Life, Myself

The Marina on a Foggy Evening

Winter’s almost here, and the season in LA right now reminds me of Assam. My kind of winter. A delicious chill in the air after dusk, and the rolling mist makes everything seem muted and somber – lights, passing cars and the boats.

The perfect weather to go walking and to take some pictures. It was brilliant, and as I went around the complex, part of me hoped that somewhere in the fog, I would come across a vendor selling roasted peanuts in a cart. And I would start to pay him and then realize that – shit, I have only dollars in my pocket, and paying a dollar instead of 5 rupees for a bag of roasted peanuts would be sacrilegious. I was glad I did not meet a peanut vendor, finally.

But there were only solitary people walking their pets, joggers panting as they thudded past me; strangely, a pig squealed from afar – I have no idea why, and I could hear sounds of laughter from the buildings nearby, presumably unrelated to the squeals. The air felt clean and fresh, I smiled at people, and they smiled back at me, and I came back home. Where there was Thai lemon and chicken soup, roasted duck and Thai iced tea to wash it all down. Was your evening better than mine? I don’t think so.

Life, Myself


Most years in my life are a blur of mundane events, with nothing outstanding to distinguish them from others. But 1998 stands out, for a lot of reasons.

I turned 18 the previous year, and was chomping at the bit, ready to leave Guwahati behind and looking forward to the strange new life that lay ahead after the different engineering entrance examinations. Those would determine my fate, whether I would go West, North, South, or stay behind in Guwahati. South happened, and when I walked through the gates of my college in Warangal, a place that seemed very different from my 18-year-old life so far, sure, I admit I was a little petrified. The fear however was not about leaving my old life behind, it was to do with the rotund, serious-looking, dry-voiced senior who had effectively taken charge of our luggage when we landed at the railway station and herded us towards the auto-rickshaws. And that was the scariest Udatta ever got, before I got to know him better.

But I get ahead of myself.

It was the year I saw my first A-rated movie in a theater. Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen. I told my mother I was going to see it, and found it really strange that she did not complain at all. Even gave me some extra money so I could have dinner outside with my friends once we were done.

1998 was also the first year my friends and I travelled with no adult supervision of any kind. To Nepal, where we spent heady nights in the streets, temples and casinos of Kathmandu, lost our hearts over random beautiful women in the city, and tried to behave more grown-up than we felt. My first taste of beer in a ramshackle hotel on the Indo-Nepal border, just because my friends found Budweiser for the first time – I ran down the hotel corridor looking for a wash-basin to spit up the mouthful I had swallowed, because it tasted so fucking terrible. Checking into a hotel in Thamel slightly out of our budget just because the receptionist was a drop-dead gorgeous girl who smiled at us when we went in. Ordering sizzlers for lunch and dinner, because we could. Then to Delhi, to apply for all the colleges there, because the Joint Entrance Examination results were late and we had to think of the back-up plan. The heady feeling when my father called up the hotel to say that it was fine, I could relax, the results had come in and I had not done too shabbily, followed by the twinge of regret about not having more money so I could go and have a good time. Trash-talking with the street-vendors in Paharganj, cracking Assamese jokes in Connaught Place, being loud, obnoxious dorky and wide-eyed, all at the same time.

Before the year was over, I would have gone to Calicut and Bangalore. I would have my first Kerala Beef Curry, and curse myself at having not tasted beef all these years. I would sing and play the keyboard on stage, in front of an audience, for the first time. I would meet the strangest people. I would make friends over the strangest things, like whistling melodies recognized in a bus. I would make friends who still are.

It was a good year to be in love. The year Titanic released in local theaters in Guwahati, and the year Silk Route released Dooba Dooba. The girl I was in love with was moving away to a different city. For an insane moment or two during college admissions, I had actually contemplated selecting  a college in the same state she was in. Logic prevailed, “love” was put in its place. I wonder how different life would have been had I let the heart decide. I still have her letters, written in a graceful cursive hand and littered with small sketches. She, on the other hand, has a kid.

