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Archiving the rich tradition of regional language comics
Abhirup Dam  28th Sep 2013

Bantul The Great by Narayan Debnath

he School of Cultural Texts and Records, Jadavpur University, was set up with the aim of archiving and digitising various cultural productions constituting a rich and diverse print tradition, which were alarmingly facing obscurity. The Comic Book Project, under the guidance of Professor Abhijit Dasgupta, and in collaboration with the British Council, seeks to digitise and collate comic strips that appeared in various vernacular periodicals post the 1950s. Professor Gupta spoke to Guardian20 about this fascinating project.

Q. Can you talk about the necessities and importance of archiving and digitisation, specifically when it comes to comics?

A. In the case of comic books, there is a wealth of material in Bengali, Malayalam, Hindi etc which is in the danger of being lost since they came out in magazines and were often not collected later. There were also small, local comic book publishers who published on a very small scale, often stopping publication after 3-4 titles. Then there was the use of the comic-book form in advertising (Poppins, SBI, BSA SLR). In the case of Indian comic books, Amar Chitra Katha and Indrajal comics have been extensively digitised but not the other stuff.

Q. Which regional language publications come under the archive? Can you provide a few examples?

A. The archive includes four major regional languages: Bengali, featuring the works of Narayan Debnath, Mayukh Chowdhury, Subrata Gangopadhyay, and Tushar Chattopadhyay; Malayalam, with Toms' strips; English, especially in Target magazine which carried some fantastic strips like Detective Moochwala and Gardhab Das. Sarbajit Sen and his Timpa comics also form part of this.

Q. The archive amply demonstrates a rich and diverse tradition of comics in India. Can you briefly comment on this?

A. The project seeks to show that there was a rich tradition of comics in Indian languages which then died out somewhat. The recent rise in Indian comics in English should not blind us to the fact that there have been comic books in India since the 1950s, often intersecting with forms such as the cinema poster, storyboard and bill boards.

Q. Did you have to come up with a unique documentation procedure? Is there a physical archive accompanying the digital one?

A. There is no unique procedure to speak of, but yes, we have a physical as well as digital archive.

Q. Does the archive have an access policy? Will it be only open to researchers and academicians?

A. The physical archive is open to everyone but we can only put, say, about 10% of it online owing to copyright reasons. All the material will be open-access.

The Comic Book Project is due to go online in a few months.

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