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CULTURE CRISIS

Posted by David Pugh on June 1, 2015 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (0)
I've come to the conclusion that the reason I'm spending more and more time outside the UK, is a deep need to live in places that have a distinctive culture. India has a clearly defined identity which is supported by Hinduism, I'll leave aside Islam for now, as it replaces indigenous culture with doctrine. Thailand, Japan and Tibet, including Kham and Amdo; now part of China, are supported by their own interpretations of Buddhism. Bali remains distinct from the rest of Indonesia, due to its own take on Hindu ideas. The rest of Indonesia, along with Malaysia and the Philippines have lost almost all their culture, traded in for American style materialism. I was rather shocked to see a poster outside a MacDonalds in Manila, which advised parents to book their child's birthday event with a credit card, under the slogan, "Party now, pay later!" Most of us in the West have adopted this philosophy quite happily, only to find the party doesn't last long, after the payments have been made. Growing up in 50s Wales, we didn't have this lifestyle option, if you couldn't afford it you didn't buy it. It forced us into living a restricted and rather repressive culture but there was a culture, due to having to make fun for ourselves, because we couldn't buy fun. Almost every house in Glynneath had a piano in the front room and my grandfather played the trombone, encouraged by the colliery, to help combat his advancing silicosis. When our annual carnival came around, there was a true sense of competition amongst the marching bands. My favourite entertainment came from the infamous "Jews' Band" every village had its own take on this mischievous parody of Jewish tradesmen. Each member of the band wore the orthodox black suit and hat, draped in items of hardware from their various trades. Impossible today but outrageously funny at the time, particularly the ladies' underwear merchant. What happened? Last year I was at the St.Paul's Afro-Caribbean carnival, rather than attending the debut of the Aberdabadare event, in my home town. I'm afraid there were no regrets on my behalf, St.Paul's is a glorious celebration of distinct culture, which has now been absorbed into Bristol's identity, as much as the Banksy graffitti, which culturally helped redefine the city. People spend the whole year in preparation of a presentation of what they see as an important representation of what is important in their lives in Bristol and community is at the heart of the event. Cultural celebration is an escape from mundanity, sadly in South Wales since the end of the coal mining era, escape is found through drink and drugs, and an entertainment subculture, which is fuelling the economy of the UK. Sadly our adoption of Christianity hasn't proved strong enough to hold our society together. We have forgotten and for the most part lost our connection to our indigenous, druidical past. Fortunately there are always a few strong individuals who try to keep our heritage alive. As for Aberdare, our council could at least try to reinstate the past glory of its park, when coaches from across the country would bring people there for a fun day. They can't even manage to keep water flowing in the fountain, a twin of the one outside Raffles hotel, Singapore and now they don't want to put water in the children's paddling pool. We might not have the best of sunshine but we do have plenty of rain, so how about we adopt a Thai style, Songkran water festival on August Bank Holiday and throw buckets of warm water over each other? Let's celebrate what little we have left, suggestions welcome.

EXTRACTOR FAN BLUES

Posted by David Pugh on January 16, 2015 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)


My son, Sam has just finished and has been paid for his first game development commission, something he has been hankering to do since he was about ten years old. Since before he could walk he used to crawl into my studio, haul himself up to my drawing board to see what I was working on that day. Drawing for IPC’s Boys’ Adventure Comics, many of which were spin-offs of cartoon shows and video games, he was very impressed and went off to attempt his own interpretation. This was one of the joys of having my studio at the front of our house. A couple of days ago Sam reminded me of the downside of creative isolation. For the first ten years of my career, I worked as a cartoonist and viualiser in a Creative Services studio with other artists. All jolly good fun but I wanted to draw comics, full time and although I was having my own strips published in various local papers, it wasn’t enough, I needed to do it ALL the time. Rumpelstilskin, in the guise of Pat Mills, eventually turned up and spirited me away from my studio playmates and dropped me in a room alone. In return for having my wish granted, I was locked in this room for the next 26 years. Okay, I did take some time off for adventures in the real world but at best they were three week rest bites from drawing adventure. For most of those years I was working in that room six days a week. 9am to midnight Monday to Thursday and 9am to 7pm Fridays and Saturdays, an exhausting routine. In order to meet his deadline for his recent character studies, Sam had to forgo his social life for three or four days. When he had finished he rang me to say that he finally knew why he used to find me most Friday and Saturday nights sitting alone in the kitchen, several beer bottles in front of me listening to Leonard Cohen, singing about “satisfying one night stands,” in the glow of the cooker’s extractor fan. He said it must have been some hope that the extractor would suck me away to a more exciting life. I should have been in our lounge with the rest of the family but watching the TV would send me instantly asleep, I wanted to savour the possibilities of what life might offer. I projected myself into some bar in South East Asia and lived there for an hour or two, at least in my alcohol fuelled imagination. It may sound selfish but I was suffering from cabin fever, I had to escape those crippling deadlines. In my defence, I always gave over my Sundays to the family, then I was Dad and all theirs. These days I have the freedom to live the adventure and have been fortunate enough to find myself in many South Asian bars and I can tell you, they are as good as I imagined.

 

The Generous Dragon

Posted by David Pugh on December 21, 2014 at 12:30 PM Comments comments (0)

There’s great news for my friends the Jatta family in the Gambia. An old friend of Lucas’ has returned from a prosperous career in Canada and is now in a position to invest in the palm wine nature bar and land, that Lucas inherited from his father. Bab Jallow intends to bring electricity to the site, build a covered bantaba, the traditional style round meeting house, put in some proper tables, chairs and a kitchen, which will serve the campsite they are planning in the garden. The camp will have a proper Western style bathroom and toilet area, which should attract the growing number of backpackers and bikers who are visiting the Gambia. The site is next to a beautiful lagoon and about five minutes walk to the beach. Bab is also considering buying up the adjacent land to construct a jungle walk to the more cosmopolitan area of Senegambia. Bab’s future plans include building a bar and restaurant in this exclusive area, the overall development will be able to provide jobs for all members of the Jatta family. It will also bring in funds to finally rebuild Elizabeth, Lucas’ sister house, which was destroyed by flood about eight years ago. When the house is finished Elizabeth plans to offer homestays in the compound for those who want to experience a slice of real African township life. Bab is also planning to ensure that all of Lucas’ children receive the best possible education and is already going to send George to an American university, so that he can return with a useful degree. In the meantime George and I along with a young German businessman are continuing with the plan to take tourists to Guinea Bissau and Senegal.

JUDGE DREDD INTERROGATION, FULL WORKS

Posted by David Pugh on June 22, 2014 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Tell us about your early influences.

