Fans mourn Narayan Debnath, creator of the first Bengali comic book superhero Global Voices

Narayan Debnath in his study. 2011. Image via Wikipedia by Bonyoraj. CC BY 3.0.

Indian comic artist, writer and illustrator Narayan Debnath was possibly not known internationally, but he is hailed as the father of Bengali-language comics. His popular comics such as Handa Bhonda (1962), Bantul the Great (1965) and Nonte Phonte (1969) popularized Bengali comics and entertained Bengali children and teenagers in India and Bangladesh for generations. On January 18, 2022, Debnath died at the age of 96. in a hospital in Kolkata after a long illness. His fans on social media mourn this void in the world of Bengali comics.

Reporter Monideepa Banerjie from Kolkata thanked him:

Entrepreneur Boria Majumdar recalls the impact of Debnath’s cartoon characters on his childhood:

Researcher Swati Moitra also agrees:

Hulo = cat

Debnath was born in 1925 in Shibpur, Howrah, near Kolkata, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. During World War II, he studied fine arts at the Indian Art College but did not complete his studies. He started his freelance career for advertising agencies creating logos. During the 1950s, he illustrated several children’s books, including adventure novels and the translation of international classics for a major publishing house Dev Sahitya Kutir.

His legendary creations

Handa Bhonda: His first comic Handa Bhonda debuted in 1962 in the Bengali children’s monthly Shuktara, also published by Dev Sahitya Kutir. The story is about two young boys similar to the characters of Laurel and Hardy. The skinny and mischievous Handa always tries to cause trouble for his bulky friend Bhonda, however, the humble Bhonda always comes out victorious.

Handa Bhonda is the oldest Bengali comic written by a solo writer-artist and has been published for over five decades.

Here is an animated episode of the series:

Bantul the Great: Bantul (Batul) is the first Bengali comic superhero to defend people against thieves and hooligans since 1965, and he also appears in Shuktara magazine. The big-bodied, muscle-muscled character was influenced by Debnath’s friend, the famous Bengali bodybuilder Manohar Aich. But Bantul didn’t have any superpowers yet. During the Bangladesh Liberation War and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, editors and publishers asked Debnath to make Bantul invincible. The character had an incredibly powerful physique and bullets had been bouncing off him ever since.

The series is also broadcast on Indian television:

Not Phoned: Nonte Phonte began appearing in the monthly children’s magazine Kishore Bharati in 1969. These are the fun adventures of two young boys Nonte and Fonte, who keep their boarding school superintendent on his toes.

Sandip Talukdar tried to translate a page from Nonte and Fonte comics for international readers.

Devarsi Ghosh from Indian news portal shares other lesser-known Debnath characters:

Patalchand the Magician (established in 1969), a young neighborhood magician whose powers solve local problems; Bahadur Beral (created in 1982), a marvelous cat too intelligent for its own good; Danpite Khadu aar tar Chemical Dadu (established 1983), a Rick and Morty-like couple consisting of a young boy and his scientist grandfather whose bizarre inventions are central to the stories; and Petuk Master Batuklal (established in 1984), the last of Debnath’s serialized creations, who is a gluttonous schoolteacher who designs ways to steal food but is always stopped in his tracks by the students.

However, Twitter user Vinod thinks Debnath’s most underrated character is Goyenda (Detective) Kousik:

Most of his comic book series have been published as books, and some of his works have been on television and broadcast for decades. The Indian Institute of Cartoonists paid tribute to more than six decades of his career in comics:

Social media tributes

Many on Twitter shared their tributes with hashtags like #RIPNarayanDebnath and #BengaliComics.

Writer Subharanjan shares an illustration of Debnath’s cartoon characters:

Journalist Soumyadipta Banerjee wonders if the tradition of reading “comics” in Bengali will continue:

Om Shanti is an invocation for peace or an invocation to God

Journalist Bihan Sen Gupta believes the loss is personal:

Debnath was also immensely popular in Bangladesh. Sports journalist Soumik remembers him:

Writer and scientist AM (@bhalomanush) believes that Debnath never received the accolades he deserved:

However, Debnath has achieved some recognition in India. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2013 as well as the Banga Bibhushan awarded by the Government of West Bengal in the same year. He received an honorary D. Litt from Rabindra Bharati University in 2015.

Debnath was also awarded the Padma Sri, India’s fourth highest civilian honor in 2021, which he received in hospital on January 13, 2022.

Indian Twitter user Shivani tweeted: