For decades, generations of children have grown up reading Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) comics and Tinkle magazine containing myths and legends, and adventures of Suppandi and Kalia the crow. And now the comics have embraced a new format, that of a chapter book, to take these stories to younger readers. “In India, typically children start reading two to three letter words around the age of 5 and move on to comics at the age of 8,” says Preeti Vyas, president and chief executive officer, Amar Chitra Katha Pvt Ltd. “Our readership has always been that of 8 to 14 years of age. As a result, the younger children keep missing out on these stories. We are addressing that through this new narrative, chapter book form.”
The team is testing waters with a six-book deal with HarperCollins Children’s Books, the first of which is the Amar Chitra Katha Folktales collection adapted from the stories in the ACK catalogue. “We have a great repository of stories and timeless content. And HarperCollins is great at the narrative form. So it’s a great collaboration,” she adds.
While this is a major transformation to happen at Amar Chitra Katha, since it was founded by Anant Pai, or Uncle Pai as he was known, there have been other slow and subtle changes that have happened over the years—in the various characters’ form, for instance. During an online session at the recently-concluded Kala Ghoda Festival, the team talked about some of these. For instance, Shambu Shikari is no longer a hunter. Hence you see him having put on some weight, he is no longer as fit as he used to be. Shambu now collaborates with the wildlife authorities to nab poachers.
“Uncle Pai left us with a treasure trove of stories. Part of our mission is how to keep this legacy alive, in a way that these stories continue to be read. Another part is how to take this legacy forward,” says Vyas. The team doesn’t just want to be a nostalgia brand. While it is grateful to adults, who grew up on the comics and continue to patronise it, the company wants to keep telling memorable stories for the children of today. “Today’s generation is growing up on Avengers and Disney’s Frozen. We have to ensure that the language, theme and art should resonate with them. The idea is to retain the essence of all the great stories we have and still keep pushing the envelope,” elaborates Vyas.
So, last year ACK themed its comics around women pathbreakers. Then there was Rama’s Ring, a selection of nine lesser-known stories around the epic, including those from the various regional versions. “In one version from down south, the arrow that killed Ravana was believed to have been shot by Sita. So, we included that. We also brought out a comic on Vikram Sarabhai. The team is working on updating older notions of beauty and themes of women empowerment. We are passionate about making content relevant to the modern generation,” she adds.