An English Geek in Saudi Arabia

Precisely a month ago today, my wife, children and I left the UK. When deciding to move abroad and work away for a few years, I was excited to leave but something was holding me back. Yes, family and friends, but I knew we'd still be in touch regularly through various means (all being well) but something else... it was my large comic book collection. Yes, I know it sounds incredibly materialistic but I'll explain.

Whilst clearing through our belongings and deciding what to put into storage, I decided to sell most of my 300+ DVDs and 200+ CDs to CEX for a pittance. I thought I'd miss parting with my collections because I'd built it over many years and I’d always reasoned I'd need them in case streaming services or the internet went kaput. However, thinking through this process I realised that in a Mad Max-style dystopian world people would have more pressing concerns than getting a CD of Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene or a VHS copy of Hello Dolly, and yes that was a timely reference to Wall-E.

However, with my comics I felt differently... I couldn't bare to part with them. For me it wasn't even an option. I started comic collecting when I was about 7 years old and my first loves were Tintin, Iron Man, Spiderman and Zoe Ball. The affection I have for my comics collection isn't just based on the rather large financial commitment required over the years but more to the memories and nostalgia I have attached with them. I still vividly remember lying in bed listening to Interpol's Antics whilst reading Maus in 2005, or lying in bed reading Craig Thompson's Blankets whilst listening to Bjork's Vespertine. A lot of my memories involve me lying in bed and listening to music, especially when it comes to comics and graphic novels. The music I listened to and certain comics I read are forever intertwined in me as they were often formative.

At the time of leaving England, I had built up a mighty and eclectic collection of over 500 graphic novels and many comics too. I had signed ones by Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, League of Extraordinary Gentleman) , Jeff Smith (Bone), Erica Henderson (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl), Becky Cloonan (Demo, Chance or Providence) and many more. This may not sound impressive and compared to many collectors out there, it isn't, but what I loved most was meeting each and every one of the artists or writers I had sign my graphic novels. This was more important than the signed comic itself, the chance to have a quick chat and tell my heroes what I thought about them and their work. I remember this one time, whilst browsing the basement area of Orbital Comics in its original location opposite the British Museum, I saw Alan Moore signing his works quietly. There was no queue or gaggle of fans, just Mr Moore, two of my friends and I. Trying to be nonchalant, I walked up to him and spoke of my admiration of his work. I walked away feeling like a boss, feeling like I’d spoken with eloquence and gravitas until my friends informed me I had sounded like a pre-pubescent teen and had been shaking all the time I had been talking to him. Nope, this was not my finest moment but one I will treasure forever because… comics!

I thought that by going to Saudi Arabia I might have to put a lot of this behind me as comics and the availability of pop culture paraphernalia was limited, at least from what I had heard and been led to believe. I know that you can get comics on tablets, phones etc but in the same way I put up with reading books on my Kindle for convenience sake rather than a love of the format, I knew I would miss the tactile nature of holding a comic, smelling the print and all that other stuff old duffers like me often say. Comic shopping is quite a social thing, although for many newbies going into comic shops it may not seem so… but, once you break through the knowledge-bomb dropping bravado, comic nerds are alright and just want to talk about their hobby.

However, having been here only a month so far, I have been excited to learn that Saudi Arabia does actually have a quite vibrant fandom scene. Okay, it’s not London level fandom but it is growing. In the past few weeks I have been to various game sessions and many more game-meets have been planned for the future. Also, I learnt from a colleague that the local hypermarket was running a models and maquette meetup. Fellow model enthusiasts brought along their elaborate models and dioramas to share with an appreciative audience, which included video game, anime and comic fans. Also, whilst shopping at the local shopping centre I came across Toca Boca clothes (they make cool educational apps) and Cuphead figures!

I have also been incredibly surprised and pleased to learn that the school I work at now houses a very impressive graphic novel collection in its library. Granted, the more controversial and adult-themed comics aren't there, it is a school after all, but what is there is mightily impressive and has pleased this old comic fans heart.