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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Humour: Comic book relief

From Jughead to Snoopy, there’s so much more to comics than superheroes

brunch Updated: Sep 01, 2019 00:17 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
(Imaging: Sunil Kumar Mallik)

Filling out an online library form the other day, a question made me stumble. Who’s your favourite author? I was asked simply and horrifyingly. Now I’d much rather confess my deepest, darkest secrets than be asked to offer a judgment on this delicate and difficult issue. I typed what any coward would (“XYZ”) and hurried on to the next few fields demanding genre preferences and the like. Lying awake that night, the answer presented itself like a revelation to a seeker. My favourite author is Snoopy. The eternally suffering Charlie Brown’s dashing beagle, inhabiting imaginary worlds while pursuing an ill-advised literary career. His novelistic projects invariably begin with the hackneyed line: “It was a dark and stormy night.” What’s not to love?

Suppandi walks into a panel …

I came late to the Peanuts party. Like any middle-class, middle-brow Indian child, I was weaned on Tinkle and Archie comics. These two contrasting titles encompassed an entire world of pop culture for us ’80s and ’90s kids. Suppandi and Jughead, Tantri The Mantri and Sabrina The Teenage Witch were the highlights of those years of indiscriminate reading. Yes, the school library stocked Asterix and Tintin, but somehow they didn’t catch my untutored eye. As time went by, I befriended a few comic book-lovers. But rather than inspiring me with their devotion to DC and Marvel, they alienated me with their frightening reverence. (Confession: I still find it difficult to get through a graphic novel. I wonder if I’m running away from comic-lovers or comics.)

While Calvin’s folks have a great parenting style, it’s Hobbes, the tiger, that provides the biggest life lessons!

Calvin and Hobbes is the usual entry point for those transitioning from ‘Gag Bag’ humour to a slightly more evolved comic book aesthetic. Loaded with both antics and semantics, its action-packed panels make you equally laugh and ponder. I’m quite a fan of Calvin’s folks’ parenting style, from wholesome homilies to sarcastic put-downs. But in the end, it is Hobbes, the implacable tiger, who provides the biggest life lessons, (spoiler alert!) never mind that he comes alive only in Calvin’s imagination.

Kindergarten philosophy

Now Peanuts takes the child-centric comic book universe and turns it on its head. For all the appeal and innocence of Charlie Brown and his friends, the underlying philosophy points to the futility of human endeavour in a hostile and meaningless universe. And yet there are baseball games to play, psychiatric advice to dispense, books to be written. Don’t let the little kids and cute animals fool you: this is existential thought at its best.

Each Peanuts character is trying to cope with life in his or her own way, more often than not failing in the effort. But the triumph is in the fight. Take Snoopy, for example. Busy at his typewriter on the roof of the doghouse, he finds imaginative ways to counter his self-doubt as well as the criticism of others, like the bossy Lucy. If only some of the world’s most celebrated writers had a shred of Snoopy’s personality and humanity! Oh, for a writer who makes for as pleasant a companion! Oh, for an imagination as vivid! Oh, I think I’ve trapped myself in this exclamatory mode, necessitating an escape into a fresh section!

The beagle has landed

Thanks to the Internet and social media, one never wants for comic book relief. Whether it’s wry, ironic commentaries or fantastical adventures, political satire or motivational messages, you’ll find it in a web comic or syndicated strip published online. I especially enjoy Bizarro’s absurdity, laugh at the The Awkward Yeti’s pitting of the heart against the brain, even resort to Zen Pencils’ inspirational cartoon messages every now and then. I’ll never understand the kind of devotion that Sheldon and the gang from The Big Bang Theory have for superheroes, but I find a kind of pleasure and comfort in comics that no other medium replicates.

In my especially delusional moments, I fantasise about having my own comic strip: after all, even stick figures are a bona fide art technique. Now all I have to do is to develop a cast of characters, a coherent world view, a sense of compressed action, a low standard of excellence, and a loyal readership that responds well to emotional blackmail. Oh, the perils of having a self-deceiving beagle for a favourite author!

From HT Brunch, September 1, 2019

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First Published: Sep 01, 2019 00:07 IST