Everyone who buys a hardcover book with dust-jacket from Comicoz will know that underneath the dust-jacket is a different picture to the one on the cover. The book 'From SUNBEAMS' is no different. Here's the image under the dust-jacket. Today, the corrections are completed, the author, designer and publisher are all happy....and the files have gone to the printer! How good is that news?
"In my …. years of involvement in the Australian comics scene, I have never seen such an exciting and productive time as now. Quality and quantity are at their highest levels and I believe we're truly in a new golden age for home-grown comics. They deserve wider recognition, celebration and promotion."
Can there be no greater recognition than to win the Platinum Ledger Award? For an individual (or organisation) to be recognised for one's contribution to the Australian comics making community by selflessly helping to further the art form and advance its creators, there can be no greater thrill. Here's a wonderful shot of Tim winning last year's award, as presented to him by his wonderful children, Samuel and Annabelle.
Tim McEwen has most kindly allowed me to repeat (and acknowledge) his passionate words, which I erroneously thought had been uttered by him last year. They were, in fact the descriptors he used when the Ledger Awards were re-launched five years ago. Yet, I believe they also sum up where the industry presently stands in 2018. With so many local comics being made, how does one try to establish which is the very Best?
To be honest, and without meaning to be egotistical, I think two of the best original comic books to have been released in Australia last year were the two books I published in 2018. I have never been happier than with these volumes. Truth, Justice and the American Dream: The Men Behind Superman. Bold Ben Hall. And if it came to just one? I'd give the nod to Thomas Campi and Julian Voloj's volume, because it is original, and it was released on the anniversary of the character who launched so many comics....
BUT. I promised to never select one of my publications, because it does give the appearance of bias. I have always strived to make a book that will last the test of time. Any book I publish has to be of the highest quality. So, to judge the Comicoz 'Award' this year, I have had to find something of equal or greater quality. This is the work I was going to select...
Skies of Fire, written by Vincenzo Ferriero and Ray Chou, and illustrated by Pablo Peppino and Bryan Valenza, is a comic book series, with issues one to four collected in book form last year. I planned on taking a leaf out of the Ledgers Award, and look for some Australian aspect to the book....and there is: Nic J Shaw lettering! Does this make the book Australian?
Well, it certainly does typify the modern means of creating a comic with the aid of modern technology! The creative team come from all corners of the globe: the principals of the exercise are the writers, Vincenzo and Ray, who hail from Italy and the United States of America respectively. Pablo, the lead artist come inker, is an Argentinan national, with colourist Bryan coming from Indonesia. Nic, of course, is from Sydney, Australia. The marketing of the series (and the collected volume last year) has been through the crowd-funded platform of Kickstarter. So, is it an Australian comic or perhaps more a comic from the modern era, with international connections? With some reluctance -- because it is a really great looking comic book (and a wonderfully read) -- I have decided against giving the Comicoz Award for Best Original Australian Comic to Skies of Fire. Instead, I have decided to award it to a comic project that is also a modern means of creating comics...
Internet-based comics are not new. But they are becoming an increasingly part of the local comic landscape. I personally have great difficulty in locating them: I don't know where to look, I don't know how to hear about them. But when I find them, I find myself as engrossed in some of them as I do a physical comic. This year's Comicoz Best Original Australian Comic goes to a web-comic.... A Week in Warrigilla by "Teloka".
How many Australian creators are drawing -- and then publishing -- on a regular basis? 'Teloka' began this web-comic (click here for the link) on March 12 2018, and has been working on the story-lines (two to date) for the whole year, at a rate of over a page a week. The first story ran for fifty episodes and completed in July, and even though the creator/s took a break in between the two stories, the second began in early October and is presently 39 Chapters into this adventure. That's 89 episodes in under a year: outstanding work!
A Week in Warrigilla tells the story of Hazel and Willie, "two girls who get trapped in a supernatural region while road-tripping through rural Queensland". The illustration is wonderfully coloured and designed, in what most would call a manga art style. I have managed to find out a bit about the 'creative personnel' behind the strip, but not enough to write a more detailed entry. Tapas, who host the strip, identify the writer/artist (do I use the plural or the singular?) are from Queensland -- I always like knowing that! -- and there is a link that takes me to the Etsy store (Berry Artistic Shop), which says they are from Brisbane. (Even better!) I have asked the artist for further information, so I hope to have some more to share next time, perhaps including permission to reproduce some of the glorious artwork....
In the meantime, you'll have to do as I plan to: join up and support the writer/artist on Patreon. (Although I seem to have misplaced my password to that site. *sigh* )
I was hoping to find a recent quotation from Tim McEwen to lead this blog, wherein he summarised the growing local Australian comic scene far more succinctly than I know I shall. But I can't seem to find it.
Essentially, Tim was saying (if I recall correctly) that the number of comics being produced in this country in this modern era, are greater in number and quality than those from the era that is referred to as the Golden (and Silver Age) of Australian comics. Perhaps we need a name for this era? The Platinum Age? (Nah.) New Dawn of Australian comics? (Following on from the first Australian comic, Sunbeams. Perhaps not. In twenty years it won't be seen "new". Never mind.) The point is, there is a greater diversity in comics, not only in subject matter, but in the demographics of those publishing (males and females, young and old), in geographical location, in the type of material being published (from zines to 'floppies' to hardcovers, from original material to reprints), from genres (superhero, slice of life, you name it), and even from physical to digital copies. There is such diversity in the medium, and that is such a healthy place to be.
