Comic book collectors across the country are taking their hobby to a whole new level, says Varuni Khosla
It's not a clean office by any stretch of the imagination. But you could call it organised chaos with comics and graphic novels stacked across ceiling-high shelves. Jatin Varma, 28, the man who founded Comic Con in India (a multi-genre annual convention for comic fans) likes to surround himself with his comics — and only the most prized ones go under lock-and-key at his Naraina Vihar office in Delhi.
Varma is one of the country's most serious comic book collectors. His treasure trove includes over 10,000 American, European, Japanese, some Indian comics and graphic novels!
To most, a $1.25 comic book that he safeguards may be of no value, but for a handful of fanboys like himself — it's priceless. What makes the plastic-case sealed The Death of Superman volume 2, 75 (circa 1993) so special, is that it's signed by the book's artists/authors Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding. It cost him over Rs 5,000 when he bought it from a collector in San Francisco in 2008. Comics collectors would give an arm and a leg to get hold of a single-issue comic so rare.
"When collectors across India admire each other's comics on Facebook it's dubbed as shelf porn," laughs Varma.
Think Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Amar Chitra Katha and Indrajal comics — these collectors like them all. Bangalore-based Arun Prasad, a history professor who prides himself in being a pannapictagraphist (that's geek for comic book collector), owns between 12,000 and 13,000 comics. His voracious appetite for comics kickstarted with Mayavi, a comic strip that appeared in Balarama, a children's magazine by Malayala Manorama. And The Phantom — the American comic strip created by Lee Falk (1936) became an all-time favourite.
There are two types of collectors, he says — those who collect entire series and those who pick up only single issues of sought-after comics irrespective of the series they belong to.
In India, collectors unite through personal blogs and Facebook pages. They also meet at the annual three-city Comic Con and organise their own personal mini-cons at coffee houses.
Mayank Khurana, 30, a Delhi-based engineer hunts only for special issues. In his "man cave" in Delhi's Karol Bagh, his comic book library has everything — DC and Marvel Comics, manga (Japanese art) and European comics — and they are covered in plastic bags. "I like Franco-Belgian comics though they aren't necessarily expensive," he says.
Maximum monetary value comes from "first appearance" comics. These are comics where Spider-Man, Batman, Superman etc. had first appeared in the series.
Subin Jameel, 23, collector and student in Bangalore's School of Architecture, R.V. College of Engineering, usually picks up comics from Avenue Road, a local second-hand books market. He also buys them on Flipkart and Amazon. His favourite are Indrajal Comics. "These remain the most sought after comics in India and the first issue (No.1) can sell at approximately Rs 70,000 today. I have about 400 of these," he says. He also has a small collection of Amar Chitra Katha and Chitra Bharti Kathamala that published comics like Secret Agent 005 - Junior James Bond, Space Star, Private Detective Kapil, Manasputra and Chandru.
Prasad, too, possesses the complete collection of Indrajal comics (published by Bennett, Coleman) including the No.1 The Phantom Belt, 1964. He also has first appearance issues of superheroes such as Phantom, Mandrake, Lt. Drake, Mike Nomad, Rip Kirby, Garth, Bruce Lee and others.
In Mumbai, Aalok Joshi, 26, a dentistry student has a collection of over 10,000 international comics. He sold countless comics to raddiwalas because of space constraints. "Most comic collectors judge their collections in monetary value (usually when there's a first appearance of a superhero). But that may not be the best book in the series," he says.
Khurana in Delhi admits that this is an expensive hobby. He spends up to Rs 500 on a single issue plus shipping charges, if he buys them off Amazon. Typically, he orders about 40 single issues a month. He also keeps aside money for a few trades (a collection of stories originally published in comic books, reprinted in book format) that cost approximately Rs 1,250 each. Joshi agrees, "If in a month I have Rs 20,000 to spare, I'll spend about Rs 15,000 on comics."
Varma admits each time he goes for a holiday to the US, he saves up at least Rs 1 lakh to spend on comics. "I've stopped calculating how much I spend on them. It's a collection that I don't intend to sell, ever," he smiles.
But ask collectors to display their comics and they are sure to think twice. "I don't open any of my rare comics. I have preserved them in airtight packaging and in acid-free wooden shelves," says a possessive Prasad.