Archive for April 2006

A Picture full of Life!

April 14, 2006

Graphic Storytelling. It’s an art on its own. Just like telling a story, the theme may vary right from being totally extraneous to embarking upon our minds significant National as well as international issues. However, Comics and comic strips are perhaps indispensable entities in our lives today. When we read the daily newspaper we just impulsively turn to the comics section, and dive straight into the mixed bag of 4/5 comics. They always seem to finish without giving enough pleasure. They are always too less for the craving-for-more souls like me.
Starting in a certain sequence, a daily comic reader never follows the sequence as given by the editor. It is personal choice – whether you want to save the ‘best’ for the last, or vice versa. Time constraint? Never for ‘sequential art’!!

We all have our favourites. However, the main intention of almost every strip is to lighten the moment, to tell a situation and to make the reader laugh. And when this is attempted with the aid of words and pictures, it’s a treat all the way. The words maybe plain yet sardonic and the pictures may come to life instantly in hazy forms in our minds. The types of characters define what is being said, and how it will be dealt with. There are some comics, which can be understood only when you have grown up a wee bit. The humour is dry, and a child simply cannot comprehend it. Wizard of Id being one of my prime childhood agonies.

My first brush with Tintin goes back to class 5th days when I would just love to go through the colour pictures. After almost 12 years from then, I realise I have grown up with Tintin. Each book is a marvel and when you lay your hands upon a new one, the first thing you do is sit back and complete it. Tintin is a hero who gives me hope, relief, entertainment taking me away from day-to-day reality. Herge’s fine detailed sketches, the comic’s high repeat value, strong story scripting, and the spirit of adventure all make each Tintin comic different from the one read before. His pet dog Snowy is an adorable companion.

Teen life can never be complete without The Archies, the teen love and high school triangle with funny situation always brings on a smile. Poor Dennis, the misunderstood naughty child has never grown, but always manages to be ‘cute’. One of my favorites, Beetle Bailey always manages a spoof on army life, if not normal existence of countless others outside the rigidity of routine. And of course, the very Indian – Uncle Pai’s Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha.

Political cartoons are another category all together, but to be honest, none other than Laxman with his common man have managed to keep me glued.

So what is it that differentiates comics? To me apart from the characters, the interest is spurred by the
Narrative – it has to be easy to follow
Drawing – interesting yet neat, expressive strokes
Fun factor – witty or endearing, the point is it should be worth noticing

However, there are some comics, which are just so endearing, and transcend all time-age barriers. Calvin and Hobbes being one of them.

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.” – Calvin

Personally I feel that Calvin and Hobbes is one of the most effective comic strips to be written. It is insanely funny and at the same time conveys the meaning of life through a small kid and his tiger, something which is so much necessary in this world of violence and sadism where all that we read in even comics are the adventures of superheroes, Batman, Superman, Pac man (?) and the gang.

Calvin: what’s it like to fall in Love?
Hobbes: well……say the object of your affection walks by….
Calvin: Yeah?
Hobbes: first your heart falls into your stomach and splashes your innards. All the moisture makes you sweat profusely. This condensation shorts the circuits to your brain, and you get all woozy. When your brain burns out altogether, your mouth disengages and you babble like a cretin until she leaves.
Calvin: that’s love?!?
Hobbes: Medically speaking.
Calvin: heck, that happened to me once, but I figured it was cooties!

I got initiated to Calvin and Hobbes just a few weeks back. Hmm, I can sense those mouths dropping out and astonished expressions on the faces of all those who are reading this, but…….
Anyways, how I got intitiated??

He : Haven’t you ever read a Calvin and Hobbes?
Me: Nope. My grand dad used to tell me stories though. I don’t know why I never picked those comics.
He: You have wasted your childhood. You can make up for it now though.

I decided to make up for the loss of not having read a single Calvin and Hobbes ever. Grabbed two books – Something under the bed is drooling and Yukon Ho!

There are many reasons why it has become special to me now. This is one of the rare comic strips, which makes me laugh, and laugh until my eyes get watery, until my stomach is swollen with pain and the sides are aching. It pulls open the curtains to make me see the brighter side of life, and many a times there is an underlying message in it. Bill Watterson’s brilliance lies in bringing out that message in the subtlest way.

Hobbes: how come we play war but not peace?
Calvin: Too few role models.

Not necessarily is there a message with each strip. The essence of a comic lies more in the word play, at which Watterson seems almost perfect. I can so connect with the character of Calvin. He thinks school can do no good to him. He dreams a lot – during sleep and during day. He wants everything his own way. He can go wild with imagination. He can blame the earth’s gravity for a snail’s slow pace. He is curious and immature. He thinks bigger than his brains and Hobbes aptly supports him. Hobbes goes to highlight the height of Calvin’s imaginations. Hobbes comes to life only around Calvin, otherwise he is a stuffed tiger – something the author has used beautifully to create a semi-fantasy world, where he could shift between reality and fantasy just as easily as he wants to. What is not hackneyed here (thankfully!) is that Hobbes does not come to life to play with Calvin, Hobbes is rather a philosopher who knows little about humans but derives conclusions about them based on the happenings around. Its just awe-inspiring how Watterson takes you on a journey of entertainment par excellence with just a few square cartooned boxes and plain conversations.

Calvin: isn’t it strange that evolution would give us a sense of humour. When you think about it, its weird that we have a physiological response to absurdity. We laugh at nonsense. We think its funny. Don’t you think its odd that we appreciate absurdity? Why would we develop that way? How does it benefit us?
Hobbes: I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.

Watterson never whips a single philosophy, which is another best aspect of him. His light touch with deep thought is what kept me thumbing compulsively through the books.
There’s absolutely nothing to dislike about this comic. When authors write comics, they attract two kinds of audiences, both of which are diametrically opposed in opinion of the author’s work. I haven’t met one person who hates Calvin and Hobbes, and it’s because of the way Bill Watterson expresses himself through all of the characters in such a way that anyone can understand, and even assign a personality to the character to make it a completely and undoubtedly unique experience for every individual. The characters are flawless in their simplistic, but sophisticated style, and their thoughts and feelings are communicated perfectly through the great writing skills that Watterson displays.

Alright, this is almost turning into a comical nostalgia. A picture full of life, ain’t it? So, what is your comic?