The Legend of Indian Comics
photographed by Arijit Ghosh
Shibpur, Howrah, Bengal, British India
|Awards||President's special recognition award (2007), Sahitya Academy (2013) , Bongobibhushan (2013)|
Narayan Debnath (Bengali: নারায়ণ দেবনাথ born in 1925 ) the senior most 'living legend' comics-artist of India ; is the creator of popular Bengali comics including ‘Handa Bhonda’ (in Shuktara magazine since 1962), ‘Batul The Great’(in Shuktara magazine since 1965) and ‘Nonte Phonte’(in Kishore Bharati magazine since 1969). He is the senior most comics-artist in India aged around 90 years. Mr. Debnath has done ' World Record ' of doing "WORLD'S LONGEST RUNNING COMICS SERIES BY AN INDIVIDUAL ARTIST" (e.g. Handa Bhonda comics series for continuous 52 years).
His other creations include detective ‘Koushik Roy’ (in Shuktara magazine from 1976), ‘Bahadur Beral’ (in Shuktara magazine from 1983), ‘Danpite Khadu aar tar chemical Dadu’ (from 1983 in Chotoder Ashore magazine ), etc. Having contributed to the early development of Bangla comics and its growth in a career spanning more than fifty years, he is still read in West Bengal, India and Bangladesh. Apart from comic books and strips, Narayan Debnath is also an artist who has illustrated several children's novels. Many of his comics are serialized in popular children’s magazines published from Kolkata including Shuktara and Kishor Bharati
His address is 52/2, Shibpur Road, Shibpur, HOWRAH – 711102 (West Bengal) .
In 2011 a large size (500 page) research oriented Comics book on his lifetime art work named "Narayan Debnath Comics Samagra" ( in 4 volumes ; compiled and edited by Santanu Ghosh) was published which includes all his comics characters together for last 50 years. The Executive Board of the Sahitya Akademi chose Narayan Debnath’s Comics Samagra for its Bal Sahitya Puraskar for 2013. In April 2012 first English translated Batul The Great book was published by Lalmati publication kolkata.
Narayan Debnath was born and spent most of his life living in Shibpur, Howrah, India. His family hailed from Bikrampur in what is now Bangladesh but had migrated to Shibpur before his birth. In an interview published in ''Narayan Debnath Comics Samagra'', published by Lalmati, Debnath confessed to being interested in the visual arts from a very early age. The family business was retailing gold and he had ample scope to design patterns for jewelry. Around the time of World War II, Debnath would study fine arts at the Indian Art College for five years. He did not continue to get his degree but instead discontinued in his final year. For the next few years he freelanced for advertising agencies creating movie slides and logos.
In 1950 he was introduced to Dev Sahitya Kuthir, a major publishing house through a friend. People such as Pratul Chandra Banerjee, Shailo Chakraborty, Balaibandhu Roy, and Purnachandra Chakraborti were associated with the press at the time. From 1950 to 1961 he illustrated a number of children’s books including adventure novels and Western classics in translation. His journey in Comics world started in 1962 with Handa-Bhonda in Suktara.
He worked as a 'freelancing' comics-artist (an artist who sells services to publisher to earn livelihood ). However, in the beginning as a struggling 'freelancing' comics-artist he was 'instructed' by the 'employer' publisher to adopt 'well accepted foreign comics' to made comics for their magazine(s) to get easy business success ! Later he started doing comics by his own.
Introduction to comics
The suggestion to work in comics in Bengali came from the editors at Dev Sahitya Kutir. Also the name Handa Bhonda was their suggestion. Debnath had been familiar with foreign made comics but comics in Bengali had, to his admission, yet to take off. Shiyal Pandit [শিয়াল পণ্ডিত], a comic strip created by Pratulchandra Lahiri for the Jugantar newspaper was one of the earliest ones. Handa-Bhonda became an instant success and continues to be printed in Shuktara every month . Handa-Bhonda was initially penciled and inked by Debnath and had no colored frames. Later it would be printed in grayscale.
Narayan Debnath’s first comic characters in color were for the comic strip and book Batul The Great. By Debnath’s admission, he thought up the idea of the superhero while returning from College Street, Calcutta. The name came to him instantly and he thought up the figure of the protagonist rapidly. Initially, he did not know what he foresaw as a future for Batul and did not give him any superpowers.
