Thanks to my friend Pablo, I knew about this Belgian series called Spirou, which has been through multiple publishings and translations since its creation in 1938. In contrast to Tintin and Asterix ( which I mention because of the inherent familiarity folks have with them), Spirou has been written and drawn by multiple creators, from Jijé in its early years to Morvan and Munuera in 2004. I know only of the artist Pablo has been raving about – André Franquin, who developed the characters and the storylines and is considered the definitive Spirou artist.

And now, thanks to Eurobooks, which has already brought out the Agatha Christie and Biggles graphic novels and claim to be bringing out comic book versions of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, Spirou is available in India. And these are Franquin’s stories being published as oversized albums (the same format as Tintin and Asterix ) and are priced at 199 Rs each. I saw about twelve of them at Walden today. A quick flip-through reveals slightly sub-standard translation and lettering, the translators seem to have used a terrible typeface and I could see Americanisms abound in the dialog – but beggars can’t be choosers, I say. Am in cheapskate mode right now, otherwise would have bought the lot. Waiting for the next Bangalore trip where discounts will be negotiated and free book coupons put to good use.


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.


JL of A, JLA and JLU

Am watching episodes of Justice League Unlimited, a bunch of which landed up here thanks to tandavdancer. Had goosebumps during the episode “For The Man Who has Everything”, which was an adaptation of an Alan Moore story from the 1980’s.

(Somewhat coincidentally) Reading Squadron Supreme, Mark Gruenwald’s deconstructionist take on superheroes, featuring analogous characters from the Justice League in a twelve-issue series which sought to address how superheroes would react in a real-world scenario. Yes, yes, I know – Watchmen, Kingdom Come, The Authority yada yada yada, but Squadron Supreme still kicks major ass, and how. Mark Gruenwald, the writer was an avowed Justice League fan – every issue in the trade paperback ends with an essay by a major writer/editor, and in Kurt Busiek’s essay, he mentions his funniest memory of Gruenwald – how he was challenged by the other Mark ( Waid), another Justice League fan about JLA trivia, and how Gruenwald beat Waid by asking him TWO questions that the latter could not answer. Gruenwald channels this love for the classical characters by making a series whose epic contribution to the superhero archetype cannot be encapsulated in a blog post like this. Every subplot, every subsequent issue, every back-story makes you wish that DC had the guts to use its flagship characters the way Gruenwald did, like fallible human beings with powers, instead of walking punchlines. And the strangest bit of trivia – Gruenwald’s will stated that he wanted his remains to be cremated and the ashes were to be mixed in the printing ink for the Squadron Supreme comics. So, in a way, my copy of the trade has a bit of Mr Gruenwald in it.

Come to think of it, I’ve enjoyed the different incarnations of the Justice League that came out as I grew up. The thing to bear in mind is that between my a comic being released and it coming to the stands in India, there is a gap of almost ten years involved. That is to say, in 1992, I was reading JLA issues released in 1984-86. What to do, India is like that only. This was the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of the JLA, which had very entertaining multiverse stories, with crunchy cliffhangers that did wonders for my imagination. At that time, I was a little wary of the 90’s issues, the artwork was not that clean, and for a thirteen-year old kid, “clean” art matters a lot.

When I got into the serious phase of my comic-book love, I tentatively started up on the new incarnations of the JLA, which featured characters I had never seen before. Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and the Martian Manhunter were the only ones I seemed to know – Fire, Ice, the Green Lantern G’nort, Max Lord – who were these people? What was Justice League International? There was Justice League Europe??? Hello?

And then I read one issue which featured the JLA getting shrunk to the size of fleas, and they all land up inside the fur of Fire’s pet dog, and bwahahahahah, Guy Gardner gets himself eaten by the dog and comes out …the natural way. Some UK reprints led me to the Manga Khan issues. Manga Khan! What an awesome name! What an awesome character! An intergalactic trader who launched into soliluquies at every possible moment, and owned L-Ron the robot ego-booster. AHAHAHAHAH! I learnt that these JLA stories were written by Keith Giffen, the guy behind the zany looniness of Ambush Bug. That explained it!

