Indrajal Comics was a series launched by the publisher of The Times of India, Bennet, Coleman & Co in March 1964. The first 32 issues contained Lee Falk’s The Phantom stories, but thereafter, the title alternated between various King Features characters, including Lee Falk’s Mandrake, Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby and Phil Corrigan, Roy Crane’s Buz Sawyer, Allen Saunders’ Mike Nomad, Kerry Drake, and Steve Dowling’s Garth. Later it also published Bahadur, an Indian comic hero created by Aabid Surti.
In March 1964, the publisher of The Times of India, Bennet, Coleman & Co., launched a new series called Indrajal Comics. The first 32 issues contained “The Phantom” stories, but thereafter, the title alternated between various King Features characters, including Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Mike Nomad and Buz Sawyer, as well as the Publishers Syndicate character Kerry Drake. In 1976, the distinctly Indian character, Bahadur, joined the rotation. Stories involving “The Phantom,” Flash Gordon and Mandrake emphasized their roles as heroes, with special powers, talents or sci-fi tools. The remaining characters in the Indrajal universe played out more conventional detective and crime stories.
Indrajal Comics commenced with a monthly schedule. The first 10 issues devoted 16 pages to The Phantom, so many of the stories were edited to fit this format. Twelve pages were devoted to general knowledge (Gold Key style) and other stuff. The next 19 issues were 20-24 pages. Beginning with issue #29, Indrajal standardised on the conventional 32 page format. The series switched to fortnightly publication from #35on 1 Jan 1967 (released on the 1st and 15th of each month). Mandrake made his first of many appearances in #46 (15 Jul 1967).Indrajal Comics changed to a weekly schedule from #385 on November 1–7, 1981(The Embers of Fury, Part I).This issue featured “The Phantom” once again.Starting with #789 on 20 Aug 1989(Vol 26 No 33), the series once again returned to a fortnightly schedule with 36 pages each.
On 1981, yearly subscriptions could be purchased for rupees 64.Each issue was individually numbered until 2 Jan 1983 when the editors decided to use a volume and number typical of periodical publications. Hence, #444 was identified as Vol.20 No.1 and so forth.The front cover design was also changed, with the introduction of the distinctive Indrajal Comics banner.
The cover artwork for the first 50 or so issues of Indrajal Comics was done by B.Govind, with the back cover featuring a pin-up poster. Govind’s painted covers are highly regarded amongst Indian Phantom fans, and are on par with those of George Wilson for the Gold Key series and the Avon novels from the USA. The Indrajal Comics were a full-colour production from #8 onwards, with The Phantom’s costume being coloured blue for the first 10 issues in the series, but thereafter the colour was changed to the more traditional purple. Several of the covers (e.g. #1, #9, #10 and #13) even dared to show The Phantom’s eyes.
Because of The Phantom’s close connection to India, the editors made several “politically correct” changes to places and names—Bengali became Denkali (there are no pygmy people in Bengal, which would have puzzled Indian readers); the Singh Brotherhood were known as “Singa” pirates; and Rama (the murderer of the 20th Phantom) became Ramalu, even though Ramalu is also a common Indian name.
For some strange reason, Ray Moore’s work was never popular in India. Only a few of the stories in which Moore was assisted by Wilson McCoy, were ever published in the Indrajal Comics. Ray Moore classics such as “The Singh Brotherhood” were never heard of by the majority of Indian Phantom fans. Instead, the editors relied heavily on Wilson McCoy and Sy Barry stories, in addition to most of the stories from the American Phantom comics produced by Gold Key / King / Charlton. Indrajal also published one story created by Team Fantomen in Sweden (Vultures Over Vacul from Nr.18/1976 was reprinted in #341-342).
A total of 803 Indrajal Comics were published, excluding #123 and #124 which were not printed due to industrial strike action. More than half of these issues contained Phantom stories.
Indrajal goes regional
The first regional version came in Bengali from January,1966 and the Indrajal #23 was #1 in Bengali – A Search for “Indrajal” Returns the registered publications for different languages (Marathi, Hindi, English, Bengali, Malayalam, Kannada, Gujrati and Tamil). One of the first was Kannada (called Canarese by the English), spoken in the state of Karnataka, in South India. The first Kannada Phantom was published on 1 May 1980 (see below), commencing with a 3-part version of the daily story Return to Tarakimo (D138) retitled as Return of the Ghost. Amusingly, “The Phantom” was called “Betal” (pronounced as bay-ta-la) … or “Ghost” in Kannada. After a few issues, the editors at Indrajal must have realised their mistake and thereafter called him “Fantom” for a while before finally settling on “Phantom”.
History of the Back-up Features
In addition to the main story, the books had various newspaper humour strips,short stories & GK kind of stuffs as the back-up features. The most notable ones were “Henry”, “Chimpoo”, “Timpa”, “Capree(animal world)”, “Ancient World History”, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and many more. Advertising pages were, reserved in all of the published issues, featured classic Indian brands like “Parle,” BSA,” Nutramul”, “Gold-spot”, “Gems”, “Poppins”, “Kissan” etc.
Starting with #789 on 20 Aug 1989 (Vol 26 No 33), the series briefly returned to a fortnightly schedule with 36 pages each, before the publishers decided to cancel the series in their 27th year of production. The last issue was #805, published on 16 Apr 1990 (Vol 27 No 8:Dara:The Jaws of Treachery).