Here’s a promising recipe for pop-culture success: Sart with cosmos-spanning tales of super-powered beings locked in an eternal struggle of good and evil. Mix in with no-nonsense action heroes, vile bad guys, and sultry seductresses. Prepare it with an over-the-top design aesthetic drenched in motion and color. Then serve it up to a devoted fan base that hangs on every storyline and industry rumor.
This describes two of the world’s most successful entertainment phenomena: American superhero comics and Indian Bollywood films. Liquid Comics is offering the best of both with the launch of Graphic India, a new digital platform to promote comic books in India and showcase young artists and writers in the country.
"Graphic India intends to be India’s premiere graphic novel platform and community, leveraging Liquid’s large library of high quality content created by Indian creators, while also aggressively commissioning and showcasing numerous original stories by India’s greatest new visionaries," the company said in its announcement. The site features online comics, interviews, how-to tips for aspiring creators, contests, and social media links.
A U.S.-based company founded by three entrepreneurs with ties to the Indian comics and entertainment industry, Liquid Comics began life as Virgin Comics, with the support of Richard Branson, and announced ambitious plans for a line of comics based on Hindu cosmology and heroic Indian legend and literature. Liquid’s current owners bought out Virgin in 2008 and put more emphasis on digital content, apps, and content-licensing deals.
The launch of a digital comics portal for the Indian market seems well timed with developments in both the global comics industry and the Indian entertainment market. With tablet devices and e-readers proving an ideal platform, U.S. comics are making the transition from paper to digital in a big way. Most major publishers have either made or announced the move to same-day digital release. Comixology’s comic reader app has been the top download every Wednesday (the day new comics are released), and digital sales in the wake of DC’s successful "New 52" relaunch have reportedly been exceptionally strong.
If digital comics are thriving in the U.S., they are poised to blow up in Young World economies like India. The country has an economic growth rate of more than 7% even in the midst of a global recession; a growing middle class of more than 350 million; and a population of 1.1 billion, 50% of whom are under age 25. Though the indigenous comics industry is struggling and the country has proved a tough nut to crack for foreign publishers like DC and Marvel, digital distribution offers a new bridge to the country’s plugged-in, pop-crazy youth.
Young Indians lead the world in using their mobile phones for games and recreation, and better service quality is finally at hand to speed up downloads of richer content. Last month, a company called Datawind shattered the price barrier for e-reader devices, announcing a color-screen tablet for the Indian market priced at $35.
Liquid Comics promises content geared for the Indian audience combined with the bold, colorful aesthetics and high production values of contemporary superhero comics. Subjects lean heavily toward traditional Indian themes reimagined through comic-style plots and settings, with a generous helping of media crossover.
Featured titles include The Sadhu, created by Liquid cofounder Gotham Chopra; Myths of India, featuring retellings of original Indian myths presented by author Deepak Chopra (Gotham’s father); UnHOLI by Indian writer Samit Basu and artist Jeevan J. Kang, about a zombie attack in Delhi that takes place during the Holi festival; Devi, created by acclaimed filmmaker Shekhar Kapur; and Ramayan 3392 AD, a futuristic story inspired by the classical Ramayana myth, which is also getting a Hollywood-style film adaptation from Mandalay Entertainment.
Like most comics companies, Liquid also features properties licensed from other media. Their big bet is on Elvis Presley—an unlikely candidate until you ask yourself, what American superstar better embodies the genre-crossing, singing-dancing-action-comedy aesthetic of Bollywood better than the King?
Liquid Comics has a history of tantalizing the market with exciting announcements and beautiful previews. It will be interesting to see if they can deliver on the promise of Graphic India.
Rob Salkowitz is author of Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World from the Bottom Up. His new book, Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, will be published by McGraw-Hill in 2012.