, comics (and resultant animation career too perhaps) has its roots in Amar Chitra Katha comics.

And Indrajal comics too!!!!. and I was pleasantly surprised that Anant Pai was responsible for that spectrum of our childhood too... Apparently the choice between acquiring either Superman/batman or Phantom/mandrake etc fell to him in his tenure in the Times publishing group.. and he chose Phantom.. I believe because it was somehow closer to Indian sensibilities.( tho both groups are american comics ultimately). And I and a few generations of Indians cant thank him enough for that!!
Thanks for the memories, Uncle Pai!

An interview with Anant Pai Nandini Nayar
Some memories and tributes:
"At Tinkle we called him Unc" Janaki Viswanathan
India's 'Mr History' passes away Raja Murthy
Amar Chitra Katha Creator dies at 81. Krish Raghav
"Anant Pai's love for children was extraordinary" Abhay Vaidya


  1. I am so glad that someone has paid tribute to this great legend. Indeed I have grown up on a rich intellectual diet from Tinkle comics and Amar Chitra Katha. This man has truly revolutionised comics. While most teachers discouraged students from reading comics for fear of spoiling their English, Amar Chitra Katha was part of the school library itself. Also, you have rightly pointed out how he simplified things and presented mythology in a non-authoritarian style. Being a non-hindu, this was my favourite access when it came to learning more about a culture that is so close to me as an Indian, but very complex to understand without knowing the necessary historical background.

    All in all, well written. Great Job. Keep writing.

  2. Did CM Vitanakar draw all of Elephanta or just the cover? His work is by far the best of the ACK artists.

  3. Reena! Many thanks for your encouragement. ACK were truly more than memorable comics for us!

    Der Rabbi, CMV did the whole book. I think his work was often the most complete in several respects. But the spontaneity of Ram Waeerkar or the dynamic heroics of Mulick often brought the mytho and historical stories alive much better. They were all great artists. Besides RW was a brilliant cartoonist as well which made the ACK fable titles memorable too!