Few events have audiences as dedicated as those who flock to Comic Cons around the world. India-based fans of the annual pop culture convention have much reason to rejoice this festival season. Comic Con India, which was last held in Ahmedabad in February 2020, is making its long-awaited return. It will take place in Bengaluru in November, New Delhi in December and Mumbai in February next year. We interviewed Comic Con India founder Jatin Varma about the festival’s comeback and how the event and its audiences have evolved over the last decade. Edited excerpts:
How did you choose the cities in which to host Comic Con India this season?
Bengaluru and Delhi are the biggest events in terms of participation and scale. [The attendance figures in] Delhi on a really good day would be upwards of 45,000 people over a three-day period. Bengaluru would be a little over 40,000. In Mumbai, we have had more than 30,000 visitors. We also have most of our key partners and exhibitors at these shows so some of the best experiences for guests are usually in these cities.
Why did you decide to share the dates for Bengaluru and New Delhi way back in April, unlike many other festivals that are announcing their post-pandemic editions just a couple of months in advance.
The core of a Comic Con is an exhibition that has hundreds of exhibitors. It takes a while for people to get on board, get everything in place and for our partners, it is very essential that they have a lead time because experiences, budgeting takes months. For example, for a superhero movie to be promoted at our show, the conversation has to start in April for it to really come to fruition by the time we get to November or December. Even for exhibitors, someone selling really specialised merchandise toys, that shipment has to come in on time, so he has to be prepared. The scale of our show requires a lot of planning so the only debate was ‘Should we announce it publicly, or should we just keep it to the B2B forum that we have?’. We’ve been working on this since January.
Naturally, the audience skews young. How did this affect the decision to restart the festival?
Our core audience in Comic Con is [from the age of] 18 to 36 – college goers and first or second jobbers. But we do get a lot of families, a lot of teens and if we were to have hosted the show last year, we would have made it mandatory for people to be vaccinated. At that point in time, people were still struggling to get vaccinated and [the availability of vaccines for] kids [was] still in limbo. Which is why we had to wait it out.
Comic Con India, which was launched in 2011, has entered its second decade. How has it evolved over the years?
It started with me as a fan wanting to do something fun and it was a very personal thing, but now it’s run by the community that comes to the show, in the sense that what you’re trying to do is make them happy more than yourself. Also, the world has changed massively not just over the past 10 years, but the past two years. Your habits have changed, what people like to watch, what’s working, what’s not working, that’s also changed, in a good way to a certain extent. Something as simple as getting access to things around your favourite franchise, that was a pain when we started. Now it’s not. Obviously there’s still a lot long way to go, but I think the next decade, for us, is going to be scaling this up better, improving it further in terms of how we produce it, bringing more elements that you probably see around the world to India.
How have audience tastes changed?
When we started Comic Con, the interest around manga was still limited. Now it is, I believe, even stronger than the following for Marvel and DC. It’s just that because the penetration of that content is still limited, you don’t see it right in front of you as much as you see DC and Marvel. When a Marvel movie releases, it’s dubbed in five to six languages. I think we’re only a few years away from where you start seeing those anime releases getting the same type of response because there’s already an audience sitting here, which is very, very passionate.
There’s also a whole movement around webtoons and webcomics which has really come up in a big way. You see a lot of Indian web comic creators getting popular and trending around topical, political stuff or in general. There’s a new space in comics now in India. Indian creators are working internationally for places like Image Comics, DC and Marvel and you also have Indian publishers licensing their IPs to make them into OTT series. Things are changing in a nice way.