We are back into a seasoned time, lit up by smiles and joy abound on the faces and hearts of one and all. Yes It’s that time of the year, when the religious barriers take a back seat, and people know only one way to spread their joy, by sharing it with others. The Christmas eve.
In staying with the spirit of the occasion, here at Comicology, we are going to review a title which owes much to the celebration. And there is no surprise, that we eventually had to choose one of the legendary issues to have been released by the golden oldie, Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), retelling the life and struggle of Jesus Christ.
By 1978, after being in business for nearly a decade, ACK had established themselves as the leading comics brand of India, with as many as 200+ titles to boast of a incredible line-up, which covered as many genres as possible, ranging from the Historical Legends, Warriors, to National Leaders, and Folktales.
But they weren’t the one to sit on the achievements, as they realized the need to try out newer horizons, and in the process break-away from the mould of 30 odd pages per release, which had become a de-facto standard for all International comics businesses. This restraint, was even evident in their longest running series Mahabharata, which incidentally was broken over 42 single issues.
So, they decided to start a special series, leaving their monthly issues intact, which saw them releasing two titles eventually in 1978 - Dasha Avatar, retelling the 10 Incarnations of Lord Vishnu, and Valmiki’s Ramayana.
But, this change wasn’t a pretty successful one, as more number of pages in a single issue meant, obviously a higher price tag. Since, much of the readership of ACK that time was built on by targeting the younger readership, who relied on their parents to get these issues for them, they had to be content with the regular issues, as the middle class family life, didn’t allow the parents to honour the steep price increase.
But, ACK Management, under the governance of India Book House (IBH), weren’t going to let their Special issue concept die down. They eventually followed up with another Special release in 1980, which this time touched another sect of people of India. This special issue, was the eventual first publishing of Jesus Christ.
We don’t know how successful this special venture business turned out for ACK that time, as after this release they never ventured on a special issue again until the 21st century. (The only contradiction was the 3 set volumes collecting the entire Mahabharata series.)
But, it was no doubt a cherished issue among comic collectors, which brought the incredibly talented artist Pratap Mulick, into more limelight. In June 2008, under the newly formed management, ACK republished this special issue, which is the version we are going to review in our post.
The script for the title was written by a scholar,
Dr. Drakshathota Aruliah, which was brought into life by Pratap Mulick, under the guidance of Anant Pai.
The story starts with the year 740 B.C., revisiting the God’s appearance before Prophet Isaiah, and directing him as the messenger to foretell, the coming of God’s own son, to the earthlings.
The scene then shifts to Palestine, which was then ruled by the tyrant Roman king, Herod. In a town called Nazareth, a young maiden, Mary, is visited by the holy messenger Gabriel, conveying to her that she will bear the God’s son. A confused Joseph, to whom Mary is betrothed too, is also visited by Gabriel, upon which he decides to adopt Mary and her unborn child.
While Mary was still pregnant, they had to visit Bethlehem, where after failing to find a place to stay, they decide to spend the night at a stable out of the town, where eventually Mary gives birth to a child. Mary decides to call the child as Jesus, touted to be the Hope of Israel.
Soon after, a hoard of shepherds visit the stable, having come to know of the divine birth, who are then joined by three messengers, who followed a star, which was to lead them to the future King of Israel.
These new uproar, turn the the tyrant king Herod restless, and after his misattempts to find the sacred one, he orders to kill all infants, aged less then two years, in and around Bethlehem.
This makes Joseph and Mary to flee the town, and escape to Egypt, but the poor souls of Bethlehem, had to face the wrath of the king, by being witness to their newborn murdered right in front of their eyes. Some years later, after hearing upon King’s death, Joseph and Mary settle back in Nazareth, where Jesus grows up to be a studious boy.
Jesus shows incredible wealth of knowledge, even in his tender age, and is respected among one and all. But he continues to remain restless over a bigger things awaiting him, having sensed his divine birth.
Having filled with the holy spirit, he visits the nearby mountains, where he is coaxed by the Devil, but returns with his holy self to preach about the coming of the Kingdom of God. Where he also finds his first 12 disciples, which includes Simon, Andrew, and others.
Followed by his disciples, Jesus visits town after town, where he showcases his divine power, by raising the dead, and possessed, back to life. This makes more poorer souls to come to him, to whom Jesus preaches the way of true happiness, and the importance of Faith and Prayer.
During this time he also promises to his followers that he will rise again as the king of the world, obviously referring to his origin. These preaching's irate the other Priests, who feel that their teachings and way of life, are being put to shame, by this newcomer, whom they feel his trying to make himself as the Judge of the whole world.
This growing unrest, and division of ranks, results in the irate Priests, to disallow all of them who follow Jesus, from entering the sacred temples, governed by them. And Jesus starts preaching to his disciples, that the day won’t be far when he would be buried by them, due to their hatred, but promises to rise back from grave, as promised before.
As suspected, the council of high priests, decide to arrest Jesus, for his preaching's against their beliefs, and they bribe Judas, one of his disciples, to identify Jesus for the lawmakers do their job. With Judas’s betrayal, Jesus is finally arrested after a supper, which he pre-called as the Last one.