Development of the genre
When the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, closely associated with the Bangladesh War of Liberation flared up, he was asked by the editors and publishers to add an aura of invincibility. Debnath was reluctant at first because he was worried about legal implications. On assurance, he made Batul a superhero able to take on tanks, airplanes, and missiles. Bullets began to bounce off of him as in the case of Superman. Batul is still drawn by Debnath for Shuktara.
Later, Debnath was approached by Kishor Bharati for a Durga Puja special issue. The noted writer Premendra Mitra was editor at the time. Later, when Dinesh Chandra Chatterjee became editor, Debnath was asked to convert to strip form a detective thriller that he was writing. This metamorphosed into Black Diamond Indrajit Roy. The first serial strip that Debnath began to create for the Kishore Bharati monthly issues was Potolchand The Magician, which ran for about three issues. It seemed as if Dinesh Chatterjee was looking for something along the lines of Handa-Bhonda. Although not in the same mould, Nonte Phonte was born deriving inspiration from Handa Bhonda. Quickly, it developed into a separate storyline and also became published in comic book form.
He is also a great illustrator & an expert in serious drawing too. His work for Tarzan stories, Bengali translation of foreign novels etc. are among his great works of illustration.
- Handa Bhonda, also referred to as Hada Bhoda, Handa-Bhonda and Hada-Bhoda [হাঁদা-ভোঁদা]
- Batul The Great, also referred to as Bantul The Great [বাঁটুল দি গ্রেট]
- Nonte Phonte, also spelled as Nonte Fonte, Nonte-Phonte, and Nonte-Fonte [নন্টে-ফন্টে]
- Black Diamond Indrajit Roy [ব্ল্যাক ডায়মন্ড ইন্দ্রজিৎ রায়]
- Potolchand The Magician
- Koushik Roy [কৌশিক রায়]
- Bahadur Beral [বাহাদুর বেড়াল]
- Daanpite Khandu Ar Tar Chemical Dadu [ডানপিঠে খাঁদু আর তার কেমিক্যাল দাদু]
- Petuk Master Batuklal [পেটুক মাস্টার বটুকলাল]
- Sutki-Mutki [সুটকি-মুটকি]
In 2011 his collection of eminent & rare works both is published from Lalmati Publication under the Name - "NARAYAN DEBNATH COMICS-SAMAGRA" (vol 1 - 4). The Executive Board of the Sahitya Akademi chose Narayan Debnath’s Comics Samagra for its Bal Sahitya Puraskar for 2013. This Compilation of works of the comic book artist in a first in the history of Indian comics, which includes Comics of different characters, Cartoon strips, unpublished comics like advertisements comics, adventure comics, horror comics, mystery comics, historical comics, pictorial puzzles, illustration, brief biography of the artist, research on his 50 years of art work.
Collections of Debnath’s comics have been published serially in Shuktara and Kishor Bharati and irregularly in Kishore mon, Chotoder asor, Pokhkhiraj etc.. His comic books featuring Handa Bhonda, Batul the Great and Nonte Phonte have been published since the early 1980s. Since the late 1990s, the Nonte Phonte comics have been anthologized and published in softcover format. From 2003 onwards, the earlier comics have been re-inked and published in full-color, Recently, Debnath gave permission for animation film based on the characters from Batul The Great, Handa Bhonda and Nonte Phonte, and these provide access to the original stories to a whole new generation of children. Narayan Debnath's Handa Bhonda and Nonte Phonte are now also downloadable through an Android app published by Comixphere.com.
Debnath's style incorporating characters speaking in the typical language of Adda (quintessential Bengali gossip lasting hours) and hundreds of nonstandard yet most commonly used in daily life expletives like "Uls" (describing reaction to a delicious food) or Aoofs,Yiofs,arghhh(similar to ouch).
Subtle punning is also aplenty in his comics but the main source of comedy is Slapstick.
Though his comic characters have immense popularity, Narayan Debnath himself has rather lived reclusively, distancing himself from publicity and media.
- Sufi cartoonist.
References and notes
Online references are few and far between. Although often mentioned in English language blogs and on discussion forums, there is a scarcity of primary literature on Narayan Debnath or his creations in English. The best references are in Bengali and are the following two works (both available online)
- A lengthy interview in Bangla conducted by Parabaas by Chironton Kundu in 2001. Accessed on September 16, 2006
- Short biographical sketch and substantial body of original comics are available online at the Banglalive site. Accessed on September 16, 2006
- http://www.telegraphindia.com/1071111/asp/calcutta/story_8533502.asp (renowned Bengali cartoon-illustrator Debasish Deb on Narayan Debnath and Bantul...)
More links that are referred above.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Narayan Debnath.|