I was about 9 years old, in my doctor's waiting room, when I saw my first EAGLE comic. I was blown away by the realism of the DAN DARE strip and my first sight of the Mekon. I couldn't believe that anyone could draw that realistically. I didn't know at the time that there was a whole studio dedicated to creating the strip. My mother snatched it off me, saying I'd have nightmares. She was wrong my nightmares are scenes of banal reality. My dreams have always taken me to wild and colourful worlds. My mother never did let me buy the EAGLE. The first two comics I was allowed regularly were BOYS' WORLD and RANGER. Wrath of the Gods and the Trigan Empire blew me away. So that would have been John M. Burns and Don Lawrence. Then I discovered Frank Bellamy, through the pages of my sister's TV21 and LADY PENELOPE, I became a lifelong fan of that great man and he did have a direct influence on my early black and white work. Oh, well before that I saw my first American comics, an adaptation of the KONGA movie by Steve Ditko really impressed me. MARVEL COMICS never made it to Glynneath. My first exposure to Marvel would have been at Kingston Art College, I did my Foundation Course at Brighton, where I did my thesis as a comic book history of St.Nicholas' Church. St. Nicholas' Church is in Brighton, where I was in Art College. There are lot of really cool dead people buried there. A bunch of bikers show up for a party and a ghostly grave digger tells them to show some respect, by giving them a tour of the grave yard. I actually came top of my whole year with that. Kingston hated comics and did their best to train me as a graphic designer. Fortunately, a Canadian friend on the course introduced me to Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko and Neal Addams. I was amazed by Kirby's energy and mad machinery, I tried drawing like him but it was always too cartoony. Neal Addams was far more realistic, which suited my British background; his layouts were probably my greatest influence. Around this time I discovered the books of Michael Moorcock, who of course wrote Wrath of the Gods. His Celtic series, the Corum books would be a big influence on my Slaine work. Soon after this a friend gave me issue 8 of METAL HURLANT, I later tracked down issue 1 in Paris. Moebius and Phillip Druillet shocked me with their visions. I couldn't imagine where they got their architecture and characters from. I'm certain I know the source; it has to be Kathmandu that city has the weirdest architecture and the wildest mix of people. You can see doorways about three foot high. You say to yourself, "People must have been small, when these houses were built". then the door opens and out comes a Hobbit and his wife. Then a pixie girl will pass you on her scooter, complete with pointed ears and hooped tights. To my great regret I didn't make it to Kathmandu until 2011. If I'd had the money to get there in the early Seventies, it would have given me a whole new perception and made me a greater artist. So advice to budding comic artists, forget Art College, go to Kathmandu. Before I finish I must mention Paul Gulacy's Master of Kung Fu and Milo Manara for his beautiful women and his mastery of portraying exotic corners of the world so perfectly. Manara gets my number one for talent, unfortunately for me, I'm not worthy to tie his sandals but I kiss his feet. I liked putting a lot of detail and perspective into my work, I wanted to draw the reader into the page and make it as three dimensional as possible. Don Lawrence gave me this value for money adventure in the 1960s, with his Trigan Empire series. I have actually been perfectly happy working in black and white though, despite making a living and reputation as a colourist in the latter part of my career. I liked the challenge of creating colour in black and white. Most of my work was finished using a Kolinsky Sable no.5 brush with Higgins Black Magic ink, it gave my work a painterly feel.

 

How did you get your break into main stream comics?

I was kicked out of Kingston Art College for being too rebellious and I was told that I'd never make it as a graphic designer. What they didn't know was that I was already working as an illustrator/designer to Pier 1 Imports, who are still trading today. They were so impressed with my illustration for their Evening Standard weekly ads, they gave me the job of Creative Director. I'll always relish the look on my board of college tutors faces when I told them that. However, Pier 1 was an American company and expected you to work seven days a week if necessary. As being the company photographer was also my role, I had to do style shoots of Peacock Chairs on location, using my wife as a model, as well as doing intricate black and white illustrations of Buddha statues. After a year of this, combined with my stomach problems, I collapsed after a shoot on Worthing beach. I decided I needed a slower pace of life. My mother sent me a cutting for a vacancy for artist/visualiser for Thomson Regional Newspapers back in South Wales. I walked into the job, bought a cottage in Aberdare and three years later one of the editors asked me if I'd like to produce a comic strip for their children's page. This was 1976, LOOKING GLASS LIBRARY ran for about two years. It was inspired by ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Two kids were shown how they could enter the books written in mirror language. I used the Alice book as the first adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Frankenstein and others, finishing about two years later with the Mabinogion, which I'd studied in depth. In 1979 the same company offered me a full tabloid page strip based on an American advertising concept, which I made my own. CAPTAIN CLASSIFIED, STAR RANGER ran for about three years. I wrote, lettered and even had editorial control of Looking Glass Library. The same was true of CAPTAIN CLASSIFIED. At the age of twenty-five I had a reassessment of my life and burnt all the LOOKING GLASS LIBRARY pages. I just didn't think they were good enough or important enough. Several short stories and a MABINOGION inspired book went with it. That's what happens when the creator gets editorial control. No regrets, they just weren't up to the standard I wanted to set for myself, just okay. The LOOKING GLASS LIBRARY concept was good though. I had also been working on a STRANGE BUT TRUE strip for a weekly comics supplement in a Portsmouth newspaper; Ron Smith was drawing the lead story. As I was then considered a comics professional, I was being paid for this work, I joined the Society of Strip Illustrators and met Alan Moore and David Lloyd, pre "V FOR VENDETTA" days. The SSI had a monthly magazine, showcasing what we were up to. I submitted a CAPTAIN CLASSIFIED strip, which caught Pat Mills eye and that was the start of the full time comics career.

Tell us more about Captain Classified.

CAPTAIN CLASSIFIED was a superhero character used in one of Thomson's Canadian papers, as a gimmick to sell classified advertising. I was asked to update the character to help launch the GLAMORGAN STAR, the concept of the free sheet was something new back then. The only stipulation I was given was that he had to have a glamorous assistant and the Classified Advertising Manager liked the name Princess Astra. I worked on a presentation over a long weekend and came up with a Dredd like character, a Star Ranger with a star shaped visor. He drove a 1940s Dick Tracy style car that was capable of jumping through hyperspace. It was very quickly drawn and written, very freehand in style. We actually had costumes made and the Captain made guest appearances, confusingly with two Princess Astras, all around the Vale of Glamorgan. One story I particularly enjoyed doing was MURDER ON THE BIG BANG EXPRESS, it had a Kwai Chang Kane character and a mad star truck driver. I do still have most the artwork but I'd rather be remembered for my later work. I bought Steve Dylan's first self published comic, when he was seventeen, I'm sure he wouldn't want that back on the streets.

Why did you leave Slaine?

Glenn Fabry was going to a comic 'A' lister, I knew it from his first sketch and it was going to be impossible for me to compete with this young Leonardo. I was from a more cartoony background; I was hired for my imagination, my action sequences and being Welsh, my Celtic insight. I also had to draw four pages of SLAINE, to every one of Glenn's, in order to meet the print deadline and for me to be able to feed my wife and child. We get paid by the page in the comic business, not by the amount of detail we put in. I knew the time would come when someone would hold one of my pages up against one of Glenn's and say, "It's obvious which is the best art". How this day came about was unexpected. I'd completed my second season, having to take on some of the grand finale pages, which were intended for Glenn, in order to get the pages into the comic. Having briefly discussed the direction of the next series with Pat Mills, I took a two week trip to Sri Lanka, it was just at the beginning of the civil war. I've always felt the need for real adventure, drawing comics for me was an escapist substitute for the real thing. On returning to the UK, there was no news from Pat. I had an invite to a big comic convention in Birmingham that week. On the Friday I was at the creators' dinner, sat on the same table as Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland and a very exhausted looking Mike McMahon. Proof pages of WATCHMEN and KILLING JOKE were being handed around but I was feeling guilty that I'd taken the SLAINE work from Mike McMahon, he wasn't talking to anyone. Blow me, at the bar after the dinner Mike Collins comes over to me and introduces himself as the new SLAINE artist. Pat has apologised to me on several occasions, about the way I heard the news. It was very unprofessional and very hurtful, this is one but not the main reason, I didn't want to return to that point in time for the SLAINE anniversary issue. To be fair they did give me the odd FUTURE SHOCK, one of which I wrote under a different name, as there was a lot of input from Steve MacMannus. The 2000AD Summer Special I did was crucial for me, as Barrie Tomlinson loved it and offered me the MASK work. So after doing those few shorts for 2000AD, I left to make a career, literally across the corridor in the Boys' Adventure department, where I had the pick of titles to work on. I'll always be grateful to Barrie Tomlinson, the then group editor, for giving me the freedom to develop as a much better comic artist.

Did leaving 2000AD effect on your career?

