02
Dec
12

A tale of Arabian survival

Wilfred Thesiger in the Empty Quarter

Wilfred Thesiger on his five-year journey through the desert.

Here’s the very first comic script I ever wrote. It was originally commissioned by Insomnia Publications, a small UK press going to big places back in 2009 – or so I thought, until they went dramatically bankrupt before I got paired up with an artist. This story was supposed to appear in their annual “Layer Zero” anthology… and the theme for the 2010 volume would have been “survival” (an ironic choice, really, given the publisher’s subsequent demise).

Anyway: at the time, I’d been reading “Arabian Sands” by Wilfred Thesiger (1959) – and I was mildly obsessed with the Bedouin people and the ancient deserts of The Empty Quarter. I wrote a story of survival set in the 19th century, told by an English sailor shipwrecked in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a tale of culture clash, based on a true event that Thesiger briefly mentions in his book:

“During the days that I was at Mughshin my companions often asked me for medicines. Bedu suffer much from headaches and stomach trouble. Sometimes my aspirin worked, but if not the sufferer would get someone to brand him, usually on his heels, and would announce a little later that his headache was now gone, and that the old Bedu remedies were better than the Christian’s pills.

Bedu cauterize themselves and their camels for nearly every ill. Their bellies, chests, and backs are often criss-crossed with the ensuing scars. I had heard that many years ago a British cargo steamer was ship-wrecked on the southern coast of Arabia. A few survivors were picked up by some Junuba who, hoping no doubt for a reward, took them eventually to Muscat. Camel’s milk and dates had given the Englishmen acute diarrhoea, and the Bedu, despite their protests, forcibly cauterized them. They eventually arrived at Muscat nearly killed by dysentery and this primitive treatment.” (Arabian Sands, Penguin Classics)

I called my story “Baptism of Fire”. You can read it here: Baptism of Fire_Script_R Norris

This script has never been illustrated; if there’s an eager artist out there willing to give it a go, please drop me a line. It will help if you’re familiar with Bedu dress and the Arabian landscape – or have some kind of connection with Middle Eastern culture. A tall order, perhaps!

Enjoy the story, everyone… and let me know if you liked it.

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