It was the year I read the first Sandman comic I understood completely, and loved to bits. Issue 50, ‘Ramadan’. That giddy feeling when I first came across it in a library sale in Goa. Yeah, I was in Goa that year too, because classes were due to start a month or so after our admissions were done, and we could either stay on in the campus – and be incessantly by seniors stressed out by final exams, or just get the fuck out of the place and come back a month later. My uncle stayed in Goa, and there we went, my father and I, to spend a few weeks away from real life. I walked through the alleys of Panjim like it was fucking Wonderland; there were others I met, in addition to Gaiman – Indian Ocean, Vangelis, Michael Kamen, Robert E Howard. I didn’t go back to Goa for 12 more years; I’ll probably never go there again.

One last, enduring 1998 memory – me dropping my father off at Madgaon station, where he was taking his train back to Guwahati, my train to Warangal being a few days later. We stood on the platform for a bit, talking about this and that, about how I should tell him immediately if any seniors bothered me, and that I should have fun at my uncle’s but not trouble them too much. It was nearly time to leave, and he patted me on the back, and told me to get a move on – why wait until the last minute, after all? And this is where perception and memory play tricks with each other. My father remembers waiting at the door of the train so he could wave goodbye to me. But I strode away and did not look back even once. Maybe it was to avoid letting him see the tears in my eyes.  Perhaps it was a conscious act on my part, a fear that I would look back and he wouldn’t be there at the door and I wouldn’t like that one bit. Or maybe as a gesture of innocent stubbornness, as a friend put it, that tried to say that I had grown up. It’s a clear, burning memory for both of us – I did not look back. 1998 was the year I learnt not to look back.

It was a good year.

Comics, Life

7 Things I did not do at Comicon

  1. Meet Bryan Lee O’Malley Out of all my ‘goals’ for Comicon this year, this was the only one that did not happen. I wanted to meet the creator of Scott Pilgrim, just say hi, and maybe buy some art. He did make an appearance at the con, he did bring art I wanted, and horrors, he was apparently the guy who picked up a Seth DPS that I was eyeing at the Beguiling art store. But I missed him by about an hour. Oh well, he stays in LA, so there’s a high likelihood I’ll bump into him some time. If all else fails, there’s always next year.
  2. Attend the Locke and Key screening Locke and Key – which as I’ve mentioned before as a series that rocked my world – was recently optioned as a TV series. But a few weeks before Comicon, it was announced that the series had not been picked up, unfortunately. (Which means it joins the likes of Global Frequency and David Goyer’s Wonder Woman as aborted shows I would have liked to see) The pilot was supposed to be screened at SDCC, and I was looking forward to watch it. Alas, it was all about the timing. People were queuing for it way before I reached the convention center, and I missed the evening show because I was attending the Eisners.  So, uh…. 
  3. Cosplay  A lot of people dressed up at Comicon. A LOT. I was not one of them. I could probably argue that no, I was dressed up like that fellow Raj from The Big Bang Theory, but I did not shut up in the presence of women, and I definitely did not have a dorky haircut. Also, comic art collectors probably would not take a cosplayer in their midst too seriously.
  4. Give in to temptation (No, really) So I bought some pages for a bargain. I got offered twice my cost price for them the same day. I swallowed hard, punched myself in the face (mentally, of course), and refused. I loved those pages and sometimes, money isn’t everything.
  5. Save on hotel bills Yes, I should have planned before, and would have saved a boatload of money on hotel bills, probably more than enough to cover the cost of another Preacher page. (Seriously, I am getting addicted to the idea of owning Preacher pages. Preacher is the new Hitman, y’all). But I did not, and I paid 225$ per night for my hotel, for 4 nights. My middle-class Indian upbringing wants to choke me to death and kick me in the head for good measure.
  6. Meet a TV cast I would have loved to meet the cast of Chuck, and I would have even settled for The Big Bang Theory. The closest I got to a TV cast was for Once Upon A Time, which I did not enjoy as much, even with Robert Carlyle in it. Ah well, filed under “next time”.
  7. Take More Pictures I took a lot of pictures, I swear I did, but sometimes you just gotta nut up, shut up and let your eyes do the recording. And that’s exactly what happened.
Comics, Life

The ‘hugs’ post

In which I flog my face, in the company of illustrious embellishers. Based on an idea submitted by Ganesh Natarajan, age 26, Chennai.


