New Delhi: Another American brand has announced plans to expand to India, but instead of luxury goods and fizzy drinks, this one specializes in freckles and corny one-liners.
Archie Entertainment is planning an Indian makeover for its redheaded comic book icon, Archie Andrews, and his teenage gang from Riverdale, a quintessentially American suburb. “I expect India to be a major market for Archie for the next generation,” said Steven Herman, president of Archie Entertainment, which plans to start printing the comic in India later this year.
Archie may seem just the latest in a long list of American cultural exports to India, but it is a peculiar piece ofAmericana—a throwback to sock-hops and drive-in movies. And it raises the question: Will the goofy teenager’s suburban high jinks resonateamong Indians?
The publisher certainly thinks so, as do many observers, who see in the comic the aspirations of India’s middle class to live in safe, white-picket suburbs much like Archie’s fictional hometown, Riverdale.
“It has a clean-cut quality which might be attractive,” said Sarnath Banerjee, India’s leading graphic novelist, whose books deal with urban angst and alienation.
“It’s a smooth story with not too much conflict. I think there’s an aspirational quality to Archie.”
And India has become a nation of high aspirations. With the economy expected to grow by 8.5% this year, this country of 1.1 billion people has an unprecedented amount of money and ambition that scores of international companies are keen to take advantage of.
Archie is already printed in a dozen countries outside the United States, and is no stranger here—the comic has long been available as an import and several newspapers run the strip.
But because it’s imported, a stand-alone copy is expensive—Rs60 compared with Rs10 for a locally produced comic—and sales are relatively low.
Archie Entertainment is hoping to change that. It recently signed a licensing and merchandising deal with Star India, a media company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., to find an Indian publisher to bring the comic to Indian newsstands by the end of the year.
Herman said Archie story lines in India might be localized. Archie and his best friend Jughead could chat about cars and girls in Hindi, while Betty and Veronica—rivals for Archie’s affections—may gossip in saris. After the cricket game, the gang could go out for a mango yogurt and curry, instead of a milkshakeand burgers.
Home, however, will remain Riverdale, the kind of small-town American suburb that has long fascinated Indians.
Archie’s world would have seemed unfamiliar to Indians a generation ago, when almost no one went on dates and very few adults, never mind teenagers, had cars.
Only in recent years, and in certain quarters, have Indian teenagers begun to resemble Archie’s gang. Veronica Lodge, the trendy daddy’s girl, might recognize the new materialism and lust for luxury brands taking hold in India’s big cities.
New shopping malls dot the edges of Delhi’s sprawl, where restaurants offer “martini brunches” and shops boast Louis Vuitton handbags.
Still, Archie will face homegrown competition in India, and teens here may not go for his girl-crazy antics.
“I read one,” said 19-year-old Parima Mandal, a student in New Delhi.
“I don’t like them. Archie is not as funny as Chacha Chaudhary,” the crime-fighting Hindi comic book hero.
But humour has never been Archie’s strong suit—it’s probably been decades since he earned a good laugh. The appeal lies elsewhere, perhaps between the harmless puns and the quiet streets.
“Riverdale is the town you wish you lived in, it’s the school you wish your kids went to,” Herman said. “It’s an idealized place and it’s something to hope for.