I often run links about India’s comics market while still wondering just how emerging it is, but Ryan Holmberg’s great profile of
Leaping Windows Comics Cafe outside Mumbai explains a lot about both how the “suburbs” work and how India’s middle class is still finding disposable income for things like comics.
I begin with this to preemptively dissuade readers from thinking of Leaping Windows – India’s first comics café, located in Versova, near-ish the sea just northwest of the large and tangled “suburb” of Andheri – through the clichéd American lens of “comics in the suburbs.” Leaping Windows is very much an urban institution. Were it not, it could not exist. Despite being geographically inconvenient for most of Mumbai’s population, Leaping Windows has done well enough to inspire a second outlet in Bangalore. This is thanks to a diversified business model. It not only has a café with a full menu, free wi-fi, and a quietish place for locals to come and chat or work. It also has a library with a collection of some 2,000 comic books (counting only the trade paperbacks and graphic novels) that you can use for 30 INR an hour (that’s 50 cents in your Richie Rich dollar). It also has a membership program through which comics can be borrowed, delivered straight to your door (4500 INR for a one year, approximately 75 USD).
The piece includes an interview with two of the three co-founders, married couple Utsa Shome and Bidisha Basu, who get into the nitty gritty of running the shop, getting books and much more. Like I said, a fascinating look into one of the frontiers of comics worldwide. And yes, the name of the store does refer to kids leaping out windows pretending to be a superhero, a little dark humored for such a labor of love. but don’t underestimate the power of irony.
Of course, some things are universal:
Is there anything that you want to but cannot do in this space, not because of money or time issues, but because of society? Are there certain kinds of comics you cannot stock?
B: We don’t have any yaoi or hentai comics here.
Is that a conscious choice?
B: We had some, but . . . We also had Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, which we put way up on the top shelf. Then we had this illustrated guide to sex.
Everything that we have had that is even vaguely pornographic, actually, has been stolen. So it doesn’t make sense to buy them. Lost Girls was really really expensive. It’s this huge tome. And you have to make sure the kids don’t read them, because those are the first things they want to read.
(Note the above photo of of the second cafe, in Bangalore which Shome says is more of a “reading city.”)