Welcome hues of change

Welcome hues of change

Everybody's beloved Amar Chitra Katha is not only trying to move with the times when it comes to storytelling, but also in the depiction of skin colour.

ACK comics

Some months ago, in this column, I wrote about the depiction of skin colour in children’s books, and how it affects children’s self-esteem. In that context, I mentioned Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) comics among those that have equated fair skin with good/beautiful and dark skin with bad/ugly.

Ms Reena Puri, the Editor-in-Chief of Amar Chitra Katha, reached out to me shortly after, wanting to show me “the changes that have happened over the last 10 years, ever since we started creating fresh titles.”

ACK was the love of my childhood, but this colour issue has bothered me all along. So, I was eager to know more.

Regarding skin colouring, Ms Puri said, “What Mr [Anant] Pai created 50 years ago were comics which had a 26 colour palette to choose from and therefore too many colour variations were not possible. It was also a time when good was fair and lovely, and evil was dark and ugly. I am not making excuses for how heroes and villains were depicted then.”

Their new comics have more authentic colouring, and that’s great. But what about those old ones that are still in circulation? That was my biggest concern. To that, she said, “… we have already started the process of recolouring some of them where we think it is important to do so.”

She also pointed out something I hadn’t thought about: “The older comics of ACK are considered classics and are valued as such by aficionados and collectors. There is a huge wave of protest when we recolour any of our comics.”

I understand. After all, I’m of the opinion that classics need to be left alone. But then, I’d been talking about words, not pictures. In this case, in spite of my attachment to the panels in the old titles, I’d welcome recoloured versions.

Ms Puri also said: “We agree that in today's context some of the older comics would seem jarring. Not just the colour but also, in some cases, the representation of women. My team today is very young with all the sensibilities of the younger generation. ACK has seen a sea change in the way its stories are chosen.”

I went through some of the newer titles in the excellent ACK app and was delighted to see the changes. For instance, in mythological titles, Parvati, and some of the goddesses in the interesting title Shakti are portrayed with dark skin. The Valiant Women and Women Path-breakers series that highlight the stories of amazing women of our nation, and the Visionaries series are excellent additions to the ACK bookshelf, and yes, they’re all coloured in various shades of Indian brown.

There’s more. Ms Puri said, “Earlier if we took our stories from the known and popular versions, today we are embracing the variety of storytelling available in our country. We are exploring tribal and lesser known versions of our mythology and telling stories that are far removed from a Valmiki or a Vyasa.”

It’s been tremendously satisfying to see that ACK has been trying to move with the times.

The author has written 12 books for children and can be reached at www.shruthi-rao.com

GobbledyBook is a fortnightly column that gives a peek into the wondrous world of children’s books. Hop on! Or as Alice did, plunge into the rabbit hole.

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