When you have absolute power in a country, you get to do a lot of things that most other people don’t. For example, you get to have a lot of medals on your jacket.
Just a few of the awards presented to Turkmenbashy: Hero of Turkmenistan (six times), Medal for Labor Heroism, Order of Friendship of Peoples, Medal for Love of the Fatherland, The Award for International Understanding, Order Galkynysh, Silk Road Prize for Outstanding Achievement, Order Bitaraplyk, Gold Medal for the International Informatization Academy, Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to the World Strengthening and Understanding among Nations, First Class Order of the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Duke Daniel of Moscow, Grand Duke Yaroslav the Wise First Class Order, Medal of the Turkmen-Turkish Frienship Society, Order of Saint Mesrop Mashtots…
… and so many many more (and none of these are fictional).
It’s good to be the king, or at least the President for life.
Check out Joe and Azat for more about Turkmenistan and what it’s like living in a place with a president like this. And check out this review from Publishers Weekly. Check out my blog, too.
I don’t really do caricatures of people, so I was a little nervous about drawing Turkmenbashy in Joe and Azat. I suppose that Turkmenistan being the out of the way country that it is I could probably draw just about anything and most people in the U.S. wouldn’t question it, but I knew that at least some people who had been to Turkmenistan were going to see it and I didn’t want them saying, “You totally botched the bashy.”
So I kept things simple and I think it turned out all right. I also always liked Ted Rall’s drawings of Bush which weren’t the most accurate, but definitely gave you a clear impression of what Ted thought of him. So my Turkmenbashy is just a little bit cross eyed even though he wasn’t in real life.
I was an English teacher and Turkmenistan and before every class I heard the sacred oath chanted by students. Starting from the very lowest grades they new it by heart. It was kind of like the pledge of allegiance, only…
My beloved motherland,
My beloved homeland,
You are always with me
In my thoughts and in my heart.
For the slightest evil against you
Let my hand be lost.
For the slightest slander about you
Let my tongue be lost.
At the moment of my betrayal
To my motherland,
To her sacred banner,
To Saparmurat Turkmenbashy the Great
Let my breath stop.
… it’s a little bit more grim than the pledge of allegiance.
Check out Joe and Azat for more about Turkmenistan.
And check out these photos of the pit of hell (one of Turkmenistan’s most bizarre tourist attractions) by John Bradley.
The Rukhnama is a truly amazing book. This is the quasi-political-spiritual-self-help-how-to-win-friends-and-dominate-people book written by Turkmenbashy (the former president for life of Turkmenistan). It was in all the schools in Turkmenistan while I was there. It was used in every classroom (I even saw it used in a math class). It was on sale in nearly every store. A copy was launched into space to orbit the earth, eternally protecting us. Turkmenbashy claimed that if you read it three times you would go to heaven. Words from the Rukhnama were even written on the inside of a mosque outside the city of Ashgabat (the inside of mosques generally being reserved for the Koran).
So it was natural when it came time to do the cover of my book I would look to the Rukhnama for inspiration. Pink and green all the way!
And you can also check out this review of Joe and Azat from the Comics Bulletin (I don’t think it’s been posted here yet). And check out my blog. And check out the arm on Matthias Schlitte!
Read more about Jesse Lonergan’s latest book JOE & AZAT in a piece on the Wall Street Journal online:
“The story follows the unlikely friendship of an American and a Turkmen as they trade cultural gaffes and tolerate life in a totalitarian regime. (Azat’s brother, for example, claims that he is the Turkmen version of Chuck Norris.)
Cartoonists have long tackled travel writing in a variety of ways. For Lonergan, who was inspired by the short stories of W. Somerset Maugham, he hoped to inject some humanity into a country that’s known mostly for its eccentric dictator.
“You only read about the crazy politics and it doesn’t give a sense of reality. I wanted to focus on what life was like for people there rather than the dictator who names January after himself,” says Lonergan. This is a real place and that can be lost in the stories I read.”
Of course, not everything Lonergan experienced made its way into the book. “I hated the food,” he says. “But that doesn’t need to be commented on.”
If you wanted to buy anything in Turkmenistan you had to go to the bazaar on Sunday. It was always jam jam jammed packed and you’d have to push your way through the crowd. Which is kind of like SPX, only instead of carpets, car parts and livestock people are looking through piles of comics. SPX also lacks the bartering that takes place in a Turkmen bazaar, though I think it would be awesome if that happened a little bit more. It would be great if slamming your fist, raising your voice and storming off in a mock rage only to return a few moments later were an integral part of buying a mini-comic. At least I think it would cool.
Anyway, SPX was great. I sold a bunch of books, sold and traded a bunch of minis and sold all the prints of comics from my blog that I’d brought along (I really should have brought more of those)(oh well, I’ll know for next time).
But I think the best thing about SPX was that I finally had copies of Joe and Azat and instead of talking about it I could actually put it in people’s hands.
Well, it’s finally here. I should be getting copies of my book this week and hauling them down to D.C. this weekend. I’m excited. It feels a little like Christmas. Someday this week I’m going to come home from work and there is going to be a big box of my books waiting for me. Better than Christmas even.
If you’re in the D.C. area you should come by SPX and stop by the NBM booth. Ted Rall will be there. Greg Houston will be there. It’ll be awesome. I’m getting some mini-comics to bring along made up today.
See you then!