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MUTHU-LION [1]

MUTHU/LION COMICS AN INTRODUCTORY ARTICLE BY S. J. VIJAYAN,PUBLISHER.

This article is based on one printed in the now no longer available WORLD'S COMIC #3 by Editor & Publisher,Mr S. J. Vijayan.

Tamil -an ancient language with a proud heritage is the language of the southernmost state on India:Tamil Nardu.

For a long time comics for the Tamil readers meant a few tiers of cartoons tucked in the pages of newspapers.  All this changed at the start of the 1970s when Muthu Comics broke fresh ground -publishing licensed material from Fleetway Ltd.,of England.

This was a pioneering effort in bringing a full length comic book with outstanding artwork and excellent adventure stories to the Tamil household.  Priced at a [now] stunning 90 paise cover price [a penny!],each issue of Muthu Comics had 128 pages and a soft cover.

Mr M. Soundrapandian was the Editor and driving force behind the whole venture.

The first issue had the STEEL CLAW -a secret agent with an artificial steel hand and incredible powers of invisibility. Dubbed "Irumbakkai Mayavi",he was a smash hit and to this day is still numero uno for the Tamil comic fan. There followed numerous indigenous creations along the lines of the STEEL CLAW flooding the market. Putting a guy with an iron hand on your comic's cover seemed to be a recipe for instant success! Such was the character's popularity.

BARRACUDA

Several more of Fleetway's stable of action heroes followed with equal success. A dashing pair of secret agents,BARRACUDA & FROLLO;as well as the JAMES BOND-like JOHNNY NERO,were the prominent hits.

Soon,popular heroes from King Features Syndicate appeared -THE PHANTOM,MANDRAKE,RIP KIRBY,BUZZ SAWYER,SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN and CISCO KID. Since these stories were basically newspaper strips,they were of different lengths and often filler pages had to be used to complete an issue. KAPISH -a tail of a monkey with a magical tail and created by Indian artists- was ideally suited for this purpose.

In many ways Muthu Comics was a trend-setter for Tamil comics. It provided clean fun -scantily clad women in the stories were even given a modest covering-up by staff artists!  Excellent translation into Tamil and allways low-priced.  Every other comic publisher that came onto the scene tried imitating Muthu's style and content.

[left]BARRACUDA

However,basically all the stories that Muthu published dished up detective stories laced with action -PHANTOM and MANDRAKE being exceptions. So,once Fleetway's popular detective stories were exhausted,Muthu found itself in a vacuum of sorts. War stories,Western action,cartoons and sci-fi strips were hardly tried and naturally there was an ebb in interest.

In the early 1980s,Muthu tried its hand very briefly at a weekly comic entitled "MUTHU COMICS VARAMALAR" [MCV]. This title was on the lines of the British comic weeklies of the 1970s,such as TIGER,VALIANT and so on;several stories running along week-to-week.

MCV had 8 colour pages and 8 black and white pages  with a rock bottom price of 60 paise.  The STEEL CLAW once again occupied centre stage and a comic adaption of the kung fu master Bruce Lee also featured prominently.  Some Indian created humour and adventure strips completed the package.

Although MCV was well received Muthu could not maintain the weekly schedule and was soon shelved.

[Left]THE SPIDER.......IN RED?!!

Things were rather humdrum,comic-wise,up until around 1984. There were hardly any other comics on the market until LION COMICS made its debut in July,1984. At the helm was a teen-age Editor --S. Vijayan!

LION COMICS started off with MODESTY BLAISE [branded "The Lady James Bond"!] and contained 64 pages for just 2 rhupees. MODESTY BLAISE featured again in issue #2 but it was with #3 that LION COMICS took wings!

"THE INCREDIBLE SPIDER" was published in pocket book format.  The SPIDER was no hero! He was a costumed crook with a devious mind and a gun that could shoot huge balls of web to trap his foes. The foes were often weirder,but in the battles that followed justice was allways served. The SPIDER was a smash hit.

Next in line was ROBOT ARCHIE -a metal man with a knack for time-travel. This was another big hit with the younger readers.

[Left]IRUMBUKKAI MAYAVI -THE STEEL CLAW!