Of course leaving 2000AD had an adverse effect on my career. Using Brando's words from ON THE WATERFRONT, "I coulda been a contender". Working for Boys' Adventure lowered my profile, not many people saw my work and we had no royalty deal for foreign reprints and collections unlike 2000AD creators. It was my choice with a wife and five year old daughter to support, I needed regular work, I just couldn't afford to wait around for the next 2000AD commission to turn up. I can't blame the editorial staff there for possibly taking it as a snub but there were many great artists who had to keep working regularly. I spent three years working on the hugely successful MASK comic, we had some great artists working continually through the whole run. It included Judge Dredd supremo, Ron Smith and the wonderful Joe Colquhoun, Joe worked on Pat Mills' greatest series, CHARLEY'S WAR and never got the recognition he deserved during his life. I'm selling off my artwork to raise money for my BUS FARE charity and MASK art has sold as many pages as SLAINE. The only pity is I couldn't get all of it back; my wife and I spent a day at IPC's warehouse as they wanted it cleared. We left the MASK art until last, Pauline started at one end and I the other but we ran out of time before we met in the middle and some great pages were lost. Back to the main subject, I have no regrets about my career, I had a career, in so much as I was never out of work. I had my chance to break into the US market in 1988, when I was offered the chance to draw GRIMJACK. I'd only just started drawing LONER then, who was especially created for me and I was having a ball with the character and also filling in for Ron Smith on JOE ALIEN. For those who don't know LONER was a character developed for me, a black, space gunslinger in the short lived WILDCAT comic.. On top of that I now had a one year old son, so I was a very happy man. I didn't have the sourness that the GRIMJACK character needed. I loved Loner and felt very satisfied drawing his adventures. My son toddled into my studio everyday to see what I was up to. GRIMJACK'S violence had an acidic edge to it, which amuses me when it is well done but I'd have to hidden it from the kids. It also had some bizarre sexual fantasies in it, which didn't turn me on. I love sexy comics and did a one off BLACK VENUS story for Bill Black’s AC COMICS in Florida but I'm no Milo Manara. The GRIMJACK editor went to the next entry in their directory and Steve Pugh's career was launched. Steve used to think that he had been mistaken for me; maybe they thought we were brothers. I got my American series eventually and the opportunity to work with Bryan Talbot, on the NEIL GAIMAN'S PHAGE SHADOWDEATH miniseries. I did some extremely violent scenes for SHADOWDEATH but my son was a teenager then and loved Sam Rami movies.

How would you describe your contribution to Slaine?

I do feel my contribution to SLAINE was underestimated, most people just considered me the fill in artist for Glenn. I did help to create the SLAINE world with several designs, Elfric, Myrddyn, Murdoch, the Guledig were from my imagination. The laysers, the ship for travelling through time and the Cythron city of Gulag were my visualising too. However, SLAINE went through so many changes of direction that I have to say, that it must be Clint Langley's work that has finally defined the character and his world. I have one question for Clint myself, "How can you afford to pay all your actors?" I was looking at a 2000AD online forum, as to who was the defining SLAINE artist, well Clint has my vote. I was pleased to read that several people picked up on my humour and action; it was something I worked at. It was a pity that I had to tone down the violence, 2000AD was still a children's comic in those days. I wanted to portray hilarious, over the top murder, the SPARTACUS TV series has to be the finest example of that sort of black ballet. The scene where he slices off the German gladiator's face was a masterpiece, not only defining Spartacus' role as leader of the rebellion but the look of surprise left on a head without a face, sheer genius. Pat Mills has a very clear view of the way his characters should look at a certain time in the real world, so creators are told to do it this way, with several visual examples of how he sees it. If I dare to criticise Pat, it's to say that he follows fashion too readily rather than anticipating it but I have been guilty of that myself. My DAN DARE work drew a lot on sci-fi movies of the time and a lot from Spaghetti Westerns too. What I am truly grateful for is the freedom and respect Barrie Tomlinson gave me as a creator. He really helped me feel confident to push my art to much higher ground than I achieved at 2000AD, I shall always be thankful for his belief in me. I continued to work in Boys'Adventure, despite having some US offers, simply because of this freedom Barrie gave me. I worked with Pete Milligan on the MASK comic, terrific stories with no direction as to how to draw anything. Peter said I was too good for the comic and I should be back working for 2000AD, where I'd get the recognition I deserved, not to mention royalties. I had two children to support in those days; I couldn't risk throwing myself on the whims of 2000AD. I'll never forget the humiliation I felt during my DAN DARE years when I was barred entry to a 2000AD after convention party. I'd been for a drink with Colin MacNeil, when Colin suggested going to the 2000AD party. I said I didn't have an invite, Colin laughed saying I was a SLAINE artist, who a lot of people respected. Igor Goldkind was on the door, I was blocked with, "Current contributors only!" Igor, maybe after getting this off my chest I'll accept your Facebook friend request. Listen, I don't want to sound bitter, I've been able to make a continual living in comics for thirty years and that's more than some can say. I've never had to look hard for paid work in the business and managed to get an American miniseries but I could never have been an "A" lister, I didn't take the risks. It was my choice to put making a secure living over a chance for glory and I have no regrets. I'm very happy with where I am now, I'm having the adventure I've always wanted and I've been brave enough to walk away from the work ethic, to seek the adventure and to meet some wonderful people. Some of these people have nothing but a sense of happiness in their lives, despite having no money. We in the developed world wouldn't know how to achieve that sense of happiness without buying it and I include myself here. If I hadn't had a career which allowed me to save money, I shouldn't be here in India right now, contemplating my next video diary.

Which 2000AD character would you liked to have worked on?

This is an easy one. Although he originated in TORNADO, he did appear in 2000AD and because of his intergalactic adventures was well suited to the comic, this was BLACK HAWK THE GLADIATOR, written by Gerry Finlay-Day. Simon Davies and I submitted a proposal to 2000AD in the mid-ninties but didn't receive any response. There were so many similarities between him and my favourite character, Loner, both wandering strange worlds, with just their own wits and fighting skills to protect themselves. Kev Hopgood once paid me the compliment, that Loner was the coolest and most realistic black guy in comics. A reworking of BLACK HAWK might even tempt me back to comics for a while. The problem is that originally set in Britain, there would be clashes with SLAINE. I'd like to see BLACK HAWK given a WRATH OF THE GODS treatment but with the violent and brutal treatment of SPARTACUS, BLOOD AND SAND. I must tease Pat Mills at this point, he once told me that there could never be a powerful and sexy Roman hero, because of the skirt. How wrong he was, Spartacus' last battle and heroic death in VICTORY was powerful and noble and he was dressed in a Roman tunic. So, I'd like to see BLACK HAWK lose his status and return to being an escaped slave, losing his lover and making his way across the Roman Empire back to Africa. Along the way he'd seek out the gods of the lands he'd visit and destroy them, as punishment for changing his fortune. I also see him being pursued by an obsessive Roman General who is determined to destroy him. Black Hawk would have been responsible for instigating a Celtic uprising, a momentous rebellion that would spell the beginning of the end of Roman rule in Britain. In short the character should be reimagined, establishing the power of the African nation. From there we switch to a fantasy history of the world, for when BLACK HAWK returns to Africa, he unites the tribes and leads them north to destroy the Roman Empire and establish the African Empire, which would be ruling the world to this day! Pretty epic storyline me thinks. Now which of today's 2000AD writers want to take that on? Perhaps they'd let me write it and let someone else do the hard drawing work. While working on Bryan Talbot's script for SHADOWDEATH, he asked me to draw a gladiatorial arena scene, with at least a thousand in the crowd. Afterwards he told me, if he was writing for himself, I'd have just written a few dozen. So okay 2000AD, if you want to go ahead with this, I'll need a Frank Hampson size studio, with lots of CGI, thanks!

Do you have any anecdotes about your time at 2000AD?

How about them not even acknowledging submissions for possible storylines and when I rang just getting an answer machine, promising a call back that never came. On the one occasion I spoke to someone I knew, I was told that there were too many regular contributors waiting for work. This is a continual problem to this day, it's no one's fault, as there are not enough pages and too many contributors. I don't hold any grudges, my only bone of contention has been that 2000AD reprints pay royalties, any Boys' Adventure titles reprinted, the creators got nothing.

Do you have any regrets about your career?

Plainly I should have tackled the GRIMJACK job, I could have done it but I was having a great time with LONER. I'm probably more proud of my work on that character, than anything else I've drawn. Also, I should have taken full control of the LAST PLANET and self published, instead of leaving it in totally incompetent hands. That was probably my biggest regret but I don't want to go any further with that now. It's going to be well covered in an upcoming issue of The Tower King. I'm also doing an interview commemorating 25 years of Scorer and I'm trying not to cross over the questions.

