In this hyper-digital age, what inspired you to launch another print comic - Rhyme Fighters?
I think the medium of comics and print overall is never going to die due to the digital wave. And being a comic illustrator and indie publisher, I will always think about new titles and new themes to explore. And this is why Rhyme Fighters came up, a comic about rhymes based on everyday people in Mumbai.
Over the years, especially in terms of readership, how has your experience with Angry Maushi been?
Angry Maushi started off as a simple character sketch which was liked by many at the first Mumbai Comic Con in 2011, and then I decided to make a single issue comic based on her. It got such a good response that I went ahead and made two more 'episodes' and presented the story arc as a trilogy.
The readership for Angry Maushi has been young adult to adult audience, since I have always made it very clear that this is an adult comic, not for kids. We now have a collector’s edition called ‘Essential Angry Maushi’ containing the whole trilogy. The good part is that we have a dedicated reader base, and the number keeps increasing thanks to the new people coming over to Comic Cons and picking up more and more issues. So it's been good. Angry Maushi has a sort of a cult following today.
Are there any specific things that you do to reach out to the digital audiences?
Yes, apart from social media that I extensively use to reach out to more people, I also keep sharing digital sketches and videos of these sketches, showing the process from scratch. This ensures an actively engaged audience which enjoys this kind of content. This is possible thanks to a few good apps and my iPad Pro. I anyway illustrate all my comics using the digital medium - the Wacom tablet. So directly or indirectly, my audience can consume digital content that I share.
What has been your biggest challenge and achievement in the last five years in the comic publishing business?
The biggest challenge has been circulation and distribution. It is a big concern when it comes to self-published comics, especially in India. But, on the bright side, our biggest achievement is that thanks to the Comic Cons happening across India, I have had six titles under my belt over the last six years, something I never thought I would ever have. I always wanted to publish indie comics and I am living that dream now.
Founder, Chariot Comics
Over the last five years, what have been some of the significant changes you have made?
We officially launched in 2012, and five years later the scenario is quite different from when we started out. Some of the key points on that note are:
1 Digital mediums: When we started out, our ambition was to be a digital-only comic publisher. However, in 2012, the math just wasn't adding up, so we had to move to full print runs for our titles. We, however, did continue to push out our comics on indigenous platforms like Readwhere, ComicsCircle and HuHuba - but the traction has not been that encouraging so far. The average Indian comic book reader still prefers to buy in print and in case he/she is open to digital, is either not willing to pay for it or the number of such paying audience isn't enough yet.
2 Slow and Go: Looking at the estimated size of the buying audience over the years, the kind of traction we get at Comic Cons, and what's working and what's not - we've managed to tweak our production and print runs effectively. Honestly, the main reason we make comic books is because we enjoy them - so a "Slow and Go" approach, as we call it, works for us. We don't produce more than two titles a year and even those we distribute according to Comic Cons, fan demand and traction on previous titles. This has helped us break-even operationally and sell out print runs for our key titles. This also means that I don't have to shell out money from my pocket to fund the venture anymore.
3 Diversification: While we don't talk about it much, we have also diversified into many other avenues over the years - mostly in the branded content space and commissioned comics from film studios and advertising agencies. This year, we are also looking at bringing diversity to our line-up of titles - with a keener focus on kids and early teens as against the focus we have had on the mature audience so far.
What has been your biggest challenge and achievement in the last five years?
The biggest challenge and the biggest achievement in these five years have been the same: survival. This market is not nice to young upstarts looking to break in, and it takes a lot of time, energy, patience and money to stay above the water.
My bank statements over the past five years would probably make me look like fiscally irresponsible, putting good money behind bad money. But like I said, survival was the key. The fact that we are here, making comic books we want to make, without fear or pressure and on our own dime is our biggest achievement according to me. Then there are things like movie studio talks and franchising. which are always in the works - given the sudden need for IPs in today’s streaming world. However, whether they culminate into something or not, I would still think surviving for five years, on our own terms, is our greatest achievement.