‘Ugh! What? Is that like a proctologist? Let, me guess, you are a cultist, aren’t you?’ No, No, It’s just a big word for saying I’m a comic book collector. Back when I was stepping into my teens it was just another word (make that three) for a dork. But then Nolan happened and suddenly it was, “Ooh you are a collector!” Mind you, it still didn’t get me girls. Apparently I needed to have the physique, the charm and the eloquence of Bruce Wayne along with the copy of A Killing Joke. But that story is for another day. Today I am going to talk about the reasons why I love being a comic book collector and suggest you do the same.
Do you love comics? Love running your fingers on that beautiful glossy page (and tracing Starfire’s countours)? Do you spend a significant amount of time thinking about what was the best thing about a certain issue of Teen Titans? Congratulations, Bub! Unlike 63.4567% of the people on Planet Earth, you have a hobby and you are passionate about it. In your free time you have something worthwhile to do and think about (even if in that “free” time you should be studying for your test the next day). But it’s a double edged sword. Pretty soon, it’s going to turn into an obsession and everytime you pass a comic book you don’t have in your possession, your fingers are going to itch and crawl and you will feel the urgent need to throw the cash at the counter, cash your mom gave you to buy grocery. To heck with it, my sister can starve for a day. I need Justice League 3000 #7.
Meeting new people
On my hunt for comics, I have had my share of encountering many people. Some interesting, some eccentric and some downright weird. And every one of them had a story. A 38 yr old man who had been collecting comics since he was 6 and was still searching for Indrajal #1, an old man who saved his Phantom collection instead of the 7000 bucks in his room when his house caught fire (Thankfully, it was doused before it could do any major damage). Or that girl living in that run down two room apartment who had a room full of comics. And when I say full, I mean stacked-to-the-roof-not-an-inch-empty full. Like minded people. Hours of conversations (and you don’t even realise how them hours fly by). Lots of stories. New friends. Of course there is that rumor of a boy, not much older than me, who lures collectors to his home with Amazing Fantasy #15 and they are never seen again.
Watching comic book adapted movies and TV series become that much more fun when you are a comic book aficionado. You can get all those references and hints the show creators drop, that your friends don’t. Sometimes they don’t even know there was a hint. For e.g that time on Arrow, Season 2, when a truck carried a poster for Blue Devil all for 2 seconds. Here’s another- Batman vs Superman may not have been all that great but it did one thing that made me love it to bits. It credited Bill Finger as co-creator of Batman. Bill gave the Finger to who? I wish he did. For all those who know a little bit about Batman beyond the movies, they know Bob Kane as the creator. Yeah, Kane created all right. He created Jack Squat. He basically had the paper thin idea of a man in red tights and black wings fighting crime. That’s about it. Boom. It was Finger who gave Batman his origins, his moniker- The Dark Knight, his car- The Batmobile, his sometimes romantic foil- Catwoman and the list goes on. Then why does it always say- Batman, created by Bob Kane, in bold, above all Batman books, you ask. That my little naive Dwirjis, is because that evil man cut a sweet deal for himself with DC by helping them undermine the legal case against them brought about by Superman’s creators. Did I rock your world or what? The flip side is you also start to imagine things and storylines when there aren’t any. Also you tend to blow your lid off when somebody tells you, “You know I don’t understand, why hasn’t Batman joined the Avengers, yet?” Ah! The times I wish I had Mjolnir and could say, “I shall bash thee.”
This holds more relevance for those in India. The satisfaction of being able to buy a bunch of old comics from the eighties at dirt cheap prices after successfully haggling for an hour, appealing to the shopkeeper’s humanity, sense of fairness and justice and economics and calling him your brother, uncle, cheat and referring to yourself as a kid without lunch money, all to get him to give you a bit more discount. Yes, bargaining is not an easy job. It’s like being a politician. You have to tell a lot of lies, make a lot of false promises and say facts which are fiction, all to save 50 bucks. Of course, it’s a totally different matter that you soon end up spending that 50 bucks, most probably behind a comic book.
Conversation is easy
This can also be put as- Talking is easy… for you. Your head is always bubbling with ideas, facts, suggestions, opinions and you Need to get it out and talk about it. You can go on and on about whether Spiderman is best friends with Daredevil or Human torch. Or how you hated Bahadur’s pink shirt. You can speak for and against yourself for hours. Your in-depth knowledge about Conan makes you deserving of a degree on the barbarian times of yore. It’s a different matter if you suddenly realise you have driven your date into the strong arms of the Sandman (see what I did there.)
