Minor, no, scratch that, Major public service announcement

If you are in India, and you’re interested in comics other than the Tintin-Asterix-C&H variety, you ought to be aware already that there aren’t too many bookstores around that stock or sell graphic novels. Yes, for the metro-folks, there is Landmark and to an extent, Odyssey. But seriously – full price for graphic novels? That totally blows. Take into account the fact that the stuff you are interested in might never even hit bookstores in India. You know that you have the urge to buy a graphic novel just because it’s among the few available and you need something to kill the craving – so yes, you pay full price anyways. Shipping from Amazon is a disaster, unless you have someone who’s travelling from the US and willing to accept books for you.

Something’s in the works. Someone I know is thinking of setting up an online store here in India to provide just those services that are lacking in India as far as graphic novels are concerned. I am involved in this to an extent – we have been bouncing ideas off each other, and I need a bit of help. It’s going to be a controlled start – just testing the waters, in a way, and he’s going to be offering, in order, very good discounts, a subscription-based model, a recommendation system, and a steadily-increasing catalogue, among other things. Second-hand content might come, based on buyer interest. Books in stock will be mostly graphic novels and trade paperbacks, and not 22-page comics.

A couple of questions.


If you listen real close, you can hear me gritting my teeth.

It’s end of the month, and I am broke. In fact, I am beyond broke – uber-bankruptcy would be the right word.

Hence, not a good time to enter Landmark Book Store, Nungambakkam, Chennai.

But the flesh is weak. I sauntered up to the manga section which, strangely, is located somewhere in the middle of the children’s section while the rest of the graphic novels are just next to the entrance. Quite a few of the usual Del Rey suspects – Negima, Azumanga Daioh, xxxHolic and all – but the first one my eyeballs locked onto was vol 1 of Crying Freeman. The next moment, I was a crying Freeman myself, having observed the 594 INR price tag at the back of the book. Glanced wistfully at the pages – Ryuichi Ikegami’s artwork embellishing Kazuo ‘Lone Wolf’ Koike’s story about an assassin is something right up there in my Wish List, but no, goddamnit. I wasn’t spending any money today. No freaking way. Returned the book to its place. Went to the normal graphic novel section and winced harder at the sight of the hardbound edition of Jessica Abel’s La Perdida. The art was terrific, but again, flipped through the pages and kept it back.

Found out that Landmark has also begun stocking Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets books, at a stunningly low 295 Rs each. Amazing! How can Fantagraphics books afford to be so cheap, inspite of a cover price of 14.95$?? My friend opined that it was probably a mistake – and promptly picked up volume 1. I tried asking around to see if they had Palomar and Locas, the complete Love and Rockets collections from the two brothers. They didn’t. Oh well. I read the first volume of Oldboy – the manga in the store, which left me marvelling at the apt storytelling choices Park Chan-wook opted for while making a movie out of it.

And then I made my way to the sci-fi/fantasy section, and promptly regretted the decision.

Day Watch was out – the English version of the second book in Sergei Lukyanenko trilogy. Priced at 698, by the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth! And Ramesh Menon’s Bhagavat Purana, which has got to be the thickest standalone book I’ve ever seen. Should be about 1300 pages. 995 Rs. After I was done with the soft-sobbing-while-being-curled-into-foetal-position in the corner of the section, I called retail therapy. In other words, Krishna of Bookworm – who cheered up a so-far-dreary day by not only having both books in stock, but also using the magic words “twenty five percent discount” in the same context.

Update: Chandru was in Chennai yesterday, and he bought Crying Freeman for me. What can I say – the flesh is weak. Oh right, I already said that.

Update 2: Chandru also bought La Perdida. *Sigh*

Update 3: There is an eBay seller who’s put up five Crying Freeman volumes and nine of Wounded Man, another of Koike-Ikegami’s collaborations. And he’s shipping internationally too. Hrmmm.

* * *

It’s official. If Samit Basu is channelling Neil Gaiman in his user-friendly, accessible-fantasy-writer-prone-to-bouts-of-mythology in his work, Sarnath Bannerjee is channelling Grant Morrison in his cheery outlook to writing. The guy most remembered for the mess that was Corridor, has come up with Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers, his second work, and this is what he says about himself – “I am always at the fringe. I am the fringe of literature. I am at the fringe of art- its a very comforting space.” and about his work – “It’s a dark mysterious story which lot of it is me. It’s reality slipped into magic and magic slipping into reality with ease. Despite all the movement in space and time, the narrative is much more linear and much more rounded off.” How very novel. If you haven’t been reading Morrison’s semi-coherent interviews for the last couple of years, that is.


Landmark, Mumbai, and a crib about bookstores

Since I’ve been flying around the country quite a bit (urm, planes, not newly developed wings), I have been able to find time to catch up on a bit of reading. And buying. Reread Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors on the Kanpur trip. Also started a Diana Wynne-Jones collection of short stories just after that got over. And graphic novels, loads of them.