Quick bit of trivia – Keith Giffen claims that it was him and JM Demetteis who brought “Bwahahahahaha” into popular culture.

Sometime during the early nineties, the JLA kind of faded away. There was this long arc called Breakdowns, which involved a lot of shady things going on after the League’s manager Maxwell Lord was shot at. I totally lost interest by then, and don’t even know what happened then. The next I heard of the JLA was during the Death of Superman saga, where Doomsday defeated the League in one. single. issue. Eh? This was what the world’s premier crime-fighting team was reduced to?

DC realised the iconic nature of the JLA though. It relaunched the series once the whole Knightfall-Doomsday-Artemis storylines were over in the respective Batman-Superman-Wonder Woman books, and the Big Three were brought back into the fold. The writer? Grant Morrison. The early issues of the JLA can only be described in one word ( or maybe two ) – breath-taking. The crises presented to the members were epic, planet-threatening cataclysms, the likes of which cannot just be handled by a Superman or an Amazon princess all alone. These were problems that required teamwork, and specialized powers, and plans and counter-plans and evasive action. All those people who doubted the necessity of having a non-superpowered being like Batman in the group were gratified by the way Batman, a self-professed loner and, within the DC Universe, more of an urban legend than a public hero, was used in the JLA this time around. He was the no-nonsense plan-meister, the one with the back-up firmly in place, at home even in alien worlds among superhuman brawlfests. Mark Waid took over after Morrison, and continued the series with the same hyperactive style. I read this series in white-heat sometime this year, on scans. Need to buy the later issues some time, already have 1-15.

During Infinite Crisis, the JLA was disbanded, mostly because the members’ distrust of each other led to feuds – following Wonder Woman’s public execution of Max Lord ( Read up on IC sometime, for complete details) and Batman’s recollection of his mind-wipe ( ditto Identity Crisis), things reached a point of no-return.

I believe the new One Year Later storyline reforms the Big Three version of the JLA. Brad Meltzer is writing it, so I expect a lot of soppy fan-wankery disguised as first-person narrative. Blah. Though I don’t doubt I would be reading the series sometime. I am more excited about this spin-off series called JLA: Classified, which presents out-of-continuity stories by writers like Morrison, Ellis and Giffen – and it’s rumoured that Garth Ennis will write his last Hitman story sometime soon for this series. Yippee dee yay!

Coming back to Justice League Unlimited, I am taking in the episodes at white-heat. What I don’t like – sometimes characters don’t use their powers realistically enough. Hmm, ok, superhero license, I guess. Part of me gets excited at being able to identify characters like B’Wana Beast, Brimstone, Circe and El Diablo. I like the quirky way in which certain episodes get resolved – and man oh man, does Bruce Timm know how to spice up the female characters or what? Black Canary, Circe and Zatanna look mindblowingly hot.

Wait a minute, I am drooling over cartoon women. Sheesh.


A Father Knows His Child’s Heart, as Only a Child Can Know His Father’s

I just finished reading 28 volumes of Lone Wolf and Cub. Rereading, rather – I had completed reading the scanned versions sometime last year (well, alright, also the 45 issues that First Comics had reprinted in the eighties, and which I had bought earlier. ). But that was not sustained reading, I was reading the early volumes at the rate at which the kind brainz was downloading them off Emule ( One volume every four days, downloaded to his server, from where I would have to download it to my computer at home, on a painfully erratic 64 kbps connection) And then I discovered bit-torrent, and found the first 23 volumes in a single gigatorrent. Got them, read them all, and stalked zcultfm patiently until volumes 24-28 were uploaded by some samaritan.

