To be precise: comic books, as Thompson would have said (that’s Thompson with a P, as in pneumonia). We have always referred to comic books as comics, hence the title. Not to be confused with those funny men who make people laugh, although in the true sense they are the real comics, but we didn’t know that when we were kids, did we?
I have always enjoyed reading comics. And I guess you do too. Comics are easy to read, funny, easy on the eyes, entertaining and sometimes educating. Which child doesn’t love reading them? I bet most of you would have grown up reading the occasional comic book. Even in this day and age I still read them; they bring out the child in me along with wonderful memories. Before I fell in love with books, I discovered comics and the love story continues unto this day.
My cousins were as mad about comics as I was, and we would spend hours raiding each other’s collections. One cousin in particular had a huge collection and I think his collection was always the worst hit. My mother would tell us about the day when we were very young when he came to our house. It seemed he sat in the sitting room all by himself and would laugh out occasionally. So when my mother went to investigate what was making him laugh so much it turned out he was reading Sudden Muanga.
Phantom is always the first character that comes to mind when discussing comics. The Ghost Who Walks, The Man Who Cannot Die, living in the skull cave and tirelessly fighting crime and making the word a peaceful place to live in. And that famous opening line “For those who came in late….” And of course any Phantom fan would be familiar with the old jungle sayings – “Phantom moves faster than lightning” “You never find the Phantom, he finds you.” “Call the Phantom anywhere, and he will hear.” Find more Old Jungle Sayings here. And how can we forget Hero and Devil, his faithful companions, and his two rings, and the Bandar, Old Man Mozz, Rex, Diana, Guran, the deep woods, the skull throne, the list could go on and on.
I looked up Phantom and was amazed to learn that the first Phantom comic strip was published in 1936. Its creator, Lee Falk, also created Mandrake the magician, another favourite. Mandrake was first published in 1934. We were amazed by the many magic “tricks” performed by Mandrake, although many times it was explained that it was hypnotism. Lothar, his companion, his girlfriend Narda who lived in Xanadu, his many enemies, most famous of all the group 8, whose leader the mysterious Octon who was never seen and always addressed the members from behind a curtain, or was it through a speaker? I’m not so sure anymore. One story I can never forget is that of the Invisible Man, who it turned out had worn a special kind of fabric that deflected light or something like that making him invisible. Mandrake sprayed paint on him and he was revealed.
Thanks to Indrajal Comics these wonderful comic books found their ways into our homes and our hearts. Other comics which I can remember were Flash Gordon and his many adventures in space, his partners Dale and Dr Zarkov, and good old Bahadur - the man with the muscle, Rip Kirby the detective, and Timpa. Do you remember Timpa and his grandfather? Although he never had a comic book dedicated to him, the adventures of Timpa were often seen on the last few pages of the regular comic books. And then there were Garth and Dara, but I didn’t read them much.
Next stop –Archie. Ah now I can see the smiles on your faces. Who doesn’t read Archie comics? My favourite character is Jughead, followed by Mr. Lodge. Then there were other comics like Katy Keene, Richie Rich, Disney comics, and Famous Five. There was a time when I was mad about MAD, that was the time before the Indian edition came out, and I would buy secondhands. I bound all my MAD magazines in one fat book, and a nephew borrowed it and that was the last time I ever saw it. So if you ever come across something like that, with my name written on it, please keep it safe for me.
Do you remember those girls comics? Black and white, always about a young girl, and the name of the comics would always be girls’ names, like Bunty, Mandy etc. They were also very popular, and you also have the romantic comics of the same type. Oh and also Blue Jeans, the ones with the photographs in it, somewhat like Photoromance. Ahh Photoromance, Kiss… I think every girl growing up in the 70s-90s must be aware of them. Before we started reading the M&Bs they were our staple diet, our only source of romantic stories. A google search tells me that they were published from Lancio in Rome, Italy from around 1975 to 1991. No wonder all the actors were Italian.
Westerns and Commando. Small, black and white, but very interesting and very informative. Cowboys and their lives fascinated us. The Commando books were almost always about World War II, and of course the Germans and the Japanese were always the villains. But those comics taught us a lot about history. I wish I could read them again. If I’d known they would be so precious and valuable I would have kept them safe and never lent them to anyone. But that’s the thing with comics. They are continuously circulated. We would have a trunk full of comics, but none of them would be ours. And if you go and check out other people’s collection you would probably find the same thing, and many of the times your own comic books.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a few Tintin comic books. Tintin is easily one of my most favourite comic books. There is mystery, adventure, international conspiracies, and Captain Haddock is there for the fun element. And also the Thomson twins. But my favourite character is not Tintin or the Captain, it is Jolyon Wagg, the annoyingly cheerful salesman who always turns up at the most unlikely places and could never get a hint.
If Tintin comes, can Asterix be far behind? The small Gaul hero with his faithful partner Obelix. I love Asterix as much as I love Tintin. The best thing about the Asterix series is the names, my favourite being Unhygienix the fishmonger. Vitalstatistix, Getafix, Cacofonix, Impedimenta, Fulliautomatix, Geriatrix etc – all the names are suited to their occupation and personality. And the Roman soldiers are extremely funny, one common dialogue among them being “Join the army they said, it’s a man’s life they said” (usually just before or after they are beaten up by the Gauls). Asterix turned 50 recently , on 22 October 2009. For this occasion Albert Uderzo has created an album of Asterix short stories - Asterix and Obelix's Birthday - The Golden Book.
Calvin and Hobbes is a recent favourite. The imaginative six year old boy and his stuffed tiger that comes alive only when no one is around. Do you know that the last Calvin and Hobbes comic book was published in 1996? I’ve tried collecting them but they are too expensive, but I’m still hoping to have all the books in the series.
Oh boy this is turning into one long rambling post. But I’m not yet finished. I mentioned Sudden Muanga earlier, another character that never failed to entertain us. Of course I’m talking about the old Sudden Muanga, when he was still a skinny cowboy without a care in the world, before he turned political and religious and became boring. His horse Daii, his sidekick Hleizuama, his lady love Tumsangi, and his love of Saum.
I still read comics. The first thing I read in a newspaper is the comics section. I have recently taken up collecting comics again, but this time I will not lend them to anyone, no matter how much they plead or beg or grovel.