Landmark, Mumbai was a revelation. I had been hearing raves about it from oceansandearth and suku. The former gave me a near-apoplexy by mentioning that not only did the place have Samurai Executioner volumes 8 and 9, which yours truly had been searching for high and low, it also had volumes 14 and 15 of Blade of the Immortal, of which I had read volumes 1-13 in white-heat some time ago. And indeed, when I landed up there, the collection sent a rush of blood to my head. It had all that, and much more. Is anyone looking for volumes of Akira? What about David Lloyd’s latest original GN Kickback? Complete runs of Fables TPBs, Y The Last Man, Flash Gordon collections, Promethea – basically whatever mainstream comics has to offer. Even the first two volumes of the Koike/Kojima release Path of the Assassin, which is just being released by Dark Horse.

But hold on a second, no discounts. Wankers. Just went ahead and bought some bare necessities, Samurai Executioner and BotI included. Glared at the hardcover edition of The Complete Conan by Robert E Howard. Wankers. I will just have to pick up the softcover version the next time I am in Blossom. My patience has run out.

It pains me extremely to realise that nowhere in Hyderabad can I buy new books with a 20% discount, like I used to in Bangalore. It’s partly a blessing, because most of my book-buying is now confined to second-hand books ONLY while in this city. And boy oh boy, Best-Frankfurt-MR do manage to throw up surprises every now and then, like the original Tideland novel by Mitch Cullin for just 50 Rs, and a beautiful fairy tale book called Wingless which I picked up the other day just because it has illustrations by Atanu Roy. I do frequent the bigger bookshops – Odyssey and Walden – every now and then, but that’s just to check up on the latest releases. If I like anything, I buy them at 20% discount the next time I am at Bookworm or Blossom. Both Odyssey and Walden have these “Sales” twice every year, in which they sell all their stock at a grand 10% off. Phoeey! Walden does one better. It takes out the worst books of the lot, the marketting manuals that were out of anyone’s radar eight years ago, Java 1.2 API guides, Windows 98 tutorials, and tags them with “special prices” – which we customers are supposed to drool over and buy immediately. They are selling unsold hardcover copies of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince at 15% off – well after the paperback has been released. Morons.

Count your blessings, Bangalore-dwellers. For all the cribs I have against your city, there are certain things that make me gnash my teeth and wish I were still in that office on Museum Road. Ah, to be able to drop in at Blossom every day at lunchtime.

Did you know that Barefoot Gen, the seminal manga on the horrors of Hiroshima, and considered to be one of the inspirations behind Grave of the Fireflies is now available in an Indian edition? Yes, and quite well-priced at 250 Rs, also comes with an introduction by Anand Patwardhan.

Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken and Plums is also available at most bookshops, though the cost price of 600 is somewhat off-putting. I will just wait for a Bangalore trip to pick it up.

Volumes 5-8 of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha are available quite freely in the market now. ( How freely? Even a backwaters bookshop like Odyssey, Hyderabad has them on display. The last time I asked them if they had Buddha, one of the salesmen pointed me to the “religion” section. Bah! ) Prices also seem to have come down quite a bit. 295 per book, and if you buy them from places that offer a discount, you get them for REALLY cheap. I ought to be peeved that I spent almost twice the money on the first four volumes, but this lowered price makes me quite glad because more people will pick up this superb series, which deserves hosannahs and praise and our eternal gratitude to Osamu Tezuka for creating it all. Highly recommended, folks. Storytelling does not get better than this.

I tried watching Nacho Libre the other night, but fell asleep midway. Is it just me, or is Jack Black trying too hard?


A Day Of Debauchery

Last Wednesday, as I began my day in the office with a customary cup of hot lemon tea in the pantry, my phone rang. I was a little grouchy at that time, and the Bangalore number did not sound familiar, so when the voice at the other end said a cheerful “Hi! How you doing?”, I growled “Who is this?” with that edge in my voice reserved for telemarketeers and credit card companies. The mean-I-am-the-Goddamn-Beatzo tone of voice. A minute later, I was regretting the tone, I could have mumbled shameful monosyllables of apology the whole day long.

The person calling me up had just said “There is a shipment of a thousand new comics that have come in, should I hold them for you?”

