India's Immortal Comic Books

India's Immortal Comic Books

Gods, Kings, and Other Heroes
Karline McLain
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 03/04/2009
Format: Paperback 38 b&w photos, 10 color photos
ISBN: 978-0-253-22052-3
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Combining entertainment and education, India's most beloved comic book series, Amar Chitra Katha, or "Immortal Picture Stories," is also an important cultural institution that has helped define, for several generations of readers, what it means to be Hindu and Indian. Karline McLain worked in the ACK production offices and had many conversations with Anant Pai, founder and publisher, and with artists, writers, and readers about why the comics are so popular and what messages they convey. In this intriguing study, she explores the making of the comic books and the kinds of editorial and ideological choices that go into their production.

Author Bio

Karline McLain is Assistant Professor of Religion at Bucknell University.


“In this pioneering study of Indian comic book culture, McLain explores why comics are so popular, what messages they convey, and the kinds of editorial and ideological choices that go into their production.”

“[O]riginal both in content and in the kinds of sources that are brought to bear on the subject . . . Students of popular culture, contemporary religion, and anthropology will all learn a great deal from McLain's study.”
 — Lisa Trivedi, Hamilton College

“I’ve never taught an introductory Hinduism class without finding that for many Hindu students, Amar Chitra Katha had taught the course long before me. It’s a formidable canon, and like every 'Bible' it’s not just inspirational but, on reflection, controversial. In this absorbing study, Karline McLain takes the comics seriously, showing us the faces behind the pages and tracing the global impact of this culturally crucial medium and text.”
 — John Stratton Hawley, Barnard College, Columbia University

“The Rama comic book features a muscular, bare—chested, blue—tinged hero on its cover, posed with bow and arrow drawn. A beautiful, fair—skinned woman with long dark tresses watches with wonder as Rama, the hero, takes aim. . . . [Although] in many ways akin to American comic book superheroes such as Superman and Captain America, Rama is not your average fictitious superhero. He is a god in human form, and the Rama comic book is a Hindu devotional story told through the comic book medium.”
 — from the Introduction

“It is clear that by following along with the comic book series, one can easily learn about many aspects of Indian culture and history, in a more fun and visual way, than a regular textbook. And this is the ultimate goal of the book - to show how much can be learned from comics, if the reader actually takes the time and digs a little deeper once in a while. It is fascinating how much tangible information is included in these graphic stories. . . . This book provides great insight into Indian culture.5/09”
 — Andrey Bilko, Rebecca's Reads

“. . . Almost every reader of Amar Chitra Katha interviewed here has spoken of the spiritual force the comics radiate—this, Karline McLane notes, is unique in the history of comic books. Which is one, among many reasons, why these comics will always be beloved not just to Indians but be special to comic book lovers everywhere.June 27, 2009”
 — Pradeep Sebastian, Businessworld

“. . . fun to read and a rewarding work of scholarship on the origins, history and influence of Amar Chitra Katha.August 2009”
 — Pradeep Sebastian, The Sampradaya Sun

“McLain shines a light on Anant Pai and his staff at ACK to really examine the motivations behind creating the comics. Was it just about educating children or were there other motivations? . . . [L]ike the famed author of A People’s History of the United States (1980), she does aim to create a public awareness of how history is told, albeit in India.August 28, 2009”
 — Shyam K. Sriram, PopMatters

“In this intriguing study, [the author] explores the making of comic books and the kinds of editorial and ideological choices that go into their production.3/18/09”
 — Indologica

“What McLain repeatedly heard from ACK [Amar Chitra Katha] readers is that the comic books seemed to almost radiate a spiritual force. In many households, other comics were seen as a waste of time and discarded, but ACK was preserved carefully. Grandmothers covered them with those brown wrappers used to cover school textbooks to keep them clean. Nieces and nephews inherited bound volumes from uncles and aunts. . .August 2, 2009”
 — Pradeep Sebastian, The Hindu

“McLain's two greatest contributions may be her discussion of religious iconography and the meaning of secularism in India.May / June 2009”
 — Uppinder Mehan, Society for Critical Exchange

“. . . ACK (Amar Chitra Katha) is excellent for its popular format (comics), its enduring history and appeal—and its accessibility.July 24, 2009”
 — Not Just Books blog

“The book’s clear prose will appeal to those teaching popular visual culture at the undergraduate level, as well as fans of ACK in India and around the world, many of whom participated in McLain’s study. . . The book shines at moments when McLain relies on and shows her scholarly apparatus while maintaining an eye on her broader audience: her discussion of the machinations related to artist, popular religion, and text in the production of the Tales of Durga; or her clear narration of complex caste disputes over the representation of Shivaji starting in the nineteenth century (121–31). India's Immortal Comic Books is a welcome addition to the growing interdisciplinary analyses of India's popular culture. ”

“The careful and extensive research, insightful analysis, and the very lucid, accessible, and engaging style of writing, all go toward making this a very enjoyable read. . . . It is an excellent resource for scholars exploring popular forms of contemporary Hindusim, and the role of modern mass media in both capturing, and shaping, Hindu sensibilities in a modern transnational context. ”
 — Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

“[T]his beautifully produced volume will not disappoint. Indiana University Press has supported McLain in publishing a book that is a visual delight, sporting an attractive layout and plentiful reproductions, in both color and black and white, of the comics. In today's era of digital publishing, this is a pleasure that is not to be taken for granted.December 2010”
 — Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“In India’s Immortal Comic Books . . . Karline McLain argues that the Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) comic book series represents a form of public culture through which creators and readers participate in national and religious discourse. . . . This analysis of India’s first major comics publisher invigorates folklore and comic art by illustrating their essential role in creating and revising national and religious identity.April 6, 2010”
 — Jeremy Stoll, Indiana University

“McLain (religion, Bucknell Univ.) did exhaustive research on this topic, and here she captures the essence of India's most popular comic book series, 'Amar Chitra Katha,' known for its entertaining and educational renditions of Indian history, religion, and mythology. . . . This study is welcome both for the author's care with her subject and for its affirmation that the comics can be an important medium—in this case, one that helped define Hinduism and Indianness to younger generations of Indians. . . . Recommended.January 2010”
 — Choice

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Table of Contents

Notes on Style

Introduction: Comic Books that Radiate a Spiritual Force
1. The Father of Indian Comic Books
2. Long-Suffering Wives and Self-Sacrificing Queens
3. Accurately Sequencing Goddess Durga's Mythology
4. The Warrior-King Shivaji in History and Mythology
5. Muslims as Secular Heroes and Zealous Villains
6. Mahatma Gandhi as a Comic Book Hero
Conclusion. The Global Legacy of Amar Chitra Katha