Almost a decade back, cartoonist Mehedi Haque had planned to publish comic books. He was already a prominent name in cartoonist circles. He approached numerous publishers but almost no one believed in the potential of comic books.
"Expensive and uncertain" is what many publishers used as a reply to a hopeful Mehedi.
"Comics cannot thrive if they do not get a dedicated publishing house. So be it," Mehedi told himself when he decided to start his own comics publishing house. He named it after the city that feeds him - Dhaka Comics.
Ahsan Habib, one of the pioneers of the comics scene in Bangladesh, was adamant that Mehedi and his associates start a dedicated comic book house.
"If you cannot show people that we are writing comics, you cannot expect them to publish your work," he suggested.
On January 13, Dhaka Comics is going to step into its ninth year. On the occasion, its founder, Mehedi Haque, spoke to The Business Standard about his journey in the comic book publishing scene.
In 2013, Mehedi initiated the publication of four comic titles in the Ekushey book fair from Dhaka Comics. "We have always had a comic book reader base here. But it was mostly for kids - funny stuff like Chacha Chowdhury or Pinky. What we wanted was to reach the adult readers with more complex and mature stories," Mehedi said.
Mehedi had convinced the press owner that he would pay him the due money once he had sold the comics in the fair. The sale turnover was satisfactory. People seemed to love the new comic titles. Mehedi was successful in paying the press owner with the sales revenue. This was a win-win situation for both the parties.
Mehedi believes the readership of comics is bigger in Kolkata compared to Bangladesh, only because there are established comics publishers there. "With Dhaka Comics, we wanted to do something similar here," he said.
"One thing is, the Kolkata-based comics are mostly adaptations of famous literary fictions. In our case, Dhaka Comics is publishing original series," Mehedi added.
Dhaka Comics has been taking part in the Ekushey book fair since 2016 with their dedicated stall. "Dhaka Comics is the only comic book publisher in the Ekushey book fair. This is a matter of pride for the artists and comic geeks," Mehedi said.
Besides comics, Dhaka Comics has also marketed merchandise of their original comic characters. Durjoy - an action-thriller series protagonist created by artist Touhidul Islam Sampad - was launched as an action figure in the Ekushey book fair in 2019.
Mehedi said the response for the Durjoy figure was phenomenal, considering the niche following of collectibles. "This is just the beginning. We are gearing up to launch more toys in the near future," Mehedi said while speaking about Dhaka Comics' plan.
He added, "Sampad, the creator of Durjoy, made the 3D model for the figurine himself. Very soon, the readers will see more merchandise of their very own Bangladeshi comics characters."
Amid the pandemic, Dhaka Comics provided free PDF downloads of select comics titles so their fans can read the comics. Later, the publishing house went on to monetise digital copies of the comics which sold sizable units online.
"The most surprising thing about selling digital comics is, expat Bangladeshis showed tremendous interest. It is great to see readers are getting habituated to pay for PDF copies," Mehedi said. He is hopeful that the 78 published titles so far will touch the hundredth milestone within the 10th anniversary of Dhaka Comics.
Besides his role as a publisher, Mehedi is working towards finishing the last part of his graphic novel titled "Ruhan Ruhan", an adaptation of the sci-fi novel by Muhammad Zafar Iqbal.
"I am drawing one page of Ruhan Ruhan everyday. I believe the last part will be published in the next Ekushey book fair," he said.
Mehedi Haque thinks artists can be relieved of pressure if they hold the rights to their creation.
"All of the titles of Dhaka Comics are creator-owned comics, so artists do not have any creative dispute or feel pressured in some way," Mehedi explained.
"We pay the writer-artists on a royalty-basis. Let's just say, if we print 2,000 copies of a series, we consider that it is already sold and the artist will immediately get the royalty."