Tinkle, India’s first English-language comic book for children, published its 600th issue last month. Anant Pai, a former news executive known fondly to readers as Uncle Pai, introduced the magazine in April 1980.
Mr. Pai, who died last year, was best known as the creator of the popular comic book series Amar Chitra Katha, or Immortal Illustrated Stories; published since 1967, itretells quintessentially Indian stories, whether great epics, folk tales or biographies.
Tinkle, on the other hand, takes as its motto “Where Learning Meets Fun,” and its pagesare filled with comic strips, facts about everything from sports to physics and a generous helping of quizzes and contests. Beloved by millions of Indians, the magazine has made many a tedious train journey more enjoyable for children (and the other passengers, too).
In 2007, the Amar Chitra Katha brand, including Tinkle, was sold to two entrepreneurs, who in turn sold a majority stake to the Future Group, a clothing and finance conglomerate, last year. The monthly circulation ofTinkle’s print properties, which include the magazine and several digests, is now about 225,000, growing at 30 percent over the past two years, said Manas Mohan, chief operating officer at ACK Media.
India Ink recently caught up with Rajani Thindiath, Tinkle’s editor, who joined the company four years ago armed with a degree in psychology and diplomas in animation and journalism. In an e-mail interview, Ms. Thindiath discussed the 600th issue of Tinkle, how Indian comics are different from those in other countries and the possible television debuts of some of Tinkle’s most popular characters.
First things first. Why is Tinkle called “Tinkle”?
Subba Rao, who was the associate editor of Amar Chitra Katha, proposed the idea of a comic book for children to Anant Pai during a meeting. Mr Rao’s idea was accepted, and the team began discussing a name for the magazine. Mr. Pai said he wanted a musical name—and that’s when a call interrupted the meeting.
Mr. Rao, whose phone had rung, told the caller that he was busy and that he would give a “tinkle,” or call back, later in the day. Then, when he put the phone down, Mr. Rao proposed ‘Tinkle’ as the name of the new magazine. Mr Pai liked the name and Tinkle was born.
Soon the ‘Tinkle Tinkle Little Star’ campaigns started airing on radio and TV, based on the popular children’s rhyme, to launch the new magazine.
You launched Tinkle’s 600th edition last month; tell us about that and your Laugh-a-thon campaign.
Tinkle 600 is a “thank you” to everyone associated with the magazine. Since it is designed to be a collector’s edition, we focused on the number six and had six famous storytellers from India writing for us – Samit Basu, Samhita Arni, Priya Kuriyan, Anushka Ravishankar, Vishwajyoti Ghosh and Roopa Pai.
Tinkle’s motto “Where Learning Meets Fun” shapes the magazine. There is loads of learning to be done with loads of laughter. So we thought what better way to celebrate the 600th issue than to try and create a laughter record with our readers. That is how the Tinkle Tickles Laugh-a-thon was born. We asked readers to call us or log on to our Web site to record their laughter and help us create a laughter record.
Do you think comic book readership in India is limited to children, unlike in other countries? Is the content designed with that in mind?
We have gained because of the legacy of Uncle Pai. Children in India have grown up reading Tinkle and are very much used to having it in their lives. Right from the outset he had decided to create a magazine for children in the age group 8 to 14 years. When we design the story, we keep that in mind, but like movies certified as “U” or for unrestricted public exhibition, it is more like family entertainment.
Children enjoy reading it with their parents and grandparents. This is something we always keep in mind while creating content; we do not portray unnecessary violence or allow abusive language.
As for comics in India, they have remained in a limbo till recently when there was an explosion in content, geared mainly for older readers. These are exciting times; there is so much exploration and experimentation going on. It’s like we are hurrying to make up for lost time.
The superhero phenomenon does not seem to have caught on in India. Tinkle also focuses more on memorable characters than superheroes.
You know, I am glad. We seem to have blinders on when we think of comic characters. Generally when we ask someone to name his or her favorite comic character, it is invariably a superhero. At Tinkle, we’ve always had the space to explore different characters, all commonplace and relatable.
As for a truly Indian superhero, it would have been a success had the idea been good and the focus was on mass distribution. Subconsciously till now our superheroes have been inspired by Western superheroes, making them “wannabe” in a way.
But the superhero is not a Western concept; it has resonance in mythology as well. That is not to say we should focus only on mythological characters. I believe the superhero genre is immensely exciting simply because of the scope it offers. With comics becoming relevant again, I’m sure we’ll soon see an upsurge in superhero comics as well.
Who is your favorite Tinkle character and why?
That’s easy! The Defective Detectives. They are paranoid, they are melodramatic, they are absurd and they almost always get it wrong. It is super fun taking the ordinary and dreaming up conspiracy theories for the bungling duo. Rather like telling the lunatic inside me to go out and have a blast.
Why don’t we see Tinkle characters on television or in movies?
Oh, but you soon will. ACK Animation’s “Suppandi! Suppandi!” will be screened on Cartoon Network, possibly later this year, and there are plans for the other characters as well.
Some people believe that with the advent of cable television, Internet and the popularity of cinema specially for children, comic book readership has been affected.
There will be new technology and as a result, new media will emerge in each generation. But those who like to read will always read. Some just need that little push, and I think comics provide just that.
The medium is that perfect bridge between visual media like cinema and the written word, bringing alive what are essentially static words and images. Comics are an ideal crossover tool, with ready content for films and animation.
How has Tinkle adapted to the changing demands of today’s readers?
Tinkle has stayed relevant because of the great connection it shares with its readers. We talk to them, take their feedback and involve them in every facet of our magazine, from stories and art to look and design. I’d say we have evolved with our readers, and the storytelling style and our characters match the pace and awareness of our readers, who are exposed to computer games, the Internet, special effects in the movies and a host of new-age technologies.
It is my desire to expose our readers to diverse storytelling and artwork styles so that their worldview, their sense of stories and art, is not limited.
Another wish is to urge children out of their comfort zones and push them to explore the world. We have already begun this in Tinkle through nonfiction sections such as Tinkle Spotlight, an interview feature with experts from various fields to help children discover diverse career options, and Mark Your Calendar, a monthly events segment that introduces readers to sports, festivals and cultural events from all over the globe.