Tsunami and Swallowing a Cobra’s Heart

Justin Hall previously published his True Travel Tales as regular-sized comics. Now, he’s doing new stories as minicomics, which suits them: they seem even more immediate, and more like the casual journals they are.

Tsunami! True Travel Tales of South East Asia covers Justin’s trip through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam over the winter of 2004-2005. The opening four-page story isn’t his, though. It happened to someone else, a woman who told him about being caught in the Christmas tsunami. It’s a dramatic beginning illustrating how life-changing travel can be. One person’s experience, what she remembers and chooses to mention, brings the huge event to just this side of comprehendable.

Tsunami! cover

After that comes prose journal entries that make up half the book. Justin discusses the religious realizations and cultural differences he observes, as well as historical sites he visits. Reading his stories is like listening to a great after-dinner conversation. They’re things I’ll never do, but they sure are interesting to hear about.

The last two stories in the book are short comics. The first is about smuggling drugs through the former Burma in a jar of peanut butter; the second, about the universality of art, when a traveler can swap a sketch for a motorbike ride. Justin’s simple, unembellished style makes him seem more like a reporter. Certainly, he’s interpreting things and deciding what to show us, but the direct art makes us forget that in its straightforward approach.

The newest issue in the series is Swallowing a Cobra’s Heart and Other True Travel Tales. The material in this issue is more adult, and it’s mostly journal entries. This time, the trip was through Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia in early 2006. And yes, the title is true.

The ten-page comic story included here also appears in color in The Book of Boy Trouble. It’s called “Pink Dolphins”, and it’s about a sexual encounter during a boat trip up the Amazon. (It’s got explicit gay content, for those interested in seeking it out or avoiding it on that basis.) What starts as an exotic “things you’d do in another country” kind of story ends up being about more as cultural differences come into play. It almost becomes a twisted after-school special, with a lesson on safe sex.

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