Friday, September 5, 2014

Comic Con India Founder, Jatin Varma.

Comic Con India Founder, Jatin Varma, on Superheroes, Salman Khan and all things Sundry!

If you made plans for the September 12-14 weekend, then cancel it right now and book your tickets for the Bangalore Comic Con 2014. We ain’t kidding!
In the history of Indian pop-culturedom, there has been no bigger or better marketed event. Look at these mind-blowing stats from the last edition.
We remember a frenzied kilometer long queue starting outside Koramangala indoor stadium last year in what was otherwise, a calm Sunday afternoon in Bangalore (no worries though as they have moved to a much bigger stage this time!).
So while we are all madly anticipating what’s to come, in what will probably be the biggest congregation of people in Bangalore ever, we catch up with Comic Con India founder, Jatin Varma, for a chat on what to expect. You know, just to stoke your anticipation even more…
Comic Con India is one of the biggest events on any Indian metro’s calender right now. Before all this madness began, how did it all start? Had you been to an International Comic Con before starting up Comic Con India?
No, I had not visited any of the international Comic Cons before I started. Which is one of the reasons I thought, it will be cheaper if we had one here. Since then, in the past four years, I have been to a bunch of them including San Diego, New York and Dubai.

On how it started… I was working at a magazine called, Random, which is an Indian version of MAD magazine. Through that, we got in touch with lots of artists and writers spread across India. Everyone, would crib about the fact that there isn’t really a place to showcase or sell their stuff. So in 2010, we just decided to do a Comic Con in Delhi. Everyone laughed at the idea at first. Then we sat down and tried to figure out how to go about it, whom we wanted and since none of us had ever been to a Comic Con, we just put together elements from what we had read about other Comic Cons and we added in stuff that we wanted. It was an experiment. But from then till now, it’s become the core business of our company.
That’s very true. The lines are getting longer each year and every edition is bigger than the previous one… What’s the vision for Comic Con India? Where do you see Comic Con India 5-6 years from now?
In terms of vision, I think our market is pretty strong and we are very enthusiastic about trying out different things. There’s a huge scope for various companies and content to come in and for our own indigenous market as well. In that sense we have a long way to go.
We can still have a more and more people come to our events. We can have tons of new content inside, and we can actually become a platform for showcasing creativity and not just limiting ourselves to a simple straight-forward exhibition.
6 years down the line I would want our events to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest in the world. Not only in terms of footfalls, but I would also want it to be one of the key places / stops for any sort of international content. In the short term, we want to go to more cities – we are in four right now and would look to expand to 2 more cities.
We have seen many ‘home-grown’ superheroes (and some parodies too like Comic Con India’s own creations - Super Kudi, Wonder Bai, Wolveranna). Would we get to see a full scale Indian sci-fi film, a superhero movie launch or a star-studded panel discussion at the Comic Con? When do you see that happening?
In the next 2 years, we should see more and more international guests coming in and doing panels and sessions. With respect to having an exclusive sci-fi film launch or TV show discussions, like in some of the international conventions, we would always be the third or the fourth market (and that’s 5-6 years down the line).
Unfortunately, despite our size we are still not a mature enough market to give these studios big returns. For example, if you compare us to China, the Chinese market by itself is much more massive. Even the last Transformers that came out, had a huge China angle in the story for no reason other than the fact that they wanted to sell it to the audience there. They made a lot of money there. For instance, Avengers made $12 million worth of business in India which is a lot. But it did $85m in China. So, until our market is giving Hollywood studios those kind of numbers, we might get exclusives, but we will still be the third or fourth in the pecking order.
We can only influence this to a certain extent as an event. We certainly want to make our events the best place to showcase that. While we might not be able to match numbers, India is no tiny nation that they can ignore easily in the long term. A lot of foreign companies acknowledge but they don’t always not how to enter the Indian market and what to do. And we hope that out event will be the perfect platform for that.
Let’s forget about Hollywood. What about an Indian sci-fi film or a Indian comic book character coming to life on the big screen?
Well, Bollywood is there at a few of our events. But, the problem is that if you look at the Indian film industry it’s mostly, mass films. And when you compare it to the audience that comes in, a lot of them would be going for those films, but they are not coming to Comic Con for the same reason.
For example, in our Bombay Comic Con, there’s a lot of Bollywood. We get a lot of exclusives like Tere Bin Laden 2 which is coming out later this year.
But for Indian sci-fi films, it’s going to be a while. I mean as much as I want it, we are stuck with Krrish or Kick right now. That’s not the best comparison to a foreign film. But you know what, it’s okay that we might not have those films right now and I don’t see it happening maybe for another decade. Primarily because we don’t have that kind of a market for films here. Because everyone has to start making everything idiot proof and when you do that you come up with films like Kick! I’m a Salman Khan fan, but I know for a fact that film is crap!
Can I quote you on that?
(*laughs*) Yeah, you can quote me on that. It is not like I’m planning to have the makers of Kick come to Comic Con. It’s not the type of thing that would appeal to the audience that comes into our events. A lot of them might go watch it. I mean what else do you do on a weekend. And they will all say it’s a horrible movie. I don’t think anyone is going to stand up and say “OMG, this was an excellent movie that deserves so much.” It’s essentially time pass.
I think we are going to see some great content coming out of Bollywood and when it does, Comic Con would fit in. But it will take a while. Because market forces controls what comes out. Even if you look at US, it was because of these, very successful tentpole films like Transformers and Avengers that we have a market. They have become so common now, and studios spend more money on these films. You are a film connoisseur and you want to see more quality art films. But they get overshadowed and made lesser in number each year. That’s because, the whole comic genre has really taken control of Hollywood.
The Comic Book fan in me is super excited and loves it. I’m going for Guardians of the Galaxy after we are done with this interview… for the second time that is! But, the other person inside me who loves those great art films, is also feeling sad about the fact that we don’t get to see a lot more quality stuff coming out. They don’t come out every other week. That’s something written about extensively. So, when those guys are facing such issues then, it certainly is not easy for us to produce such sci-fi, or comic book adaptations. But, I don’t think it’s impossible. And then it would come to Comic Con.
India has a rich body of mythological work - brilliant story lines with detailed, complex characters and exciting fantasy elements in the mix. Many a time they have provided content and inspiration for the West. Clearly we have a lot of imagination and history in this medium of storytelling using illustrations. What do you think it will take for the world to accept a mainstream superhero whose origins are Indian? When will that happen?
While we have a very rich history and mythology, we are so hung up on it, that we don’t tend to create new stuff. So, we end up going back to it again and again. Which is fine. The Greeks do it. But unfortunately, when you have such a huge and fantastic library, you end up mostly being second best and you tend not to attempt new ideas as often. And it’s difficult. It’s not very easy to come up with new material. It’s very difficult to be unique in a world which is so connected.
Yes, we have provided inspiration to the West. Yet there is nothing that is truly Indian which is completely loved and followed world over in terms of characters. There might be a few, but I’m strictly talking about the comic genre.
Super Kudi and Wonder Bai are spoofs of their more popular American characters. So, I wouldn’t want them to get popular internationally (*laughs*). People should focus on creating new characters and new stories – and not necessarily superheroes. I’m also talking about comic books to reach out to an international audience – the theme should be universal.
We certainly have very good artists and illustrators. The industry lacks quality editing, but I think we can overcome that easily. And I personally know for a fact that in the coming years, maybe 3 or 4 years, we are going to see some of these Indian comic books becoming international best sellers and getting a following. We have seen that in mainstream literature already. It’s only a matter of time, when Indian comics get there too. A lot of people publish online, it’s only a matter of time when these characters click internationally. It will happen very soon. And I’m hoping that it happens at Comic Con India.
Superheroes are inspirational figures who bring order to the world around them. And Superhero films are dominating the summer box office with more slated for release. The public is not tired of them only wants more of it. Could that be an indication that people are looking to change the present state of affairs in their nation states? Are people looking for a hero in the real-world in the midst of all the corruption, politics, and terrorism and give the common folk some much needed inspiration?
I think for our society, yes. You need a strong leader to inspire you. We see a lot of crap that happens out here day in day out. We need someone strong to create change right at the top. You could say corruption is one big reason for a lot of the public’s pent up frustration. Overall, not knowing where we are headed, what our vision is, affects our psyche a lot. We lack proper leadership and that creates a lot of chaos. That’s why people love a hero. To bring order in that chaos.
I don’t know if you have seen it. In India, we tend to reach out, worship and crave heroes so much that we hype up even the mediocre ones. We tend overhype any small achievement. At the same time, we are also very fickle. We turn around and ditch them when it suits us. Maybe, that is why we don’t have strong leaders. We keep going back to our history and mythology and look at these great characters and real heroes and we look at them for inspiration. Again, it’s the reason we are not churning out new superheroes at present.
Your favourite Indian superhero?
Indian superhero? I wouldn’t call him a superhero, but I like Chacha Chowdhury.
Superman or Hulk?
Marvel or DC?
Definitely, DC.
Batman or Iron man
Iron man
Supergirl or Superkudi?
I think I’m partial to both (*laughs*)
Pick one
Uhm… Helen Slater as Supergirl from the 80s
What’s your favourite segment of the Bangalore Comic Con? What do you look forward to the most?
One of the biggest highlights for me and always is at any Comic Con is the Cosplay bit. I just go crazy seeing all these people, creating these amazing costumes, coming in and being so passionate about it. I mean I’m a nerd and I’m very passionate about cosplay costumes. These guys put me to shame. Some of the costumes are insane. That’s the best highlight for me at any Comic Con
Would you say Bangalore beats the crap out of other cities when it comes to Cosplay?
Well, since I’m coming to Bangalore I would say that. But, that’s not completely true. Every city brings in a lot of exciting cosplay participation. You see it improving each year. And that’s the best part. Because I like said, any city we go to it’s a lot of much fun.
But I must say, the Bangalore audience, is the loved by not only everyone in our staff but every exhibitor. Everyone loves Bangalore. I mean they love all the other cities, but somehow Bangalore is special and the audience is incredible. You guys have a very different vibe and you have great weather there. So, that makes things so much nicer for everyone!
Yes, we do have great weather and awesome people! :D
Will the Bangalore Comic Con be a rocking success? We sure hope so! In the meantime, we hope this interview gave you quite a bit to talk about, argue about, and speculate on what other surprises are waiting in store!
See you all on September 12th at the White Orchid Convention Centre next to Manyata Business Park. Book your tickets here.
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