By Kiran Galani
Pop culture has always been highly reflective of the time it belongs to and hence it is a highly valuable source for historical and cultural study. Movies, books and music are all very useful parameters by which we judge the time and place they were made in because as creative works, they reflect the mental space of their creator.
Comic books are no different. India has a rich history of comic books, and a lot of kids from the 1980s and 90s essentially grew up with these comics. Now, two American universities, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the Michigan State University, are both eagerly building up a collection of Indian comics, and essentially competing for the spot of the biggest collection.
The background: University of Illinois
Currently, both universities have pretty well-developed collections that feature a lot of different types of comics. Mara Thacker, the South Asian Studies librarian at the undergraduate library of the University of Illinois, began collecting comics for the university in 2012, and its libraries now have (what she believes) largest collection of Indian comics in North America. Thacker initially became interested in starting the collection after attending a workshop organised by the Committee on South Asian Libraries and Documentation. One of the goals of the organisation is for each member library to create its own area of specialisation that will benefit a larger, national collection of material. Thacker decided to choose Indian comics because the undergraduate library already had a graphic novel collection, and it was beginning to add foreign-language comics. She also felt that since her library already had a pretty decent Indian film collection, they had a good start on Indian pop culture material.
Michigan State University
The collection at Michigan State University was essentially started by Siddharth Chandra, the director of the Asian Studies Center at Lansing, Michigan. As the driving force behind its rapidly growing collection of comic books from the region, Chandra has been integral to Michigan’s currently extensive collection. Having grown up with the influence of Indian comic books in his life, he truly understands the significant role these comics play in developing Indian culture.
Michigan State University has 1,763 titles from India — Amar Chitra Katha, Diamond Comics, Raj Comics, Lion and Muthu, some new-age graphic novels such as Campfire. The University of Illinois has 1,500 of them most of which are nearly the same tiles. However, they also have comics like Indrajal and the Hindi translations of Phantoms and Mandrakes. They also have around 450 more comics waiting to be catalogued. These numbers may not be completely accurate because of the way the books are counted and catalogued. For example, Michigan counts all the 200-300 Amar Chitra Katha comic books, the most popular of the collection, as one entry divided into separate volumes.
Benefits of the competition
The competition between these two universities to have the biggest collection of Indian comics is a fantastic opportunity for these comics to finally get the limelight they deserve. The excitement surrounding these building collections may inspire other universities or private collectors to up their game, thereby increasing the sales of these comics. Furthermore, a catalogued collection of these comics ensures that these comics will be easily accessible for study and perusal, thereby making a slice of Indian culture easily available to those who want to explore it. It also ensures that these comics will be preserved for a long time to come and one can only hope that this interest in Indian pop culture continues to be prevalent.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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