Thursday, July 10, 2008

Confessions of a Comic Book Nerd-I

Posting after a very long time, I can't make the excuse that I was out of the country and busy, that I was stressed with college admissions, or that I had no access to the Internet, because all those are patently excuses, and what it really was, was the cussed laziness that has plagued me all my life. So without apologizing, I will start with the blog post that I've been meaning to write for the last three years that I've had a blog. In fact, my very third post of all was about this. Though the aforementioned laziness had prevented me from carrying it further as I'd hoped.

So here's one of the things I've been obsessed about for so long: Graphic Novels. Call them comic books as if that's an insult, call them juvenile, call them lowbrow; but you're wrong. Because graphic novels feature some of the best writers, the most different and most freethinking ideas, storylines and artwork in contemporary fiction.(And nonfiction). And to people who love both art and literature, graphic novels are a brilliant amalgam of the two, the writing bolstered through the fantastic artwork, and the art speaking through the wonderfully written stories.

Now, I know what most people have issues with is the 'Superhero' genre-but hey, that's where comic books evolved from, and it was a novel idea in its time, and deserves some respect. I personally don't see anything wrong with a bit of fantasizing and hero-worship, in fact I'm guilty of both, having been in love with Superman for a long time. The fact is, comic book writers possess some of the most off-beat, unusual and mesmerizing imaginations, and the expression that the free flowing medium of a graphic novel gives them often results in literally mind blowing creations. All hail the comic-book nerds!
Which is why I am going to fulfill a long running wish of mine, and write a whole miniseries (in the best graphic novel tradition :) ) on graphic novels and comic books I have loved. And as a parting shot-when novels first came out, it was considered common and lowbrow to read them. Sounds familiar?

Of course, I would ideally start with Superman, being the typical obsessed fan, but I think the books that got me started should glean a bit of precedence. So here comes: Tintin!

Look at snowy's face-he's always facing tintin!

I was nine or so when I discovered my uncle's collection of the tintin books. He had them ALL. And he could see, even at that young age, that I would never amount to anything more than a boring and compulsive reader, so he promptly gave them to me. And I fell in love with Tintin, his tuft of hair, his faithful Snowy, Captain Haddock the irascible seaman (who can forget
billions of blue blistering barnacles?), the beautifully hard-of-hearing Professor Calculus , the bumbling spoonerism-prone detectives with a 'p' and without, diabolical Rastapopoulos, Mitsuhirato and Muller..I could go on and on. Tintin is a beautifully drawn and written character…parallel to the superheroes that came later-except for his unassuming nature that isn't remotely dark or morbid-in fact, he's an everyman who is also a hero. Add to that selfless (think Tintin in Tibet, one of the best graphic novels ever), fearless (think The Black Island and him going there alone- in fact he's always fearless), and intelligent. Batman without the angst.
And as for Herge-what spare drawings, what detail, what topics. He was years ahead of anyone else. Syldavia and Borduria? The Picaros? The moon landing? Jules Verne would have been proud of the last.
Oh and if you want to say anything like "it was a racist series", don't do it on my blog, please. I've heard it before; detractors flock to try and topple the great, and so do pseudo-intellectuals. But this series is very close to my heart, and Herge, dear old man, didn't mean any harm when he used popular perceptions of that age (just like Christie didn't). So, rather, go read Tintin in Tibet and The Blue Lotus and scrutinize them for any racism.
You won't find any.
And ten points if you get this: what was the name of the ship on which Tintin first met captain Haddock? No, don't Google it :)
(I also recommend Herge's Jo, Zette and Jocko. Very entertaining, though nowhere near as brilliant as Tintin. The eastern Raja in Valley of the Cobras is hilarious, though.)

From Tintin, I moved to Asterix.
Oh, I just love these guys.

The uncle again had a plentiful supply (they're mine now as well), and I had a voracious appetite for reading. I identify with Obelix in this regard(the great hole in his stomach that no amount of food ever fills). Asterix is the perfect wisecracking, brave and self-deprecating hero; and Dogmatix is simply a dear. In fact, the names in themselves make up most of the pleasure of this delightful series…and the satire and subtle lampooning in the adventures sneaks up on you-the endnotes, particularly, have a habit of punching you in the solar plexus and doubling you up with laughter, hours after you read them. Asterix the Gaul is my personal favourite. And Goscinny and Uderzo are the kind of comic book authors I talked about before- imaginative, subversive, brilliant.

