To the funnies that is.
It can't be easy to squeeze out the essence of your funny bone onto a small strip that appears in a fairly smallish size and print in newspapers for people to devour, while they get their daily fix of the printed word.
Whatever else I do go through in the paper, I never miss the comics. It can end up making a difference in a day where otherwise smiles may be hard to come by.
For me, the characters represent a lot of familiarity, fun, memories and of course, the levity's a given. Not that each strip is a rip roaring laugh-inducer. But it does bring with it a host of characters that one can probably associate a lot of other instances in their lives with.
I was in India for the first eight years of my life and was in abroad for the next 4 years after that. And many things in the comics (all the foreign ones are syndicated throughout the world) remind me of my first exposure to aspects which were baffling or alien earlier.
In the late eighties in India, in most cities, a different cuisine would by default be Chinese food. I didn't even know there were different provinces in China, which also influenced the taste of their food. Same as in any country, but when you're 8, life's kind of blinkered with a kid's preoccupation. I remember going for a Mexican food festival with a friend of my father's in Delhi long back. The food was unfamiliar, now I can't recollect if it was cooked in a typical Mexican fashion either; but all I could remember was that I was wishing for noodles. They were and still are the ultimate comfort food.
To get back to the comics- I got introduced to Garfield soon after we landed in US. Whether through the newspapers or the cartoons on t.v but his obsession with sleeping, droll manner and teasing Odie sure appealed to a F.O.T.B (fresh off the boat) Indian kid. The only thing I didn't get was the lasagna (a word which isn't pronounced anywhere near what it reads like!). Once I joined school and actually had a lasagna for lunch I could put an image to Garfield's obsession. And over time my mother made enough of homemade lasagnas to make me appreciate it and drool over it much like Garfield. Although I still can't eat an entire panful like he does :-)
Snoopy or rather Woodstock was well known. But their gang wasn't. When I was a tot, a colleague of my father had come home and brought a wind up Woodstock for me. I don't know when I wound it too tight till the spring snapped and Woodstock stopped hopping about, but he remained a fixture in our home for decades and was unfailingly packed despite all the stuff we discarded during all our transfers to various places.
I went to school I found Peanuts books everywhere! Peanuts had their own Halloween and Christmas special on t.v as well and the characters often were used to endorse good habits children should embody, in various scholastic campaigns et al.
So Charlie Brown's good grief, Lucy's counselling for a nickel and Linus' blanket all became a part of my life. So much so, that when I first started taking piano lessons, I thought of Schroeder. He was the only person I knew of who did the same.
Over the years more comics have got added to my list- Hagar the Horrible (who I still associate with the awful root beer that the character used to advertise on tv), Beau Peep (the mad cook Egon who's indefatigable and is a lovable slovenly slob and whose creativity I crave in the kitchen!!), Dennis the Menace (like whom my son gets timeouts where he has to face the wall) and many more.
I remember the boys in my class passing around their Marvel Comics and I asked for one and was given the Wolverine issue. Love it to this day! Hugh Jackman just made him even more flesh and blood over time.
The thing with growing up with a particular thing; in this case a comic strip is far more meaningful than just the familiarity aspect. I can chart out my life and many milestones once I think back on the entry of comics in my life. And now with the entry of Noddy and Oswald I have new memories with MLM and in time I'll introduce him to a food-loving fat cat, a baseball playing gang which never wins, a Viking who hates housework and a school going boy with a fantastic image of himself (which only he's privy too) and have him go down this road too.
But till then, it's the funny papers and a cuppa joe for me.