Monday, August 22, 2022

Daydreaming of Dunedin

I've been to Paris and London and New York and Tokyo and all of that, but in my heart my favourite city will always be the one closest to the arse end of the world.

Dunedin has always been my fave, even if I never ended up living there again after a few years in the 90s. It's two thirds of the way down the South Island - closer to Antarctica than the equator - and if you live in town it gets dark at three in the afternoon in winter. 

It's moody and hilly. The people there drink too much and take strange drugs and form weird bands full of beautiful souls in awful jumpers.

I moved away 20 years ago and have never been back for longer than three days, but I always look forward to a visit, even if many of the bookshops I used to love have faded away.

Because I was always about the bookshops and the comics they sold. When I was a kid, Dunedin was the one place in the world I wanted to go because the university town was awash in four-colour fun. The first ever comic shop I walked into was across the road from the main railway station, and there was always some weird little store with a supply of air-freighted American comic books, an entire three months of the ones that showed up on the local shelves (an eternity to a 12-year-old).

We lived a few hour's drive away, so I only got to visit the city once or twice a year when my teenage comic habit was at absolute maximum, and I would get insanely excited about the remaindered bookstores and toy warehouses the town had, and my opportunity to see them. I would daydream for weeks before a visit, fizzing about the possibilities.

I'd scrape every cent I could get to get issues of GI Joe and Alpha Flight and The Best Of DC Blue Ribbon Digest. I would stare longingly at the Titan reprint albums of 2000ad classics that were well out of my price range, and carve huge blisters into my feet in the search.

Of course I moved there as soon as I turned into an adult, and it was only partly because all my best mates were going to University. I had the best time - warehouse flats and drunken debauchery and all the usual shit. Finding secret paths through town and the best op shops at the end of them. Buying Crisis comics for $1 to stave off the depression of poverty. Haunting Records Records and going to at least three movies a week at the Hoyts in the Octagon. Swimming in the pool, drinking on the beach, hearing grit trucks tip over and thinking it was just the great sound effects on The Wild Bunch.

And buying loads of comics - the first things I ever bought as a resident of the city were the Marvels and Mr Punch graphic novels. I got almost all the Christie Spar Grendel from Galaxy Books and read most of them while halfway up Signal Hill. I got every issue of the Invisibles and Preacher from Bag End Books, and a significant amount of post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes every two weeks.

I moved away from my favourite town in the late 90s for reasons I still really don't understand, though there was always the sneaky suspicion I'd end up back there. But I never did, and ended up living at the opposite end of the country, and I've only been to Dunedin a couple of times in the past 10 years.

So many of the bookstores and comic sources that I spent so much time in are gone, with more fading away every year. But I still have the weird idea that the family and me might end up back there for a while. That might just be a daydream, but then again, Dunedin was always a dream for me.

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