Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stamp of a Writer: 
Bertrand Russell

There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it. 

Friday, July 29, 2011


The Indian Identity Crisis

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then the proof of existence of every law-abiding Indian citizen is in his or her Birth Certificate, Ration Card (public distribution system), Passport, Driving Licence, Bank Passbook, Provident Fund Account, Voter Card, Form 16 (income certficate), PAN Card (income tax permanent account number), IT Return, Know Your Customer (compliance for mutual fund), and now Unique Identification Card (national identity card). A dozen ways Government of India ensures we lead an uncomplicated, stress-free and ulcer-preventive life. Not satisfied, it insists on one more, the Death Certificate, to ensure we exist even when we are no longer around! In the interim there will be many more. Brave it out, folks!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The magic of comics

“An entire magazine devoted to comics! Who’s going to read it?” Friends and colleagues were sceptical that an intellectual magazine which went far beyond the scope of its tagline ‘Mindspace for Men’ could sell on a childhood passion, one that most men usually outgrow by the time they walk into their first job and out of their first marriage—comics.

And yet, Gentleman magazine, last published by Express Publications (Madurai) Ltd until 2001, turned the February 2000 issue on its head by dedicating 60-odd pages to comics and comic strips, and little else. Titled Inner World of Comics, it was, and probably is, the only magazine in the world to do so.

The criticism, mild as it was, seemed justified. After all Gentleman wrote extensively on such cerebral topics as books, music, art, cinema, food, and poetry among other heady addictions. Well-known writers and critics worked on cover themes with a lot of fun and passion, be it science fiction, essential listening, horror stories or underrated movies.

But why comics? No particular reason except that two comic-book fans who were passionate about comics (and I believe still are) decided it was time Gentleman got its own speech bubble, and a big one too.

The believe-it-or-not issue was put together by senior journalist and then editor Premnath Nair and this blog writer with handsome contributions from noted writers and poets like Adil Jussawalla, Farrukh Dhondy, Boman Desai, Rafique Baghdadi, Pradeep Sebastian, Devangshu Datta, Ajoy Alexander, and yes, the late Anant Pai, the father of Indian comics and creator of the fabled Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Picture Stories).

Inner World of Comics was a veritable who’s who of the comic book universe beginning with The Yellow Kid, the first-ever comic strip. Almost no one was left out, at least not intentionally, and all the major league comic book characters were in.

Come to think of it, there was more to Inner World of Comics. In some way we rekindled our long-forgotten inner world too.

As writer-columnist Farrukh Dhondy concluded in his article Childhood Pleasures, “Books were longer to squeeze satisfaction out of. Films were still not accessible. Coca-Cola was unaffordable, chewing gum was forbidden, making eyes at the dhobi’s girl was the closest one got to sex, and TV hadn’t come to India. There was playing with the dog, Dara’s Meccano set, marbles, throwing stones at tamarind trees, reading comics…”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Of Kids, Outlaws and Rangers

First Issue: 1955
The Rawhide Kid
The Rawhide Kid (Johnny Bart), created by Stan Lee and Bob Brown, is arguably the most popular of Western cowboy heroes in a comic book, with The Lone Ranger close behind. Published by Marvel, The Rawhide Kid bears close resemblance to Oliver Strange's Wild West character Sudden (James Green)—fast guns wanted for crimes they never committed. Like Sudden, the Kid fights injustice wherever he goes.

Jesse James
First Issue: 1990
The legendary Jesse James was an outlaw—a murderer and a robber—in real life. He was only 35 when Robert Ford, a gang member, shot him from behind in 1882. Ironically, over the next 100 years and more, Jesse James became a "hero" in both film and television, with a line of Hollywood actors taking turns to play the dreaded outlaw. In 1990, AC Comics published its first Jesse James comic book. According to Wikipedia, in 1969, artist Morris and writer RenĂ© Goscinny (co-creator of Asterix) had Lucky Luke confronting Jesse James, in what appeared to be a parody of the famous gunslinger.

First Issue: 1949
The Durango Kid
American actor Charles Starrett gave a face and a name to The Durango Kid, the Western hero, who ruled the silver screen for several years—starring in as many as 70 films. The comics came much later, in 1949, when Magazine Enterprises approached Columbia Pictures about publishing a Durango Kid comic book that used scenes from the film series. The Durango Kid, whose real name is Bill Lowry, is a ranch owner out to avenge his father's cold-blooded murder.

First Issue: 1957

Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid, like Jesse James, too existed, as William Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney, but lived fewer years than Jesse. He killed many by the time he died at the young age of 22. Unlike in real life, Billy is portrayed as the outlaw who stood for justice in his namesake comic book published by Charlton Comics from 1957 through 1983.