I bought the complete lot off eBay last December, from a guy in London at a ridiculously low buy-it-now price, and he waived shipping charges for the lot if I could arrange a personal pickup. My sister came to the rescue, but the books were stuck with her until last week. Oh, the agony. The irony being that bookstores in India began stocking Lone Wolf and Cub volumes since February. Yes, I could have bought them all here, but they would have cost me a lot more, and not all of them were…ahem….first prints.

I finished the first 13 volumes in a single sitting at Delhi airport, taking occasional tomato soup-and-coffee breaks to soothe the hyper-charged mind. Could not really continue with the rest when I got back to Hyderabad, but managed to get to volume 20 by yesterday. Could not control myself any longer, and finished the last 8 volumes today. And now there is this melancholy feeling that refuses to go away – you understand the feeling, right, the thought of “darn, why did it have to end?” and “What do I do next?” and the general hangover of the journey itself, nearly 9000 pages with Ogami Itto and Daigoro on the road to Meifumado.

I could rave about the series and Koike and Kojima’s storytelling prowess, but I am just. Too. Blown. Away right now.

Which reminds me, I also finished eight out of ten volumes of Samurai Executioner, also by the same creators – ironically, the fate of Yamada Asaemon, the titular character of Samurai Executioner is revealed in one of the early volumes of Lone Wolf and Cub. If you find volumes eight and nine of the series, do let me know. Those are the ones I do not have right now – Blossom bookstore in Bangalore stocks Samurai Executioner only until volume 7, while the shop I went to in Delhi had volume 10, but no volume 8 and 9. Darn.

What am I going to read next? Easy. Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, four volumes of which I bought in Delhi, and which I have been dying to read ever since Andrew Arnold raved about them on Time.com. This will be my first Tezuka, and from what I have seen so far, is going to be quite a different read from both Lone Wolf and Samurai Executioner. Now if only I find the next four volumes without much of a fuss….

Quick trivia: Goseki Kojima and Osamu Tezuka were born on the same day – November 3, 1928. What Enishi!


The Best Indian Comic Strip, ever

Manjula Padmanabhan’s Suki is the greatest comic you will ever read in India.

I was introduced to Manjula Padmanabhan’s work through Target, the children’s magazine (emphasis on “the”). Now, of course, she’s rather well-known for her play Harvest, for she won an Aristotle Onassis award, and for the children’s books Mouse Attack and Mouse Invaders ( I have both, thanks!) Did not get Suki until last year, and oh my god, I was blown away. This strip deserves respect, and a lot of our attention, so go right ahead and check out one of the collections.It’s witty, it’s completely whimsical, it’s exquisitely drawn, and it’s SO Indian! The strip is full of puns, visual humor, absurdist comedy, and grounded characters all of which feel very universal. I am reminded of beloved strips like Bloom County and Pogo. A huge part of the appeal of the comic is the wonderful hand-lettered dialogue, which almost take on a personality of their own. Look at how the line width changes in the different panels, as Suki gets more and more engrossed in her words. And check out that lovely signature!

I was lucky enough to find a copy of the original Duckfoot Press release of This is Suki, from where these scans have been taken. Penguin has recently released a copy of “Double Talk: The Best of Suki”, it’s priced slightly on the higher side (Rs 250) and available in all fine bookstores everywhere.

I thnk this was in the introduction to the collection – it seems not too many people “got” Suki when the strips came out, in the Sunday Observer in 1982. So there used to be loads of letters of complaint from readers who would yell at the editor for allowing such tripe to run in the periodical. Grrrr. Stupid, stupid rat creatures.

Want to check out more Suki? Check out Ms Padmanabhan’s blog, where she posts the occasional Suki strip. *Sigh* What I wouldn’t do to get one of the original pages….

And just to show you that the lady knows her comics, here’s a slightly-old Rediff article by her about female characters in comicbooks, and her favourite.

On an aside, another cartoonist I remember from Target was Mala Marwah, who did a strip right below the letters’ page. Damned if I remember the name, will just have to go home and flip through my copies. Anyone know what the name of the strip was? It was something like Baiju-Bawra, or maybe a pun on those names.