Seller of life insurance in Kolkata keeps comic book characters Phantom and Mandrake alive

Anirban Mukherjee collects second-hand Indrajal comics in Bengali, especially of the superheroes who were not stereotypical, and had stories with a human touch

Updated - June 26, 2024 05:19 pm IST

Published - June 26, 2024 01:57 am IST - Kolkata

Kolkata-based Anirban Mukherjee has over 600 comic books in his collection at the moment, which is dominated by Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks.

Kolkata-based Anirban Mukherjee has over 600 comic books in his collection at the moment, which is dominated by Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

His day job is to sell life insurance, but his passion is to preserve two men who never existed but who added vigour to the childhood of several generations of people — Phantom and Mandrake.

Kolkata-based Anirban Mukherjee, a senior vice-president in HDFC Life Insurance, can be found looking for comic books when he is not looking for customers. Not just any comic books but second-hand Indrajal comics, that too in Bengali. He has over 600 comic books in his collection at the moment, which is dominated by Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks.

“These comic books were, naturally, a childhood fascination, but I started collecting them only 20 years ago, when I had achieved stability in my career. Comic books were never cheap. I collect only Bengali books because that’s what I grew up on. English comic books were not very easily available back in those days in the city, and even today, second-hand English comics are not very easy to find,” Mr. Mukherjee, 49, told The Hindu.

Thanks to artist Narayan Debnath, who died in 2022 at the age of 97, Bengal had its own famous comic characters when Mr. Mukherjee was growing up — Bantul the Great, Haanda Bhonda, Nonte Fonte — but he was more fascinated by two comic strips that appeared in a popular Bengali daily: Phantom and Mandrake.

“I started with Superman and Batman, but I could never identify myself with those stories. Phantom and Mandrake were different, in the sense that they were not the stereotypical superheroes. Their storylines and backdrops were different, particularly in the case of Phantom,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

“Phantom lived in a jungle and followed the rules of the jungle. He protected jungle people from the wrong people of the outside world, such as poachers, dacoits, drug mafia. Sometimes there was a touch of fantasy in his stories, like when he would go to the city to knock down the villains. Mandrake the Magician too fought against evil, along with his partner Lothar and his cook Hojo — their stories too had a human touch,” he said.

Mr. Mukherjee is not a big fan of today’s superheroes. “They are too much of a powerhouse. The human touch is limited. Their approaches are aggressive and the stories are predictable. In any case, comic books have taken a backseat in the age of television and Internet,” he said.

His collection is sourced from various book markets and also stalls in Kolkata’s College Street. “I remain passionate about Phantom and Mandrake. I always have a hectic travel schedule; work pressure is very high in the insurance sector. These comic books are a stressbuster — they take me back to my childhood and to an imaginary world,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

“Phantom owns an island where all types of animals live together. He goes to this place to relax in the weekend. Similarly, I keep returning to these comics,” he said.

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