Q&A | Nancy Silberkleit
Comic books are growing in popularity here—and this was perhaps best illustrated by the number of people who visited the third edition of the annual Comic Con India in New Delhi in February. While the first Comic Con was attended by around 15,000 people, the third one saw more than three times as many visitors, and the organizers claim the three-day event saw combined sales of more than Rs. 1 crore.
Nancy Silberkleit, who has been the co-CEO of Archie Comics since 2009, was recently in Delhi, and exchanged emails with us on the state of the comic books industry.
As head of one of the most successful and longest running comic book brands, Silberkleit shared her perspective on this growth, her views on keeping comics relevant to new readers, and how the industry is adapting to a fast-evolving digital medium. Edited excerpts:
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a steady upsurge of interest in comics in India. Is this a global trend, and how do you plan to grow here?
It is so exciting to see that events like the Comic Con are celebrated in other countries (outside the US) as well. The stigma attached to comics has dramatically changed. Comic books are a global visual experience of communication and draw cultural interest. History books, “How To”, self-help books and memoirs, can all be read in this format. This is the era that celebrates and embraces the comic book.
Archie Comics has had a strong presence in India for long now. Om Arora of Variety Books helps us distribute over one million Archie comic books across India every year.
As part of our ongoing partnership, Om has also taken the initiative to publish Archie comic books in Hindi. The launch of the Archie perfume collection by York Perfumes in India and my frequent visits to the country (twice in less than six months) reflect how much our brand is loved here and how much we embrace India.
While there is renewed interest in comics, they’re still a niche media. How do you reach out to new audiences, and keep a new generation reading?
This is an exciting time for comic books. The graphic novel platform is being used widely for scholarly books, memoirs, history books and biographies. I have even seen comic books on criminal justice. Publishers and advertising agencies have long been acknowledging the role of visual literacy in communicating messages and information.
Archie comics continue to be relevant to children even today, given that the stories revolve around school life and teenage drama. The existence of Archie is closely intertwined with the existence of children. Our writers and illustrators have followed a formula for the last seven decades, studying the trends that are popular among young folks and placing them within the plot of the stories.
At the same time, Archie has also been one of the first publishers to deal with adultery, homophobia and racism. How do you balance these things, and how involved are you, as a corporate head, with the content?
The corporate team at the publication is deeply involved in the storytelling aspect. We encourage and embrace new ideas and characters crafted by our creative teams. For example, it was (movie producer) Mike Uslan who came to us with the story idea of “wedding story” (Archie #600—Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty), which led us to diversify into other paths such as Life With Archie.
The wedding story pushed us to recognize that our fans wanted more from the comics as they progressed out of their childhood stage. We have fans starting from the age of 7, all the way up to 70. Life With Archie was written for our fans who were entering adulthood, and were interested in more serious and relevant topics that they could relate to. It is always the right time for Archie, and that is what we strive to give our wide range of fans. Our fans, despite growing up, continue keeping Archie in their hearts.
Is the growing importance of digital media disrupting your business?
As publishers, we understand our customers and the need to provide them with the format in which they want to read. We would like to keep up with the technology trends and at the same time, continue to pay attention to those who prefer to bury their noses in a physical book.
Archie Comics have their own app store online, and the pricing falls in line with all digital comic books. Offering Archie Comics in the digital format is just another way for people to shop for their reading experience.
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Indian comics find their feet
New titles and increasing sales are evidence of an industry in the making.
Social media, online shopping and better tools that empower small publishers, all contribute to India’s growing comic book culture.
Vivek Goel, the artist-publisher who started Holy Cow Entertainment, and has done the art for Ravanayan, a retelling of the Ramayan, says there has been a significant rise of interest in comics over the last couple of years.
Goel and writer Vijayendra Mohanty are a month away from launching the final volume of Ravanayan. Goel says: “This year, for the first time, we were able to sell out completely at Comic Con. At the same time, companies like Flipkart and Homeshop18 also make it possible to publish comics because we don’t have to worry about distribution any more.”
Social media has also helped the comic book industry grow, says Mohanty. He says: “The audience is small, and scattered. You would have a few friends sharing their interest. With social media, fans in Chennai can see people in Delhi dressing up in costumes for Comic Con. A guy in Mumbai will argue with a guy in Kolkata about a comic he reads. It doesn’t stay among just fans then, it spills over and grows in size.”
Adhiraj Singh, who has authored Uud Bilaw Manus along with Abhijeet Kini, says: “Today, there are enough people who are interested in comics that you can make a career out of this. We print small runs and sell them at Comic Con, and the audience is hungry for new content. They want new stories, and they want something whose tone is relatable.”