Creative Careers in the Arts

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Spirited Woman Q & A

Interview with Comic Book Colorist, Author, and World Traveler Marie Javins

By Nancy Mills | Posted June 1, 2007 | Updated May 12, 2019

As many of you know or (not), I am a former travel journalist. For over a decade I traveled the globe, notepad in hand, writing for numerous newspapers and magazines. I gave it up in the mid-90's to pursue other dreams. Yet, I must say I have a fond spot and an understanding of fellow journeyers.

That is why when I read about Marie Javins, I just had to interview her. A kindred spirit on many levels, Marie spent one full year of her life in 2001, traveling around the globe by public transport (think donkeys and container ships) and then posting about it as she traveled on her popular

Born in Alexandria, Virginia, Marie, age 40, currently lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. But as she says, "this does tend to vary," since after her yearlong adventure, she has lived in Uganda, Namibia, Australia, Barcelona, and Kuwait. To support herself she is a freelance comic book colorist, editor, and travel journalist.

Last month, her new book, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik: One Woman's Solo Misadventures in Africa, was published to much fanfare. Why not? Wouldn't you like to stalk a dik-dik? Marie's interview is fun and enlightening, one woman's delightful tale of wanderlust. Enjoy.

Q. When did your love of travel begin?

A. When I was a child my parents would take me camping in national parks and that was the extent of it. When I was 17, because I was from a slightly poorer background, I was able to get a scholarship on an exchange program to Finland. This clued me in to a much bigger world out there and taught me that there was nothing to be afraid of in travel. It took me a lot longer to realize how little money it can actually take to travel. I could use frequent flier miles, and I could go somewhere cheap, and I could rent out my home and actually make money by traveling. My style of travel has really changed over the years — initially I would do tours and these days I go by myself or rent a flat in one place and stay for several months.

Q. Before you left for your around the world journey in 2001, you spent 13 years coloring and editing comic books for Marvel Comics. How does one become a comic book colorist?

A. What encouraged me to become a comic book colorist was mounting student loans. My Antioch College had a co-op program where half the year you would study on campus and half the year work at internships. My last internship was Marvel Comics in New York. Then the student loans kicked in and I stayed. The way you learn to be a comic book colorist is you learn from other colorists. At the time I was using paintbrushes. It was a lot of fun for a long time but we went bankrupt as a company several times — so by the time I left I was happy to leave. The comic book colorists were happy to teach anybody and I was lucky enough to have an aptitude for it. A talent I had no idea I had by the way. I literally fell into this career. I was editing by day, and to pay my student loans off, at night I was going home and coloring. Eventually I left the day job and was just doing the freelance coloring.

Q. At Marvel, you worked for 10 months each year then vacationed for two — yet you still sold your East Village apartment and decided to travel around the world solo. Was there a moment, a turning point, an urge to hit the road full time?

A. Yes. What happened was as the years went on it became more apparent to me that I was just slaving away for 10 months a year and being miserable and looking forward to the two months off. At some point the little light bulb went off "that ain't right." Specifically when I returned from two months in Southeast Asia in the year 2000 I sat down with my family and said this is no way to live. And then we tried to come up with a way that I could live and exist financially at the same time I could travel and do what I like to do. We came up with that I would do this interactive website and that I would go as far away on earth by plane and I would come back over land. That sounded good, but when I looked into it, I realized that all I had to do was add one Amtrak journey and one container ship voyage to Australia and that would be the entire world, not just half the world. That's how was born.

Q. Pre-blog technology, pre-popularity of digital cameras, you had people logging on to your site to read your dispatches and vote on your trip route. What was that like?

A. The whole thing was really hard. I type really fast, so I was just taking notes with pen and paper which I can't recommend highly enough when you are going into seriously developing areas. You don't have power issues or worry about someone stealing your computer. I didn't take my computer, I carried everything I needed for a year on my back. At that time, it was really difficult to find an Internet connection. So, I'd write everything out in long hand and I would type it in as fast as I could in an Internet cafe. I had a Web designer, but I would actually code the entries myself in HTML in Notepad and I would upload it. And the digital photo thing did not work then, so I used film and just scanned in my pictures. Technologically it was different. My Web designer would put up polls and people would vote on my trip route.

Q. You also did something really clever to fund your trip. You asked people to send you $25 and you'd send them a souvenir worth less. What were some of your souvenirs?