Discovering new places
This again is more relevant in the Indian scenario. Unlike Stuart’s comic book shop for the guys in The Big Bang theory, there is no comic book store round the corner in the Indian cities. You have to run the length and breadth of the city you live in before you discover that rundown shop which stashes your favourite comics. And when you do that, the happiness and joy cannot be explained in mere words. You feel like Christopher Columbus who just discovered America or helped your girlfriend get a real orgasm. Take a pick. And while you were engaged thusly, you realise you are now familiar with the city’s veins and alleys, its nooks and corners (some of them, at least. I live in a big city). And guess what, while doing so, you now know about this great vendor who makes the most awesome tea. So now you and your friends have a new spot to hang out.
Owning a slice of history
Let’s take an example- my copy of ‘The Red Bricks House’ under the Indrajal comics banner. Let’s break this down step by step, all to hammer into your mind the fact, that this is, in fact, the Kohinoor of my collection.
Indrajal comics, what? For all you ignorant plebs there, Indrajal was the first 32 page format comic book series in India which was published by the Benett, Coleman and Co, publisher of Times Of India. It started its run in the spring of 1964 and its last issue came out in April 1990.
The Red Bricks House- Yes, yes, the title isn’t exactly smooth on the tongue but stop cribbing, will ya because this book documented the first appearance of Bahadur.
‘Bahadur, Ah! You mean my watchman.’
‘No, no, you stereotyping beetroot’, Bahadur was the first Indian ‘Western genre’ hero in comic book format. Dressed in an orange kurta and blue jeans and armed with only his wit, resourcefulness and fists of steel, he rained terror upon the dacoits of Chambal. Created by the amazing Aabid Surti (Google him, if you don’t know who that is), Bahadur was way ahead of his time. The book portrayed a live-in relationship between him and his girlfriend Bela, who was a kickass character in her own right. She could match Bahadur punch for punch and on her first appearance actually made him lick the dust. She had a Masters degree in Microbiology and Chemistry and in every issue she appeared, the story was made richer all the more for it. And long before Ekta Kapoor made it common for villains to be presumed dead and then return with another face plastered on them, courtesy the so-easy-over-the-counter-plastic-surgery, Bahadur faced off against his 5 doppelgangers. With a cast that included Sukhia and Mukhia, Bahadur fought against dacoits, social evils and Bond-esque villains.
The book I hold was printed way back in 1976.
Need I say more?
You have the bragging rights
Yes, a lot of people call you a man-child. Yes, your parents ask you the point of spending so much money behind picture books. But one thing can’t be denied- a long box of comics is sure to draw a gasp, even from your most vociferous critic. You can spend hours gazing at them as they are spread in all their glory over your bed (Warning: the sorting and packing afterwards is going to be hard work) It will always be a source of pride for you. It’s like showing off your new car, except it’s cheaper and needs no gas.
With evolving times, comics too have evolved. Comics are no longer exclusive to kids. The storylines are way mature now (too much in some cases). There’s a reason graphic novels are gaining popularity. Anybody who says comics are for kids should go through Vertigo-Fables. And it is just one of the many out there. No longer do comics follow the formulaic ‘Good guys beat bad guys at the end’ trope. There are twists (and those twists have their own twists), subtle plot points and complex story telling. And most of the illustrators working in the industry are the best in their business. The work of Alex Ross or Howard Porter are truly mind bending and there are countless more where they came from.
Did you know how much was a copy of Action comics #1 (first appearance of Superman) sold for? A whooping US$3,207,852. Yes, look at that figure! Agreed not every comic book occupies that premium a position but they are worth a lot. Older the better. With a little bit of strategy, marketing flair and enough time to mature your investment you could be counting greens. Always take inspiration from the fact that Kevin Smith, the director of Clerks funded his film by selling off his entire comic book collection. But honestly, I stated this point as a bait, just to lure you in. Because once the bug bites you, you won’t be doing it for money.
It’s easy to gift you
No longer do your girlfriend, friends or relatives have to scratch their head on what to gift you on your birthday or Christmas. You are the easiest person to make happy.
Learning a new language
This is a personal experience. Being a Bengali (Oh yes, I come from the land of Phantom, if you know what I mean. Sigh! I know you don’t, so don’t nod your head like you do. Phantom’s famed Skull Cave is in the forests of Bangala, which was just how Lee Falk spelled Bengal to make it sound exotic) who had never lived in Bengal, I was more proficient in English and Hindi than I was in my own mother tongue. But it all changed when I learned that the Bengali comic books cost a lot less than their English counterparts. So I mastered the language in two days flat with the help of a friend. And now I am on my way to learn Marathi. And some day I will learn Italian just so that I can read Diabolik.
Smoking is injurious to health
Buying comic books is not. Neither is making a collection of them. Unless of course, you are allergic to old books, dust, bulging biceps, badass women, suspension of belief and all things yet to be possible.
So what are you waiting for? Go to Amazon or Comixology and spend some of your dad or mom’s hard earned money or yours. Doesn’t matter, as long as it is somebody’s hard earned money.
— Rohan Sarkar
fanart by Susruto Mukherjee