The cool magic of comic books

The cool magic of comic books

Raaja Bhasin

Opening to the wide road and located where the office of the general manager of the elegant Cecil Hotel in Shimla stands, was once a small shop named ‘Broadway’. Decades back, the Cecil would open only for the summer months, and matching step, ‘Broadway’ would raise and lower its shutters accordingly. This little shop sold toothpaste, shaving cream and other such essentials that hotel guests may have forgotten to carry along. It also attracted a fair bit of custom from passers-by.

Returning from a birthday party and with a king’s ransom of an unspent Rs 2 burning a hole in my pocket, I surreptitiously bought two Superman comics from a stack that ‘Broadway’ sold. We children were not allowed to read comics as my parents’ generation, and academics at that — who had been raised on classics and fine language — were convinced that reading comics was harmful to young children. Big blurbs of ‘Ow!’, ‘Pow!’ and ‘Kerplam!’ were not considered desirable additions to our vocabulary. I managed to retain those two prized items, which would have been worth a fortune had I had them today.

Gradually, my parents relented and now, decades later, it was the response to a social media post by a much-younger cousin that made me remember the hundreds of comic books that had been collected by the time I exited my teens. What a trove it was! There were the small-sized Commando comics which moved back and forth, in black and white, through World War II. There were ‘westerns’, where the good, the bad and the ugly were clearly defined – though today, the lines would have been more blurred and the native Americans — who were mostly portrayed as bad — would have emerged in a far kinder light.

Archie’s were filled with flirting and silliness; with Reginald’s machinations and Jughead’s insatiable appetite. Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Walt Disney’s brilliance came out on paper — which steadily moved to screens and TV sets. The newspaper man, along with the dailies, twice a month, brought the latest Phantom comic and that of Mandrake the Magician, who, with the help of the trusty Lothar, sorted out the world. There were the absolutely wonderful Classics Illustrated series that introduced me to some of the best reading in the world. Long before one gathered the courage to tackle the book, one knew the story of A Tale of Two Cities, or of the art of Cellini and Michelangelo.

Steadily, the collection of Amar Chitra Katha stories built up — largely thanks to my much-relented mother to whom the knowledge of one’s own culture and language was all-important.

Then came a time when this somewhat unwieldy collection had to be sorted, and in keeping with a trend of the times, a selection of the not-so-tattered ones was bound into sets of hard-backed volumes. These are still with me, and the cupboard that holds this treasure of a long gone time is only opened to be dusted.

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