A. I loved that program. It was a lot of fun going shopping for total strangers. I didn't really make any money off of it, but it was one of the highlights of the year. I raised maybe $500. One person got a Mao's Little Read Book from China. A friend of mine had flown out to China to meet me and I just gave it to him and had him drop it in the mail when he got back. I bought a lot of souvenirs in Africa — a lot of carved wooden things and then sent them to people. I just got an e-mail the other day from somebody who said, "you might not remember me, you sent me 10 Kangaroo jerkies when you were in Australia."

Q. You spent a great majority of your trip in Africa, please share with us one of your most memorable African experiences.

A. Hmm. I have several going through my head, but I will have to tell you the most memorable. It's not necessarily the most wonderful. I was traveling with a friend inside an Isuzu truck in Lalibela, and in the back of the truck there were probably about 40 Ethiopian children and parents, and lots of luggage and cargo. This excursion was forever — it involved breakdowns. At some point, we realized we were overloaded and it was illegal, that's why we were driving at night on dirt roads. Ultimately the electricity cut out, the driver panicked, we swerved slightly, and went into a ditch. The truck rolled over on its side, and people and luggage flew off everywhere. People started screaming. My friend and I crawled out of the hatch, and we walked for an hour to get help, and we were bleeding, and when we finally got to soldiers, we realized there were no emergency services. The next morning the Red Cross opened up and they then dealt with it. I continued on to Sudan after that, and later discovered I had a cracked rib and walking pneumonia. When I got to Khartoum I just went straight to the Hilton. It wasn't until I caught a ship to Italy where I got medical care.

Q. Did you always dream of turning your experiences into a travel book?

A. Absolutely yes. I was trying all along to make a book. I made a book proposal and I just couldn't get an agent to save my life. I still don't have an agent. One day I stumbled over a news item on a message board that Brooke Warner at Seal Press was looking for travel books. I actually at this point had lost hope completely. I sent her my proposal and I anticipated it goes off into the blue and you never hear a thing. And she called me the next day. She said, well we already have books about traveling around the world, but what we really need is one about on Africa. I was like, you got it, no problem.

Q. What is a dik-dik? And how did you end up naming your book "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik?"

A. A dik-dik is a chihuahua sized antelope that you see on safaris in Africa. A great deal of my 2001 trip consisted of going on safaris, because that's just what you do when you're in Africa for the first time. And so I looked at a lot of dik-diks. I actually did not stalk a dik-dik as much as it stalked me. I had a lot of dik-dik stories. One night, I really was afraid there was a lion outside my tent in Kenya and I heard this animal out there for ages and I couldn't sleep and I was scared out of my wits. And finally it went away. In the morning I looked outside and there were these tiny little prints and I think it was a dik-dik. I have to say I was trying to think of a book name that was memorable and clever and that's the first one I thought of and it took me ages to convince the publisher.

Q. Was there ever a moment you wanted to turn back and go home?

A. There are moments, ups and downs when you are frustrated on the road, but its not the things that you would think. It's not the moment you're in the truck accident or when you're being harassed or when a policeman pulls you over and demands you pay him off. It's not those moments. It's really more the accumulation of frustration moments which could drive a person batty and it doesn't sound like such a big deal. Things like being in Ethiopia and having too many taxi drivers try to get too much money out of you, and then going to the post office and they won't let you in because you have a camera and arguing with the guard — and that's the sort of thing where it just adds up and you're going I want to give up. Where as the actual big stories you are too busy dealing with them at the moment to be that frustrated or upset.

Q. What are your future travel plans?

A. I am hoping that "Stalking the Wild Dik Dik" has enough success so that I can do another trip, sort of like MariesWorldTour. But in this one I'd like to do West Africa.

Q. Why do you feel that you are a Spirited Woman?

A. I looked at my life and found it wanting and proceeded to change it. People told me to leap and a net will appear. I believed them, I did. I left a great job, my home, my friends and family behind, and actually the net still hasn't turned up yet. But I'm still continuing to follow my dreams, because once you've given it a start and you've tried it there's not really any going back.

Marie welcomes you visiting her terrific website:

©2007 Nancy Mills. All rights reserved.

Next: Interview with Cindy Kauanui — Founder of Jet Set Modeling