Lion Comics followed no set format and kept juggling about with its size,price and so on -but selected some lively strips and was very popular.  Special numbers for holidays,annuals,etc.,were published frequently and this was something Tamil comics had never before experienced.  It created a buzz amongst the comic fans.

In September,1985,a milestone of sorts was set when Lion Comics published the adventures of TEX WILLER,a dashing cowboy. This was the first time a comic from a non-English source was reprinted in Tamil. TEX WILLER was a terrific hit right away and is undoubtedly one of the best action heroes around.

Once Lion had gotten into European comics there was no turning back!  An avalanche of new heroes like DANGER DIABOLIK;DR JUSTICE zoomed in -and in January,1986,a new comic titled "THIHIL" [meaning "Horror"] was launched.  This was a collection of short horror stories with vivid illustrations -from Fleetway [who else!]. The title was in a larger format;the first three issues were of the same format and content.  However,readers who had been fed with a staple diet of full length stories for years could not find much joy in the short story collections.

[Left] MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN -did I really need to tell you that?!!

So,with issue #4,it was back to the tried and trusted format -this time with PAUL FORAN,a detective from the Belgian galaxy of stars. THIHIL unfolded some of the finest of European comic art when it published XIII -a dramatic series by William Vance and Jean Van Hamme.  This award winning series captured the Tamil fans like no other before!

More great action stories with great artwork followed  with the likes of BOB MORANE,RIC HOCHET,BERNARD PRINCE,BRUNO BRAZIL and others finding their way into THIHIL.  BATMAN,from DC,was another noteworthy addition.

In January,1987,"JUNIOR LION COMICS",a new comic exclusively for cartoons and "MINI LION",a pint-sized mag for short action tales were introduced.

The first issue of JUNIOR LION COMICS had the international favourite LUCKY LUKE -in full colour and for only 2 rs! One dares say that this will stand as an unsurpassed feat because virtually nobody can ever again do a multi-colour issue at this price!  This was the first taste of a full length cartoon story for Tamil readers -and there was an over-whelming response.

This was a period in which Tamil readers had a choice like never before to savour the very best of the world of comics.

[Left]JAMES BOND

JUNIOR LION and MINI LION merged into one comic from issue #5 onwards.  More popular cartoon characters like CHICK BILL,SUSKE & WISKE and even Walt Disney's UNCLE SCROOGE were roped in. But the momentum could not be maintained for long and the comic was soon shelved. The cartoon heroes switched over to LION COMICS and began appearing sporadically therein.

Meanwhile,LION COMICS was going great guns and, in October,1987,published a "DIWALI SPECIAL" [a festival issue],which,to date,remains the thickest comic ever published for children in Tamil with 532 pages [10 stories],several in multi colour and priced at 10 Rs!

It was a period when Lion Comics could do nothing wrong!

[Left] THE AMAZING "XIII"

All this time Muthu Comics was plodding along without much ado,and in 1987 was merged into the Lion Comics family.  Fresh blood was infused in the form of JAMES BOND,SHERLOCK HOLMES,PERRY MASON and LT BLUEBERRY,and all the while it kept reprinting its older STEEL CLAW hits as well.

The 1990s saw a gradual petering out of interest in comics reading with the advent of cable tv into India,as well as a glut of movie based entertainment programmes. The Indian economy was opened up and the Indian currency fell steeply in relation to the US dollar and UK Sterling. This made royalty payments to companies very expensive and put Lion and Muthu Comics into a paucity of quality material.

So,it was back to the comparatively low priced American newspaper material and 1960s UK  material laced with occasional special issues carrying LUCKY LUKE or TEX WILLER.

Tardiness in keeping up with issue publishing dates had been a chronic bug-bear all along and was more rampant in the 1990s.

Things have gone a full circle and Muthu Comics and Lion Comics are back in the starting blocks now.  Fresh terms have been negotiated with understanding European publishers and January,2002 was slated as the date for a revamped pair of comics to do their stuff again.

TEX WILLER is going to spearhead the show for Lion Comics and YOUNG BLUEBERRY for Muthu Comics.  A bigger format,a better cover price and top draw comic stories are being planned.

Hopefully,this will be the start of a major second innings............

..............we have our fingers crossed!