Ramdas Shenoyy from Stirfrymba.com ventures into the Story-land of Amar Chitra Katha with Preeti Vyas.
Relevance of print versions of comics in today’s digital world
Preeti Vyas staunchly believes that the joy and the pleasure one gets in reading a physical printed copy of a comic is an experience obviously very different from reading a digital one. But people look at ACK Media as comic book creators and not as comic book printers.
“We are storytellers. So whatever medium that our readers choose to read us from, we are available in those mediums. We are agnostic to those mediums actually,” says Preeti.
For example, since April 20, when the lockdown began, the company started a campaign that gave users access to their app for a month. The campaign has had tremendous success gaining half a million new users, just in a month! These are readers from all over from the world and they are all reading digitally. ACK media has actually seen different ways of engaging with people.
“We have parents writing to us, telling us that there is a screen mirroring feature to cast the content on a big screen where the whole family is enjoying reading comics on the big screen. There is a whole new way of enjoying a comic book which is possible digitally and not possible in a physical form. It will keep on evolving and we are agnostic to the medium and tomorrow if there is a technology to transfer content from our server to the reader’s brain, we could do that as well. We want to keep telling new stories, that is the most important thing for us.” she adds.
Both Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle have their own apps. The titles are also available on other apps like Kindle, GetLitt etc. They are available on the podcasts on platforms like Hubhopper and Spotify, as animated YouTube films, as special skills on Alexa (one can create the ACK quiz with Suppandi Jokes and so many other versions and platforms.
Animated versions are just to promote the actual reading. “Our business is telling new stories, creating new stories and reading is what we promote the most” says Preeti.
Coming from the Amar Chitra Katha group, this is what one could vouch for, as we all remember reading their comics. Children, from 8 to 14 years, are their primary audience but I bet even a 50+ will love to read ACK comics. The team understands that reading is still the most important skill and the focus of ACK comics is to encourage and inculcate the reading habit of the child. Whether they read it on the app, on Kindle or a printed copy, it really does not matter.
“We have also observed that the reading time is excellent. We have seen that the average reading time on our app has been 23 minutes which is remarkable,” says Preeti, with a clear finger on the pulse of consumer behavior.
This implies that readers are able to read, remain engaged and remain focused (as the average time to read a comic book in print version would be the same) and read the whole comic in 23 minutes, cover to cover.
How to inculcate reading habits?
Preeti says empathetically that it is an urban myth that children are not reading any more. She feels it otherwise and feels that the reading habit in fact is growing. ACK Media is seeing a growth in sales year after year.
“When I was a child, we did not have much available in Indian literature. You would either read an Amar Chitra Katha or Chandamama and anything which you could find from around the world. But today, we have 50-100 Children’s book publishers in India, who are doing amazing contemporary work. It is a very vibrant field. New books are being published every month and schools are really pushing reading as an agenda.”
“Parents are understanding and today’s generation of parents are very aware of the importance of reading. They also have disposable income, which our parents did not have. They have availability and actually the reading habit is growing.” Preeti explains that her son’s school has a dedicated time slot for reading books and there are a lot of innovative ways in which children are encouraged to read.
She reiterates that the way to encourage reading habits in children is to allow them to explore the ‘joy’ of reading a book without any pressure or prescription. That one has to read a book or read a particular author and also, without the pressure of having to complete reading the book.
“Once children experience the joy of reading, they get hooked. What happens is that parents tend to put pressure on the children and that takes away the joy of it. My advice is to allow the child to pick the titles that they would like to read. Every child may not want to read fiction. They may want to read non-fiction. There are so many titles and different genres. Allow the child to explore. That is where the joy and beauty lies,” says Preeti.
“Buy books the way you buy clothes – regularly. The way the body is developing, the mind is also developing. If they start reading and they don’t like it, allow them to leave it halfway,” says Preeti. She explains it with an example that the way we go for a movie and midway we do not like it, we leave the movie theatre, though we have paid for the ticket. We value our time and do not want to watch the rest of the movie. But when it comes to books, we want a child to read all of it without applying the same rule. It is alright to give up something and start something new.
It is important to find the right fit, given the child’s likes and dislikes.” Preeti cites some instances where she was told that the child didn’t like to read but liked football. And, then they brought some books on biographies of famous footballers and the child began reading.
“I believe in the power of stories. I believe that it is not possible that somebody does not like reading,” adds Preeti.
On Creating Super-Heroes like Marvel
She benevolently believes that we do not need any superheroes because we have these amazing worlds of Indian Gods and Goddesses who are better than any of the Superheroes that Marvel and DC could ever think of. She reiterates that most of the inspiration, be it Marvel or DC or Matrix or Avatar, come from Hindu Epics. That industry is at a different scale and budget and eventually as an industry things that we do will get there. “We do not need to look at anywhere else to create new superheroes,” is what she strongly believes.
She gives an example of Amar Chitra Katha’s Mahadeva – Stories from the Shiva Purana, which has released 3 parts out of 5 on the app and is receiving amazing readership and comments.The comments show how the stories and comics remain contemporary and relevant to the generation.
Potential of comics
It is growing. Even educationists are realizing that a child retains more when he reads a comic rather than from conventional textbooks. So now some publishers have actually licensed content from ACK media into history textbooks, example Rana Pratap’s comic has got its way into history textbooks. It is not only leisure and pleasure reading but actual learning. Comic books as a category cut across all ages. Nearly 25% of the user signup for ACK media comes from outside India, which shows that there is a huge Global Indian diaspora for Indian stories.
Amar Chitra Katha has a lot of ideas and dreams, which they are working on but they are not attached to the idea of having to compete with Marvel or DC. They don’t see a reason to be compelled to measure up to them or compete against them.
“We are storytellers. The beauty of the Indian story universe is infinite. There are so many stories that need to be told. At the end of the day, just think about it, the Shiv Purana is an important story and we are telling it now in 2020, although we have 400~500 comics already with us. There is a lot to be done. Why would we get stuck to one superhero, one character, we have so many stories and so many ways to tell them?” asks Preeti.
“We are the route to your roots. That is what Amar Chitra Katha stands for. That is what our mission is – to help Indian children. It becomes more important in today’s age where it is a globalized world and they are growing up on so much of non-stop stimulation across platforms and relentless media exposure. Indian children today need, more than ever before, to get to know their own heritage and roots. The challenge is to keep the child who is growing on content like Disney’s Frozen and Spider Man, engaged with Amar Chitra Katha; not because your parents are buying it for you, but because you find it cool and you find it fun to read. That is the challenge and we are happily pursuing it with passion,” she concludes.
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