The story of Fanush and Dhaka ComicsSajid Rahman and Debashish Niloy
Comic books and their iconic characters, the likes of Batman, Superman and Spider Man occupy significant roles in the lives of teenagers and adolescents. For many, the love for the characters doesn’t die out well into adulthood. The young generation is thrilled by the power of the superheroes, and the lives of the comic-centric youth may have been a tad bland has it not been for the existence of the magical world of comics. However, most of these heroic characters are the creation of foreign comic publications. The local comic book industry and characters have not exactly been able to flourish compared to their foreign counterparts, barring the exception of Chacha Chowdhury. Yet, there are demands and promises to satisfy those demands in the local comics industry. Run by young, energetic, creative individuals who are passionate about comics, Fanush and Dhaka Comics are two budding, local comic houses who have been successful in creating a buzz for Bangladeshi comics.
Fanush was founded in mid 2012 by Mehedi Hasan and his four friends Salman, Jamil, Wasiq and Maruf, all of whom are currently undergraduate students and avid comic lovers. According to founder Mehedi, Fanush aspires to create fascinating stories and characters and deliver them in a visual format to comics fans all across Bangladesh. They want to provide the young generation in the country with their very own local comic book heroes. Mehedi reminisces, ‘Long before Fanush started publishing, I used to sit at the tongs(tea stalls) with my friends and we used to come up with these stories for comic books. My dream was given a shape by the business foresight of my fellow co-founders Salman, Jamil and Wasiq.’ The two publications from Fanush so far have been Beeru Mohon and Kopa Shamsu, which have already drawn huge attention from comic book followers and are available online and in listed retailers in Dhaka.
Currently, Fanush team comprises of 15 young talents that include six cartoonists, a graphics designer, a website designer and a story writer along with the founding members serving as the management.
‘The demand for cartoon and comics has always been there in Bangladesh. Just look at the number of people buying DC and Marvel’s comics in Dhaka and watching the Hollywood movies. It’s overwhelming! We want to bring a local flavour to the comics industry and uphold our culture to the younger generation.’ Salman shares with the Youth.
It is an ambitious objective and the task is not simple. The industry is new and small as of yet and the strong presence of the foreign names adds to the difficulty for upcoming local comics publishers to carve a niche. Other difficulties also arise in terms of lack of adequate artists and in raising funds for publishing. Fanush had to wait for a year and a half to release its first publication and the members paid for it through their own pockets. There is also the challenge of managing time as most of the members in Fanush are still students. The majority are studying in various disciplines at Dhaka University, Fine Arts Institute, IBA and Ahsanullah University of Science Technology while three have graduated.
Yet, the team members of Fanush find strength in their strong friendship, professionalism and their willingness to give something new to the audience. According to the founders of Fanush, creating and doing things which nobody dared or cared enough to do is fun and satisfying. ‘We encourage unconventional and creative ideas here at Fanush. We have long hours of brainstorming and R&D before we finalise our story ideas, after which we get down with the penciling, inking and colouring of the comic,’ explained Mehedi. Talking of future plans, Fanush team revealed that it is presently working on the second set of stories on Beeru Mohon and Kopa Shamsu, which they plan to release soon. A third title of Fanush is scheduled to be launched in the Ekhushey Boi Mela in February 2014.
The story of Dhaka Comics, the first comic publisher in Dhaka, is also an interesting one. The comic house was formed to ensure the creative freedom of the cartoonists as existing publishers of the country were reluctant to invest in comic books and thought the market for such publication was not big enough. That’s what propelled four young artists to come together to form Dhaka Comics on the eve of Ekushey Boi Mela 2013, revealed Mehedi Haque, the publisher and one of the founders. The other three co-founders are Arafat Karim, Shamim Ahmed and Syed Rashed Imam.
Dhaka Comics has already published six issues, with plans to publish five more in the upcoming Ekushey Boi Mela. Renowned ones include Tritarium Rohoshsho, Backbenchers’ Club and Rohoshshomoy Chumbuk Dip. With time, the Dhaka Comics team has grown. It currently employs 12 people including eight artists. There are three main divisions: content creation, production, marketing and distribution.
Talking about inspiration, Mehedi Haque says, ‘The main reason behind starting the business is definitely passion for comic books. In addition, there has not been a dedicated comic publishing entity in this country since the early 90s. The only recent comic book publication of the country is Kolpodut, brainchild of deceased cartoonist Tariqul Islam Shanto. We wanted to open the first comics publishing house and set a trend.’
He also added there has not been a structured comics industry in the country and almost all comic enthusiasts are attracted to the foreign publications. The increasing popularity of comic culture and of DC and Marvel in youth’s life, as shown by the Comic cons, encourages Mehedi Haque. At the same time, he has noted that the traditional setup has changed dramatically. ‘People don’t really like to go to a bookstore but rather, they prefer convenience. Apart from the Ekushey Boi Mela, the online book delivery service through Rokomari.com has generated the most sales for Dhaka Comics,’ he adds.
When asked about the creative process, Mehedi Haque said it usually takes 45 to 60 days for a comic book to be ready for sales once the writer has the storyline finalised. From the summary, a script for potential scenes is created. Then, a story board is built with the final version of the story. Once the story is finalised, small thumbnails are sketched on a couple of sheets of paper. Enlarged thumbnails are then used to create the visual outline. Then, the final layout is created and inking is done. Finally, typography and other methods are used to give additional effects if necessary.
Running a comics publication is not easy. ‘The first difficulty is the schedule of the artists. All the creative people in Dhaka Comics have some sort of full-time commitment. Because of that, we have difficulties in timely publications of the series.’ he says. It also explains relatively low number of comics published despite the high demands. Haque adds, ‘The second one is the lack of distribution channels. The book distributors who take the products to the retailers in libraries and book stands, don’t want to carry the comics because of the relatively lower commissions. Also, since the company is not large enough yet, we cannot distribute the products all over the country. That’s why the dependence on online sources.’
In the future, Dhaka Comics wants to expand its horizons beyond the country. West Bengal markets have similar customers and there are no Bangla comic publications there either. In the technology frontier, there are plans to make the comics available as e-books. Dhaka Comics also aims to create a smartphone app too, targeting the tech savvy generation.
Although the local industry here is new, passions run deep and more than make up for the lack of distribution. Fanush and Dhaka Comics both had significant presence in the recent Dhaka comicon and the Unmad-JCC comic con, managing to raise quite a few eyebrows. Perhaps one day, the Bangladeshi comic crowd will fall in love with our homemade heroes just as much as they have with the international ones.
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