I think I'll read both these series over again for the zillionth time…isn't life wonderful that I can?
And then i'll write the next installment.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's All About Planning Ahead

I'm sneaking out some time between the rocking back and forth and memorising and the anxiety driven eating binges to bring you this post on the Board Exams. Straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. While the horse (metaphor for the Boards) is slowly chewing me up like unpalatable dried up oats.
So between mouthfuls, I am going to dish out some Board advice.
There are really only two ways to ace the Boards for sure. You can go for either Plan A or Plan B.

PLAN A. The Cut Me And I’ll Bleed Plan

Before the Boards:
As soon as possible: Practice writing in beautiful cursive, with (i) flourishes (ii) curly underlines and (iii) bold, italic, underline, shadow and other effects in Microsoft Word. Time yourself to do it very fast. Everyone knows the prettiness of the paper is the most important thing.

A year ago: Start calling up the Board hotlines. And the newspaper and radio people. Also Star Ananda, who will broadcast anything. Tell them and anyone else who will listen that Board stress is killing you. Be very graphic. Get a blog, and write lots of ddmp, or deep dark morbid poetry, sending everyone the link. (If you can’t get morbid enough, get it off the Sunday Statesman). Make sure you’re well known as the nutcase who’ll jump off a building if the exams go badly.

A month ago: Study only seemingly irrelevant things like chapter headings and the exact phrasing of formulae and theorems. Practice writing only and precisely 60 word and 100 word answers; don’t bother about content. The Board allots the most marks for things like that.

During the Exam:
Wherever you find a suitable question, insert a line about how exam stress is killing today’s children, and how a recent study has proved that they’re losing hair at an alarming rate. Then tear out a clump of yours and strew it about on the page. Fold it in carefully.

Don’t forget to get your name in somewhere. It’s illegal, but by that time every examiner will know your name, if you’ve gone public properly, and no one will want to risk the aforementioned jumping-off-a-building stunt. (Look at how the gaaonwalo meekly relented to Dharmendra in Sholay.)

Try not to think of the shambles you’ve made of your life in the past year. Oh, and buy huge dark shades and a cap with a low brim for when you go out.

OR, you could try plan B.

PLAN B: The KickAss–est Plan Ever

As soon as possible: Go to the gym. Learn karate or tae-kwon-do, if you’re frail. Or learn to handle a knife like the Italians. Watch mafia and kidnapping movies and learn up the threats. You’ll need these skills more than brains or (yawn) perseverance.

A year ago: Start research about the Board paper distributing system. Find out the pattern of the fictitious roll numbers, and where your set will go. If possible, infiltrate a family member, not too close to be traced back to you, into the CBSE hierarchy.

A month ago: Pester your teacher until she tells you your exam center. Threaten her if necessary. Every night, bribe the guards and sneak in there. Calculate your seat very precisely (or some more bribing, later, might work to get the seat you want). Buy one of those newfangled Ultraviolet pens from Fancy Market or wherever, and write down all the formulae and facts and dates and other slippery things on the desk. It’ll be quite invisible.

Two weeks ago: Grab hold of the nearest engineering student, and make them give up all their cheat codes and tricks. (I’m telling you, these guys are the goods.) Also threaten the best student in class until she agrees to be your cheat partner.

Use the UV light provided on the back of the pen to look up anything you’re stuck on from your desk. Be generous-share with the person sitting beside you. (Or she might sneak to the invigilator.)
Keep your little knife handy. Whatever she might have promised, the class topper might not want to help at the last minute.
Fill your paper with religious symbols. It can’t hurt, and a superstitious examiner might totally fall for it. Alternatively, draw omens next to each page mark.

This is the most important part-since you’ve found out where your paper’s going, and have hopefully got an inside contact, and can handle knives like Ramon Zarate and threaten like Batman, I don’t think I need to tell you what to do. Anyway, it would probably make me an accessory after the fact. Whatever that's supposed to mean.

(Oh, and there is another way, which is to study hard throughout the year, but success is as yet unproven, usually very rare, and it’s all very unpredictable. I don’t really know how it’s done so I shouldn't comment, but even if I did, I wouldn’t recommend it at all.)