 

Why did you turn down the opportunity to draw Slaine again?

I was very flattered when Pat ranked me as one of the top six SLAINE artists in the thirty years and I seriously thought about drawing the character again. Then I did think to myself, "Guys, if I was that good, why has it taken you twenty eight years to ask me back?" More importantly, I had set myself a challenge to get to Lithang, Tibet. Turning down the SLAINE anniversary issue was possibly the best decision I made, I swear it's raised more publicity and sold more pages for my BUS FARE project than if I had participated. Everyone wants to know why I turned down an opportunity many would love to have. I don't expect I'd be doing this interview with you now, if I'd drawn six pages in the same style as twenty-eight years ago. Also, as it's highly unlikely that I'll be drawing any more comic pages, the ones I still have are now rare commodities. Funny world! My apologies go out to the fans who would have loved to have seen some more Slaine from me but what new vision could I have offered to a retrospective project. The best work in the BOOK OF WOUNDS was Mike McMahon's, he really did his own thing and showed every one where he is today. If anyone wants to know where I am today, type Afrafilms into YouTube and watch my six part video diary LONG ROAD TO LITHANG. I got more kicks putting that together than anything I have ever drawn. Lithang is a town in the former province Kham, Tibet now part of the Western Tibetan Prefecture of Ghanzi, Sichuan, China. Four of the most beautiful and inspirational women I have ever known came from there and each of their stories would make a graphic novel. Another reason I didn't want to revisit SLAINE was because I no longer had that sense of aggression in my work. This aggression was fuelled by years of stomach problems, I was infected by heliocobacter pylori, when my invaders were destroyed in 1996, I had a sense of rebirth. The main change in my life was that I could go without eating for a day or two; I was no longer feeding bacteria. This meant that I could now start travelling in earnest and I began to take more and more time away from the drawing board and the computer. In 1996 I was so impressed by the amazing computer colour work Angus Mackie did on my SHADOWDEATH pencils, I decided to teach myself computer colouring. I plunged in at the deep end and coloured two STAR WARS Adventure Books I had drawn. Thus began a new period in my life as a computer colourist. In 2009 I answered an online advertisement for Graphic Designer at LHA Charitable Trust in Dharamsala, India, the home of the Dalai Lama. I was there for two months teaching Photoshop to Tibetan monks and I decided I needed a change of direction. On a day off from the class, I climbed to Triund, the base camp of the Dhauladar Himalaya. On my descent, I was walking along an ancient track in the midst of a timeless moment. I convinced myself that around the next bend, I was going to come face to face with Conan the Barbarian. As it happened, it was just a goatherd but the spell wasn't broken. His style of dress probably hadn't altered in centuries. I became Conan myself for a brief moment. The feeling was so intense – probably stoked by the thin air! – that I knew I would never be able to replicate it drawing comics. However, the spell was broken when, an hour later, I met an Australian tourist who said, "Jeez, you’re Terry Pratchett, aren't you?"’

Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?

I do consider myself a perfectionist but reaching perfection is impossible for most in this life. Most people who I admire greatly, have from time to time produced indifferent work. Everyone should try to do their best and keep trying to do their best but there comes a point where most people peak and no matter what they do, they'll never get beyond that point. Going beyond your best defines genius for me and there are very few geniuses born in the course of most people's lifetime. I saw Picasso's GUERNICA, in Madrid, for the first time last October. I'd grown up with reproductions but when you see the size and majesty of the real thing, you see perfection and genius at work. Striving for perfection can be counterproductive, when only adequate is necessary and if a few lines can convey the message then why labour the point. I spent several years producing the computer colour and 3D backgrounds for the Daily Mirror SCORER strip and put far too much work into it. That was such an ephemeral work that it didn't deserve the time I put into it but as I have always done, I gave it my best and yes, tried for perfection. Perfection usually comes at a cost and the cost is your time. This brings me back to SLAINE and Glenn striving for the perfect page. I never had the time to produce perfection. What the hell is perfection anyway? Surely it just the goals we set ourselves, I imagine Jack Kirby never worried about perfection and look at the brilliant legacy he left. Vision and imagination is more important, in a digital visual age who needs to be a Pre Raphaelite. In comics most good artists live by the slogan, "More is less". It comes down to your own personality and how you choose to present yourself.

What makes a good comic book writer?

A good comic book writer should have a good visual sense; I first met Alan Moore when he was still drawing. He had the good sense to realise early, that his average drawing skills couldn't match his very visual imagination. Most writers I know would love to be able to draw, guys you made the right choice, you've all made more money than us artists and you've been able to create some great characters, while we labour away at perfecting YOUR vision. Writing and drawing in comics are inseparable of course but in my opinion, good writing comes first. This goes for cinema and television too, the script is everything. Quentin Tarantino is not a good writer, he's an imagineer and showman and for most of the time it works very well. I'm not a great writer myself; I've been guilty of producing flashy art to the detriment of the story. Not many people know that my OBVIOUS TACTICS book for Games Workshop was written in stream of consciousness. It was commissioned in monthly instalments, on the strength of the first page. Andy Jones said he wanted to see more, I said I didn't know where to take it. He threw me the Blood Angels Codex and said, "Read that, it's the driving manual. Let's see where you can take the ship!" It was quite an adventure for me and I was grateful for the opportunity and trust he gave me. I was disappointed with the collected graphic novel, the art was condensed into American format. I was surprised it sold like that and even went to a second print run. I've worked with many really good writers not only Pat Mills and Peter Milligan but Alan Grant, Bryan Talbot, Steve Moore, Gordon Rennie, Dan Abnett, Tom Tully, Barrie and Jim Tomlinson. Please don't ask me to choose the best as I probably left out several in the above list. I wish I'd become a more disciplined writer myself. I began writing my LAST PLANET project, it was supposed to be in six initial parts but I went off on a tangent. I hired a new young writer, Simon Davies, to inject some humour and some discipline. He was recommended to me by Dave Stone, who I first approached, as I liked his wit. Guess what happened, Simon went off on several tangents, all very clever but no discipline. He had written script eleven with no end in sight, when I was in the middle of book four. It just went to hell at that point, the publisher sent issue 1 to the printer on a 1,500 print run! They sold immediately, Diamond picked it up in America, featured it on their spotlight page in Previews magazine. Everyone wanted it but the issues weren't there. A second print run was hurriedly organised and issue two followed quickly. I had allocated enough time in my schedule to do the six parts and agreed that the art should be completed before publishing. Everyone started blaming everyone else but the publisher needs to take the blame. Simon had a breakdown I got issue three art back from the printers and closed the draw on the project.

Would you like to write more comic scripts?

I don't seriously think that anyone would give me the chance to become a writer, I'll be forever grateful to Andy Jones at GAMES WORKSHOP for letting me write OBVIOUS TACTICS, though I regretted their decision to condense my pages into American format. I'd prefer anyone to read it in it's original, serialised form in the INFERNO anthologies. Listen, I still have lots of ideas for cracking stories but I can never find the time to draw them, writing would be fun. I'm currently working on a WEST AFRICAN JUNGLE SKILLS project based in Guinea Bissau, to bring money into a very poor village. I could write there but I can't carry around a drawing board!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

African Jungle Skills

Posted by David Pugh on April 16, 2014 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)

I've only been working on the African Jungle skills project for about three weeks. I was having conversations with Bhuwan in Rishikesh, as to how I could set up a business to allow my friends in the Gambia earn a better living, when I had a rather obvious revelation. Bear Grylls is extremely popular in India and people are also aware of Ray Mears woodcraft skills. My friends in Guinea Bissau were born to these survival techniques, so why not give people the opportunity to learn directly from the people who live their lives in the woods. I have stayed in the village twice myself and I have never felt more alive and in touch with nature and the true values of a life free from clutter. We are only looking for about six people at the moment, to join a trial jungle skills program in Cassalol, Guinea Bissau. Details are on our prototype website http:/africanjungleskills.webs.com/

For those who might find several days in the village too overwhelming, you can take a four to five kilometre hike to Varella, a cluster of abandoned hotels on a deserted Atlantic beach. The entrepreneurs who built them should have budgeted for a road to reach the "resort" first. Once you have experienced this mud road for yourself, you'll appreciate that this track is not the ideal start to a relaxing beach holiday. However, you'll find that you'll have this clean, long beach pretty much to yourself.