Adam Warren, the man behind Empowered and Dirty Pair, the master of the soft lead.

Meeting Adam Warren was high on my priority list for the con. His Empowered happens to be the one of the few comics that I wish had a speedier release schedule, and I have gone on record stating how much of a crush I have on the titular super-heroine. One of my fondest wishes is to own a complete Emp story – Adam does 2-3 page stories often in his books, and they are funny, sexy and perfect self-contained chunks of his artistry.

I spent the better part of a day looking for his booth, and following his tweets regarding his whereabouts. On the second day of the con, I landed up at Stuart Ng books because they had his sketchbooks, and as soon as I saw them on display, I grabbed at one and was flipping through it. This guy asks me if he can take a look, and I oblige. As he flipped through it, I was on full Emp-love mode, talking about how cool the series is and how great the sketchbook looks, because it had some short stories in it. After some time, I notice a bunch of people clustered around us, and steal a glance at the guy’s name tag. *Groan* It was Adam Warren himself, looking through his  sketchbook because they came straight to the con and he had not seen them before. Obviously, I met him again the next day, and bought some art, but I found it totally serendipitous to meet him this way.

Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead

I met Kirkman on Wednesday evening, when everybody was setting up. I was still in the “I can’t believe I am standing here” mode when my friend Kwan introduced me to Kirkman, and I shook hands and said hi. Kwan took a picture of us. And then as we were walking away, it sort of registered who I had just met – the guy that wrote the best ongoing series in comics, bar none. So I took a deep breath, turned and explained to Robert why I thought he was awesome and his books were awesome and that he should continue the awesomeness and take my money forever. He did not freak out and run away, so I assume I was lucid when I said all that.


Jerry Robinson, the man who created The Joker

It was such an honor to meet one of the figures who shaped the Golden Age. Mr Robinson was signing at his own booth, and I happened to be there at the right time. Picked up one of his prints, had him sign it to me, and when I asked to take a photograph, he called me behind the booth so that I was in the picture as well.

Jeff Smith, of Bone fame, with Vijaya Iyer, his wife and publisher, Cartoon Books.

Picture taken at the end of the party. I had seven glasses of wine in me, and was very freaking happy with the evening’s proceedings. There was a Bone photo-booth, and the original plan was to go in there with Jeff and Vijaya and pose with Bone. But the booth was closed towards the end, so we just decided to take the picture on my camera.

Then I staggered to my hotel room (2 miles away!), collapsed on my bed, and felt the world heave and shudder all night. Seven glasses of wine, I hate you (like I love you).

Dave Gibbons. THE Dave Gibbons.

If Dave Gibbons looks a little flustered here, it’s because he was in a hurry. I sort of feel sorry about my friend Joe stopping him just so I could get a picture taken with him, but Dave was nice enough to oblige. Later on, Dave was on stage with Jonathan Ross, as part of the Eisner presenters and the duo killed everyone with their jokes.

