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Comic King Narayan Debnath has been awarded Padmashri

26 January, 2021 14:26:29
Comic King Narayan Debnath has been awarded Padmashri

“Finally, they have chosen me?” That was the first question that Narayan Debnath asked after being chosen as a Padmashri awardee this year. For a man who over 70 years has dedicated his life into creating landmark Bengali comic strips like ‘Bantul the Great’, ‘Nante Fante’ and ‘Handa Bhonda,’ this award indeed comes late. But better late than never. Debnath holds the record of longest running comics by any individual artist and that refers to his ‘Handa Bhonda’ series, the first and only Indian comics artist to have received a DLitt. Even at 97, he sits at his desk regularly and tries to churn out stories, though on some days he goes blank.

Shuktara or Kishore Bharati (which published Nonte Fonte and Patalchand the Magician), which continue to be published till date, Debnath’s comics have been a household item in Bengal for generations. He started his career as a calligrapher in the 1950s, moved to illustrating books before entering the world of comics in the 1960s.

The length, breadth and depth of Debnath’s work is unfathomable. He created a bunch of comic strips including Handa Bhonda, Batul The Great, the heroic muscleman created in 1965 and ofcourse the all-time favourite Nonte Fonte. These comics have been serially published for over four to five decades entertaining more than 3 generations of readers. And each character created by Debnath has a historical reason to be created. Take for example Batul the Great, a character interestingly dipped in nationalism. During the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, Batul made his debut as an all-powerful Indian vanquishing the enemy. While Nonte Fonte (created in 1969), kept their hostel superintendent on his toes. Patalchand the Magician (created in 1969), a young neighbourhood magician whose powers solve local problems. Danpite Khadu aar tar Chemical Dadu (created in 1983), and their weird inventions trying to protect the masses from disease and destruction and finally Petuk Master Batuklal (created in 1984), the last of Debnath’s serialised creations, on a greedy schoolteacher trying to steal food. 

For all those who were ardent fans of Shuktara would remember how they waited for almost 55 years to get their daily dose of Handa Bhonda. In 2017, Debnath stopped work on Handa Bhonda, creating a world record for the longest-running comic strip as a solo writer-artist, ahead of two of the world’s most popular and longest comic strips written and drawn by a solo writer-artist including Johnny Hart’s BC (49 years; 1958-2007) and Hank Ketchum’s Dennis the Menace (43 years; 1951-1994).

Thanks to magazines with a loyal audience of children and teenagers, such as Shuktara or Kishore Bharati (which published Nonte Fonte and Patalchand the Magician), which continue to be published till date, Debnath’s comics have been a household item in Bengal for generations. He started his career as a calligrapher in the 1950s, moved to illustrating books before entering the world of comics in the 1960s. Aesthetically, his best work includes his sharp illustrations for Bengali genre fiction along with comics in the detective, adventure and horror genres, some of which he also wrote.

The length, breadth and depth of Debnath’s work is unfathomable. He created a bunch of comic strips including Handa Bhonda, Batul The Great, the heroic muscleman created in 1965 and ofcourse the all-time favourite Nonte Fonte. These comics have been serially published for over four to five decades entertaining more than 3 generations of readers.

What many are not aware of is that Debnath wrote detective stories too. Notable among them are a 14-story series featuring the detective Koushik Roy, written by himself, and Indrajit Ray o Black Diamond (1970), a black-and-white film noir-inspired detective comic book, written by Dilip Chattopadhyay.

Making his debut in 1975 with the story Sorporajer Dwipe (In the Island of the Snake King), Koushik Roy was introduced as a secret agent working for the Indian intelligence service. Koushik’s right hand is made of steel, which helps shoot bullets, fire laser beams, and release sleeping gas. He is also adept at martial arts. What popularised Debnath’s comics are snide remarks featuring rhyming words and funny alliterative names, that will probably outlive the creator. 

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  • Narayan Debnath, Padmashri Award

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