ACK Media India, which has been bringing out the popular Amar Chitra Katha comics since 1967, has just released The Blue Umbrella — Stories by Ruskin Bond (Ref No. 837, Rs 50). The comic includes two stories by India’s most loved storyteller — The Blue Umbrella and The Angry River. The editor of Amar Chitra Katha, REENA PURI, spoke to Metro about comics and more…
Tell us a little about The Blue Umbrella — Stories by Ruskin Bond…
There are two stories in this comic — The Blue Umbrella and The Angry River, both by Ruskin Bond. While the first is about how the life of 10-year-old Binya changes when she acquires a beautiful blue umbrella, the other is about Sita, who lives on an island in the middle of a river.
Why did you pick these two stories?
This is the first in our new category called Contemporary Classics. We chose Ruskin Bond because he is one of the most popular contemporary writers and because he’s much loved by children. These two stories were selected along with him, particularly because they have a huge visual appeal. When we select something for comics, we try and see that the story has a lot of scope visually. Both these stories have a lot of potential for illustrations. Also both are excellent stories, beautifully written and ideal for children.
What other kinds of titles will we see in the Contemporary Classics section of Amar Chitra Katha?
We are in the process of selecting more stories and authors. We want to take writers from the last 60-70 years, especially the ones in the 20th century. Also, regional literature. We don’t want to stick to just English writers. There are beautiful stories written for children in Bengali, Malayalam, in Hindi…. we want to get them translated. The editorial team is reading many stories for the selection process, along with some of our readers, who are also giving us inputs and suggestions.
Can you take us through the process of transforming a story into a comics?
Okay, with comics, it’s like writing a script for a film, because the story is to be told through pictures. So, the first instruction a scriptwriter gets is “write minimum words and let the pictures talk”.
The scriptwriter has to put the story in the comics format, which means she creates panels. We have to decide how many pages a story will get; in case of The Blue Umbrella and The Angry River, it was 15 pages each. Once the number of pages is decided, she divides the story into, say, five or six panels per page. Then she writes the story with the help of speech balloons and short commentary.
The basic vision is given to the artist, then he reads the story, sees the script and on the basis of the original story and the script, creates the drawings. The difference between prose and comics is that here the pictures speak more than words.
Since The Blue Umbrella has already made into a visual medium by Vishal Bhardwaj, who made a film of the same name, did your team watch the film?
No, not really. Because, see, this format is very different from the film format. So, we didn’t watch the film before we got to work on our script because we wanted to have our own look for the comics. We didn’t want to get, you know, influenced by the visuals in the film, we wanted the comics to be fully original and ours.
Amar Chitra Katha is most well-known for its comics on folk tales and mythology. How are those books doing?
Oh, excellently! We are re-printing every month the comics that were published many years back. We continue to do comics on mythology, on history…. We just released a comic titled Thanjavur, based on the Brihadeeswara Temple and Thanjavur city [where Lord Vishnu is said to have defeated a demon and where the Chola king Raja Raja I built the magnificent temple dedicated to Lord Shiva]. We’ve also done Vaishno Devi, Tirupati…. Mythology continues because that is our most popular section. Apart from that, we also do biographies. We’ve just done one on ornithologist Dr Salim Ali, another on Tenzing Norgay [The sherpa who climbed Mt Everest with its first summiteer Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953].
Kids have so many forms of entertainment these days and so many distractions, what do you do at Amar Chitra Katha to hold their interest?
See, we are storytellers and I believe that stories interest children. It depends on how you are putting it across but picture stories always interest kids. And the comics format is, in fact, gaining popularity. As you said, children have so much to do now… so, may be the comics format is gaining in popularity because it takes less time to read (laughs)! And it’s not just kids. Adults are also picking up Amar Chitra Katha titles. Then there are events like Comic Con India that have started in our country, which were not there earlier. And there are more publishers doing comics. So, obviously the comics format is gaining popularity, that too globally.
Like the Contemporary Classics section, is there anything else your readers can look forward to?
Well, personally I would like to bring in more titles related with conservation, wildlife and the environment. Also sport. ACK hasn’t done any sports personality yet and I would definitely like to go that way. We just released a comics on Salim Ali and we hope to have more people who work with the environment and with conservation too. You know, ACK has been around from 1967, we’ve had generations of people reading our comics and appreciating them. We derive our strength from these people who have read us over decades and it’s my desire that we continue to give them stories from India and continue with the vision that Mr Pai [ACK founder Anant Pai] acquainting Indian children with our heritage, with our traditions…