The Telegraph
| Sunday, September 8, 2013 |


Fun appétit

Comic cafés across the country are catering to both food and comic-book lovers, says Chitra Anand Papnai

  • Ranjeet Ranade's Café Terra in Bangalore offers not just English and Belgian breakfasts but also an offbeat collection of comic books

For Bangalore-based finance consultant Ranjeet Ranade, a perfect start to his day is sitting in his Café, inhaling the aroma of fresh coffee and flipping through the crisp pages of the latest edition of MAD magazine.

"It is a real treat to watch other comic book addicts like me come here to check out our latest collections," chortles Ranade.

At Ranade's Café Terra, in Bangalore's smart Koramangala district, you'll find a mixed crowd of office-goers and college students hovering around the comic-book shelves. Some customers drop in at the Café solely for its food, but a large number can be seen hanging around, flipping through the illustrations-rich comic books as they dig into Café Terra's Belgian or English breakfast.

Ranade is one of several restaurateurs who are also ardent comic-books fans and who are taking a cue from the manga Cafés of Japan and offering a combination of good food and comic books at their Cafés.

Take a look at Café Ziro in Delhi's Hauz Khas, run by the guitarist of rock band Menwhopause, Anup Kutty and bassist Randeep Singh along with a friend Lubna Shaheen. The 1,000sqft Café spread over three floors is a hotspot for food, music and comics lovers. "The idea was to have a Café with comic books and graphic novels strewn around for people to immerse themselves into," says Kutty.

  • Spread over three floors, Café Ziro in Delhi is run by two members of the rock band Menwhopause along with their friend, Lubna Shaheen (in picture)

Among the comics most popular with the Café's customers are old-time favourites like Lee Falk's Mandrake and The Phantom and also offbeat British publications like Viz, that could almost be described as an anti-comic comic-book. "It also helps us meet people who have similar tastes and there is nothing more fun than good conversation over coffee," says Kutty.

It's the same graphic tale unfolding at Leaping Windows in Bangalore's upmarket Indiranagar. The sprawling 1,600sqft Café-cum-comic -books library keeps its twin interests slightly segregated. On the ground floor there's a neatly stacked library and the first floor is a bustling Café with art, inspired by comic characters from around the world, on the walls.

Leaping Windows — founded by husband-wife duo Utsa Shome and Bidisha Basu started out as a Mumbai-based comic-book library. Basu and Shome turned it into a Café in Mumbai and when that became a success they opened a second one in Bangalore along with friend and partner Devika Rao. The Bangalore Café offers about 1,500 comic books in various categories.

There's one crucial difference at Leaping Windows: if you want to read a comic book in the library there's a Rs 30 per hour charge. A three-month membership costs Rs 1,800 and it's Rs 2,800 for six months. A year's membership will cost you Rs 4,800.

"The idea of such a Café stems from the manga Café culture of Japan where the Cafés have a small menu and lots of manga comics to read," explains Shome.

Ranade has followed much the same model. Café Terra's bright yellow walls and colourful comics give the place a cheery look. And Ranade has also taken care to stock less well-known comics like Largo Winch, a Belgian action and adventure thriller series and Clifton, which offers humorous spy stories.

"These comic books are almost like an Asterix or a Tintin, engaging and fun to read," says Ranade. Ranade has two partners, educationist Riad Mahmood, and Snigdha Nautiyal, a regular customer who later joined the duo.

Leaping Windows too offers an eclectic array of comics from around the world. There are graphic novels like the X men series and also the manga's detective series like Case Closed and One Piece as also comic books from many other publishers like Marvel to DC and several independent authors and illustrators from around the globe.

Indian comics creators too get plenty of exposure at these Cafés. At Café Terra, Ranade offers Indian publications, like Campfire, which are mythology-based graphic novels based on epics and legends from around the world. The Café also houses a series of comics on a fictional warrior goddess called Devi created by actor and director Shekhar Kapur for Virgin Comic books.

"Most of these Indian comic books are not expensive and some cost as little as Rs 30," says Ranade.

  • Run by husband-wife duo Utsa Shome (left) and Bidisha Basu (right), and Devika Rao (in blue), Bangalore's Leaping Windows café-cum-comic-books library (left) offers as many as 1,500 comic books

Cut to Ahmedabad's Café SandwichworkZ and you'll find its friendly owner Himanshu Desai chatting with his customers and encouraging them to read comic books from his collection. "Unlike novels, comic books can be quickly read while the guests are waiting for their order," says Desai.

A comics buff himself, Desai is proud of his storytelling skills which he says have been instrumental in attracting his friends and customers. Desai also encourages young painters and photographers to showcase their works in the Café.

All the Café owners know that first and foremost they have to deliver on the food front. "Just good comic books and bad food won't work," says Ranade. He adds that their food offerings like their comics "are inspired from around the world." So, some of the hot favourites are the Belgian (waffles, muffins and cakes) and the English breakfasts. If you prefer food with a touch of spice there are Thai and Asian curries.

SandwichworkZ has plenty of jazz and Indian classical music but it also positions itself as a haven for meat lovers in predominantly vegetarian Ahmedabad. "Our non-vegetarian club sandwiches and our spicy omelettes are popular with the students," says Desai.

At Leaping Windows the proprietors try and introduce comic-book lovers to more independent world authors.

Their library has comics from independent authors like Guy Delisle, a Canadian cartoonist and animator, and Robert Dennis Crumb, an American cartoonist and musician. There are others like Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian-born French cartoonist, and Osamu Tezuka, a veteran Japanese manga cartoonist.

And Shome points out that the visuals are also very important when it comes to attracting readers. "It's not only stories, but also artwork from all around the world that interests people," says Shome.

  • Himanshu Desai of Ahmedabad's SandwichworkZ café encourages guests to check out their collection of comic books and also offers young artists the chance to showcase their work on the café's walls
    Pic: Parth Kaneria

So, is this a winning formula for the food business? For the time being the answer's yes and customers seem to like the idea of racing through comics as they grab a bite.