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When I read my first comic-book

Photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash
“Smell that? That’s the smell of new comic-books. Oh, yes!”
— Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) in The Big Bang Theory

I remember when I read my first comic book, though I don’t recall smelling it at the time. It was the early-mid seventies and I was around eight years old when, one afternoon, the postman delivered a sealed cardboard box addressed to my dad. Being a news reporter with no fixed hours, he was at home that day. Dad cut through the tape and opened the four flaps to reveal a stack of comic-books. He lifted them from the box and spread them out on the living room table. Up until then, I don’t think I’d ever seen comic-books, but thereafter they became a delightful part of my childhood and the years that followed.

The comic-books were a gift from my dad’s younger brother in San Diego. There were forty in all and they consisted of Silver Age (1956-1970) and Bronze Age (1970-1985) comic-books, but closer to the seventies. Rare by today’s standards, at least in my part of the world. If I remember now, they were all DC; mostly Superman and Batman, Action Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Justice League of America. I’m pretty certain there were no Marvel Comics in the lot, which explains why I got acquainted with The Avengers, X-Men, the Hulk, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four after I passed out of school.

They were brand new with a smooth surface and smelled different but in a good way. It was many years later that I discovered the term for such comics was ‘mint condition’, maybe because they were as good as gold. From what I can recall of those days, the comic-books — the striking logos and cover designs, the illustrations of caped superheroes and supervillains coming to life inside multicoloured panels and talking out of speech bubbles — gave me considerable joy. They frequently teleported me into mysterious and enchanting worlds such as I’d never imagined.

I never asked dad what prompted his brother to send him comic books out of the blue. I suppose my uncle knew his interest in the medium. Dad liked to sketch and paint, including cartoons, and was good at both. He also enjoyed reading comic-strips in the newspapers and watching animated films in the theatres. But that initial lot of comic-books influenced him to start collecting comics and got me hooked on them, too.
Photo: Prashant C. Trikannad
Over the next several years, our home, in addition to being a gathering place for family and friends, became a treasure house of comic-books and an informal library. During the summer holidays my friends and I’d read comics in-between playing cricket and football, and having fun on community picnics.

Dad bought all kinds of comic-books from local bookshops and newspaper stalls. In those days, new Indian comics cost Rs.1 to Rs.3; American and British imports probably more. While they’re too many to name here, his monthly purchases of new and used comic-books almost always included India’s popular imprint Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Picture Stories); Indrajal (mostly Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur, Flash Gordon and Rip Kirby); Archie and the Gang; Harvey Comics (Richie Rich, Casper, Sad Sack, Little Lotta, etc.); Tarzan and his son Korak; British comics digests (Bunty, Mandy, Judy and Debbie); the original Classics Illustrated; Tintin and Asterix; pocket war and western; Dell, Gold Key/Whitman and Walt Disney Comics; and, of course, DC and Marvel, too.

Looking back, I’m surprised dad managed to buy as many as he did — from forty to a few hundred — considering we lived in the small coastal state of Goa in western India, where you didn’t get stuff easily. When he wasn’t buying comic-books, I was borrowing them from a private circulating library located in the foyer of a hotel. Frequent visits to the library inspired me to read books, mostly juvenile detective fiction (young adult or YA fiction as we call them now) like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators and The Secret Seven. By the age of sixteen, I was enthusiastically reading Perry Mason, Harold Robbins, Irving Wallace, James Hadley Chase and other bestselling fiction of the time.

And then, somewhere in my late teens, I took over the comic-book collection like some family business and expanded it to include superheroes, vigilantes and funny characters who previously hadn’t made it to our trunk-load of comics.

Not much has changed since those forty comic-books came into my life. I’m still passionate about comics and I still love reading them, although I no longer collect them as fervently as I did. To say that comic-books are a form of escapism would be a cliché. But yes, they helped me to get over unpleasant events and entertained me in ways nothing or no one could. To me, comic-books are more than just colourful sheets of paper — they’re an indulgence that is never enough.

© Prashant C. Trikannad

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