We have had some immediate interest and the main question is how much will it cost? Here's a clearer breakdown of what you are likely to spend on this trial run:

A return flight to the Gambia from the UK in early December 2014/early January 2015 should cost in the region of £300.

There's an exit fee from the Gambia, I think it's now about £30.

You'll need to be picked up at the airport by one of our people, to take you to either a local hotel or a home stay. The more we can fit in the cars the cheaper it will be. Call it £10 for the whole car.

We're offering a local hotel in Kotu for under £10 B&B or a home stay in Brikama for about the same.

Brikama is the music capital of the Gambia and has good nightlife but far from the sea. Our friend Pa Gibba can only accommodate four people in his two spare rooms, inside his family compound. Pa has a western style bathroom and internet access, as he is project manager of a British charity. Having said that, this a REAL African compound, a true slice of West African township life.

If you're looking for some peace and isolation, our English friend, Meg Roberton can put you up in her ecolodge, Alla La Daroo for about £12-£14 B&B per night, about twenty minutes from Brikama.

We'll be taking bush taxis from the Gambia, changing vehicles in Senegal, to take us to the Bissau border town of Sao Domingo, before the border closes at 6pm. I'd estimate a tenner for the whole trip, depending how many we can fit in the cars. The bush taxis are mostly sept-plas(seven seaters).

The Guinea Bissau visa is available same day' arranged by Lucas at their consulate in Fajara and about £10, he will take you there in person to sort the paperwork, a short taxi ride for those in Kotu. We'd suggest that we all meet at the consulate as soon as it opens, Pa can arrange those staying at his compound to get there on time. We'll begin our journey immediately we get our visas, any delay will mean spending a night in Ziguinchor, capital of the Cassamance region of Senegal. It's an interesting enough town but not as much fun and more expensive than Sao Domingo. If all goes to plan we'll be stopping for lunch in Ziguinchor, it's your only chance to access an ATM machine, to get some West African francs, Guinea Bissau and Senegal's common currency.

Budget another £10 for a hotel in Sao Domingo, where you'll find the best quality imported Portuguese wine, tax free to their former colony at about £2 a bottle. Portuguese beer is also available for about 50p a can.

Meals while travelling should be not much more than £1-£2.

The next day we'll need transport for the four hour drive to Cassalol, this could be minibus or lorry and very bumpy, a small pillow might be advised. You shouldn't have to pay much more than £2-£3 each.

When we arrive at the village I'm going to suggest that each pay about £12/£15 a day for full board, this will probably include all the palm wine you can drink. You'll get simple rice based meals, they value their chickens highly so if you want to eat one it'll cost at least £5 and all the family will expect to share the treat with you. You'll be offered a chance to join the men on a hunt, using bow and arrows, then you can cook what you kill. The village has a sweet water well but we'd advise sterilisation tablets or there is one shop on the outskirts of the village that sometimes stocks bottled water but more often canned beer and soft drinks but no fridge.

The village has only one mosquito net so bring your own, a torch is a necessity and a thin sleeping bag liner would add to your comfort.

Malaria risk is low in the winter, Malerone is the best medication, very expensive in the UK and almost unavailable in the Gambia. If you do find it for sale, it won't be any cheaper. Doxicyclin is available locally and quite cheap about £1-£2 a box, it has minimum side effects and can help prevent stomach infections as it's an antibiotic, it is effective from the next day.

As this is about bringing an income to the Jatta family, we'd expect you each to pay your guide Lucas Jatta £5-£6 a day. He'll be accompanied by his son George, who has never visited is his father's village. George will have to book two weeks off from his poorly paid job, at a subsidery of Chinese company LG, well in advance and probably won't get any holiday pay. This qualifies George for a Bus Fare grant but it would be nice of anyone involved to chip in too, to cover his meals and transport.

That's the basic village stay covered, we're suggesting a minimum four night stay but we can extend or shorten it, to suit the time you have. Pauline, Myself, George and Lucas are hoping to then travel to Bissau City, to catch a Friday afternoon ferry to the main Bijagos island. I'm told it takes two weeks to cover each island but we'll have to get George back to his job, so we'll be returning on the Sunday evening ferry. This boat only runs once a week. The Bijagos are twinned with the Cap Verde Islands but far less visited. For the single gentlemen in the party, I was once told, in hushed tones, by some soldiers in a Bissau bar, that knowing a Bijago woman can change your life. Lucas is looking forward to getting back there and you'd be welcome to join us but Bissau City hotels are expensive.

Most people who visit the Gambia only leave their beach hotels, on the usual organised excursions. We are offering you something unusual and almost impossible to organise by your self. You just can't turn up in Cassalol village, unannounced and expect a welcome. The village is split into four "hamlets" separated by the forest and you'll get the chance to visit each, providing you have the time. What we can guarantee you that if you turn up with us, you'll have a welcome of a lifetime.


Jesus Krista

Posted by David Pugh on February 25, 2014 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)
Yesterday I had to be at the railway station at 8am to book a tourist quota train, which is in high demand. While in the ticket que, I fell into conversation with a Jagannath priest from Chennai. Jerima Das, was born a Christian but converted to Krishna, he looked very African and had a wife and two children back in Chennai. There's a peculiar relationship between Jagannath and Krishna, Jerome as he was Christened, leaned more towards Krishna than Jagannath. He thought I had a strong spiritual aura and believed that I'd benefit from becoming one of the white robed gang. Having nothing better to do that morning, I decided to play along with him. The strange thing is that everything I now believe, is pretty much the same as Krishna consciousness. I've been banging on for years that Christ spent his missing years, from the age of 16 to 30, in India. What I didn't know was that this is taken as being the absolute truth by the Krishna club. I'm pretty much quoting one of their text here, written by one of their gurus, Srila Narayana Maharaja. I love this, love it, love it, Jesus arrives in Puri, sees Jagannath and hears him addressed as Krsna, pronounced locally as Kroosna. According to this guru, due to various Greek and Hebrew translations, the name became Kroosta and then Krista. So the happy smiling one seems to be the inspiration behind Christianity, which would give Puri the same status as Bodhgaya, the place of Jesus' enlightenment. The Krishnas go further and worship Christ as an incarnation of Krishna, son of God. I'd figured this out for myself but never knew the Puri story. It is quite feasible for a young man to walk from Palestine to India, given the fact that Jesus had 24 years to do the journey there and back. I met a young Afghan man, in a Belgian refugee centre, who had walked from Kabul to Brussels in a year. Most Indian philosophers spent their lives walking the length and breadth of their homeland, so Jesus had the power and conviction to do the same. So Jerome tells me that I must become one of them, as I have the belief and the insight. All I need to do is chant the Hare Krishna mantra 108 times a day and leave my wife to join them! Pauline and I are getting on really well at the moment, only one argument since we got back to India and that was because she accused me of bullying her into ordering a Gobi Manchurian, in a Fort Kochi restaurant, hardly grounds for divorce! I took Jerome down to the Chakra Tirtha temple as he was a visitor here and had heard that this was one of the holiest spots in Hinduism, as it was the spot where the four ton tree trunk, that was to be carved into the image of Jagannath, washed ashore. Attached to the trunk was the 10,000 year old Chakra Tirtha itself, which is now the centre piece of the small temple. I'd really like to think that Jesus stood at this same spot two thousand years ago and was anointed from the wheel by some Hindu John the Baptist. Whilewalki g the beach near the temple with Jeriman Das, we stopped to speak with a Russian woman in her forties, who had lost her best friends to the sea at this spot. Her friend had been cremated at the burning ghat on Marine Parade. Jerome told her how lucky her friend was to die at such a holy spot and be cremated at a holy site, her soul would return in a truly great form. I'm not sure "lucky" is the right word, if she had walked about a quarter of a mile from the spot and seen how the fishing village use the water's edge as an open toilet, she would probably never have gone into the water. You cannot walk along the tide line there without treading in human fieces. Later in the day I was introduced to a Krishna man, my age, who lived in Cardigan Bay, when he wasn't in India on his student visa. "Have you started chanting, man?" "It gives me such a high, at one with the Universe". "If some one was to give me a million pounds but I'd have to stop the chanting, I'd say no way,man!" Hare Krsna, Hare Krisna, Krisna Krishna, Hare Hare........107 to go! So I say to him that I don't see many Krishna couples, as the whole thing is about finding the god inside oneself. My wife is not looking for that, she just wants a garden with lots of sunshine. He replies, "Don't tell her man, just keep the chanting to yourself, only Krishna needs to know!". So I'm supposed to have a secret liaison with Krishna, in order to gain enlightenment? I walked off at this point.

