700-issues-old and still a favourite with kids! t2 finds out what makes Tinkle tick
Bheema: The Little Giant was quite an attraction when the story appeared in Tinkle #1 in December 1980. Uncle Pai (as the late Anant Pai was fondly called), the creator of the comic book, never planned the many milestones that Tinkle went on to enjoy. If his other creation, Amar Chitra Katha, is about making Indian mythology accessible to kids, Tinkle is about offering original content. The man passed away in 2011 but the journey of the game-changing comic book continues.
Rajani Thindiath, the editor of Tinkle, is excited about the comic book’s 700th bumper issue that has 64 pages. ACK Media, backed by its parent company Future Group, releases Tinkle every fortnight. So what keeps this series going? Here’s what Rajani has to say.
How was it working on the 700th issue of Tinkle which will hit the stands on September 16?
Hectic, but a lot fun. The first day we brainstormed what new things we could do and everyone thought that we should focus on the number 700 and do things related to it.
Tell us about the exclusive comic from Ruskin Bond’s childhood that is being featured in the issue.
It’s the 700th issue and we wanted someone really special to star in it. Usually when we have a special issue, we feature someone kids love. We’ve had Virat Kohli, P.V. Sindhu and Gauri Shinde in the past. Ruskin Bond is universally loved. He was the person we immediately thought about. Reena I. Puri, editor of Amar Chitra Katha, had his contact. We called him up and he was so sweet. He has recently come out with Lone Fox Dancing: My Autobiography and he granted us permission to take any part we wanted from his autobiography. We sent him a letter and he replied with a handwritten letter saying he’s very happy to be a part of Tinkle. I went through the autobiography... mainly through his childhood years because that would be most relatable to our readers.
How have some of the beloved characters, like Shikari Shambu, Suppandi and Kalia the Crow, evolved?
Suppandi was clearly a servant and Shambu was the cowardly hunter. But now, we look at the helpers at our home differently. We didn’t want Suppandi to be stuck with being a servant, because there’s so much scope to the character. He can now be an assistant to a professor or a top archaeologist while being his goofy self.
When Shambu was created, hunting was banned but it wasn’t such a sensitive topic then. Times change and you’re a lot more aware. So now we portray Shambu as a conservationist forest ranger who helps out. His activities and roles have changed. Children these days are very aware. They ask stuff like, ‘If Kalia the Crow takes away Chamataka the jackal’s food, what will Chamataka eat?’ They also send questions like, ‘Why don’t you make Tantri the king?’
Do you remember reading Tinkle for the first time?
I think I was around seven years old. My dad came home with groceries and there was a Tinkle comics in the grocery bag. I was really happy because it was so colourful. It feels surreal, now that I’m the editor.
We have fond memories of writing letters to Uncle Pai. You had big boots to fill...
It was a little funny. When I was being interviewed for the job in 2007, Luis Fernandes, who was part of the first group at Tinkle, was just taking over from Mr Pai, who was moving into a consultant status. Before I could meet Luis, Mr Pai tried to convince me to join Amar Chitra Katha as research editor. I was very tempted because it was Mr Pai asking me to do something! But for four years, I was looking for a job opportunity where I could write stories and get paid for it. I was very sorry when I told him, ‘Sir, but I really want to write stories.’ At that point, Luis came and took me away for the interview. The day I joined was Mr Pai’s birthday (September 17); it was a very memorable day for me.
What’s the fondest memory you have of Anant Pai?
There are many! Mr Pai used to love making fun with my name. My name, Rajani, means night. We two used to always be the first in office. So every morning he would tell me, ‘Good morning, good night!’ I used to find that funny.
Which are your favourite Tinkle characters?
In terms of the classic characters, I really like Tantri the Mantri. He was different, he was out to create trouble, and I could identify with that! From recent times, we have a character series called Defective Detectives. These are two boys, Rahul and Ravi, who want to be detectives but they’re paranoid and see conspiracies everywhere. There’s so much scope to write stories on them.
WingStar, Wai Knot, Defective Detectives, SuperWeirdos, NOIS, Buchki and the Booligans, Butterfingers... these are all new characters. Which characters do kids like the most?
I just told you why Defective Detectives is entertaining. There are different genres of storytelling. A lot of kids wanted superheroes in Tinkle and I just thought that it’s so done to death, why not do something different? Like, a superhero who has odd and embarrassing powers and can sense other people who have embarrassing powers. That’s why we have SuperWeirdos! Then we have Dental Diaries — it’s the first time we tried horror in Tinkle. A huge debate happened editorially. So we compromised and made it comic horror — we can’t have out-and-out horror. It’s about Billy, who’s a cowardly fangless vampire.
Mr Pai very firmly believed in reading and responding to the letters children send us. Everything we introduce in Tinkle is because of some child writing something to us. A child once wrote saying he wanted a boarding school series, and that’s how we made NOIS. They just loved the series because it’s away from parents and away from routine and all about mischief! The connect remains.
Which are the characters you have created?
SuperWeirdos and Yog Yodhas. We wanted something to do with yoga in Tinkle but I thought it’d be too preachy. Children don’t like preachy things at all. So I thought of combining yoga and kalaripayattu, a martial art form from Kerala. Yog Yodhas is a fantasy-based series where there are two warrior kids who invoke their spirit creatures who come to their aid.
What’s the target age group of the comic book?
We aim at seven- to 12-year-olds. But I know kids start enjoying Tinkle at age six and a lot of them continue reading it into their teens.
Most kids are hooked to iPads and phones. Do you need to keep that in mind?
All of us in the publishing industry know this — those who read will read, no matter what happens. Also, your stories should reflect the changing times. We use WhatsApp, tablets, GPS these days… so the dialogues reflect the use of technology that has come in. I consciously moved Tinkle’s language to being more conversational instead of remaining formal. That’s the language kids connect with. Lastly, there shouldn’t be any moral at the end of the story. We have had kids writing to us saying, ‘Please do not tell me what to do.’ They do not like preaching. I think it’s fantastic because they’re growing up in a very competitive world. I don’t think they’ve lost their innocence — yes, they talk in a very smart manner but at heart they’re still children. They still need acceptance, approval and guidance.
Who are the cartoonists now? How has the drawing evolved?
Currently, our group art director is Savio Mascarenhas and he draws Shikari Shambu. It was originally drawn by Vasant Halbe; Savio took over when Mr Halbe retired. Suppandi was drawn by Ram Waeerkar and now his daughter Archana Amberkar does it. It’s a legacy. We have fresh blood like Vineet Nair too. He’s the one behind the newer characters, like WingStar and Yog Yodhas.
The art has definitely evolved. Back then, it used to be hand-drawn. The older genration loves it because of the vintage look. But for today’s kids, we try to make it look like a little animation-based because they are more exposed to animation these days. Personally, I love hand-drawn cartoons. Kids today don’t connect with that.
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