itchyfeet_postpicTravel and languages:  two things that go together so intimately. We learn languages to travel and we travel to learn languages. What is the point in doing one if you don’t do the other?

We all have our own funny stories and observations from our experiences of learning a language and of travelling and being part of a completely different culture. They make us laugh and unite us.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone were to chronicle some of these so we could share and enjoy them any time?

Well, someone has. His name is Malachi Rempen, and his creation is Itchy Feet, a weekly comic “about travel, life in foreign countries, and learning new languages.”

The name “Itchy Feet” comes from the English euphemism meaning “wanting to travel” or “wanderlust”. Malachi’s characters, which have no names, are always travelling, meeting new people, trying out different languages, and making clever and quite often funny observations on human behaviour.

Each comic usually focuses on a particular country, showing some aspect of the life there in a humorous way, which both natives and foreigners can chuckle at. Whether it is something in the society, the culture, or the language, Malachi always manages to make it relevant and funny.

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It is hard to read these comics and not find an instant connection. As an English native speaker, one comic that really hit home for me was when our hero was being asked to explain the differences between words in English, and he finds it is very difficult to answer. When finally asked “Aren’t you a native English speaker?”, his insightful reply is “Right! Which makes me totally unqualified to teach it.”

We laugh. It is funny. It is also so true. As native speakers in any language, we grow up speaking our language almost instinctively, never thinking about the rules. So when a non-native tries to learn it and requests our help, we suddenly find ourselves lost in our own language. This makes us believe our language is easy until we have to teach it.

Many of my fellow language lovers adore the comic, but I am afraid that even more have never heard of it. Indeed, it is rare to find a comic that focuses almost entirely on languages and travel. Malachi has for the past four years maintained an almost complete monopoly in his niche.

He is not afraid to take a break from the format, however. In one of the strips last month, he shows a completely random comic about catching a lucky space gnome on the moon. When his character is asked what it has got to do with languages or travel, Malachi explains through our hero, “Nothing. This week, I just feel like celebrating the right I have to make a comic about whatever I want.”

That right is certainly one that Malachi has earned. He has single-handedly dominated the market on taking those two great partners, language and travel, and presenting them in a fun and clever way!

Malachi didn’t start out with this in mind. Drawing is just a hobby for him, and he originally intended Itchy Feet to just be for friends and family, as a fun alternative to writing a “boring journal”. It surprised him when it became popular and took off. Even then, it took him a few years of stubbornly posting, without a break, weekly comics to Reddit and Facebook.

Here are his own words on his success while passing on his experience to a new artist with her own comic:

“The key is to focus on quality. Just keep doing your best, keep trying to improve, and with a bit of luck it’ll catch on. You can’t really ‘force’ people to like it – I never liked the idea of ‘building’ an audience, that implies that you just need the blueprints, tools, and materials, and there you go! You’ve built a nice audience. ‘Grow’ an audience seems a bit more what I’ve experienced. Plant a seed (like you’ve just done), water it consistently (consistency is one of THE MOST important factors) with quality, and it will slowly grow.”

Despite becoming a bit of a celebrity in the language community, a position normally held by popular polyglots, I have spoken with Malachi a number of times on Facebook and found him to be amazingly approachable, just like the characters in his comic.

His ease with bringing out the humour in numerous languages and countries belies the number of languages he knows. When I asked how many languages he can speak “comfortably”, he replied in his casual way, “Aside from English, I can speak German and Italian comfortably, and French uncomfortably”.

Malachi asks people to share their own stories and experiences with him, so that he might be able to turn them into comics. This might sound easy, but it really requires a specific talent. While someone can relate to you how they were stranded overnight in an Italian train station and had their passports taken by the local Polizia (my own personal experience), that doesn’t easily transfer into a funny comic.

itchyfeet_book1The comic has been around since the start of 2011, and is often shared on Facebook. That is where I first encountered it, and it was a while before I realized it was a regular comic with its own website. There, the comic is posted every Sunday. You can read past comics, leave comments, and even purchase copies of compilation books of the comic, in both printed and Kindle formats. I have ordered the two printed books myself and am eagerly awaiting their arrival in the next few days.

Malachi has also recently started selling a few of his comics as posters through the Print-On-Demand site, Zazzle. I believe he is experimenting with this format, but if people respond well, he will add more posters and (possibly) other products.

I could go telling you about how wonderfully brilliant these comics are, but you really need to enjoy them for yourselves. Be sure to check them out at the main website here: http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com/. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to Itchy Feet at https://www.facebook.com/itchyfeetcomic, where you can keep up on the latest comics, discussions, and news.

You should also check out the books and posters for sale here: http://itchyfeetstore.weebly.com/

Most importantly, enjoy these fantastic comics and share Itchy Feet with your friends! And thank you, Malachi, for giving our obsessions your unique twist of humour!

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  • Thanks for the write-up! You’re one hell of a free publicist.

    • Erik Zidowecki

      You are very welcome! You have done the language community a great service with your comics and it is important that everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy them! I hope this post brings more people to your comic.