Amazing Nomads: Marie Javins – A Colourful Life in Africa

Meet the American comic book editor who circumnavigated the world twice, first by surface transport, taking cargo ships across oceans, before switching direction and doing it again by plane.


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Amazing Nomads: Marie Javins

Marie is an American comic book editor and colorist who has traveled around the world twice, kicking off with a year-long solo trip, by surface transport, posting the whole trip live on the internet with people voting on her route as she went.

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What’s in the Episode

00:10 Introduction

00:58 Circumnavigating the world via surface transport

02:45 Why?

04:13 "I like that description a lot, me as a stowaway."

07:13 Marie's blog 'No Hurry In Africa'

08:34 Working on comic books in Kuwait

10:52 Betty and Veronica in a bikini

13:13 Going south

15:30 Being stuck in Haiti

17:30 Kim and Phil's favourite Marvel Comic hero

Who is in the Episode

Marie Javins is an American comic book editor, colorist and travel writer known for her long association with Marvel Comics and the Teshkeel Media Group. Marie started a blog No Hurry in Africa while in Uganda and Namibia in 2005, before moving to Kuwait and Cairo to make comics and circumnavigate the world for a second time.

Marie co-wrote The Art of Iron Man 3The Art of Thor: The Dark World,  and The Art of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Photo Credit Getty Images/drante.

Marie is also the author of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik about her solo misadventures in Africa.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

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Speaker 1: The World Nomads Podcast bonus episode. Hear amazing nomads sharing their knowledge, stories and experience of world travel.

Speaker 2: Welcome to this episode of the World Nomads Podcast in which we feature another amazing Nomad. This time it's Marie Javins. Now she's an American comic book editor. Comic book colorist and travel writer. She's known for her very long association with Marvel Comics. Does it get any more famous than that isn't it?

Speaker 3: Marvel, DC [inaudible 00:00:27] choices really.

Speaker 2: Exactly and she talks about the interesting work that she actually did for Marvel Comics in Kuwait.

Speaker 3: One of the reasons that we wanted to speak to her is because in 2001, she went around the world live online on my point out by surface transport. Then in 2011, she went in the opposite direction by plane. For 2021 well we'll have to wait and see. But she does give us a hint in this episode.

Marie Javins: Well in 2001 I went around the world primarily by surface transport. For a year live more or less on the internet. With people voting, things, choices I had to make. Voting on them. Then in 2011 I did it again in the opposite direction but that time I used airplanes.

Marie Javins: Theoretically I'm going to do it again every 10 years so 2021 coming up. But I don't know how to. I've done east to west, west to east so I'm not sure what's next. Maybe I'll go straight south next time.

Marie Javins: By surface transport, what that means is that I took cargo ships. Container ships across oceans. For example, I first took a train. An Amtrak train from New York to LA. I was living in New York at the time. Then from LA I caught a container ship that first stopped in New Zealand. Then after going there continued on to Melbourne.

Marie Javins: From Melbourne I took a train to Adelaide and then went up on the bus straight up through the center. Eventually leaving from Darwin on a container ship to Delhi. That gives you an idea of how the whole trip went. It was like 10 days on a ship. Then go by bus and taxi, train. Whatever the local ferry, whatever the local transit.

Marie Javins: The idea was to go by public transport because you see a great deal more of the world I believe from public transit. That was the goal and also you get a better idea of the size of the world. I arrived at this conclusion after an intrepid trip. I had been on one of these intrepid group trips to south east Asia. I had gone on the Bangkok, Bali to Bangkok and then I'd done a loop the South East Asia overland loop.

Marie Javins: It was fun and then I went back to my job, and I was like, "Oh boo, I'm back at work." Then I thought, there's got to be a better way. I conceived this ambitious online plan. This was before blogging software. At the time it was I will do a website and it will be this ambitious website.

Marie Javins: Now, of course everybody has a travel blog or at least has it on social media. I figured that I would go as far away as I could on the planet and then I would find my way home without getting on a plane. I started to research it and what I quickly discovered was that the opposite side of New York was Australia. Once I realized that's the other side of the world I realized that I could spend a month going from New York to Australia because most of that is water then I could go around the whole world. That plan evolved as it went on.

Marie Javins: I did not make it around the world without airplanes. There were sticking points. I ran into some issues along the way but I got close, it was not bad.

Speaker 2: How do you get yourself on a freight ship. We're talking about traveling as an adventurous, independent traveler. [inaudible 00:04:08] little level of luxury. I'm seeing you as a stowaway.

Marie Javins: I like that description a lot of me as a stowaway wandering up to some dock down the largest container terminal in the US. I like that a lot. But of course that's not what happens. There are actually travel agents who specialize in putting tourists on to container ships because once cargo ships turned into container ships things became more mechanical and a lot of computerization happened. It takes a lot less crew to run a container ship than it used to run a cargo ship.