LITHANG, THE REAL TIBET

Posted by David Pugh on June 14, 2013 at 5:50 AM Comments comments (0)

I’ve not visited Lhasa and can’t comment on the situation there, most reporters go there with a bias and a fixed prejudice, putting money directly into the Chinese government’s coffers by purchasing the Tibet travel pass. They seem to forget that the Tibetan Autonomous Republic is only a third part of what used to be called Tibet and you don’t need a permit to visit Amdo and Kham, which are still there, albeit renamed parts of Chinese provinces. I took the long road journey to Lithang in Kham, now part of Garzê Tibetan Prefecture, western Sichuan Province and my prejudices and biases travelled with me too. Having spent over six months doing voluntary work at LHA, McLeod Ganj, I became very close to some Tibetan people. The majority of my Tibetan friends had taken the difficult journey from Lithang and Chinese oppression, across the Himalayas to claim sanctuary from the Indian government. I’d been a supporter of the Free Tibet movement since, as a child I had watched the footage of the 14th Dalai Lama arriving in India and feeling that it was unjust that his country had been taken from him. I’ve had the privilege to sit very briefly at his feet and exchange smiles, when my fellow Tibetans were too respectful to look above those feet. This man is very genuine and I won’t hear a word against him but my recent experiences have led me to believe, controversially, that it may be time for him to return to Tibet. Of course it won’t be possible under the current government but young people are running China today and they are very embarrassed by their incompetent leaders.

I vividly remember one day in June 2010 being shown photos of Lithang and the love of their hometown in the eyes of two remarkable young Tibetan women, who I have the greatest respect for. They told me stories of eating dried Yak meat and the hunting of the Yasargumba caterpillar plant and I determined that one day I’d go there. The problem was I first needed a Chinese visa and discovered the easiest place to obtain one was at the Chinese consulate in Songkhla, southern Thailand. My wife was to accompany me with the greatest apprehension, having been brought up in 1950s Hong Kong she didn’t have a very happy picture of life in China. We expected to enter a land of oppression, police surveillance, constant security checks and a land of discontented people. My prejudices started to waiver when we arrived at Songkhla’s consulate, half an hour after opening with only two people waiting in front of us for the visa. The Chinese lady behind the desk was very helpful, welcoming and very happy that we wanted to visit her country. I’ve had some miserable times applying for Indian and Thai visas but this was the easiest procedure I’ve been through. Had I applied in the UK, I’d have had to supply details of my every movement over the preceding year, my exact plans for travel in China, travel insurance, a letter of introduction from a recognised Chinese travel agent and a return flight ticket. We had none of these, we were asked did we have a return fight ticket to China; we didn’t as we were afraid we might not get the visa. I showed her our return flight ticket to the UK from Bangkok and she said that would do nicely.

We arrived in a nearly deserted Chengdu airport at 11.30pm, as we knew that there was no public transport around this time, we’d arranged a pick up from the Dragontown guesthouse. A very helpful driver was there waiting and although he spoke no English, he showed us where the ATM machine was. Having a fistful of Yuan we set off with him feeling a lot more confident. He dropped us at the bottom of a dark deserted street, which looked as if it had been built in the seventeenth century. “Dragontown that way, no cars!” the driver told us and our apprehensions returned. We actually walked past the guesthouse entrance, retraced our footsteps and saw the small sign in English. The young night manager greeted us in fluent English with a big smile and the key to a charming room with its own patio, for only 90 yuan a night. The morning showed us that our prejudices had played a joke on us, the street outside was part of the Wide & Narrow Alley, Qing dynasty reconstruction project and bustling with chic restaurants and tourist shops. The remodelling was of a higher standard than Disney World but had a very similar ambience. From the first day we were entranced by this beautiful city, the people’s wealth, the number of parks, most looked after by the local people on a voluntary basis but most of all we were impressed by the freedom people had. Pauline in particular had her fears quelled; it was like being back in Japan, this was not the China she had imagined. Unlike India, most people finish work around 5pm and head off to the People’s Park to express their individualism through song, dance, painting with water and writing poetry, which is posted along the poets’ lane. Tea houses are everywhere and problems with the government are freely discussed but there still remains a respect for the Cultural Revolution and the equality it has brought to today’s generation. The city seems to be run by very young people who have an amazing ability to do the right kind of business and provide the latest in European and American fashion and lifestyle trends. I’m going to discuss cultural assimilation in more detail later, as it is one of the criticisms against the Chinese intervention in Tibet. Right now I have to say that today’s Chinese have happily assimilated everything they want from the West, including the importance of individual expression. All the great European fashion houses have a presence in Chengdu and a lot of money is spent on mixing and matching clothing styles, to create sometimes whacky manga style looks. The young women in particular are proud to display their sexuality wearing incredibly short skirts and everyone looks very fit. Unlike US and European cities, people are happy to walk everywhere, albeit dodging the electric motorcycles, which have the same right of way as bicycles, the People’s transport for so many years. The traffic lights have green cycles next to green men, which make crossing the road quite a challenge when combined with the American driving rule of being able to turn right at every junction, as long as it’s clear to do so. Driving through pedestrians on the crossing is not considered a problem for the city’s taxi drivers, just an obstacle course. I’m painting a picture of a very American city and it is America at its best, the respect for its past for instance, some of the Qing dynasty reconstructions are jaw dropping in their detail. Reporters have been critical of the destruction of old Lhasa but old Chengdu was destroyed too but now they are pulling down the 1960s communist style apartments to rebuild the past; this will happen in Lhasa. It’s a myth to say that China wants to destroy Tibet, true they want to control it but they know how much Tibetan culture helps tourism. Tibetan traditional culture is far more alive than Chinese Han culture, the Han people have fully assimilated Western values including on the whole our godlessness but they are way ahead of America when it comes to self perception and confidence.

The road from Chengdu to Lithang and on to Lhasa requires an overnight stop in Kangding, the beginning of Tibet. At 2600 meters it helps acclimatise one for the high Tibetan Plateau and provides the truck drivers on their way to India with some welcome distraction. I have heard and read about the pink lit Chinese brothels here and the condemnation of them by some of my female Tibetan friends. What no one prepared me for were the numbers of freelance girls working the main street, a lot of whom were Tibetan, wearing not high heels and short dresses but traditional Tibetan costume. The drivers are prepared to pay a lot more for the thrill of having a Tibetan woman. We spent several days here; walking the streets by myself I was approached by some of the girls. They were under no compulsion to do the work and were freely accepted by local restaurants and shops that allowed them a fixed spot outside their premises. The monks in Kangding and Lithang are a laid back lot, as many are in Dharamsala and contrary to rumours; photos of the 14th Dalai Lama are on open display in the gompas and surprisingly some of the shops. I even drank some of the holy water given to the monastery in Lithang by the Dalai Lama. This is another sign of relaxation and of the inevitability that the current Dalai Lama will be allowed to live out his life in peace but I doubt he’ll be given a Chinese visa. True, the Tibetan flag is outlawed but Buddhist flags are substituted and are on far more common display than the red flag of the republic. The Chinese government is wise enough to know they have to allow the Dalai Lama to live out his days, so they can then start the process of the establishment of the next Dalai Lama and a new dynasty of Han selected spiritual leaders. Surprisingly many Tibetans have accepted the Chinese chosen Karmapa but photos of both candidates can be seen in some monastery temples, along with the photo of the 10th Panchen Lama. The photos of the 10th Panchen Lama are there as none of the gompas seem to accept Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese choice for 11th Panchen Lama and you won’t see his photo. There seems to be an overall belief that the original 11th Panchen Lama is still alive. The monks do hold power but they are in no position to run a free Tibetan government and the government in exile in Dharamsala are too removed from the majority of Tibetan people in the Tibetan provinces.