First Issue: 1944

The Cisco Kid
Here's another well-known gunman who is no paragon of virtue. The Cisco Kid, a fictional Western character created by O. Henry in a 1907 short story, is a 25-year-old outlaw who works the Texas-Mexico border region. He is believed to have killed some 20 people. Baily Publishing first published Cisco Kid Comics in 1944 but it was Dell Comics that made him still more notorious from 1950 through 1958.

First Issue: 1948
The Lone Ranger 
The Lone Ranger comic book was preceded by radio, television and film series by a good number of years, before Western Publishing and Dell Comics jointly published the first comic about the popular masked Texas Ranger and his white stallion, Hi-Yo Silver, in 1948. It lasted 145 issues, until July 1962. Later, in 1964, Western Publishing launched Gold Key Comics that brought out more Lone Ranger comics till 1977. The Lone Ranger is the cowboy incarnation of Zorro.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong 

Listen to the late American jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Daniel Armstrong's What A Wonderful World (1968) and you will find all your problems melting away—even if it's just for 2.21 minutes. A feel-good sentimental song that will cheer you up in troubled times.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Cast Away (2000)

"You wouldn't have a match by any chance would you?"
'We might just make it, Wilson!'

Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) to Wilson (Volleyball): We might just make it. Did that thought ever cross your brain? Well, regardless, I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean, than to stay here and die on this shithole island spending the rest of my life talking to a god damn volleyball.

In Cast Away (2000), directed by Robert Zemeckis, FedEx executive Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is marooned on a remote tropical island following a plane crash. He survives four years in complete isolation with only Wilson the Volleyball for company, before returning to civilisation and to a girl who isn't his anymore. Chuck Noland calling Robinson you read me?

The House by the River


Monday, July 11, 2011

One man. One mission. No chance.
The name's English...
Johnny English

Rowan Atkinson returns to the role of the accidental secret agent who doesn't know fear or danger in the comedy spy-thriller Johnny English Reborn (due for release on October 7, 2011). In his latest adventure, the most unlikely intelligence officer in Her Majesty's Secret Service must stop a group of international assassins before they eliminate a world leader and cause global chaos.

In the years since MI-7's top spy vanished off the grid, he has been honing his unique skills in a remote region of Asia. But when his agency superiors learn of an attempt against the Chinese premier's life, they must hunt down the highly unorthodox agent. 

His new enemies, new women, new adventures!
Now that the world needs him once again, Johnny English is back in action. With one shot at redemption, he must employ the latest in hi-tech gadgets to unravel a web of conspiracy that runs throughout the KGB, CIA and even MI-7. With mere days until a heads of state conference, one man must use every trick in his playbook to protect us all. 

For Johnny English, disaster may be an option, but failure never is.

Source: Universal Pictures

The Man. The Number. The License...are all back.

Friday, July 08, 2011


Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes in
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

"Being born with a pair of beady eyes was
the best thing that ever happened to me."
"You're not digging" — to Blondie (Clint Eastwood).

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Druid Dumbledore and Wizard Getafix

Albus Dumbledore casts a spell on himself.
Books, comics and movies are a delightful source of trivia—little scraps and pieces of information that are of little or no significance. Yet, it is in the books we devour, the comics we read and the movies we see that we often find something fascinating and out of the ordinary. Mere observations, they go unnoticed unless someone tells us about them or they just pop into our minds.

Here’s one: Did J.K. Rowling fashion Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, on Getafix the Druid from the tiny Gaulish village in Asterix comics? Of course, she didn't! Or did she?

The similarities between the two old warhorses are so remarkable that they wouldn’t be out of place if they switched places—Dumbledore as the venerable druid in the Gaulish village and Getafix as the great wizard of Hogwartz. Harry and Asterix wouldn’t know the difference. Neither would their friends Ron and Hermione or Obelix and Dogmatix.

Druid Getafix whips up a goulash.
To start with, both Dumbledore and Getafix are masters of their occupations, as well as preoccupations. If Albus is the greatest wizard of all time (let’s forget Voldemort for now), Getafix is the brightest druid of all (strangely, he has no rival); Toutatis knows how many times he has won the competition at the annual druids conference in the Forest of the Carnutes.

Both are mentors and father-figures: Dumbledore to Harry Potter and Getafix to Asterix. Friend, philosopher and guide neither of our little heroes can get by without. But they do get by, ever so often, out of the shadows of their guardians and headlong into daring and dangerous adventures that imperil everyone in their path.

