It’s an extremely limited choice, but it’s a good one – Tintin in Tibet. That translated book, that classic cover of mysterious footprints, it can be found all over Mongolia - and at one shop it was the only reading material to be found at all.
It only cost ten bucks in real money and I was going to buy it, before realising that it was stupid and selfish. It was better to leave it for someone else to find, leave it for some kid who has never heard of Herge or Belgium or billions of blistering barnacles, and let that kid see how bloody brilliant comics can be.
* * *
Tintin inspires – he was an irritating little git sometimes, but he went to marvellous places to see incredible things, and that is still an absolute inspiration. If Tintin can do it, anybody could do it - you could go to Tibet or The Congo or Soviet Russia and meet interesting people.
You could go anywhere. You could go to Mongolia and have an adventure.
* * *
I kept looking for other comics in Mongolia, but outside Ulan Bataar, nothing except that lonely Tintin could be found. There aren’t many roads in that country, it’s possible to drive for days without seeing asphalt, so goods distribution is limited to the essentials – things like water, toilet paper, Coca-Cola, Khaan chips and vodka. Getting the latest issue of the X-Men out there is more trouble than it’s worth.
In the capital, there were still bits and pieces to be found, especially in the bookshop on top of the State Department Store, where there are a few crude manga-style local comics that seem to be aimed at four year olds and appear to be about the mighty Chingess, and there is a really cheap translated offering of the first Death Note comic.
There are still lots of Spider-Man colouring books and Batman backpacks, but there doesn’t appear to be any actual Marvel or DC comics, anywhere in the country.
But there is one recognisable logo on those shelves, and it’s the Dark Horse.
* * *
In late 2008, Dark Horse published Rick Remender and Eric Nguyen’s Gigantic, the story of a giant robot beating up a city, built up on the high concept of Transformers meets The Truman Show. It lasted five issues and came and went without anybody noticing.
But somebody at a group called Blue Strawberry did notice, and went to the trouble of getting it translated into Mongolian and sold in shops over there.
Gigantic was the only American comic book I saw anywhere in Mongolia. It still had the Dark Horse logo, and in the back of the first issue there is a brief history of the company for the benefit of Mongolian readers. At least, I assume that’s what it is. I can’t read it.
I can’t read any of it, but I bought it anyway, because it’s an odd comic to find in an odd country. And I’m all about the odd.
* * *
In January, we’re going to go to Vegas, in our last major overseas trip before children ruin everything. There will be plenty of comic stops on that journey.
* * *
I go through some weird withdrawals when I go without comics for a while – sometimes I don’t want to watch a movie or TV show, sometimes I don’t want to listen to music or read a book – I just want a damn comic book.
I took a couple with me to Mongolia – hauling them all over the bloody country because I knew that urge would hit at some point, and I had some carefully selected comics to fill that aching and sad void. After more deliberation than was really healthy, I ended up taking JLA/Hitman, Evan Dorkin’s World’s Funnest prestige comic and Duck Feet – volume six of the Love & Rockets collection.
The JLA/Hitman story was just what I needed when I got hit by food poisoning in the middle of the goddamn Gobi desert, and I read the rest while sitting on top of a Mongolian mountain, getting sunburnt and drunk on tasty apple vodka. ‘For The Love Of Carmen’ made me cry.
When I got back home, I gorged. The first day back and I’m ignoring the weary to buy comics – catching up on the latest devastating developments for Nikolai Dante and Judge Dredd, finally buying that Superman issue of Hitman and grabbing Trident #1 from 1989 for the hell of it.
Then I got get the regular stuff, and there is one of everything, so I get all that too.
I feel a bit sick afterwards, but I also get the residual high from that Love and Rockets altitude injection. It’s still going strong, and I’ve gone back into the comic, dipping and diving in and out of various periods of the comic, zipping from Mechanics to the Education of Hopey Glass through a House of Raging Women.
There is new Love and Rockets out sometime in the next month and, as usual, I’ll be buying it as soon as humanly possible. It’s been three years since we last say Ray D, and as good as an all-new superhero mythology from Jaime was, it’s the Locas that see me living my life to this beat.
* * *
Travel is good for you – there are loads of interesting things to look at, physical limits to push and new adventures everywhere. And it’s just as easy as Tintin promised.
It’s not all a Tintin inspiration – going to different countries all over the world is a staple of all kinds of comics. You can’t go anywhere, but you can see pictures of places you will never go, with words that explain it.
So why not go see the world? Go for a subway ride in New York City and it feels like you’ve walked into the Inferno X-crossover, bleed into the Thames and all over the Alan Moore comic you just bought – The world is just like the comics promised it was.
Especially New York. After all, with all those skyscraper canyons and teeming humanity, it’s the only city in the entire world where Spider-Man could actually exist.
* * *
The other big comic inspiration to travel is Halo Jones. Particularly the six-page prologue to Book Two, when her story is told in a far-future university. In this tale, Halo goes out further than anybody ever did, sees things that are forever lost and comes back to tell everybody else about it. A girl who only ever wanted out – just out – and just kept on going through death and war and loss and dancing. How could you not love this girl and her impossible life? How could you not want to travel?
Especially when they ask her what made her so special, an swer that becomes her immortal epitaph: “Anybody could have done it.”
I read that comic when I was 10 years old, and 25 years later I’m standing on an infinite Mongolian plain as the sun sets and strange stars come out.
There is no such thing as coincidence.