Most Tibetan people are well assimilated to life in Kangding and the younger generation are happy to have the freedom that a Chinese passport gives them. We met a young Tibetan woman who wanted to be known as Mary, she owned and ran a traditional Tibetan wedding shop. Mary had been an English teacher but very few in Kangding wanted to learn English, Chinese was the language of business. I asked if she had thought of going to Europe or America and claiming asylum. She replied that she didn’t want a job cleaning Western toilets and was happy being with her family and having her own business in, Kangding which she insisted was very much part of Tibet. This feisty woman had made her choice and was fighting for her country’s identity in her own way. She was wrong on one point though, she considered that Lithang was a backwater and that I’d not find anyone there who could speak English because she said, if they spoke English they’d leave. I was about to meet yet another remarkable woman who would turn my prejudices and Mary’s upside down.

The bus to Lithang only leaves every other day, as there was a public holiday; we had to wait three days to get our bus. Travelling in China can be very difficult if you don’t speak and read Chinese, which makes finding the right bus a challenge. The difficulty is compounded by fact that all the buses from Kangding leave at the same time, 6.30am. We arrived half an hour early but still found it difficult to find our bus amongst over twenty others. We found it with just five minutes to spare, after being sent in every different direction by well meaning but not very helpful people. The road to Lithang is a challenge, every part of it is being improved and widened, five years from now it will be like travelling through American mountains, right now it is a dusty chaos. You are travelling up and up onto the Tibetan Plateau, winding your way to the high grasslands surrounding Lithang. After ten hours of long drops, yaks and nomad camps you are rewarded with the view of the plain Lithang is situated on and the spectacular snow covered peaks beyond. When you arrive in the town you are in no doubt that you are in Tibet, dusty roads, prayer flags and cowboys on motorbikes. A heavy police presence broods over the central crossroads which doubles as the town square and in truth is intimidating. The problem is that there is a lot of unemployment amongst the young men, so they congregate at the crossroads in hope of hearing about some work. A new public square is under construction, rather like the main square in Kangding, not far from the crossroads and not far from the birthplace of the 7th Dalai Lama. There are quite a few Chinese restaurants and supermarkets but most businesses are Tibetan owned, including the Potala Inn where we checked in. The Tibetan owner only had only a few words of English but a curtain parted behind reception and a lady’s voice spoke in that familiar slightly gruff and throaty Lithang English I know so well. I only saw her hand as she was in her bed in this little room. She said that there was a special off season rate available and told the owner to take us to the top floor where we’d find a western bathroom. Having very bad knees I do find squat toilets very difficult, I just can’t squat. The bathroom might have been a bonus but one wall was built out of four glass panels, giving us a breathtaking view of the Tibetan mountains; I’d have taken it at almost any price. I arrived in Lithang expecting to rough it for the duration of our stay but the Potala Inn defied my expectations. Everyone who knows me, knows that I find Tibetan women amongst the most beautiful in the world and I have a habit of falling in love with too many of them. Cartoon hearts revolved around my head when I eventually met the owner of the voice behind the curtain, Medok, the guesthouse manager and a one woman campaigner for a better life for her people. I was captivated by her lilac eyes; they captured the dawn lit snow of the distant peaks, her eyes turned almost ultraviolet when the sun caught them at the right angle. Like every Tibetan woman I’ve known she has amazing strength and can take on any task the hotel throws at her. She was despairing that the water pump had broken in the sister hotel, the International Youth Hostel. “You can’t get anything useful in this town, someone has to go to Chengdu for a replacement!” The Chinese are building the new road which may or may not help expand the town but right now it is only intended as an easier conduit for Chinese goods to Lhasa, Nepal and on to India. There is however no reason why Tibetan goods can’t follow the same route but there’s not much being produced for export. When I enquired if I could buy a pair of Tibetan yak wool socks, Medok told me that they are only made in Nepal and all Tibetans wear Chinese socks, they are cheaper! Medok had a Chinese passport and was fortunate enough to have been taught Mandarin as I child, unlike most of my Tibetan friends of her generation. She had gained a scholarship from the Tibetan Foundation to go to England to study the language. She was very pleased to talk with me, “You speak English English, so many tourists who come here speak American English but I love your native language, so many beautiful writings have come from it”. I told her that arguably Wales’ greatest poet, Dylan Thomas, agreed with her. Despite enjoying her stay in the UK, she felt it was her duty to come back to Lithang to help her generation catch up by teaching English and Chinese to them. Fortunately, today’s Tibetan children are taught Mandarin alongside Tibetan and I’m pleased this is happening because they will be able to find jobs in the new China which is rising out of the fires of the revolution. You may wish to call it cultural assimilation but as a Welshman, I’ve been culturally assimilated into an English speaking world and I have no problems with that. Both the Welsh and the English have lost their culture and we have been absorbed into a transatlantic sub-culture years ago. My first experiences of television, in my grandmother’s house was that of 1950s western shows, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, Wells Fargo and American written episodes of Robin Hood. Tibetans are fortunate, they may not have the freedom they desire but they have a strong living culture and language which will never disappear. As a Welsh person I have to live with myths of rugby victories and a medieval literature which was discovered by the English upper-class. Tibetans have been ruled by many different people over thousands of years but their culture survived the changes and it will always remain that case. Tibetans have always lived alongside China, they have ruled the Chinese and have been ruled by them but have retained their identity. China today is trying to find its culture again by reconstructing the past, the truth is they have been culturally assimilated by the West but retain a much healthier view of living. China only remains Eastern because of geography, they have what they’ve been asking for since the late 80s, Western values and a culture that only lives in the past. Tibet is alive today; it takes what it needs from the rest of the world but is happy to live the way it has always lived. So many of my dear Tibetan friends in exile are being culturally assimilated, burning to get to Western freedom and the beautiful things that are on offer in our countries, almost all of which are made in China.

 

 


FREEDOM'S JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE

Posted by David Pugh on May 14, 2013 at 6:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Kangding (Darsedo in Tibetan) is very much claimed as a Tibetan town and is the capital of the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan, although it has a dominant Han Chinese presence. It’s noisy and dusty, the dust quickly turning to mud in the frequent rain. It’s on the main road to Lhasa and then on to Nepal and India, so there is a continual stream of trucks heading both ways. It’s an overnight refreshment stop with good food, cheap alcohol and a large choice of prostitutes lining the main street. There are a few discreet brothels with pink lights, leaking through gaps in otherwise anonymous shuttered shop fronts. The girls seem to be mostly Chinese, though there’s a much harder, cynical and more practical outlook amongst the Tibetan women here, than the ones I’ve known in India and Nepal. The monks as usual seem to have a very comfortable life and spend a lot of their time in the rather expensive Tibetan tea houses. They can be seen at night eyeing the street girls and envying the open bargaining between the girls and the Tibetan and Chinese men. Most of the freelance girls occupy the same spots every night and seem to have an arrangement with the local shopkeepers, to provide them with chairs and open fires on the colder nights. The town seems to work well enough; most people seem happy enough with their lot but the majestic mountains cast long shadows and emanate a sense of claustrophobia. We have befriended a young Tibetan mother who runs a traditional bridal boutique in Kangding, a former English teacher who couldn’t find enough people in the town interested in learning the language. “Mary,” as she styles herself had wrestled with the idea of leaving for India and then on to Europe but decided to stay with her family, learn Chinese, run a business and change the country from the inside. Like most young people though, she wishes she had had the big adventure. I was fortunate enough to run into a young Tibetan man named Namgyal, who had been to India and Nepal but couldn’t earn enough money there. He had returned to Tibet to run a mobile disco as the locals like to have a good party. He was very happy to find someone to practice his English with and although he was very much a Tibetan, he really appreciated the freedom a Chinese passport gave him. It all comes down to how you interprete what it means to be free. To end on a happy note, the monks at the Anjue Si, town monastery had a portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama as a young man, with two more recent photos of HH under the glass and on the side altar of their gompa. There is plainly more freedom here than there used to be but I did comment on the portrait to a monk in his fifties, who spoke a little English. His reply was, “Shhhh!” with a finger to his lips, I left him my green dress shoes as a gesture of support.