Craig Thompson of Blankets and Goodbye Chunky Rice

In 2007, I nearly paid a European collector $350  to get a small sketch by Craig that he owned. Wise sense (and a nearly-empty wallet) prevailed, and I did not go ahead with the deal. It was therefore a happy moment at the Con when I got to meet Craig, chatted with him about his work – he mentioned that he almost made it to the Jaipur Lit festival this year, but had to pull out at the last moment. Even meeting him was fortuitous. I was looking for the Harper-Collins booth to see if Joe Hill was hanging out there, and when passingthe Pantheon booth, I nearly fainted (mostly because I could not believe that I had missed this crucial bit of information) on seeing a hardcover edition of Habibi, Thompson’s 700+ page work after Blankets. As it turned out, the book would be out in September, and all I could do at the moment was hold it, caress it and kiss it goodbye-till-we-meet-again. The lady at the booth informed us that Craig would be signing posters at the booth for an hour the next day. Of course I made sure I was there an hour before the designated time, saw that a line had already formed before me. I bought a Blankets hardcover, and when it was my turn, Craig graciously drew a sketch for me. It was, ladies and gentlemen, the cause of the shit-eating grin I had on me the rest of the day.

Joe Hill and Gabe Rodriguez, the team behind Locke and Key, probably my favorite series right now.

Ah, Joe Hill. The man who Made Me Believe. The first writer, after my childhood idol (who was his father) that I would buy anything by. It’s almost funny to think that I had postponed reading Locke And Key so long just because I thought it would not live up to his prose writing. I was wrong. Joe Hill is a genius, and lucky, because he teamed with artist Gabriel Rodriguez, whose work has to be seen to be believed. Do not read anything about Locke and Key on the web, just go and download it RIGHT NOW. Read it. If you are not compelled to pay these guys money once you’re done, maybe you should stop reading this blog, because seriously, I do not have anything in common with you. Yes, them’s fighting words, but you’ve got to understand, I’ve waited years to be this blown away by a comic-book series. To not be jaded by a writer’s work because I can predict what’s coming next. *

