Indian American teenager Maalvika Bhat has been hand-drawing comic strips each week, scanning them, and posting them online on her website and on other social media platforms for the last five years.

The 17-year-old’s hard work has paid off as she recently published her collection of comics, “The Breadsters: A Teenager Cartoons the High School Years,” which presents insightful and humorous observations on growing up, through the eyes of a teenager.

The characters of the comic book are teachers, adults and students taking the form of different types of bread.

Growing up in the ultra-diverse San Francisco Bay Area, Bhat told The Mercury News that she believes bread is the perfect personification of its many global cultures. Just about every culture bakes and consumes some form of bread, she said.

“We live in of the most diverse places in the nation, and I want my comic strip to reflect that. I’ve gone to school with people from all different backgrounds and I like all the richness of that experience, and it is very important to me,” the Cupertino, Calif.-based artist told the paper.

The book is available for purchase online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Bhat plans to donate all proceeds from the book sale to disaster relief efforts and local programs at schools.

She first thought of starting a comic strip while on a family trip to India, where she came across some funny and well-drawn cartoons.

Bhat, who has been creating these strips since she was in eighth grade, told the publication that her comic characters have grown along with her since those early strips in middle school.

“As I’ve evolved with my comic strips and become more and more personal and a little more worldly, so have my characters. They have grown up with me, and they reflect a lot of the learning I’ve had: the relationships, anxieties, opportunities and challenges,” she said. “They’ve gotten to live vicariously through me, and I’ve gotten to live vicariously through them. And that’s been really cool.”

She also said that she plans to focus on engineering in college, but is fascinated by the nexus of technology, art and design.

“They do complement each other in more ways than anyone realizes,” she said.

And so “The Breadsters,” she added, will follow in her journey.

Talking about comics, two U.S.-based universities, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois, are also expanding their collection of Indian comics.

Michigan State University has 1,763 titles from India — Amar Chitra Katha, Diamond Comics, Raj Comics, Lion and Muthu, some new-age graphic novels such as Campfire — and the University of Illinois has 1,500 of them, nearly the same tiles and also Indrajal, the Hindi translations of Phantoms and Mandrakes, with around 450 waiting to be catalogued, according to a report in the Hindustan Times.

Siddhartha Chandra, director of the Asian Studies Center at Michigan State University, according to the report, has built the university’s collection of Indian comic books, one of the largest in the country: suitcase by suitcase, three times a year, for the last eight years.

“You go, you buy, and you bring back,” said Chandra.

Mara Thacker, an assistant professor and librarian of South Asian studies, has been diligently constructing her collection of comic books from India at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, through trips to India, visits to Comic-Cons, and from publishers and collectors.

“At the moment,” Thacker told HT, “we are tied with the library of University of Michigan, but we are very confident we will have the largest collection in the United States soon, because we are growing, and rapidly.”

Chandra has been into comic books from childhood, but Thacker discovered Indian comic books as an undergraduate student studying popular culture, added the report (see earlier story in India-West). 

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