Venturing into giggling returns!

Amazed at the fondness of the pan-India crowd that swears by the enormous muscular power of Sabu and faster-than-the-computer brain of Chacha Chaudhary, the comic licensors are seeking measures to address the potential offered by the comic industry.
Venturing into giggling returns!
The green bodied Nagraj and Super Commando Dhruv on coffee mugs, Supandi bobble-head banging on the dashboard of a plush chauffeur-driven car and Chacha Chaudhary twirling his grey moustache on those tees, this is just a peep of the licensing and merchandising happening in the comic industry riding on the comic fan following found in almost every age group – from the tiny tots to college-going youth and the management trainees to the bosses. 
 
The global touch 
Today, the international publishers are licensing out their IPs to Indian players for publication in regional languages. And the Indian publishers are churning out possibilities in Tier II and III cities by launching comic character inspired merchandises. 
Indian market was first exposed to foreign players with the inception of international comics like The Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby etc. translated for Indian audiences, largely published in Illustrated Weekly of India. The legacy is continued with Gotham Comics, a US-based company that has brought with them the publishing rights of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Mad Magazine for the Indian subcontinent. Marvel launched its Spider Man: India Project, which went on to become the first major release by a comic book company in India and eventually published by Gotham Comics in India.
Asterix – the French comic series has licensed the entire collection to Om Books International for publishing in Hindi, while Hackett bagged the rights to publish the series in English. Also, Om Books got rights for publishing Tintin for Hindi audiences.  
 
The Vernacular flavour 
Although the globally popular characters have been ruling the market in licensing, but in the Indian comic industry, the local heroes stand out in the league.
Manish Verma, Director, Diamond Group, said, “The characters who do not have history in India are limited to just the metro cities where customers are very sassy. When one moves to Tier II cities, the local or Indian characters are the best bet.” 
 “Among the major character oriented IPs rooted in India, Chhota Bheem has performed well in licensing and merchandising,” says Manish Gupta, Director, Raj Comics. He further said, “The foreign brands have huge presence on television, but not in terms of comics because they failed to get attention of the local licensees.”
While some cite changing demographics behind the failure of international characters, emergence of vernacular language is also a prominent reason why Indian characters are gaining popularity. For instance, Disney inked pacts with Diamond Toons to publish comics of its IPs Donald Duck and Micky Mouse in regional languages such as Malayalam, Gujarati and Marathi etc. 
 
Licensing supports expansion
Driving analogy from the players in the West, Indian comic publishers also stepped into the arena of licensing and merchandising their IPs. For instance, Pran’s comics have ventured into merchandising for apparels, stationery products, figurines etc. 
In the words of Gupta of Raj Comics, “In terms of licensing in comic industry, TV, feature films, animation movies etc have already been adopted and well practiced in the markets of Western countries. For instance, DC Comics has been doing fairly well in terms of comic licensing. Similar potential rests in India and brands are opening up to this concept. Though the market in India is in an embryonic stage, this year will witness a lot of happenings in licensing industry.”
ACK Media launched Tinkle merchandise at the Hyderabad Comic Con which included bobbleheads of Suppandi, nature lover Shikari Shambu and Billy The Vampire. International players like Graphic India are developing Indian epic stories including Ramayan 3392A.D. as Hollywood feature films. 
 
eCommerce multiplying reach
Keeping up with the trend of online shopping, the publishers and licensees have either come up with their own eStores or have inked pacts with the stalwarts of eCommerce. 
In the words of Nitin Kalra, Director at AI Licensing India Pvt Ltd, “eStores are certainly adding value to all industries and comics are not beyond them. Over 50 per cent of www.archiecomics.com traffic comes from Indian cities.  As more and more people are getting hooked on to the Internet, the reach of comics is growing.”
ACK Media has tied up with eCommerce player Amazon for pre-orders of bobbleheads. Also, it partnered with Flipkart for its Ultimate Collection comprising 315 single and 10 special comics including 13,000 pages by various authors. Raj Comics, the parent company for many Indian superheroes, has recently launched its eStore too.
 
What’s next?
Ajay Mago, Publisher, Om Books International, asserted, “Comic licensing is an ever-expanding segment because a comic as a genre has always had perennial appeal. Take for example Superman, Batman and Phantom, and I personally recall wearing Superman T-shirt when I was five years old, and that was many years ago. Most of these comic characters are inspirational by their deeds, so licensing them is forever going to be successful.”
The experts are of the opinion that though niche, this segment has a lot to explore as the comic licensing market and modern retail is opening up. 
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