We thought we’d seen it all when we found the Komagata Maru Bollywood movie, but then this historic comic book set in India and Canada came across our desk.
Story by Naveen Girn, cultural researcher and historian
Growing up, I loved reading comic books. From Asterisk and Obelisk, to Garfield and Peanuts, I read anything I could get my hands on. I even had a copy of a Green Lantern meets Superman comic that I bought on a family trip to Australia…and mistakenly tried to “colourize” with felt pens. But one of the most prized possession that my sisters and me had were our Amar Chitra Katha comics.
These comics were India’s answer to DC and Marvel, and featured its own host of mythological superheroes along with folktales and historical figures. Although the stated goal of “Uncle” Anant Pai was to educate children about Indian history, these comic books quickly became a cultural phenomenon, selling over 90 million copies, and coveted for their kitsch and nostalgic value.
One afternoon while I was researching the Komagata Maru, I did a random Google search for Komagata Maru images. After scrolling for several minutes I came across something that looked like an illustrated page from a comic book. It was from a digitized version of a 1974 Indrajal comic entitled Komagata Maru.
Indrajal was Amar Chitra Katha’s poorer cousin. Besides featuring fewer titles, they focused on producing comics for one of the earliest comic book superheroes with Indian ancestry, The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks.
Strangely enough I was able to buy a Bengali version of the comic book for a couple of dollars off of eBay. Much like the Komagata Maru movie, Jeevan Sangram, the comic situates the Komagata Maru episode within the larger story of the Gadhar freedom movement. Unlike the movie, the comic tries in large part to focus on actual historical figures like Baba Gurdit Singh. Indrajal Comics were interested in historical, mythological and fantasy stories for children, and this comic presents a history lesson with a message.
While there are some interesting liberties taken with clothing, (ie. you can tell Canadian Sikhs apart from Indian Sikhs through their checkered shirts and floppy hats), the story generally sticks to the major moments of the Komagata Maru and the return journey to India.
It’s a great find for those of you who love reading old comic books and seeing a familiar story seen in a new light. Read the Komagata Maru comic here.
Learn more about the Komagata Maru and early South Asian immigrants to Canada. Visit our special Komagata Maru: We Remember section for stories about history, racism, fashion and film.