Marie Javins: Basically they have a lot of empty cabins. They have discovered that if you rent them out to tourists that they not only make some money back but they also have some people that their crew can talk to at night over dinner. The crew is sick of each other. But they can only have a certain number. I think it's up to 10 or something before at which point they have to have a ship doctor.

Marie Javins: I was staying in crew quarters which is perfectly safe. It sounds like Oh, you're going on a container ship. Will there be pirates? Can you trust the men? Are they rugged? No, of course they're merchant marines. They have strict rules of conduct. It's very safe.

Marie Javins: It was fun and I was like a princess because I was like, "Oh, here's this ... At the time I was younger and it was like, There is this young woman prancing around the ship for three weeks on her way to Australia." I was like their princess and that was fun. I saw a lot of water that year. I am done with that part.

Speaker 2: Was there a difference between your experience doing it by surface transport to doing it in the reverse by plane?

Marie Javins: Sure yeah. The biggest difference was not so much the transit because the plane, you're done in no time. You're done in 16 hours or whatever. That doesn't mean that you don't have the time to decompress between continents and to really let things settled in.

Marie Javins: I did have to build in more downtime. Like I stayed in Bali for a month. I stayed in Bangkok for a month. You do need to build a more downtime. I flew from New York to Spain and then I caught a ferry to Africa. Then I spent four months going through west Africa. That was exhausting because some of the roads, some of the countries the roads are not that great and things take a long time. You do a lot of waiting for buses to fill up and there's a lot of dust.

Marie Javins: That was a real adventure. After that I knew I had to rest. Once I got done with that I flew. That was when I flew off to Bangkok for a month. I was like, "I'm going chill here for a while.

Speaker 2: How does the [inaudible 00:07:05] No Hurry ... Sorry to interrupt but No Hurry in Africa. Did that come about by visiting?

Marie Javins: Oh my blog. I have a blog which I had bought the name no hurry in Africa when I was living in Uganda. Which was not related to either one of these trip. I've done two around the world trips but of course there are many other trips and many other occasions of living abroad. In fact two years on and off in Australia.

Marie Javins: In Uganda I was there writing a book. I was there I think three or four months. The book was not about Uganda. The man I was living with was in Uganda. We were living in Uganda while I was writing the book. The book was actually about the trip around Africa so I wanted to be in Africa when I went back and wrote that book.

Marie Javins: 2001 the book that I wrote about that was only about the Africa section. Stalking The world dik-dik. Dik-dik is an animal. I know it sounds obscene. That's when I got the No Hurry in Africa name. It's evolved. As I've gone around I've also bought other names so no hurry in wherever I was. The the name No Hurry in Africa still works.

Speaker 2: You mentioned that you've done lots of travel outside of these world trips. At one point you were living in Kuwait and also Cairo and you were making comic books.

Marie Javins: Yeah, I was. That was great, that was great. After Uganda I did a little loop around Southern Africa. I had completely run out of money by the end of that year. As one does when one is not fully employed and wandering around the world.

Marie Javins: I got an email from a friend of mine that I used to work with when I worked at Marvel Comics in New York and it was a change of address. He's like, "Hey, guys, I'm moving to Kuwait. I got employed by a comic book company. We're going to make comic books which are rooted in the Muslim paradigm instead of in the western themes. Which is what most superheroes are. Hey, if anyone wants to come on over and help, let me know. I was like, "Sign me up."

Marie Javins: I went to Kuwait and I was the editor in chief of this Kuwaiti comic book from 2006 to 2013. I was in Kuwait only the first maybe three to six months. Then after that I was doing it from my laptop wherever I was. One of those years I did spend at their Cairo office running the staff there. We were translating and printing Marvel, DC and Archie Comics in Arabic in the Middle East and North African region as well as doing our own creation.

Speaker 2: How does that work? Because I know in the news this week Bohemian Rhapsody they biopic about Freddie Mercury. When it opened in China they'd taken out any reference to homosexuality. What challenges did you face turning these comics into something that is Muslim friendly?

Marie Javins: We had an art department. Their job was to find ways to make sure that our comics were not censored in Saudi Arabia. The Gulf countries, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman they have satellite TV. They are not particularly shocked by anything they have seen in the movies. So we were good to go in most countries.

Marie Javins: For our Marvel and DC Comics, and oddly enough for Archie Comics, we had some things we really had to watch out for or else we would have gotten censored in Saudi Arabia and they would have just put a big black box over say Betty or Veronica in a bikini. What we would do is our art department would put a burkini on Betty and Veronica in order to get the product into Saudi Arabia.

Marie Javins: That's basically the art department drawing lines at the ankle and the wrist and then you color it. It's the same exact shape but you're changing the bikini to burkini.

Speaker 2: What did you do at Marvel Comics? What's your spiel. You write obviously.

Marie Javins: Yeah I'm an editor. I colored as well at Marvel. I was there for 13 years as an editor and a colorist. Then I was the editor in chief at Teshkeel for the 99 for the Kuwaiti comic book company. I am currently an executive editor at to DC Comics.

