We explore how and why fan-fuelled trade show ComicCon India switched up pop culture across the country
A lot can change in 10 years, and for ComicCon India founder Jatin Varma, it is the fans that shape popular culture.
It is not just the inclination of the fan, but their personal lives too, he points out, in an interview with MetroPlus. “We see couples who met at ComicCon India who are married now and still attend. We’ve had a lot of young parents — who’ve been attending since our first convention — come in with their kids now! In fact, in our first year, a couple dressed its newborn as Krishna in the first ComicCon India and now the grown kid sees those photos and complains, ‘why did you do that?’ It’s hilarious, but also touching to see how far we have come. Plus, I feel old now!”
ComicCon India (CCI) has been an oasis for India’s ‘pop culture micro-populations’ that share the love for anything geeky. While chances of a tour this year are low owing to the pandemic, 2021 still marks 10 years of the massive trade show’s being.
CCI has seen significant growth so far and Jatin says, “The key catalyst is the evolving fan. As fans get more intense and passionate about what they like and how they want to get a piece of it, everything comes together. Fans have pushed things forward as they accessed new worlds through the Internet.”
Jatin says that as a platform, CCI had to address this new supply chain of popular culture because the country no longer wants to be in a bubble where the West has access to everything.
Lately, it has been cyclical; the fan is now empowered to ask for what they want: access to storytelling platforms, cosplay materials and more. “For most people trying to enter the Indian market — whether they are international or Indian players in content or art — we actually ended up being a test dipstick area where they would gauge interest for their work,” he recalls.
Jatin explains that for the first two years, no one in India could get access to licensed merchandise, which led to a lot of bootleg products or imports from private entities, which would inevitably mark up the selling price. Now, do a simple web search to buy authentic goods for the same cost. “To find out what is niche in terms of an India fanbase, we have to do a ‘backward search’,” he points out. Part of this has been introducing CCI in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, with last year being a first for Ahmedabad.
CCI has birthed burgeoning markets for prop-making, game design, motion capture, concept art, and more.
Medha Srivastava, a cosplayer, concept artist and illustrator in Mumbai, states she has never experienced a career trajectory quite like the one after appearing at ComicCon India, “because of the growing awareness around how serious the cosplay profession is. My parents are able to see tangibly how I have made it a career.” As an illustrator, she delved into character design. She now works with advertising agencies and film teams, as well as cosplaying.
Medha Srivastava in cosplay
Within this space, CCI diverged the cosplay contests according to the fan type: novice and professional.
Jatin reasons, “We did not want to intimidate the ‘casual fans’ because cosplay is supposed to be about fun.” Medha agrees, “All professionals start somewhere and CCI has to highlight the novices too.”
They both bring up Sameer Bundela from Mumbai, who is the reigning cosplay champion. Jatin explains, “Sameer came to the first show as a volunteer but was asked to cosplay to engage a conversation. He came dressed as Rorschach from Watchmen and did a good job! He’s now a VFX artist, a prop-maker, does costumes for films and Ad agencies, on top of being a professional cosplayer.”
Medha points out, “As cosplayers, we also found ourselves help shape the pop culture discourse for the following years, so we have a lot of talks with Jatin and the team about the future. But in the future, I would love to see a woman win CCI’s cosplay championship. It can happen!”
CCI has made for not just remarkable business collaborations but some pretty solid friendships. Jatin loves watching this happen at every city’s event. “We’ve seen groups and clubs — from comic book collectors to cosplayers — made by people who connected at the show, and they organise meets among themselves. They become the uber fans who have to be catered to well by the IP owners who want to break into the market.”
Then there is the side of CCI we do not see: the business side. Fans often forget this is a big job for many involved. Convention culture is a big part of the future of entertainment, and these trade shows are no small feat; everyone on board has to research relentlessly, and be detail-oriented, especially when it comes to collaborations.
“I think the success of a convention is based not just on us organising it, but also on the people participating and how well they’re doing to engage fans. It is easy to set up a stand or an experience for a video game or a film, but you have to ensure that whoever is in that zone leaves with a memorable experience.”
Jatin explains that over the years, they have gone to all lengths to find right partners and convince them that CCI is the place to be — an advertisement is too clinical, he states, and the connection quality needs to be more personable for the collaboration to take root.