On the top of every Diamond Comics’ Chacha Chaudhary comic book in English, readers would find printed in a curiously scribbly-looking font: Pran’s. The iconic red-turbaned character, with a white walrus-handlebar moustache forever covering his upperlip and a “brain that works faster than a computer”, was created in 1969 for the Hindi magazine Lotpot by Pran Kumar Sharma, who passed away on Tuesday evening from cancer. Pran was no doubt a gifted cartoonist; that is evident not just in how widely the Chacha Chaudhary universe was absorbed by readers—as late as 2001, a research paper on comic books in Asia claimed that Chaudhary was the most recognisable comic character for 10- to 13-year-olds in India—but also in the success the other characters he created. Billoo, Pinki and others—each had or still have their independent line.
However, much of Pran’s genius lay in how he managed to create characters that have found favour with succeeding generations. He always created the most relatable characters—Billoo, the lanky, cricket-loving teenager; Pinki, the naughty 5-year-old girl; Shrimatiji, the middle-class housewife—while demonstrating similar talent with the fantastical (Sabu, the giant from Jupiter who accompanies Chaudhary; Raaka, the gigantomorphic antagonist in the Chaudhary universe). There was no superpowers or brawn on display in Pran’s pages, except perhaps when Sabu got angry (and “a volcano erupted somewhere”) or Raaka wreaked havoc. Just simple plot lines that did not undermine the showcasing of humour that was equal doses slapstick and earthy wit. Starting out as a cartoonist with the Delhi-based newspaper Milap, Pran ended up creating Indian comic characters that competed with the best of the West—Phantom (published by Diamond Comics), Tintin, Archie et al—and later, with Indian action cartoon characters (Nagraj, Dhruv and others) for readership. Today, their appeal survives their creator.