The undying love for comics

Kaleel A. and Senthil Kumar D. with their collection of comic books in Puducherry.   | Photo Credit: T. Singaravelou

In his small one-bedroom house located in a corner of Angalamman Nagar, barely lit by sunlight, Kaleel. A, a slim man of average height, opens the door of the cupboard in the corner of the hall. Kaleel, who drives autorickshaw in Puducherry, has stacked up comic books, some old and some new. From the piles of books, he carefully picks up a copy of Irumbukkai Mayavi, a Tamil translation of the British comic The Steel Claw.

This spectre of Irumbukkai Mayavi still haunts the young minds of Tamilians. The Tamil translation of the British comic The Steel Claw, first published in 1971, continues to captivate the Tamil readers in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu till date, enticing readers and connecting them. Translated and published in Tamil by Lion Muthu comics, the first edition of Irumbukkai Mayavi is priced at ₹2,000 while the reprinted copy of the comics is being sold at ₹50 now.

3 decade-old collections

With only few pauses, Kaleel zealously talks about his tryst with the world of comics. “I began reading comics in 1986 and started collecting them the very next year till 1991 in Chennai. Then I came back to Puducherry and began collecting comics regularly since 1992,” he says.

His interest in comics began as a child when his neighbour began telling stories every night. “At a time when there was no television or any other mode of entertainment, reading comic books occupied our spare time. We were so immersed in the pictures that we could never stop reading. I did not have ₹5 to afford a book as even getting 10 paise or 25 paise was difficult. Yet, I borrowed books from my friends and read them,” he says.

He adds: “When I was 10 years old, I started buying comics from old book stores. We lived in a small house and there was no space to store the books and sold it to the shops. But I kept six books with me.”

Mr. Kaleel has travelled to different places across Tamil Nadu including Chennai, Madurai and as far as Tirunelveli to buy comic books. At present, he has more than 2,000 comic books in his house finely placed on the shelves and book racks at the corners of the bedroom and hall. By 2008, he had started writing about the original comic books that were translated into Tamil and introduced the new comics to readers in his blog Mudhalai Pattalam. Through this, many more comic enthusiasts connected with him. Store Manager and Optometrist at GKB Opticals Senthil Kumar. D is one such person.

Born in a poor family in Thittakudi, Mr.Kumar was introduced to this mysterious world of comics when he was 10 years old. Since then he has not stopped reading despite opposition from his family.

“I saved up money that I got from my father to buy snacks and bought comic books. Comic books like Rani, Gokulam cost from ₹2 back in those days. My father was so furious that he tore up those books when I was in the seventh grade,” he says.

His father’s anger never stopped him from reading or collecting them. He still remembers the first book he had bought. “Parvathi Chitra Kathaigal was the first book I bought,” he says. As he went to Chennai to pursue his education and work, his interest slowly moved to reading crime and thriller novels when the comic books were out of print for a few years.

His love for comics was rekindled when he moved to Puducherry. “While searching for books online, I came across Kaleel’s Mudalai Pattalam blog that provided information on comics and soon contacted him through a book seller who puts up makeshift book stall on the platform near Royal Emporium on Mission Street,” he says.

He adds that the contact established back in 2011 transformed into a strong bond that continues till today. “He is now one of my best friends,” he says, adding that there are at least 10 to 15 people who became good friends through our shared common interests and at least five to six of them are really close.

Strong network

These magical and mysterious comic stories have connected its mesmerised readers over ages. The comic readers, who connected through postal letters, have taken to social media to connect and share information about comics. They meet at book fairs and even travel to distant places to collect books. On the other hand, Kaleel has bonded with nearly 200 to 300 friends not just in Tamil Nadu but also in Sri Lanka, France and the United States of America. T. Karthikeyan, a resident of Villianur, is also an ardent reader and collector of comics in Puducherry.

Kaleel has gone a step further and opened a Facebook page in 2013 for the comic readers and also became dealer for Lion Muthu comics in Puducherry. Not just that, he has even collections of comics in French, Italian and German languages apart from English and Tamil.

However, they face more challenge than they did in keeping up with the collection due to the increasing costs. “Way back in 1992, the price of a book was ₹2 or ₹5 and with ₹500 one could buy more than 10 books. But now, one book costs not less than ₹500 and up to ₹2,000,” he says.

Mr. Kumar adds that though he would love to read comics in English, he cannot afford to buy them. “I prefer reading in Tamil as it is five times cheaper than the English books,” he says.

Despite the costs, this expensive fascinating world of comics has created a closed-knit world for comic readers in this coastal town. From infusing a desire in a person to read, comics have transformed readers into collectors and the desire is not just to read but to own them.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 4:53:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/the-undying-love-for-comics/article18198627.ece

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