"Having a comic collection is like owning a piece of history"
With a collection that stands at 15,000, Bangalore-based historian, Arun Prasad can be titled as one of India's most serious comic collectors. With the second edition of Mumbai Film and Comic Con set to begin this weekend, Ruchika Kher got this Phantom lover to open his Pandora's box for a sneak peek into his priceless treasure trove
How did you get interested in collecting comics?
Since childhood, I was inclined to collect fascinating objects. When I was about six years old, I used to collect used bus tickets. As I grew up, and began to notice things vanishing fast around me, I sensed the value of preservation. Today, I am fond of anything that connects with the past. I have been an avid reader of comics from my younger days. My introduction to comics was with Mayavi, a comic strip that appeared in Balarama, a children’s magazine published by the Manorama group. My all-time favourite is Phantom. Perhaps it was Phantom, the superhero without any superpowers, who really cracked open my soul into the serious hobby of collecting comics.
I lost my entire childhood comics collection (more than 500) when we shifted home from Kerala to Bangalore. Since then I desperately wanted to get back my childhood treasures. Collecting comics was more of a challenge and personal quest to trace back my childhood memories. From 2000, it became my serious passion; I’ve left no stone unturned in search of an out-of-print comic book. Having a comic collection means owning a piece of history.
Which are your most prized comic titles?
Phantom stories are close to my heart; all my Phantom comics are my prized possessions. The most rare of all comics is the no 1 issue of Indrajal Comics, The Phantom’s Belt. It’s worth at least a million dollars for me! Indrajal Comics are the most sought-after comics not just in India, but also among Phantom lovers in Australia, Sweden and in the US. I am fortunate to own all 803 comics from issue no 1. I also own the entire collection of English and Kannada versions, and am almost done with Hindi and Bengali, with just a few more needed to complete. I have a few editions of Malayalam, Tamil, Marathi and Gujarati too.
How do you store your mammoth collection? How challenging is it to preserve them?
Protecting comics is an important part of collecting them and the most daunting task as well. These need to be preserved in the best manner possible, to keep them clean, crisp, and vibrant. I have converted the ground floor space of my residence to a comic warehouse. Most of my rare comics are placed along with imported acid-free boards and then packed in polypropylene bags. I use clean carton boxes for storing comics. I am lucky since Bangalore’s climate is suitable for preserving comics owing to less humidity where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much.
Will you be visiting the Mumbai edition of Comic Con this year on December 21-22?
I’ve been participating in Comic Con since the last two years. This time, I will be in Mumbai as a visitor and not as a participant. I am also working on another curated show in Bangalore and in Kochi that will be on display by the first quarter of 2014.
Why has collecting comics emerged as a big trend?
It’s simple. When there’s a value attached to your passion, it becomes more interesting and worthwhile. Comic collection in India is becoming more vibrant and a serious affair. Today, one can find a good number of young and enthusiastic collectors entering the scene. Vintage comics prices are also shooting up.
Today, passionate comic collectors are prepared to pay any amount to grab a rare comic before someone else picks it up. Vintage comics in India have already entered the antique market. Many antique shops in India sell vintage comics. Even auction houses are watching the recent trends and developments in Indian comic scene. Online auction sites are already in the business since the last few years.
What’s in India’s comic king’s collectionION?
>> Arun Prasad owns approximately 15,000 comic books.
>> Among the Indian comic titles, he has the complete collection of 803 Indrajal comics including the no 1 issue, The Phantom Belt (1964). He also stocks first appearance issues of superheroes such as Phantom, Mandrake, Flash, Bahadur, Buz Sawyer, Lt Drake, Mike Nomad, Rip Kirby, Garth, Phil Corrigan, Bruce Lee, Aditya, and some special issues like Robin Hood, Mickey Mouse, Zorro, Tulsidas’ Ramcharit Manas, Bahubali and Mahabharata.
>> Full collection of first edition prints of Amar Chitra Katha, including the rare first 10 issues (European fairy tales), the first issues of holiday special, bumper issue and special issue are also part of his collection.
>> Full collection of the first edition of Tinkle.
>> Other comics include rare issues of Adarsh Chitrakatha, Chathurang Katha, Chitra Bharati, Chiranjiv Chitra Katha, Gaurav Gatha, India’s first 3D comic, AXA Comic, Goldie Comic — Detective Series, Prajapitha Brahma, World in Pictures Comics, Amitabh Bachchan Comics, Gavaskar Comics, Bible Comics, Spectrum Comics, Dum Dum Diga Diga, Space Age Comics, which published Inspector Vikram and Inspector Azad, Dalton Comics, Egmont Phantom, Diamond Comics, Falcon Comics, Star Comics and many other out-of-print comics.
>> Among the western comics, he has a collection of Classics Illustrated series, Dell comics, Gold Key, Marvel, DC, War comics etc, and a few western comic vintage annuals as well.
>> He also has a collection of 1950s and 60s Phantom, Flash and Ching Chow comic strips.
Meanwhile... one of Mumbai’s face comic book haunts
If you’re an amateur, yet avid comic title collector, try your luck near the Maheshwari Udyan, at Kings’ Circle. If you’re lucky, have loads of time to spare, and are in the mood for a good bargain, you might stumble upon several rare finds, including editions of Indrajal, Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha, as well as (sometimes, dog-eared) titles from the Marvel and Archie comic stable that were a staple of the 1980s and ’90s. Visit by early afternoon and avoid Sundays, when many of the vendors take the day off.