STREETWALKING IN THE STEPS OF THE BUDDHA

Posted by David Pugh on March 28, 2012 at 10:50 PM Comments comments (1)

There is definitely a collective mentality in most Far Eastern races.  They have a cherry picking attitude to Buddhism, taking what they want and blotting out the bits that don’t suit their lifestyles. Even the five precepts of Buddhism are mostly ignored; the people here in Cambodia along with the Tibetans are all meat eaters.  The Tibetans say that meat eating is part of their nomadic culture, true of course and the ones I know in India don’t own any land to cultivate.  The South Eas tAsians all drink, gamble and have as many extra marital relationships as they can afford.  I’m not knocking anybody for this, we do what we need to get us through the night.  We became very good friends with Joy One, our night manager in Pattaya, Thailand.  She describes herself as a semi-retired prostitute (well Bar Girl, they don’t like the P word).  Nonetheless, a fine human being, as she doesn’t have one hypocritical bone in her body, she is who she is and is happy to be where she is at the age of thirty-seven.  Most short time hotels have a shrine outside, usually to Ganesh and I’ve watched the girls bow and say a prayer before going in with a customer.  One thing has changed dramatically since I was last in Sin City, 27 years ago.  Then it was just a town and most of the clients were businessmen and sailors.  Now there has been a phenomenal industry development, the so-called sex tourist growth and we’re talking about many British men, above and below my own age group, who have become Pattaya addicts.  I know one man in Aberdare, around seventy who spends several months there, every year and why not, it makes him feel thirty years younger.  The girls even think they are doing the Buddha’s work, in helping their fellow beings have a happier life.  They also earn ten times more than they would on the farm and can retire into an ordinary marriage, when they’ve made enough money.  Their boyfriends are fully supportive of them and pick them up when their shift ends, with not theslightest touch of jealousy, very Buddhist. There are thousands of motorcycle taxi drivers who are totally dependent on ferrying the girls and clients from the beach and the bars to the hotels; three on a bike allowed here.   It’s refreshing to know that no prejudice seems to exist in Pattaya at all, the town exists for one purpose, I really like the honesty of this attitude and I didn’t expect I should approve so much.  The city is nothing like Hamburg or Amsterdam, the girls choose who they go with, most are freelance and those who are paid by the bars are well looked after, there is no pimping involved, these women are empowered and you can only put it down to their personal interpretation of Buddhism.

 

Enlightenment doesn’t seem to be an issue here in S.E. Asia and being reincarnated doesn’t seem to worry them, they just want the most out of life that they can get now.  The Tibetans are very different, they live for the next life, much like fundamentalist Christians.  The Tibetan people go out of their way to collect karma points and it does make them a lovely, if naive people, whom I have a lot of respect for. I recently met a young Chinese woman, who had no time for religion or spirituality and only lived for the moment. She freely admitted that she would stab anyone in the back if it meant it improved her personal situation, her government must be proud of her and wish they had more citizens like that. You can see why so many Chinese want to escape their country, along with their Tibetan cousins.  Money making has always been important to the Chinese and now it has become the approved replacement for Buddhism and the spiritual life.

I’ve inevitably felt a bit of a voyeur,here in Cambodia, no one who lived through the seventies could have been unaware of the Polpot horrors.  I visited the Killing Caves in Battambang and was glad that the shrine of skulls was there, as a reminder of the horrors.  Now the place where thousands died is providing jobs for thousands of others, Khmer Rouge tourism is helping this country rebuild itself.  Buddhism seems far less important here, the horror probably enforced the idea of living for the now, as tomorrow may never come and who would want to be reborn into a world of horror.

It’s worth pondering on the fact that the hedonistic Thais are happy living with Buddhism and very much want it as part of their lives.  I think the Cambodians believe that religion let them down and there are still many here who believethat Polpot was a good man, corrupted by power. How many times have I heard that sentiment in Africa.  I’ll be visiting Laos in a few weeks and it will be very interesting to see what is going on there, I know nothing about the country.

 

A MEETING WITH A REMARKABLE WOODEN MAN

Posted by David Pugh on January 7, 2012 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (1)

I’ve been caught up in a series of strange coincidences.  After only catching three morning glimpses of Mt. Khangchendzonga and suffering from the cold, we decided to head south sooner than planned.  Feeling defeated we headed off to the computerised train booking office in Gantok to try to get a through ticket from Siliguri to Puri, via Kolkata but the computer went down.  We took this as asign that it was not yet time to give up on Sikkim, so instead of taking the shared jeep to Siliguri, we decided to see what the weather was like inNamchi.  When we arrived the next day, it was to glorious sunshine and spectacular views of the Himalayas, a stunning surprise that we would have missed had the Internet been working. Now things get spookier, we climbed Mount Solophok to visit the newly opened Siddhesvara Dham complex with the massive statue of Shiva, who looks to the opposite mountain, where the even larger figure of Padmasambhava looks back at him.  We had no idea that this spiritual theme park contained scaled down replicas of India’s most holy temples, including my favourite, the epic Rhameshwaram temple in Tamil Nadu.  Each of these scaled down replicas are still considered holy and are attended by their own priest.  We entered the Jagannath temple, not realising that it is here in Orissa and closed to non-Hindus.  I  knew very little about Jagannath other than he lent his name to the word“juggernaut” after the huge cart, drawn by 4,000 devotees, through the street here in Puri, once a year.  I had no idea what thegod looked like and when I entered the holy of holies I was blown away, he’s an African.  A tiny little black faced man with no legs and hands, the representation of something strange hiding in the forest.  This figure is possibly  the earliest interpretation of Vishnu and therefore the possible starting point of all Hindu belief.  Combine this with the strong African similarities to the tribal people here and you realise that not only did humankind originate in Africa but Hinduism seems to have arisen out of Juju.  I’m imagining a tribal hunter coming across a fallen tree and the artist in him sees this figure.  He hacks straight through the tree, hence the statue has no legs and then chisels out the features one can see today, atl east if you’re a Hindu.  Souvenir replicas are sold all over Puri and the original carving has been replaced many times, the previous statue being buried in the temple graveyard.  It’s intriguing to think the original tribal carving is there still in the grounds, thousands of years old.  My conclusion is that this long forgotten artist might have been the father of all Hinduism, along with parallels to the story of Pinocchio.  I’m sure I’m not the first person to make this observation, I shall read more about Jagannath to find out.  It’s just so strange that I have found myself so torn between my love of India and Africa and now I have found this meeting place. Even stranger, even though I’m denied entry here to Jagannath’s temple, I was allowed into his presence by a failure of modern technology. I’m quite spooked by this and feel very honoured to have had this revelation.

 

 


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Flood destroys Jatta home in the Gambia, West Africa.

Elizabeth Jatta's house was destroyed by flooding in 2009.  It was a lovely mud brick home but without electricity, now they live in a zinc shed.  She finds it impossible to visit her family home in Guinea Bissau.  Bus Fare would like to give her the opportunity to travel back to her home village.  If we were to send her the fare, she would spend it on the house but it is nice to give people the option.