The wise old men are very fond and protective of their wards; orphans really, for we know Harry’s parents were murdered when he was in diapers, while little is known about Asterix’s folks except that his mother was Sarsparilla and his father was Astronomix, and the druid was already around when the brave warrior was born.

In appearance, the wizard and the druid might as well be looking into a mirror (the magic Mirror of Erised, if you like). Who looks first doesn’t matter. Both are tall, sport long hair and beard, have hooked noses, and wear flowing robes and cloaks. Even their mannerisms are alike, whether it is their eccentricity, mischievous look, twinkle in the eye, principled stand, righteous anger or wonderful sense of humour.

The magical Elder Wand is to Dumbledore what the resourceful Golden Sickle is to Getafix. Neither can do without his ‘weapon’. Imagine Albus fighting Voldemort without his wand or the druid getting ready to prepare his magic potion without the aid of his sickle.

Read Asterix and the Golden Sickle and you’ll know what the sickle means to Getafix. It’s very unlike the grand old sage to scream out “It’s a disaster!” when, perched on a tree, he accidentally breaks it into two. And off goes Asterix, with Obelix in tow, to Lutetia to buy a new one for his druid.

In the weapons department, Dumbledore’s powerful magical spells are evenly matched by Getafix’s secret potion that gives superhuman strength. Together, they would be a deadly combination. 

The wizard and the druid have another thing in common: both have mastered the art of fighting death. No one knows exactly how old they are, and they are very, very old. Dumbledore is supposed to be 116 when Rowling bumps him off in The Half-Blood Prince though the Philosopher’s Stone could have kept him alive to play godfather to generations of Harry’s descendants. Getafix’s age is never talked about and he appears unchanged in the 30-plus Asterix comics.

Breaking news in The Daily Prophet: Getafix the Druid replaces Severus Snape as potions master at Hogwartz, and Albus Dumbledore, wand at the ready, teleports himself into the Gaulish village with a loud pop—and lands on top of a menhir.

Monday, July 04, 2011


Superman (1978)

'You've got me? Who's got you?'

Superman: Easy, miss. I've got you.
Lois Lane: You — you've got me? Who's got you?

Superman (Christopher Reeve) rescues Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) after she falls off a high-rise building following a helicopter crash. The conversation takes place as the Man of Steel holds his petrified girl in one hand and the Daily Planet chopper in the other, and flies them back up on to the rooftop helipad (Superman, 1978).

Andy Capp and Hagar the Horrible
and their mother-in-laws

Among the scores of comic and cartoon strips, Andy Capp and Hagar the Horrible, lovable as they seem, are the only two leading characters with long-suffering wives who can scarcely tolerate their good-for-nothing husbands and yet cook and clean up for them. Brave women, Flo and Helga. Both Andy and Hagar also have a running feud with their mother-in-laws who would like nothing better than to see the girls dump their men—with good reason!

Copyright for Hagar the Horrible: Dik & Chris Browne/King Features

Copyright for Andy Capp: Reg Smythe/Creators Syndicate

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Jungle Patrol and Inter-Intel

Lee Falk, the late creator of The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, has been quoted as saying that his two heroes represent the triumph of democracy over dictatorship, the latter he loathed. Both Phantom and Mandrake fight evil in the garb of criminals and dictators who are brought to justice in their own distinct, yet effective, styles. While Phantom uses his fists, Mandrake uses his magic.

Both heroes often mete out justice through law enforcement organisations they are associated with.

In the Phantom's case, only the feared Pygmy Bandar tribe know that The Ghost Who Walks is also the secret head of the Jungle Patrol founded by the sixth Phantom. The latter, led by a colonel as second-in-command, don't know who their mysterious commander is. They usually report to a safe, kept in an empty room, in which the Phantom leaves credible instructions. 

How the Phantom gets there is another story, but it would make any hydraulic engineer proud.

Mandrake, on the other hand, often solves cases for Inter-Intel, the global crime-fighting organisation loosely fashioned on Interpol. He comes to know, quite late into the comics, that the secret chief of Inter-Intel is none other than his ass-kicking chef—Hojo. Till then he deals with the bearded Jed, the police chief and Hojo's deputy.

How Mandrake chases Hojo and finally catches up with him at Inter-Intel HQ, to discover his true identity, is another story for another day.

The Jungle Patrol operates from the outskirts of a jungle, in Bangalla, and appears as if it could do with more hands while Inter-Intel is a sophisticated organisation that could give the FBI a run for its dollars.

Characters like the Jungle Patrol (collectively that is) and Hojo make Phantom and Mandrake comics more colourful and interesting to read and savour.

Friday, July 01, 2011