Comics industry in India has traditionally been dependent on the foreign publications. Publishers and Distributors believed that obtaining licenses from the foreign syndicates and comics publishers were more easy and cost-effective then employing artists and writers to create local comic strips or books. This started off with Newspaper comic strips, and saw itself being adopted by leading comics publications which entered this picture based story-telling field of India, like Indrajal Comics, Star Comics, etc.
Other than the legendary Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), which revolutionized a generation of kids with rich knowledge of our roots and heritage, only a handful of few decided to pursue the local talents with some quality, most notably Diamond Comics, Manoj Chitra Katha (MCK), and Raj Comics.
But there was one common trait in acquiring International licenses among these comics publications. Their main source was the Golden genre of American Comics. Very few dared to go beyond the riches which were available in American Comics Industry, part of the reason was also due to the availability of American Syndication representatives (who were responsible for maintaining or licensing the copyright for these comic strips and books), who were available right inside our country. And this is where the Tamil Comics Industry in India scores ahead from the rest of its other state counter parts, by relying heavily on the British Genre of Comics.
The trend undoubtedly was started when Muthu Comics made its debut in 1972.
|Muthu Comics #1 (1972)starring Fleetway’s Steel Claw|| |
The publishers were Sivakasi based Muthu Fine Arts, who had Mr. Mullai Thangarasan as the Editor for the venture. Muthu singlehandedly pioneered a generation of Tamil Comics, and was the first to establish the standards for the industry.
Contrary to the the Superhero comics adopted by the publications backed up by big media houses, Muthu Comics decided to pursue the riches which were available in the British Genre, most notably in England based, and now defunct, Fleetway Publications.
British Genre, unlike American Comics that time was more sentimental, and had a strong story-plot, which is often assisted by a equal dose of Sci-Fi storylines and characters, like Steel Claw, The Spider, Iron Man Archie, etc. (Pic: AkoTheeka)
So there were no surprises that the stories were well received by Tamil Comics fans, with the only complaint over Muthu being its irregular publishing, which often deprived fans from enjoying the titles uninterrupted. It took 12 long years for that trend to be reversed, with July 1984 marking a new era in Tamil Comics, with a host of 3 new publications joining the foray.
The first, Lion Comics, from the same publishers of Muthu Comics, with Mr. S Vijayan as the Editor. Mr.Vijayan is the son of Mr. M Soundrapandian, the founder of Muthu Comics.
The second, Mehta Comics, from the same Southern Indian city of Sivakasi, competing toe-toe to against the launch of Lion Comics. Surprisingly, Mr. Mullai Thangarasan who was earlier at the helm of Muthu Comics, had shifted base as the Editor of this new venture.
Different types of comic characters, strength in the storylines, magazine’s standard and packaging, Laminated Covers with stunning artwork and color, galored as the 3 newly introduced publishers tried to go one-up to each other, in the process entertaining the Tamil Comics enthusiasts for decades. Mehta Comics soon closed shops, within a couple of years, then being reduced only to occasional reprints often with prolonged gaps. This left Rani Comics and Lion Comics as the two most recognised competitors, along with the legendary Muthu Comics.
Rani Comics, claimed the upper-hand early in the competition by acquiring the rights to feature world famous British Secret Agent James Bond 007, in its line-up. What’s more they even entered Muthu & Lion’s sacred place of Fleetway publications, to acquire Cowboy and Detective stories also into their fold. Much of Rani Comics success in this dream run, relied heavily on its wide distribution network, which was laid well by the most successful Dina Thanthi publication. Another star attraction was their pricing strategy. It maintained a INR price of 1.50 for more than 4 years, and then maintained INR 2.00 for well over a decade. Lion always had to play the second fiddle to this mighty combination, until the popularity of Rani Comics started fading.
Rani Comics, despite all its initial success had to face the law of averages, as it started to lose it sheen, contributed heavily by the change of his Editor, and then bad character and story choices. The latter's translation in Tamil also added to the misery, with Rani finally closing shops in 2005, after a total run of 21 long years.
While looking back at these lengthier run, we could classify its time period into three generations.
- Golden Age
- Bronze Age
- Dark Age
Let’s look into each of these generations, and the characters which were introduced during that period.
GOLDEN AGE: # 1 (August ‘84) - # 90 (March ‘88)
Obviously, the Golden Age starts and ends in the period when Mr.Ramajayam was at the helm of the affairs. Not only he lined up world famous characters, he also added enough varieties, by introducing Cowboy, Wartime, Science-fiction stories in their host of titles, thus going on to establish itself as the best known Tamil Comics during its time. During this time, it was the only Tamil Comics, which even overshadowed the legendary Muthu Comics and its counterpart Lion Comics, by a long distance, both in terms of sales, and wide reach.
Some of the famous comic stars who appeared on Rani Comics, during this time period were: (Many of them were used with original names in Tamil, the exceptions being differentiated with bracketed names)
James Bond 007 Three Cowboys Kit Karson Tiger ஜேம்ஸ் பாண்ட் மூன்று குதிரை வீரர்கள் கிட் கார்சன் டைகர்
Johnny Hazard Shuja Inspector Aazaad Axa சாகஸ வீரர் ஜானி
இன்ஸ்பெக்டர் ஆசாத் புரட்சி பெண் ஷீலா
(Rebel Lady Sheila)
Bruce Lee Billy Buck Ryan ப்ரூஸ் லீ பில்லி ராயன் (Raayan)
My favourites out of this genre were: James Bond, Tiger, and the Three Cowboys.
BRONZE AGE: # 91 (April ‘88) - # 288 (June ‘96)
Without doubts it was the time when Mr. AM Saami took over the Editor’s role, after Mr.Ramajayam quit the post. All the hard work done by Ramajayam, was spoilt by poor translation, editing, and story selections. But, one saving grace was that the characters which were introduced during Golden Age, gave him a host array of stories to choose from, so he somehow managed to drag the publication for quite a long time, thus we can call it as Bronze Age.
Moreover, this was the time when apart from featuring the British Genre of Comics, Rani ultimately ended up bringing some American comic characters too, by tying up with King Features Syndicate (many of the stories they used during this time were also published by Indrajal Comics)
Along with the comic characters introduced during the Golden Age, the other notable ones introduced during this time period were:
Thillon Buck Jones Cisco Kid Modesty Blaise Phantom தில்லான் பக் ஜோன்ஸ் சிஸ்கோ கிட் மாடஸ்டி பிளைசி மாயாவி
Flash Gordon Rip Kirby Mandrake Garth ஃபிளாஷ் கார்டன் ரிப் கிர்பி மான்டிரேக் முரட்டு காளை கார்த்
My favourites out of this genre, were undoubtedly: Modesty Blaise, Phantom, and Mandrake
DARK AGE: # 289 (July ‘96) - # 500 (April ‘05)
The period, when Rani Comics was clearly on the decline, started with the introduction of a cheaply imitated character out of Phantom’s legacy, called Black Tiger. He was followed by other locally drawn characters and stories, possibly from the North India’s underground publications. Now this says why the publishers always decided against utilizing the local talent. If this is what is in offer, then it better be the way they have agreed on international licensing.
Ironically Mr.AM Saami, who started the slide of Rani Comics, was at the helm of the affairs until the shops closed with Issue #500. During this period, to arrest the sagging sales, they even adopted going in for full-color editions, with a price of INR 5, the coloring of which was the poorest standards of all. Often resembling, that it was done out of water colors, and by amateurs in the business. Clearly, it was meant to end the way it eventually folded.
Some of the famous (?!) comic characters introduced during this time were:
Black Tiger Jadaayu Tyson Agniputra கரும்புலி ஜடாயு இந்திய டார்ஜான் டைசன் அக்னிபுத்ரா
Not much are known about the origin of these titles, except the constant proof that they were owned by Diamond Comics in the North. If anyone can help by sourcing any original references for this title, please log your comments in the section below.
The Dark Age also saw a series of reprints from the golden oldies published in Rani Comics, in their new color format, but none could match the olden glory. There were some famous comic characters like He-Man, Thorgal, who also made their debut as an one-shot during this period. This period, also had the ignominy of seeing a home-made Modesty Blaise Comic Book featuring as an one-shot (thankfully, and obviously without any licensing). It was absurd to say the least, and it only contributed to the downfall by adding more reasons to eventual death of this legendary comic series.
Overall, even though it was hard to see the Rani publication close shops, it was at least satisfying, since no one could bear and witness the nosedive it took from his glorious times. Nevertheless, the memories it left back, were one to cherish for long. So here at Comicology, we will try to map those glorious days by attempting to review the titles one by one.
Note: This blog post is a summary of two Preview posts published earlier in the exclusive Tamil blog for Rani Comics, here and here . The reason for reproducing the same at Comicology, is to introduce the legacy of Rani Comics to other language friends, as requested by some of the regular visitors. It will better serve as medium to advertise the golden oldies released in Tamil Comics industry.
This doesn’t mean that the Rani Comics blog is discontinued. It is well within my plans, and new review posts for the golden oldies of Rani Comics will continue to be published exclusively on Rani Comics blog, while only a summary post with a link back to the original post, will find its presence in Comicology.
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