Arun Prasad's Collection Of 17,000 Rare Indian Comics Is One-Of-A-Kind

Arun Prasad's Collection Of 17,000 Rare Indian Comics Is One-Of-A-Kind

As adults, we’ve all had a day when we stopped to reminisce about our childhood. Days of running aimlessly just to feel the wind, swinging so high in the playground that you wondered if you’d ever touch the ground again and being able to lose yourself in endless worlds just by turning the page of a comic. Bangalore-based writer and independent history researcher, Arun Prasad, has found a way to recapture that youthful pursuit in his adulthood. He has amassed a collection of 17,000 rare and vintage Indian comics and has become one of the country’s most well-recognised collectors in the process.

From a young age, Arun found himself fascinated with old things—things that most people overlooked as junk and carelessly discarded. His first collection began at the age of 6. He noticed the used bus tickets scattered on the ground and his curiosity got the better of him. He picked them up and pocketed them. He was a little worried that people wouldn’t accept his unusual habit but then he says that something amazing happened - “Bystanders noticed what I was doing and started saving their old tickets for me!” Eventually he had a huge collection of colourful tickets all categorised by denomination and size. As he grew older, he began to realise that all these throwaway items held stories that were going undiscovered. He wanted to be the one to unearth their legacies.

Much like many little boys, he grew up on a steady stream of comic books too. His first brush came with ‘Mayavi,’ a comic strip that appeared in Balarama, a popular children’s magazine from the Manorama group. This led him to explore the Times of India’s Indrajal comics, which are credited with bringing legendary characters like The Phantom, Mandrake and Flash Gordon to an Indian audience. Phantom was by and far his favourite and he found himself immersed in the universe, doodling pictures and catchphrases from the comic across all his schoolbooks. He jokingly adds ‘I was once thrown out of class for outlining ‘Evolution of Phantom’ over the ‘Evolution of Man’ images in my science text book.’ Clearly, he was not to be diverted from his comic book destiny by something as mundane as school.

Another favourite was Amar Chitra Katha. He realised he had no interest in History but when the parables of old were brought to life in the comics, he found himself suddenly enthralled. Comic magazines like Balamangalam, Poompatta and Bobanum Moliyum too were among his favorites. These comics made a lasting impression on Prasad. “I was awed by the creativity and cleverness that went into creating a successful comic. Even as an adult when I find myself at a bookstore I gravitate towards the children’s section to seek out the latest comic collection.” This doesn’t worry him and he’s in no hurry to abandon his boyhood pursuits “I think everyone has a child within them. It never dies and pops up when he gets close to what he has cherished in his childhood days”, he says.

He started collecting in earnest as a personal quest to recover his childhood. Like many heartbroken children before him, he had to say goodbye to his precious collection when his family made the move from Kerala to Bangalore and always dreamed of replacing the comics he had lost. He started on his mission but was quickly met with failure and was almost ready to call it quits. Then, in 2000, a friend of his gifted him a couple of Indrajal comics which featured none other than his all-time favourite, Phantom. It was the reappearance of this character that spurred him forward. The superhero without superpowers invaded his soul and launched him into a serious hobby of Comic collecting. There was no turning back from there and he has left no stone unturned in his search for the vintage comics that have been forgotten for so long. He laments at how undervalued these treasures are today. “For me, having a comic collection means owning a piece of history.” This is clearly a sentiment he wishes he could instill in all readers.

Arun has many methods when it comes to tracking down the comics he needs, he sifts through the collections of raddiwallas and tottering piles of second-hand book stores, he trades with other comic collectors or visits the Sunday street markets of Bangalore. He also has help from his friends who send across their finds to add to his assortment. The process of hunting down comics has become part of his daily routine but it’s a process he loves. “I have an extraordinary nose for sniffing out comics from a pile of junk” says Prasad and it’s a good thing too because building an enviable collection takes a lot of time and dedication.

He’s been asked why he has limited his collection to Indian comics but he simply feels that the connection he has to them in his childhood has given them an extra special place in his heart and as the motive behind his collecting was to rebuild his lost youth it was natural that he would pay special attention to the comics that he remembered. This by no means made him less fond of the Western comics and he has almost 4,000 of those ranging from Classics Illustrated series, Frew, King, Charlton, Dell, Gold key, Marvel, DC, Commandos and other War comics and a few annuals that he has accrued over his years of collecting.

Although there are many of us that admire and love reading comics, becoming a legitimate collector can be a tough job simply because maintaining them is a massive task. Protecting comics can be as important as collecting itself and the safeguards that have to be put in place are fairly daunting. They need to be kept away from dust and moisture, the more they are exposed, the shorter their lifespan. Arun has converted the ground floor of his Bangalore home into a warehouse which holds his life’s work. The most important comics are kept with imported acid-free boards and then packed in polypropylene bags. He also has some custom-made cartons for the ones that need to be stored vertically to protect the spines. He considers himself lucky because thanks to Bangalore’s equitable climate he was spared the hassle of having to create a temperature controlled environment, a problem faced by many collectors across the world where temperatures and humidity affect the safety of the comics.

Although he’s quite protective of his work, he has in the past brought out select comics to display to the public, he’s exhibited across Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad as well as at various Comic Conventions. He was also featured on the History TV 18’s show ‘The Great India Collectors’ Ride’. Currently he’s working on curated shows for Vintage Indian Comics and also arranges regular visits for students who want to glimpse a forgotten part of their own childhood. He believes this lifelong venture has brought him unparalleled joy and he has some sage advice for people who are interested in starting up their own collections. ‘Buy what you would like to read, preserve what you have read and collect what you missed out. I am sure one would end up spending a life worthwhile.’

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