There’s a certain amount of serendipity in the whole experience of reading a comic book. You never know what’s really between the covers until you actually go through what’s between them. This edition of CF is about serendipity—not in the reading of a comic book, but the act of acquiring one.
This was the early 1990s and your favourite columnist was a lowly-paid cub reporter in Chennai for the newest publication from one of India’s oldest media houses. Pratap was one of this writer’s colleagues back then, albeit a very, very senior one. Back then—just as he is now—this columnist was very particular about the kind of books he read and the music he listened to, and Pratap was the only one in the entire office who didn’t think Hot Tuna was a casserole dish.
Jane at War: with her own clothes?
Even in those days, this writer was obsessed with comics.
One afternoon, Pratap, who had the habit of walking up and down Chennai’s Mount Road, where the media house’s office was located, asked this writer whether he knew of Daily Mirror’s Jane. He didn’t. Well, it turns out that Jane was a daily comic strip run by the UK’s Daily Mirror between 1932 and 1959, reaching its peak in terms of popularity between 1939 and 1945, during World War II. “It’s campy,” Pratap had said. “You’ll love it.” And then he had proceeded to tell how a pavement bookseller on Mount Road was selling a copy of Jane at War. “Why didn’t you pick it up?” this writer remembers asking Pratap.
“Oh, I have a copy at home somewhere—in some carton that hasn’t been opened for years,” he had said.
And so, for all of Rs30, this writer became the proud owner of a second-hand Jane at War. Jane was everything Pratap had promised and then some. During the war, she was one of the “sweethearts” of soldiers and so, if there was any way in which she could get her clothes off in a strip, she would. Every fence would rip her clothes, every doorknob caught them, and every time she climbed a wall (and she was always doing this), she would leave most of her clothes behind... (surely, you get the picture).
Norman Pett created Jane in 1932 and even wrote the stories till 1938. That year, the scripting role (remember, the writer had to work out innovative ways to get Jane to take her clothes off) was taken over by Don Freeman, who pretty much saw Jane through till the end. After 1949, Jane was illustrated by Mike Hubbard. But the Jane at War book catches the young lady at her best—drawn by Pett and written by Freeman.
The twist in the tale: Page 1 of the book I bought off a Chennai pavement stall said “Ex Libris Pratap...”.
It was Pratap’s book after all, and he had no idea how it ever left the carton he thought it was in and found its way to the pavement.
Gentleman that this writer is (at least when it comes to books), he offered to let Pratap have the book.
And gentleman that Pratap is, he declined.
Write to Sukumar at email@example.com