Bangalore. Weekend. Plans had not been made, but if you had asked me that morning to describe the weekend that was coming up, I would have sighed contentedly and talked about catching up on sleep and horror anthologies and DVDs and Tom-Yum-Goong ( Yes, YES, the latest Tony Jaa-Prachya Pinkaew movie has been released in Hyderabad, yeehaw!), the kind of lazed two-day reprieve one looks forward to with half-closed eyes and a contemplative smile. One phone call had thrown my plans out of the window – how much more Motorola-ad-ish could my life get? After wildly considering booking flight tickets ( I had to slap myself a couple of times to come out of this corporate “flights-will-save-time” mood), made some phone calls and found out that there were not one, not two, but three quizzes happening on Sunday. Ok, technically two quizzes, because I wasn’t allowed to participate in the Metaquizziks Anniversary quiz, bah! So, Wednesday evening, I had return tickets from Sharma Travels, the folks who have gotten so used to selling me Bangalore tickets that they waive the twenty rupees service charge for the return journey. Regular customer, baby, regular customer.

Two days passed by in a flash.

On Saturday morning, I was in Bangalore, doing the same things I do whenever I reach the city on Saturday mornings. Checklist: coffee at a hotel on Anand Rao Circle whose name I can never remember, walk down Racecourse Road until I spy an auto with a digital meter, go to Anil Kumble circle, walk to my old office, brush and freshen up, walk to India Coffee House, have a scrambled eggs on toast and a coffee, walk to Bookworm right next door, say hi to the folks there, pick up books I had reserved the last time, reserve books that I will in all likelihood pick up the next trip, walk down Church Street to Magazines, then go to Planet M, and then to the Brigade Road outlet of Bookworm – oh, hold on, I got carried away, this was not about the daily routine, this was about what happened this Saturday.

So after India Coffee House, I went to Bookworm and picked up two books that I had reserved, an Iain M Banks Against A Dark Background, and Cliff McNish’s The Doomspell Trilogy. Walked over to Magazines, where the comics were supposed to have arrived. It was exactly 10:01 AM by my watch. I had told Amjad that I would be there at 10 Am on Saturday. I won, wheeeee!

The shop was closed.

Frustration. Impatience. Much growling of inner beast. Walked to Planet M, which was supposed to open at 11, it seems. Double Grr. Walked back to Magazines, just in time to see them opening the shop – the first magazine I saw when the shop opened was an issue of Art in America, with the cover story being “Female artists in comics”. What an omen. The price was 249 Rs, and I hastily put it back. Then, of course, he got the comics out. One basket. Two baskets. Three. By the time the fourth was out, I was gibbering and flapping around in a pool of saliva. Watchmen issues. Complete Greg Rucka runs on Wonder Woman. Batman# 407, the last Year One issue. Long Geoff Johns runs on Flash and Willingham runs on Robin. Most of Batman: War Games. ( I didn’t like that so much when I read it, but it’s always fun to own new Batman issues). I remembered to call up a friend about the loot. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, how soon can you come to Magazines?
Him: Will take me about an hour and a half.
Me: What if I tell you that Watchmen issues are available at Magazines right now?
Him: ( scary sounds on the other end of the phone) I am coming. Be right there. Bye. *click*

So he came, after I had completed my first pass at the lot, and after the speechlessness and the obligatory swoon, he proceeded to create his own pile ( of comics, I mean, not saliva ). The interiors of Magazines appeared rather bright that day, because there were beaming faces all around. We sat and made a third pass after a coffee break, and by the time the billing was complete, it was three o’clock and the pile of 1000 was short by about 300. A quick trip to Bookworm, where we deposited our bags, then to the nearby momo joint for a late, late lunch. The plan was to go to National Market and check up on fresh stock. As we walked out, I remembered that autos are not allowed into MG Road between 2 and 7, so we walked down Church Street again. Hit Blossom or not hit Blossom? Ok, hit Blossom. Walk up to the comics section, and find a pile of 80’s stuff which my friend pounces on. I saunter over to the other side of the rack, and take out a couple of Amar Chitra Kathas. Hey, these are in pretty good condition. No reprints and no staples, either, and no binding holes on the edges. And, gulp, they seem to be in order, too.

An hour later, we are at the billing counter, I am holding 101 ACK copies, my friend about 60, and assorted DC issues, and both of us are about to do the tandava right then and there, yo.

National Market gave me the first seasons of Rome and The X-Files, three seasons of The Family Guy, Eli Roth’s Hostel ( am pretty sure it’s not a release version of the DVD, but I want to see it! Will buy the release version later.), and The Blair Witch Project. Came back to Bookworm, I had fought with my conscience enough to pick up this book called Warner Bros Animation Art, which featured not just the history of Warner Bros animation, but also a list of the limited edition cel prints released by Warner Bros. The sight of those signed and numbered historical artifacts make me tear up, I tell you.

The Day of Debauchery ended, like all other Saturdays at Bangalore, with a dinner at Mei Ying. But not before we ran up to this new second-hand bookshop that had opened next door, and taken a look at their collection, and added a couple more Amar Chitra Kathas and Batmans to our pile. What. A. Day.

And to think I still haven’t seen Tom-Yum-Goong on the screen. But that shall be remedied in a couple of hours, heh heh.