*with the exception of The Walking Dead.
Comics, Life

10 Things I Did At Comicon

  1. Picked up pre-ordered stuff. I spent the first day picking up stuff that I had pre-paid for, a few pieces of art, the Bone 20th volume edition (which came with a Jeff Smith original Bone painting), the Artist’s Edition of Walt Simonson’s Thor. A happy beginning!
  2. Met a lot of art people. Dealers, collectors and online friends, people I had been corresponding with for the better part of 5 years, seeking advice and envying their real-world adventures from faraway India. This year, I was on an adventure of my own, and could finally put faces and voices to names and email addresses. Some of us had dinner together on Wednesday night. Much mutual envy was expressed, and every form of comic art – European, Japanese and American – was discussed and dissected over food and drinks. I was to meet more people as the days progressed.
  3. Met some of my heroes.  Jerry Robinson. Craig Thompson. Becky Cloonan. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Dave Gibbons. Michael Zulli. Steve Leialoha. Walt Simonson. Stan Sakai. Sergio Aragones. Joelle Jones. David Zahn. Adam Warren. Bill Willingham. Mark Buckingham. Robert Kirkman. Jill Thompson. They may just be names to you, but to me, they were icons that defined my reading habits. Meeting them in person was surprising, awe-inspiring, more than a little happiness-inducing. In most cases, I managed not to gush or simper or freak out anyone too much, and managed to tell them how cool their work was and how important they were to a guy growing up in India. I hope they understood.
  4. Wheeled and dealed  I had taken some of my art with me, and after the shock and awe of the first two days wore off, I looked to see if I could trade some of my under-loved pages for some better stuff. And yeah, I got some great stuff – traded an Invisibles page for a Steve Bissette/Alfredo Alcala Swamp Thing page, sold some of my pages to fund another purchase. Also got some deals started in the pipeline, so I know where my money for the next few months is going.
  5. Attended a party I had met Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer in 2009, when I interviewed Jeff for Rolling Stone India. This year marked the 20th Anniversary of Bone, and Vijaya invited me to the Scholastic party celebrations. The minute I walked into the terrace of the Hilton Bayfront on Thursday evening, I knew I was in for a swell time. Pros and fans mingled with each other, there were free goodie bags full of Scholastic graphic novels being handed out, great food, and an open bar. Surreal moments that evening – at one point I found myself discussing Hindu mythology with Paul Levitz, at another, Sergio Aragones put a hand on my shoulder like we had known each other for years, and told me how his passport caused much consternation at Bhutanese immigration since he was the first Mexican to visit the country. I recommended some books to a charming lady, an editor for Dvir Publishing House in Israel, which is publishing the Hebrew versions of Bone, and she in turn recommended the excellent works of Raina Teglmaier. Surprise, Raina was at the party signing her books, so I went on and said hello. Struck up conversations about Robyn and Swedish music and collecting comic art and types of cake around the world with random strangers, got a little drunk, staggered to my room a happy, happy man.
  6. Walked a lot When veterans of the Con tell you that it’s a tiring event, part of it is because of the sheer size of the convention. Walking from one end of the floor to the other takes about half a day, taking into account the crowds, the amount of distracting shininess on display and the fact that there are too many things going on at the same time. If you are ever at SDCC, make sure you have ample amount of snacks and some water with you. Do not buy too many books at once. Plan the day’s activities in the morning, if possible. And please, get yourself in shape a bit. I followed all these rules that my friend Joe hammered in me the last few months, and I was functioning on pure adrenaline by the end of Friday evening. And then I discovered that there were two more floors with stuff happening. *Sigh*
  7. Attended the Fables panel The biggest problem with attending panels at SDCC is that you need to queue for them, and considering the amount of things going on, it seems a criminal waste of time to stand in line when you could be doing something else. But I wanted to attend a panel – not just any panel, the Fables one, which was one of the most well-attended in the con, and required a ridiculous amount of queuing. I went in about 4 hours early, stayed for the Once Upon A Time TV show premiere (which is a TV show that seemed to be heavily inspired by Fables, though to be fair, the creative team behind Lost is doing it, and fairy tale characters are public domain, after all. Though I did not think too highly of it, I am fairly sure it will be successful) and the Jim Lee panel. The Fables panel had a huge number of creators up on stage, and the wait proved to be really worth it. Willingham  and co were great at giving out nuggets of information about the future direction of the series without really spoiling anything, and even though I’m not as rabid about Fables as I was a few years ago, I found myself getting more than a little interested in knowing where the series and its spinoffs were going. And oh – I will probably forever envy the lucky fan who answered a trivia question about Boy Blue and got a horn in a case, which was signed by everyone on stage. UGH!
  8. Attended the Eisners  The Eisner awards are the premiere award ceremony for the comic-book industry (sorry, Eagle Awards and Angouleme grand prizes) and when I learnt that entry was not just limited to professionals, I knew I had to go attend. I am glad I did. Cheered for Joe Hill and Gabe Rodriguez and Mike Mignola and the Ba/Moon brothers, and was completely thrilled at seeing Jonathan Ross taking potshots at the comic-book industry. A low-point was Lance Henricksen on stage, massacring names of nominees, comicbook companies and award-winners, but all in all, an awesome experience.
  9. Helped a friend. When art-hopping, I saw two Alex Raymond Rip Kirby strips for sale, at a more-than-decent price. How decent? Well, two strips were being sold cheaper than a single example available at a dealer in an adjacent row. I knew my friend was interested in good Raymond examples, and those two were great for the price. A couple of hastily exchanged emails and a Paypal payment later, the strips were his. As a bonus, I get to keep them until I meet him. I also got other things for different friends, and you will all get them when I meet you next.
  10. Bought books. While I had been trying to avoid buying books ever since moving to LA, the amount of 50% discount offers going around was too much for my fragile collecting soul, and I caved in multiple times. How much did I get? I went there with one bag, and I had seven heavy bags when I came back. Among the good stuff – Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung-fu, a hardcover edition of Blankets that Craig sketched in, Alec by Eddie Campbell, Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash. All three Amulet volumes, signed and sketched-in by Kazu Kibuishi, Finder omnibus by Carla Speed McNeil. Obviously, I have to find time to sit and read them all.
There will probably be a post with pictures in them coming up soon.