Once upon a time, waiting for the 4th of every month for a trip to the neighbourhood bookshop was an Experience. It was the late eighties, Frank Miller and AR Rahman were still a couple of years away from ushering in The Next Big Thing in my life. At that time, it was Ajit Ninan Matthew, Neelabh and Jayanto, Mala Marwah, Manjula Padmanabhan, Atanu Roy and Tapas Guha who rocked my world.
Before there was The Dark Knight Returns, there was Detective Moochhwala and Pooch. These four pages are from an annual issue of Target, a hardcover that I never managed to find as a kid, and we were too wary of the Indian postal department to even consider ordering it from Delhi. Besides, I would have to cut out a coupon from inside MY copy of a monthly issue of Target to order the book. No can do. I found this years later, in a corner of Bookworm. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and not just because the Moochhwala story was four pages. ( Normal issues had a two-page story )
Now when I look at the strip, trying to look at it bereft of the nostalgia, I am struck by the dynamism of the artwork and story. The absence of thought balloons ( except for Pooch, who always talks in thinkspeak, much like Dogmatix and Snowy, the obvious influences in Ajit’s cartooning) is the most striking – probably the presence of Pooch as Moochhwala’s sidekick makes for a conversational foil for the detective’s . Note the minimal colour palette – manages to be economical and yet makes for perfect tones. None of the panels are over-saturated with word balloons, silhouettes in panels add brilliant dimensions to the scenes, and there is ACTUALLY properly-drawn backgrounds.
You cannot imagine how much of a grouse I have against artists who skimp on backgrounds out of laziness. Indian artists are terrible that way, read any of Sarnath Bannerjee’s books, or those badly-written Diamond comics, and the lack of coherent backgrounds are telling on the craft of the illustrators.
Some of the pizzazz associated with the strip comes from the deliciously Indian names of the characters, names chosen in accordance with the theme of the strip. Inspector Tijori Nath coming to the rescue of Seth Daulatmal’s sons Heera and Moti, against drug Lord Poppy Nnath? Bwahahahahahah.
In a time when comicbook companies are minting money with reissued Omnibus versions of fan-favourite strips, I wonder how many of us children-of-the-eighties are willing to shell out serious money of a Complete Detective Moochhwala collection? Or a Collected Target Stories volume. Seriously, kids of today deserve a magazine like Target ( Ha! Whoever died and made me a child specialist?) and I don’t think there’s anything in the market that fits the bill. And no, don’t remind me of that cosmopolitan trash-rag called Teens Today!