A ‘Comic’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “A periodical containing comic strips, intended chiefly for children.” My! I think that’s a little biased. How could they try to restrain the world of lively, vivid panels to just the kids? I doubt if anyone so enamored with comics as I am could ever outgrow the liking for them.
My first brush with comics was when I was in kindergarten, when my folks used to read me stories from the ‘Tinkle’ digest. Kalia the Crow, Kapish the Monkey, Suppandi – the naïve, dim-witted man Friday and Shikari Shambhu were some of my favorite characters back then. The adventures of these fictional (I would like to think otherwise!), furry friends managed to instill in the reader the ability to discern between the good and the bad. For I always looked to see how Kalia thwarted Doob-Doob and Chamataka’s evil schemes with some feathered wisdom and how Tantri the Mantri’s apparently fool-proof plans to take over the reins from the gullible King Hoodja were always met with a roadblock of sorts. One could argue that the plots were clichéd but, this, at least for me, laid down via a colorful framework that ‘Good triumphs over Evil.’ Thank you Uncle Pai for revolutionizing Indian Comics and for spreading so much cheer!
Then came the ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ series and the gateway to Indian mythology and legends. It is amazing how the artists and writers have managed to simplify the complex web of characters and themes in our epics and brought before the young (or not) reader the essentials. The panels were detailed but in a manner that did not bewilder the reader. The significant events of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were split into many, small chapters which rendered easy comprehension. But I have to admit that I wasn’t prepared for the disquiet that I experienced whilst reading other versions (non-illustrated ones) of the very same epics, for, the comics version did manage to paint a rosy picture by foregoing most of the intricacies present amidst the characters.
It was then the time of ‘Archie’ and his gang to rule the roost for awhile. It is hard not to like the adorable, freckled, benign red-head Archie Andrews and his pals. It is surprising how comic book characters could have so much character, for instance Betty Cooper was the epitome of goodness (All things nice with a hint of spice!) and someone who could handle things not going her way with good grace and poise, Veronica Lodge was portrayed as scheming and devious as well as one who could have the potential to possess and act on a heart of gold, Reggie Mantle could be a self-absorbed narcissist but also someone who never let his friends get into trouble, Jughead Jones (A personal favorite!) was the ultimate foodie, best-ever side kick who always has his friends’ backs and the list could go on. But you do get the drift? Different manifestations of a human being (At least a young adult!) were presented to the reader in a subtle manner, but as no one actually looked into the concepts or themes or ideologies behind the stories in Riverdale, it was brushed aside as light reading.
It’s a pity that the ‘Archie’ comics are sometimes frowned upon by some ultra-conservative, prejudiced persons in the society citing the outlandish costumes and/or demeanor of the characters depicted on the front covers. That’s insane and this narrow-mindedness HAS to be curbed, else those peeps will never know what they are missing out on!
The now defunct ‘Harvey Comics’ delighted many by introducing the ‘Poor Little Rich Boy’, Casper, Little Lotta, Sad Sack, Dot etcetera. Richie Rich (Again a personal favorite!) broke stereotypes and emerged as a kind-hearted, privileged kid who did not flaunt his wealth under any circumstances. Good values and habits were always embedded in these storylines. Plus these comics always sparked our imagination and made us think that solutions could always be found, even for the toughest obstacles in our path. Now, that’s a lot of optimism from ‘just a comic book’ no?
The ‘Tintin’ and ‘Asterix’ comics have ‘larger than life’ heroes who defy the odds and emerge triumphant time and again. The protean reporter and his faithful canine Snowy, along with the swashbuckling Captain Haddock and the absent-minded professor Calculus and the clueless twin detectives have provided readers with hours of sheer entertainment. Is there anything Tintin cannot do? He can maneuver an assortment of vehicles including a space rocket and a submarine, he can rappel, solve complex codes, sight the Yeti and live to tell the tale, bust drug smuggling mafias, get out of sticky situations and what not! In a way he’s like the watered down Belgian version of our very own Superstar!
Asterix and Obelix had the backing of a magic potion so carefully brewed by their druid, Getafix which helped them and their entire clan in successfully fending off the Roman legions. But that’s not what kept their enemies at bay; the fact that the Gauls always stuck together and had each other’s backs is to be noted too. Again, the underlying themes of the comic books almost always go unnoticed. Where values ought to be celebrated, people just focus on the supernatural elements which are merely added for the *zing* factor. Even Dogmatix sends across the message of afforestation. But not many dwell upon it, *Sigh*.
Bill Watterson and Hank Ketcham have created some of the best comic strips for which I am eternally grateful. Calvin and Dennis, 6 year olds who are polar opposites, but highly adorable in their own ways. These comic strips feature some of the youngest main characters in the comic-verse, but send across some highly intellectual messages. Personally, I think Calvin’s mind is a well of deep thoughts which even many adults cannot fathom. This is the best kind of direct and straight from the heart stuff.
Now, the Marvel and DC Comics are conspicuous by their absence in this post. That is because as far as I’m concerned it is unexplored territory. So I couldn’t possibly draw analogies from that. And partly because despite being a fan of superheroes, I prefer their on-screen antics over their paperback heroics. The ‘Killing Joke’ movie sure did ruin that preference considerably, thus conclusively reinforcing the undisputable power and lure of the comic books over the multi-million dollar movie/tv show franchises. (Nolan’s Trilogy is an exception though!)
Day dreaming sure does have some perks, for it made me realize how impactful comics can be on the readers. (Those speech bubbles are pretty darn powerful; imagine if one hovered over our heads at all times. That would be the beginning of the end!) Comics are not merely for comic relief! There sure is nothing comical about it!