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Durga, Rama and the heroic roots of Indian comics comes to L.A.

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Scott Timberg takes a look at an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that focuses on comics in the Indian culture from a fine-art perspective. -- Jevon Phillips

If you want to understand the meaning of comics in India, one place to start is a battered, chipped piece of sandstone from the 9th century. ‘Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon,’ in which an eight-armed goddess impales a part-man, part-animal monster, doesn’t bear any obvious resemblance to the X-Men or even the hipster graphic novels of Dan Clowes.

But this sculpture carved out of stone for purposes of worship represents an image that echoes through Indian culture -- and fuels some of the work created today on computer tablets by companies like Bangalore, India-based Liquid Comics.

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‘You’re going to see visions of Durga all over the place,’ says Julie Romain, the curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art who organized the new show. ‘In both traditional and popular form -- movies, posters, comics.’

She sees Durga and others as archetypes, figures that replicate through Indian society. The show, ‘Heroes and Villains: The Battle for Good in India’s Comics,’ which runs through Feb. 7, looks at the transformative power of the imagery of Indian mythology: figures such as Durga, an often vengeful mother goddess who is one of several forms of India’s supreme goddess Devi, as well as Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, and the mace-wielding monkey god Hanuman. (Though India is religiously diverse, most of the figures in the show come out of the Hindu tradition.)

Romain is not a fangirl but a scholar of classical Indian art, albeit one married to a comic-book lover going through what she calls a nostalgic period.

The show of 54 pieces she put together with paintings curator Tushara Bindu Gude is not comprehensive -- it doesn’t look at the entirety of Indian comics and does not explicitly connect the images to the rest of Indian pop culture, whether Bollywood films or contemporary graphic design....

THERE’S MORE, READ THE REST

-- Scott Timberg

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