As soon as one hears the word “comic” the first image that’s sprawls their mind is of a superhero striking a confident pose on the cover. But Amar Chitra Katha made sure it was more than just superficial stories. It was pedagogic and at the same time, fun.
One day, a man named Anant Pai came across a quiz airing on Doordarshan where the participants answered a question of Greek mythology almost immediately but were confused and fumbled answering a simple question of Hindu mythology – In the Ramayana, who was Rama’s mother?
Anant Pai, who was already working for The Times of India, decided to manufacture comic-books series for children with the themes of Indian lore, historical and mythological stories with the purpose educating children. First, he proposed this idea to the Times Management but they declined it. This resulted in Pai quitting his job altogether. After facing rejections from many publication houses, G.L. Mirchandani of the India Book House acknowledged Pai’s venture and funded it. In February 1970, Pai published its first title, Krishna, that he had written himself and it was illustrated by Ram Waeerkar. Followed by other well-received titles such as Shakuntala, Rama, Harishchandra, Hanuman and Mahabharata. By the late 1970s, Amar Chitra Katha was selling 5 million copies a year. Since then, Amar Chitra Katha has been translated into 20+ languages.
The inception of ACK was at the time when a household was considered privileged for owning luxuries such as TV. Thus, ACK became a celebrated comic series as the go-to entertainment for the middle-class kids of 70s and the generation that followed. Many comics of that era offered comics with fictional storylines of a superhero and a villain. ACK stood out for its educational and cultural value engraved in the captivating plots.
Before the invasion of computers and software in the field of publications, the staff ACK used to hand-letter the dialogue bubbles to get the spacing right. Design and layouts were manually managed. Due to financial reasons, comics were printed using only three colour – yellow, blue and green. To make one such comic, it takes an entire team to conduct an extensive research about the figure or the story including a thorough study of the ancient texts and careful scrutinizing of the sculptures to portray the setting and the character as accurately as possible.
While Amar Chitra Katha has managed to incorporate the narrative of the Indian storytelling in a compelling way, especially for children with the purpose of educating them about the cultural heritage, it has also faced criticism for stereotyping few subjects and the Hinduization of Indian heritage. Other issues like the glorification of Sati, patriarchal undertones, problematic portrayal of woman have been controversial. Since then, ACK has made attempts to be inclusive by portraying personalities of other religions. New editions focus on local heroes such Lachit Borphukan, the Assamese leader who fought the Mughals.
After the 1990s, owing to the upsurge of the TVs and other digital mediums, a huge chunk of people outgrew the comic. In the late 1990s, many comic publications shut down. However, in 2003 ACK made a comeback and still continues to publish. It is also acing on digital platforms with podcasts, videos and its very own app.