Dubai Diaries: Life in a comic
What were some of your favourite comic strips or comic books growing up?
One of the earliest comic strips that caught my attention as a kid growing up in ‘80s Dubai, was The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee, syndicated at the time in Khaleej Times. Spider-Man was the first superhero I idolized — a conflicted web-slinging crime-buster with an often troubled personal life. Yes, we did have early hopes of being bitten by a radioactive spider and putting on a costume and saving the world, all thanks to Spider-Man.
Comics were a huge part of our childhood. Apart from being entertaining, they also taught us a lot. We learned of World Wars, thrilling battles, grief and loss and the bravery (and treachery) of men in service from Commando comics, launched in Scotland in 1961.
We devoured titles by Amar Chitra Katha — a series of comics published in India since 1967 — that brought legends from history, mythology and literature to life in a way no drab textbook could. Another Indian comic which delighted us as kids was Tinkle, a fortnightly first published in 1980. Hilarious characters like Suppandi — a well-meaning simpleton, Shikari Shambu — an ever-bumbling hunter and Tantri the Mantri — a devious minister constantly plotting to get rid of his King, kept us in splits for years.
We were also mystified by Mandrake the Magician, created in 1934 by Lee Falk, the character of Mandrake regarded by some as comics’ first superhero. Using hypnosis and other techniques, and along with his loyal sidekick Lothar, Mandrake battled evil foes like The Cobra and The Clay Camel, while we wished some of his magic powers would rub off on us as well.
A childhood love for ice-cream cones was only intensified when we came across the comic strip Henry, created in 1932 by Carl Anderson. Featuring a young bald boy who is mute, the strips often showcased Henry’s love for ice-cream, and funny solutions to problems kids face. Cartoonist Art Baxter once analysed early versions of the strip as “children navigating the world as best they can with the knowledge and experience they currently possess.”
A comic-book character that made us smile is Little Dot, introduced in 1949, who as her name suggests is entranced by colourful dots and spots. The quirky Dot was classmates with Richie Rich, tagged as “the poor little rich boy”. We were charmed by his sweet nature as well as the fact that he was not at all snobby despite being fantastically rich, and loved side characters like his redhead girlfriend Gloria who often turned away expensive gifts, ‘robot maid’ Irona, and eccentric aunt Noovo Rich.
Then there were classic novels which were adapted into the comic-book format. Through brilliant illustrations and captivating dialogues we followed Englishman Phileas Fogg as he travelled around the world on a bet, and witnessed Robinson Crusoe spend 28 years in isolation on an uninhabited island.
Among the many vivid memories of childhood, this is one that often pops up; sitting alone in my favourite corner on a sultry summer afternoon, enjoying a comic, without a care in the world.