Obituary: Narayan Debnath, Creator of India's First Superhero, Passes Away at 97

By: NH Desk
21 Jan 2022 12:46:56 PM Newshound India Desk

In 1965, in the middle of the Naxalite movement in Bengal, young cartoonist Narayan Debnath debuted his Desperate Dan inspired intrepid super strong, bulletproof crime solver Batul the Great, marking the first time a syndicated Indian comic strip featured a superhero.


On Tuesday, days before Batul’s 57th anniversary, Narayan Debnath passed away at 97.


Debnath was born to a family of goldsmiths in 1927. He joined the Deb Shahitya Kutir (one of the most popular publishing houses of Kolkata) as an illustrator in the late 1940s, to no one’s surprise as young Narayan was into the arts from a very young age, and his father used to encourage him. He also ensured that Debnath went to the Indian Art College, which is still not very coveted in middle-class Bengali households. 


A course that Narayan discontinued in his final year.


In the 1950s, Debnath, the illustrator, was offered to challenge him as an artist. He was asked to conceive a comic strip for Deb Shahitya Kutir. “I did not know what that entailed. I decided to fall back on my ability to observe things around me. The peculiarities of people around me. Their habits. Things that made them different, things that made them prototypes,” Debnath told The Indian Express in a 2013 interview.


His strip about the two bumbling boys called Handa and Bhoda attracted instant attention. “My characters were based on observations. I was talking about the boys of those times through these characters. The way they talked and dressed, everything was designed to make them more relevant to the young,” said Debnath.


As years passed, Handa and Bhoda kept pace with the times. “The trick is to never underestimate children,” Debnath used to say.


Consequently, Debnath’s creations have evolved with time. Handa and Bhoda are now food bloggers. Their adventures now include getting in trouble with the authorities over making Instagram Reels on Calcutta’s busiest road. Meanwhile, Batul has been sent to Arunachal Pradesh to kick out Chinese invaders.


But the audience’s love for the characters hasn’t gone down in the least. Once they were on the pages of Suktara or Anandamela magazines, but now, they come out in PDFs on Debnath’s Patreon channel or Facebook page. In his demise, Narayan Debnath has been immortalised across four generations by his works. 

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