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Thursday, October 29, 2020

King and the ghost

The death of Sankar, creator of Vikram-Betaal, marks the passing of a glorious moment in storytelling for children.

By: Editorial | Updated: October 2, 2020 8:49:32 am
Collections in several Western museums have uncomfortable histories.

A swashbuckling king dressed in red and gold, sword in hand, corpse swung over his shoulder — before digital distractions cut into the business of children’s magazines, several generations of young readers grew up with this image of King Vikramaditya and Betaal from the Vikram-Betaal series in the Chandamama comics. The man behind this iconic image, artist Karatholuvu Chandrasekaran Sivasankaran, 96, passed away in Chennai this week.

The last of the original team that had built up the hugely popular children’s magazine, the death of Sivasankaran, or Sankar as he was popularly known as, marks the end of a glorious chapter in children’s magazines in India. When it was launched in 1947 by Telugu film producers B Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani, Chandamama was an instant success. From folktales to mythology, epics to parables, the monthly magazine was the first of its kind to put together a selection of original and retold children’s stories, whose popularity ensured a surge in readership across the newly-independent country. At its peak and over its seven-decade journey that culminated in 2013, Chandamama was published in 13 languages, and it was Sankar’s vivid visuals that ran like a unifying thread around its diverse readership. Sankar came to Chandamama after a five-year stint with another prominent Tamil magazine, Kalaimagal, but, at the children’s magazine, he finally found a home. His initial line drawings would soon be replaced by full-blown illustrations, the near monochromes exchanged for vibrant water colours. In tone, texture and sensibility, Sankar’s illustrations were deeply rooted in the contemporary Indian ethos. Together with Chithra, the chief illustrator of the magazine, Sankar would create a template that would survive the vicissitudes of time and commerce.

In the twilight of his career, Sankar had moved to a religious magazine, but his work at Chandamama remains his legacy. For fans of Chandamama, and of the Vikram-Betaal series, the image of a dashing king looking over his shoulder in an eerie crematorium will forever remind them of the man whose artistry held them in thrall in their wonder years.

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