Comics in Bengal
Comics in BengalL: KCC R: Horekrokom

Kolkata, Attend An Exhibition Celebrating The Heritage & Artistry Of Bengali Comics

Unlike most of the people I interact with on a daily basis nowadays, growing up, I was not so exposed to English or American comics. My house was stacked with Bengali novels, Soviet literature translated from Bengali to English, and my favorite of them all, Bengali comics. I spent countless hours chuckling away to glory at the antics of Handa Bhonda, Batul the Great, Nonte Phonte, and more such iconic characters. I used to wait ardently for each issue of Shuktara, a renowned Bengali magazine, where these comic characters would come to life or for the Kolkata Book Fair, the sole time of the year when my mother would go on a shopping spree and I would end up largely benefitting from that.

Original Bengali comics, born out of the creative genius of artists like Narayan Debnath and Ray Bahadur, not only entertain but also offer a window into the socio-cultural landscape of Bengal. Despite the regional appeal owing to a linguistic barrier, they broach universally appealing themes and one can draw several parallelisms with Western comics and comics from the rest of India. Narayan Debnath’s Handa Bhoda features two mischievous boys and their hilarious escapades, much like Pran Kumar Sharma’s Chacha Chaudhary and his adventures and encounters with mischief-makers like Sabu. Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, a famous US comic strip, comes closest if we were to look for a Western counterpart. Similarly, 90s comic lovers, who grew up with Hindi as their mother tongue, are not strangers to the superhuman abilities of Super Commando Dhruva, an iconic creation by Anupam Sinha. He is not quite different from a Bengali’s favorite fictional strongman, Batul the Great.

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The proliferation of popularity of American comics like Marvel and DC in India happened in the early 2000s. Now, their popularity is off the roof thanks to rapid globalization and movie franchises, but that was not the case during my childhood. My cousin, who is only six years younger than me, is amazed every time I tell him that my first time reading Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin was also in Bengali. While it is a sad reality that the popularity of Bengali comics has dwindled, it is not extinct. It puts all the more impetus on us to celebrate their rich heritage.

With that in mind, let me share with you the details of an exhibition that is doing exactly so. Presented by the Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC) in collaboration with the Comics Culture Collective, 'Comics in Bengal' is an ongoing unique, captivating exhibition that began on the 9th of February. The exhibition provides insight into the development of Bengali comics, spanning from the 1920s to the current era. It showcases a diverse collection of rare newspaper strips, magazines, comic books, and original artworks; offering a comprehensive understanding of how the genre gained popularity and influenced readers, particularly from the 1960s onward. The goal is to honour the creativity, innovation, and artistic expression that has influenced comic culture in Bengal.

Embark on a voyage through history, delving into one of the earliest Bengali comic innovations that established the groundwork for the thriving industry we know today. Engage with the enthralling narratives, legendary figures, and stunning artwork — ranging from horror and detective comics to ads and adventure comics — all of which have captured the imaginations of countless fans.

The comics scene in Bengal goes beyond just showcasing artwork; it's also a nod to the talented individuals behind these creations, such as comic book illustrators Narayan Debnath, Kafi Khan (P.C.L. / Piciel), Mayukh Chowdhury, Sailya Chakraborty, Sufi, Pratul Bandhopadhyay, and Tushar Chatterjee. These artists honed their craft through regular contributions to Bengali periodicals like Mouchak, Nabakallol, Suktara, Sandesh, and Kishore Bharati, ultimately establishing a new subculture in Bengal and gaining a dedicated fanbase. This community's support led to a surge in demand for comic strips over the years, which showcases the remarkable talent and commitment that have fueled the immense popularity of this art form.

Whether you're a long-time fan of comics or even if you're just starting to explore this fascinating world, this exhibition offers a memorable experience for everyone. The Kolkata Centre for Creativity is celebrating the rich heritage of Bengali comics and showcasing the diverse creativity that is shaping their future. In addition to the exhibition, you'll experience lively discussions and educational workshops. Don't pass up this unique chance to witness the magic of Comics in Bengal.

Comics in Bengal

On View Till: March 9, 2024

Venue: The Kolkata Center For Creativity, Dipak Road, Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, Anandapur, Adarsha Nagar, Kolkata

Find out more about the exhibition here.

Follow KCC here.

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