Marie Javins: We can't really talk about that much or else I have to get someone from publicity over here to say it's okay. That's my background. When I was a colorist at Marvel I was freelance working at home. Then I would take time off. Once Photoshop changed that world I was able to take my laptop with me.

Marie Javins: When I was in Uganda I was also doing some coloring. At that point I was coloring some Disney comics. I would be sitting in Murchison Falls National Park in this staff housing where we lived and I would be coloring like a Donald Duck comic. Then at night the hippo would come along. Go by outside the house.

Speaker 2: Have you ever thought of doing your own comic based on your travels or [inaudible 00:12:31]?

Marie Javins: I have. I would very much like to do that. I am not an artist so I need to find someone who's willing to get involved in this with me. Because while I can write this comic in three months an artists would probably have to spend a whole year doing a graphic novel. Like if it was 120 pages that would take that artists a year.

Marie Javins: I complained frequently. Everyone's like, "Oh you're like Michael Pailin." And I'm like, "Michael Pailin has an advanced team and a guy with a camera. I'm just me."

Speaker 2: Alright, so 2011. Obviously, you're ... 2021, sorry. You're not quite sure what you want to do. You mentioned you might go south. [inaudible 00:13:10] ideas or your inspiration?

Marie Javins: Well, I read a lot. I look at a lot of map. It's all online now of course. It's been an interesting time. I used to use guidebooks, I used to use maps. Like many people I'm more and more just using Google. I do a lot of reading things online. A lot of it is based around what is possible as far as land transport.

Marie Javins: For example, I'm in Los Angeles. If I head south then I'm going to look up where the roads go and where the buses go and what cities you hit. What you find when you head south is eventually you get to the Darien gap. That's a tricky part that this giant ... No road through from the very southern part of Panama to Columbia so you're just stuck.

Marie Javins: Once upon a time there were overland trucks, overland groups that would go through there. That ended when the drug wars wars were really on. That ended. There are ways to get around it now on a sailboat. Of course, my trip is going to have to be based around that in the beginning because I am going to have to do that let's face it. The fact that that exists means I have to do it.

Marie Javins: I will do that and then from there I've not been over to the eastern part, North Eastern of South America. A lot of what's going to happen next depends on what happens in Venezuela. I may have to go far south and then come back north. There's a lot of questions there.

Marie Javins: I've been lucky 2001 I was able to go to Sudan and that was hard to get the visa. I was lucky because 911 had just happened and I was concerned about not being admitted. Then when I got to Egypt I couldn't get out on the cargo ship because no cargo ships were going anywhere. That was a hard time to be traveling but I was glad I was not at home. New York 2011. I made it through Mauritania, when it was very hard to get a visa there. There's some insurgency out in the desert there and in Mali.

Marie Javins: I've been very lucky but I try not to push it too much. I did just go to Haiti and November as a vacation. Just holiday from my job. That was fantastic. Haiti is really a fascinating place and lots of great art. They also had a national strike while I was there. That was unexpected and I got stuck and I was in a small town called [inaudible 00:15:54]

Marie Javins: The national strike meant no buses were running, no private cars were able to go anywhere. There was just no way back to the capital which is where my airplane was leaving from. After several days of ... Every morning, I would go off to the bus station and I'd be like, "How about today?" And they were like, "No buses today. Then I would go off to the shared taxi station, I'd be like, "How about here?" And they were like, "No."

Marie Javins: The police would always send me back to the hotel. I'd check back in every ... Go out of the hotel, check back in at the hotel and hope the next day would work out. I have a job it's not like I could just wait. In the end I went to the airport. There was like a little local airport at [inaudible 00:16:38] I asked around and I was able to hire a private plane. This was not part of the plan.

Marie Javins: They put a missionary on with me because he was waiting for a ride as well. Just part of the deal. He didn't have to pay for it. It was something like ... I can't remember. It was something like $260 or something. It was like a 10 minute flight. The three hour ride by bus or share taxi and it was a 10 minute flight.

Marie Javins: Then I was actually quite glad to be working and have a job because at that point you can take that kind of luxury versus just sitting and waiting and try again day after day.

Speaker 2: Can't wait to see what you do in 2021.

Marie Javins: I can't wait either.

Speaker 3: Thanks for sharing your story Marie. A great way to discover the world by thinking outside the square. By the way, my favorite Marvel comic character is Iron man.

Speaker 2: Mine would be Storm.

Speaker 3: Yes it's [inaudible 00:17:35] to say that.

Speaker 2: She can manipulate weather patterns so she's got to be powerful.

Speaker 3: Fair enough.

Speaker 2: You can find the latest episode through all the popular podcast apps [inaudible 00:17:42] The easiest way to listen to us is to go to

Speaker 3: Just before we switch off Can we ask you all a favor please? Word of mouth is the way that we can get more and more people listening to this podcast. Which means we can keep it going. So if you love travel as much as we do and you know someone else who does as well please tell them about the World Nomads Podcast.

Speaker 2: Next week we are heading to Zambia.

Speaker 3: Bye.

Speaker 1: Amazing nomads. Be inspired.

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