Across the Pond- The Places You Play

The Places You Play

Apologies if I repeat myself in this column, but, at the moment, I’m in no position to check. After something of a personal tragedy, your columnist is uprooted from his house, miles from computers, green tea and Gamera DVDs, a stranger in a strangely home-like land. In other words, I’m back in Australia after eight years away and it looks like I’m here for good.

You’d think Melbourne would be my comfort zone, since I lived there from the age of zero to thirty-four, but it has changed in the last eight years. My mind still works in 1996 prices, as far as the sun-bronzed Aussie dollar goes. Every time I buy something, I have a smallish heart attack. Then I convert it into yen and relax until the next latte.

I should explain for the uninitiated, that the economy of Australia is now entirely based on really good strong, cafe lattes. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a glass of brown caffeine. I’m cautious this time around, but on my last holiday I had usually had enough cafe latte by midday to send my emails just by thought.

My culture shock isn’t helped by having been in Japan for almost a decade. By comparison with Tokyo, the inhabitants of Melbourne and Sydney look as if they’ve just dressed in whatever happened to be on the floor next to the bed that morning. The bare-midriff look is something I find overdone even by good looking singers and Japanese models. As practiced by ordinary Australian, it’s something that takes quite a few lattes to recover from. I feel under-caffeinated just thinking about it.

Something else I’ll take a while to get over is having my rucksack searched by zealous customs officers at Auckland airport. The friendly customs dude pulled out 2000AD progs 730 to 733 and said “I have the very first copy of this comic”. He did some rummaging and came up with prog 1422 (practically the latest) and had a look “but it’s gotten a lot darker”. Then he caught sight of something which might have been a Michael Jackson CD and forgot his comics reading youth.

In Sydney, several lattes later, my first stop out of the airport was a newsagents. I love newsagents. The brilliant thing about them is that everything is in English, a big deal when you’re used to everything being in Japanese. I suspect that this thrill will wear off soonish, but for now I’m like a kid in a toyshop. I picked up the latest Phantom and managed to stay awake long enough to find out whether or not the Phantom’s crusade against the Singh pirates was merely a dream or not, and watch Dr Who before crashing. Actually, a five year old could have worked out that it was all a crazy dream, but by this stage I had been traveling for 24 hours and wasn’t at my best.

As the Australian band Cold Chisel once wailed, “I was back in the lucky land”.

On waking up, I latted around Sydney for a while and then got into a rented car for the eleven hour drive to Melbourne. Not much comics related about this trip, unless you count inventing terrible superheroes for the entertainment of a bored five year old (Underpants Man, Evil Underpants Man, I-beg-your-pardon-Man and so on). Of course I got to fantasize about being Mad Max on the Hume Highway and saw some trucks and petrol tankers that could have been right out of the movies, apart from a disappointing absence of blonde models with crossbows, Mohawk-wearing psychos on bikes, lovable Australian character actors and short homophobes in tight leather. One has to fantasize about something on the Hume.

In Melbourne, before a stressful interview with lawyers, I had time to indulge myself and buy the Ennis Dredd book ‘Judgement Day’. Time after time, I’ve bought Ennis stuff bagged by other comics fans and often by the man himself and been pleasantly surprised. This was not one of those times – it’s a lazy mess of a story, written by someone remembering better epics in the past. The artists are great, Ezquerra and Dean Ormston, but they don’t seem to think the story deserves their best.

Oh well, as my son pointed out, we can say the great comics noise “aieeee!” in Australia (in Japan it sounds like a naughty word), so we both said it a few times. There’s an upside to traumatic continental uprootings.