Indrajal Comics, an imprint of BCCL, was the closest this country came to having a comics culture similar to the US. The late 1970s and the early 1980s were probably the golden age of comics in India. Sure. Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) is still
going strong and now has a new owner, but it was Indrajal, with its cheap thin paper, bright colours, two-dimensional villains, and superhero style protagonists that was as popular with young people as it was unpopular with their parents (ACK had, and has, the stamp of parental approval).
Flash Gordon: The film came out in 1980.
Indrajal was to India what Superman was many decades ago to the US. The star of the Indrajal firmament was, indubitably, Phantom, ghost who walks; Mr Walker, man who cannot die, guardian of the Eastern dark, and the “mysterious” commander of the jungle patrol. But there were other equally interesting characters: Mandrake (who is at his best when he is fighting the Cobra or the sinister Eight organization); and Flash Gordon.
Towards the end of Indrajal’s life, BCCL tried to add to the four main characters in its stable (apart from the three mentioned above, there was also Bahadur) but this marked the beginning of the imprint’s decline — some of the new characters, such as Rip Kirby, didn’t have the same appeal as the others.
For almost a decade now, this writer has been trying to buy Indrajal comics from second-hand bookstores of the kind that dot India. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been a tremendously fulfilling exercise. The plots are complex and the books have a sense of history (sometimes tongue-in-cheek — for instance, the phantom
head mountain is supposed to have been designed and carved by Michelangelo). Most of the characters in the Indrajal stable were international ones, although a majority of the books were written for India.
Pop art: The Indrajal comics have complex plots.
Significantly, although they are international characters, Phantom, Mandrake and Flash Gordon have not enjoyed as much success elsewhere as they did in India. Phantom’s one brush with international fame was a very forgettable movie made in the 1990s. As for Flash, he fared better. The king of fantasy films, Dino de Laurentis, produced Flash Gordon in 1980. The film had music by Queen, and starred Sam Jones as Flash (Max Von Sydow was Ming and Topol, Zarkov).
Ah, those were the days.
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