REVIEW

Graphic Novel Review: Level 10 Studios' Comic Jump

August 16, 2010
Aaman Lamba

While graphic novels, or comics as they are still called in Indian parlance, have always been popular, and the classic ACK, Indrajal, Raj, and Diamond Comics have long held sway over popular imagination, the local genre mostly escaped the paradigm shifts that occurred in Western comic tradition - firstly the move to artistic, multi-layered genre fiction that turned them into graphic novels and the second, almost tangential tsunami of manga that swept the world. The first attempt at integrating the Western and local traditions came with Virgin Comics in 2006, a collaboration between Richard Branson and Deepak Chopra's Gotham Comics. While initial efforts were promising, the over-engineered blend of Indian mythology and post-modern science fiction didn't last long.

A new and even more compelling local initiative has appeared on the scene, bringing together Desi comic fans, inspired by the melange of creative traditions that characterizes pop culture. Level 10 Studios' first imprint is titled Comic JUMP, structured along the lines of typical manga anthologies, with three or so episodes of different series in each issue. The unit is small and currently self-funded, so kudos to them for this effort. The artwork is sumptuous and visually rich, not quite manga, yet the action-sequences owe a lot to the typical shonen manga series.

The storylines could do with a bit more out of the box thinking. The most original is The Rabhas Incident, an awesome post-zombie apocalyptic adventure, where Bangalore is ground Zero, or more accurately Zone 7, and yet this too, is a somewhat explored topic in different contexts. Allusions abound to other popular culture works, such as World War Z. Bangalore is intricately rendered, and the horror almost palpable. I can't wait to see where this story leads and for more Bangalore zombie art!

Shaurya tells how "five gifted teenagers from different parts of the country, unite to overcome their personal differences and emerge as a unified front to take on the might of a globe-spanning terrorist organization." If this is reminiscent of The X-Men or Heroes, you would not be too far off the mark, with even a shadowy Principal pulling the X-s together.

Northern Song has an intriguing mythological theme with a rakshasa plaguing a village and a mysterious stranger appearing out of nowhere, resolved to rescue them. Wait a minute, haven't we heard that one before? Be that as it may, the story holds some promise with the stranger, Bala, apparently able to converse with the fiendish rakshashas. The second issue takes this story much further and builds up quite some intrigue with the perspective of the 'human who listened to the rakshas inside him'. The series, overall, is off to a good start, and one hopes for more creative innovation, or destruction of stereotypes, as it were, in successive issues. Longevity will come, if it must, and popularity will take its own course. For the sake of Indian creativity at least, this venture must prevail.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of Desicritics.org, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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