Tinkle’s 700th issue: A bumper ride with Suppandi, Shikari Shambu and Nasruddin Hodja

Ever since its launch in the year 1980, the comic, with its ever-popular stories across the multitudinous issues, has never failed to crack a smile.
Tinkle’s 700th issue: A bumper ride with Suppandi, Shikari Shambu and Nasruddin Hodja
Tinkle’s 700th issue: A bumper ride with Suppandi, Shikari Shambu and Nasruddin Hodja
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“Please keep a check on the boiling milk.” Suppandi puts a cheque on the milk.

For any Tinkle reader, Suppandi is the one character that sticks with you. Simple writing coupled with relatable and goofy jokes made the innocently simple character unforgettable. Equally memorable is Shikari Shambu and the incredible luck he enjoyed. From cackling over Ramu and Shamu’s antics to marvelling over Tantri the Mantri’s unbreakable will, Tinkle has made a home in the childhoods of many Indian kids.  

Ever since its launch in the year 1980, the comic, with its ever-popular stories across the multitudinous issues, has never failed to crack a smile. Apart from the DC comics, Calvin and Hobbes and Archie Comics, Tinkle was truly India’s own — something kids across generations earned and vied for when they saw it in bookstores or newspaper stands, just waiting for another kid to get lost in its stories for hours.

With legacy characters such as Shikari Shambu, Suppandi, Tantri the Mantri and Kalia the Crow, as well as a host of new characters introduced over the years, the comic has crossed a major milestone this year. Tinkle released its 700th issue on September 16 – a bumper issue with 64 pages instead of the usual 48 pages.

So, what was special about Tinkle’s 700th issue? Speaking to TNM about the conceptualisation of the issue, Editor-in-Chief Rajani Thindiath says that in the issue, they focussed on the number seven and centred their approach around it, along with incorporating all of Tinkle’s trademark toons.

“We decided that we'll have a board game, again with 700 as its key element. We also reached out to Ruskin Bond, who gave us permission to use his stories. He has written an autobiography, titled 'Lone Fox Jumping,’ published by Speaking Tiger Books. We took an extract from his childhood and turned it into a comic,” she says.

With the issue’s lead story, however, Tinkle took up a gamble.

“For our special editions, we have a mash-up story where all toons come together. For this issue, we decided to make it into a relay story - seven characters in seven shorts, each done by their respective artist. Whenever you turn a page, you see something different, a new character carrying the story forward,” Rajani says.

This is unusual, as they usually have only one writer and one illustrator for each story.

Art Director Savio Mascarenhas says, “As the story progresses, each page of the story is done by different artists when their characters appear in the story.”

While Tinkle has seen a steady addition in characters, their legacy characters remain popular and loved. As Rajani says, Suppandi remains their most popular toon even today.

“Suppandi is still the most popular character that we have, simply because I think the first thing kids love is humour. Suppandi ticks every box, and then there is Shambu and Tantri who come along the line,” Rajani says.

Tinkle’s second-most popular character, the ever-loved Shikari Shambu, is a character that Savio has been illustrating 1994, after he took over from Vasant Halbe.

“Shambu used to be a bungling comical character who didn't really want to be outside in the jungle and used to be miles away from animals, but unfortunate circumstances used to bring him right there. At the end of the day, he used to be the one to trap a poacher and rescue an animal. Fortunes would reverse. That plotline has been the same. But then, Shambu is more of a conservationist now — we've done away with his gun, and the only thing we show is a tranquiliser, which we mention. We don't show it in any of the stories unless there is a crook,” he says.

Although Savio has been illustrating Shambu for 20 years now — in 1994, he had to fill Halbe’s very large shoes, and not everyone was happy.

“When I first started drawing Shambu, we used to get letters from kids. Reena Puri, the editor at the time, showed me a letter which came from a child, saying that he was very upset that I was drawing Shambu. Reena said, "Would you like to reply to the child?". I wrote back to this boy, explaining to him that the reasons why Mr Halbe is not drawing it and I had to take over this character. I may not be as good as him, but I'll try to do my best with the character,” Savio adds.

It’s this keen attention to children’s feedback that may have contributed to Tinkle still being in the game.

“Sometimes, kids also send howlers if they don't like something -- all in the subject line!” Rajani says, chuckling.

A practice started by Tinkle’s founder Anant Pai — fondly called Uncle Pai — the magazine receives feedback from a dedicated set of readers from across the country, and modify their requirement based on it. As Rajani says, it was a demand for a horror as a genre and a hostel-based series that led to the creation of Dental Diaries and NOIS.

But when asked what makes the comic tick at a time when there is an explosion of information and entertainment content, Savio has one answer: Simplicity.

“The stories in the old Tinkles are very simplistic in their storyline. Simple linear storytelling and humour which was kept very clean. Our guideline was that when a child reads it, even the family should be able to read it,” he says.

While Tinkle follows the legacy Uncle Pai has left behind, the comic’s biggest ticking factor could have been them embracing change, rather than shunning it.

“With characters like Tantri, Dushtabuddhi and all the villainous characters — the expansion of Hodja's kingdom, Hodja has got a rival. With all of these things, the storytelling improves. We have layered stories - there would be a plot within a plot, a twist in a tale - cliffhangers which would make the child more interested because they themselves are exposed to a lot of different kind of stories when they read other books,” Savio adds.

Whether it be Suppandi, Shikari Shambu, Tantri the Mantri, Kalia the Crow, the letters to Uncle Pai or the Learning section, Tinkle had something for everyone and the comics continue to adorn the bookshelves of many households across India.

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