Jesus is then led by the high priests to the Roman Governor, Pilate, who fears that the divine presence bestowed on him, would make him a sinner, if he does punish him as per the High priests. So he lets the public decide on his fate, whom, having been coaxed by the Priests, orders a severe punishment, which sees Jesus being scourged and then finally led to his crucification.
The madness finally come to the end, with Jesus leaving his holy body, after being crucified. He is put to rest in a tomb, where the Priests manage to put guards on duty to block his disciples from stealing the body, to prove that he has risen from death.
But his premonitions, come true, as Jesus comes back to life from his tomb, and visits all his disciples, and advises them to spread his preaching and message to all the world. He promises that he will be with them till the end of time, before leaving for his heavenly home.
His disciples are then shown to travel the world and beyond to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ, and show them the path to holy living.
Thus ends, this incredibly drawn, retelling saga of Jesus Christ. ACK’s professionalism, and the belief to stay true the legends and common beliefs, was best explained in the way in which they portrayed the life of Jesus Christ within this 90 and odd pages, which were only brought into reality, with the sketches of talented, late Mulick sahab.
The issue is more significant, as since the days I first read it, I am yet to see a Jesus Christ graphic novel, which even filled 10% of what was told in this ACK issue, leaving aside the quality of the artwork in those attempts, which is best left rather than being talked about.
It’s really saddening, to not find much details about this greatest artist, which is a similar story for all the Indian creators of this medium in the bygone era. One of the reasons, for which I am eagerly looking forward to the long planned Chitrakatha Documentary project, which is sure to set things straight, by bringing these creators life into limelight.
Till then we can only hope to celebrate this talented artist, by buying this ACK edition. For which you only have to reach out to your nearby bookshop, or order them through the ACK store. One advantage, of ACK has always been their reprints, which makes these classic titles immune, to run out of stock.
But talking of which, it’s the same strategy which also leads us to a position where the golden oldie ACK, always remains only in our memories, as they never venture on adding any new titles to their stable. If only the visionaries like Anant Pai would have been at the helm of the business, things could have been much different.
Original: Even though this ACK title, Jesus Christ, was published in June 2008, as noted above, this edition is a reprint of the one originally published in 1980. As you could see, the cover has been digitally re-mastered for the 2008 edition, which has resulted in a better presentation, celebrating the artwork, of the talented Pratap Mulick.
There is only one change from the original, a carefully removed reference of India Book House (then owner of ACK brand), in the Foreword written by Cardinal Lawrence, the then President, of Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s Indian chapter.
The foreword by such higher authority of Christianity, boasts well on the fact that, ACK hasn’t compromised any of the legitimacy while retelling the life of Christ. Something for which, the ACK brand is renowned even now.
Jesus Christ in Tamil: My first encounter with this remarkable issue, was not in its original form, but as a serialized feature in the South Indian Tamil weekly for kids, Siruvar Malar. As discussed during our Flashback post on Malar, it then had a long running business deal with ACK, through their Rang Rekha Features syndicates. This deal allowed them access to their wide variety of classical series, among which Jesus Christ was one.
So, it was first advertised in their weekly issue, dated 25-Nov-1988, and eventually started in their next issue, cover dated, 02-Dec-1988, as a 4 page feature. The entire issue was then serialized into 24 weekly episodes.
Look at the cover of the Siruvar Malar, which started the series. Malar generally reserves their cover for publishing the “reader sent” kids photographs, but the significance of such a big series meant, that Christ duly took his place on the cover. I believe the artwork was done by the renowned local artist, Aras.
The series was titled as Yesunaathar (இயேசுநாதர்), and boasted one of the best translations you could see in Tamil language, a fact for which Siruvar Malar had garnered a huge reputation among the children's, including myself. The present state of which, is something best left to remain in the backburner. It’s a poor shadow of its glorious past, and I am only sympathetic towards the current generation of kids, who have to witness this sub-standard quality of magazines, thrown at them. No wonder, they despise them for the Video games, and TV movies.
Nevertheless, here is the first episode as it was published in Siruvar Malar, to witness the translation on your own.
The only difference to the entire series, was the last page which was published in the 24th episode, which I haven’t seen either in the 1980 or 2008 edition of ACK. Could it have been created by our local artists ? I doubt, since the details of the panel are pretty professional. If you know, please share your findings with us.
The only rendition in the bigger screen, I remember to have seen, close to this ACK venture, was Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ. The torture scenes portrayed in the film, especially the one charged on Jesus in the trial court, is something you would never forget in your life.
But, the fact that those real sufferings have shown the Path of Light for so many ardent followers, emphasizes the significance of Christmas eve. Those sufferings didn’t go vain.
With that note, I conclude my post on this ACK title, which I hope would have been a good read, for those who spent their valuable time, in browsing through my blah-blah :).
Before I close, here is wishing you all a Merry Xmas and Happy Holidays, along with your nears and dears. I leave you with some of the artworks, which garnered my attention in the local newspapers, in spirit of the occassion. Adios Amigos !
References: John Thompson’s ACK Index