Long before Cormac McCarthy discovered The Road, Dragon Chiang was its disciple.
Possibly the single greatest one-issue comic book series ever put to paper, Dragon Chiang is the rarest of all things: perfect beautiful trash. Tim Truman and Tim Bradstreet got it right the first time and decided to quit while it was perfect. That it’s a comic book relic from the Cold War shouldn’t be held against it. From start to finish Dragon Chiang is the best post-apocalyptic Chinese communist trucker action movie you are ever going to see.
It’s right there in all-caps like a fever dream for kids hooked on Twilight 2000 (the role-playing game for boys who thought Red Dawn was the best movie ever). The back of the comic says: “18-WHEELIN’, CHINESE-COMMUNIST, TRUCK-DRIVIN’ ACTION!”
Up until this point in his career Tim Truman was probably best known for the comic book series Scout. Another post-apocalyptic actioner set in the American West, it featured a Native American ex-soldier as its main character. I will not even bother to justify my enjoyment of this comic. It’s a bleary-eyed mess of equal parts hokey New Age mysticism, the Lord of the Rings, and the Road Warrior. All transplanted to the American West.
Dragon Chiang is a similarly glorious mess. The story starts on the Chukchi Peninsula in eastern Russia. Dragon Chiang is driving east, heading to America. He rides the Iron Dragon, the great road that crosses the Bering Straits. He is plugged into the seat of his rig and listens to old blues and wears a baseball cap. Whenever he starts to doze a little, jolts of electricity are applied directly to the base of his skull. His fur-lined hand-painted leather jacket once belonged to a philosopher who wrote songs for The Grateful Dead. Dragon Chiang is a relic of the past: one of the few remaining truckers that even bothers to trade with the US. (The Middle East and Russia have the money to be the big consumers in this future setting.) The Road is clogged with bandits and refugees. The ATV-riding forces of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police vigilantly safeguard Canadian soil from illegal American immigration. He has run-ins with past enemies (another trucker named Possum Man), a femme fatale (Kris with a ‘K’) and the mutant high priest of a radioactive religion named Reverend Billy Bob.
Like I said: pure beautiful trash. A black and white disposable pamphlet illustrated with imagery spawned from science fiction paperbacks and endless biker films watched at a drive-in.
At the back of the book Truman talks about his inspirations. Zelazney’s Damnation Alley and Delaney’s The Einstein Intersection both get mentioned as does Spain Rodriguez’s oft-neglected post-apocalyptic secret-agent comic strip, Trashman. Maybe Joe Lansdale has come closest (and Truman and he have worked together on projects in the past) with his ability to let so many disparate influences pour forth seamlessly upon the page in all their glory. But Dragon Chiang could also ride in the same universe as Octavia Butler’s Parable series. He’s behind the wheel of one of those trucks that continually threaten to run down Lauren Olamina and her companions.
A guilty pleasure, Dragon Chiang is an illustrated road movie with voice over narration. “18-WHEELIN’, CHINESE-COMMUNIST, TRUCK-DRIVIN’ ACTION!” at its best.