As a 5 year old growing up in a Hindu household, I could recite dozens of slokas in Sanskrit and regurgitate the English translations that I memorized so as to “understand”. But what did I really learn about God’s glory and goodness from prayers? Not much. I was mostly concerned about reciting the words in the proper order. But man…that blue superhero in the comics I read? Spectacular individual. So calm, composed, patient, and omniscient. Krishna was pretty badass.
Knowing the Mahabharata (a tasty sample of The Gita) and Ramayana inside out wasn’t an act of memorization when you had comic books. It came naturally, as did the moral and ethical lessons that perhaps others were learning through scripture. Hindu culture in many ways has adopted a system in which Hindu children are learning about their culture and religion without knowing that they are learning. For better and worse. Of course, my parents facilitated the learning by asking me questions and discussing dilemmas that I read about. But I just thought that this was my parents being awesome and wanting to talk about comic books at the dinner table. As I grew up, I revisited some of my favorite classics and began to read them like a good student would. I over-analyzed the crap out of my childhood favorites. My love for Amar Chitra Katha comics only deepened.
Stories of epic proportions and seamless character development. Multiple lifetimes and different realms of existence. Witty one-liners. Sexy bodies.
Comics can try and mask philosophical depth with illustrations, but the goodness doesn’t go unnoticed. The greatest stories have asked the hardest questions and depicted the most trying struggles of man. Therein lies the appeal of ancient epics–Greek, Indian, whatever–and comics continue that legacy today, revisiting some of the classics like Amar Chitra Katha does or giving rise to new epics, like Marvel does. These epics are immortal by virtue of their ability to operate at different levels. You can enjoy them at a very basic, superficial level, sure. But you can also enjoy them in different ways and at different stages in life. You can over-analyze everything like I do now, or you can appreciate the pretty pictures and fast paced plot like I did when I was five…and still do now.
Gone is the era of oral transmission of stories. But storytellers still stand among us. And no, I don’t mean just any writer or novelist. But comic book writers? They deliver by the issue, keeping comic fans eager for the next morsel. Though we no longer live in a society that facilitates sitting by the fire each night to hear the next twenty verses of an epic, we do have comics. We have seen so many of them, especially in recent years, coming to life through cinema, and they’re some of the best stories we’ve ever heard/read/watched. I have yet to meet someone that didn’t love the Batman movies.
Comics aren’t just some geeky endeavor. There is nothing wrong with a 70 year old man reading comics. Pictures in books are not a luxury limited to children! Stop judging! Whatever! I don’t need to get defensive. Read a comicbook. It will speak for itself. I say start off with Astonishing X-Men. You will love it. Or your money back.
Edit: Okay, okay, I’m almost done gushing. ESPECIALLY if you grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha, you have to check out ACK! comics. (Site was hacked earlier but all is well now!) What’s it about? Well. Succinctly: “Two dudes from the Mahabharata end up in modern-day New Jersey.” It’s excellent. Don’t miss out! Scroll to the bottom of the page to revel in even more nostalgia hehe. A nice touch, I thought 🙂