The only thing we don't have (and I don't see that as a major problem anymore) is a national, commercial comic available to all Australians. Clearly, with lowered and limited print-runs, there are not too many people making a full-time living from the medium. If any. Trying to keep tabs on what comics are out there is nigh impossible. Even scanning the Long List of the 2018 Ledgers Award, I have only today noticed that there are many local Brisbane-based comic creatives who have not submitted their works. I'm not sure why this is so. The point is, given there is no overarching means of one hundred per cent knowing what has been released in 2018, there will be comics that I may not highlight, merely because I am not aware of their existence.
With the acceptance of digital downloads, too, there are difficulties in learning about comics that don't appear in a physical form. I come from the era of LPs, where records were sourced from Record Shops. I know that music is (for most Australians) digitally downloaded. Music is discovered differently than when I grew up. Comics have similarly changed. There are different means of discovering comics these days. Some I clearly will have missed. (Please offer feedback and let me know what you liked this year, where you discovered it, and why you liked it. Even if I cannot reply to everyone, I shall appreciate every response.)
As I have mentioned before, this 'Award' is arbitrary, it is purely a personal selection, and there are no financial benefits associated with 'winning' the Comicoz Award, so please don't sulk if you don't win or get big-headed if you do! It's all about discussions and feedback; designed to get some people to try to read and get into comics, or provoke others (who do read them) into perhaps exploring comics they may have missed. You may not like my selections, and that's okay too. It's all meant as a bit of fun!
There are a few zines and minis that I liked this year. I can't find my copy as I type these words, but one of the mini-comics I really enjoyed this year came from Petrie Press' Alisha Jade, who put out a mini explaining how to make your own mini-comic! In the middle of the project was a blank piece of paper, designed especially for the reader to have a go at making their own! What fun! Along a similar vein, was Behind the Scenes, a zine produced by George Rex (Georgina Chadderton) explaining how she makes her zines and the techniques she uses.
There were two zine artists whose work I really enjoyed in the year past. Elle Jenkins has a nice pleasing style, and I would like to see her put out a longer comic story. In the zine Flower of Rhodes, I was so transfixed by the black and white art of Mark Sheard, it was some days before I got around to reading his story!
Two zines really stood out, though. Robyn Tatlow-Lord's short story was high on emotional content and made my mind linger long after I had read her zine, Small Mortal Mammals. Just a beautiful read. I really loved it. But my pick of the zines for the year was by Rachel Ang: Happy Valley. At about forty pages, it may seem a bit long for a zine (even for a mini-comic), but that's how I am going to assess it. Rachel's subject matter isn't gentle, but she handles it in a manner that rewards a concentrated read. I was personally disappointed by the written text (it was difficult to read at times) but the subject matter and the internal artwork had me hooked. If there was ever a truer truism 'don't judge a book by it's cover' - this is it! Happy Valley was a well-worth read!
Two worthy comic series, and both anthologies, came to a halt in 2018.
Groovy Gravy has been a comic series that clearly hasn't taken itself seriously over its twenty-five year life span. It has been published erratically by Brisbane-based Brad Daniels, in the style of the underground comics of yesteryear. The latest and last comic (issue number 20), like all those before, is an acquired taste and won't be to everyone's liking. Through its lifetime, the anthology has covered a whole range of different art styles and stories. I've enjoyed it, because it isn't too serious. You can find the latest copy here. Brad has told me that he wants to work on some of his own projects now. I'm not sure I know what they are just yet, but it's something to look forward to....
Darren Koziol has been a lot more intense than Brad in promoting his comic. For reasons I am not clear about, he decided to round off his horror anthology Decay in 2018. The last issue was #24 and is available via his web-site here. Darren continues to publish, with his Science Fiction anthology Retro Sci-Fi Tales now up to issue #7. I'm not sure if the change was for commercial reasons (it must be easier to sell a science fiction format to a parent of an attendant child at events like Supanova, rather than some of the adult-only material seen within the pages of Decay). Not that I mind: it's good to know that he continues to publish and promote his works, and he certainly does try to get as many Australian artists and cartoonists within his pages as he can. Both series have been printed on high-quality paper stock and come highly recommended.
Recently, Darren has chosen to fund his printing costs (and no doubt increase his distribution base) by crowd-funding his comics. This has become almost a norm among many Australian comic creators (including myself) in recent years. Whether Pozible or Kickstarter or other platforms, it does allow creators an opportunity to market a little more widely that Facebook or the comic conventions....
One of my criteria in selecting this Comicoz 'Award' is to ensure that I do not name any book or comic I may have published. The main reason, is that I don't wish to show any bias in making both my selections or in the announcement of the 'winner'. It has become a little difficult this year to say whether by naming creative efforts that I have published previously contravenes that self-imposed edict, or whether I can allow them to stand on their own merits. So, I must say, it was lovely to see people whose work was once published (or were due to be published) in Oi Oi Oi! in print in 2018.
Reverie, published once again by Gary Dellar after an absence of too many years, featured a wonderful story that I had looked forward to printing in the 'next issue' of Oi Oi Oi!: A Toon Named Trash by Paul Harris. And Hah?! published by Dillon Naylor featured some of my favourites from both Oi Oi Oi! and Australia! - Preston Peace and Battlers Inc. In reading the comics, I sort of felt a pang of … of what I don't know how to describe … a bit like I felt when I gave away my daughter at her wedding many years ago. Seeing those works (and the year before, The Demon by Matt Kyme) was a little bittersweet. It was so nice to see what felt like old friends back in print.... Another joy (and another crowd-funded effort) was seeing a longer and more permanent form of Sneaky Goblins in print. Rene Pfitzner has a beautiful book that deserves wider reading. (I would have liked to have seen it in hardcover, but that is my aesthetics talking.)
Some of the other better Australian comics to have seen print during the year that I have discovered and liked: Toby and the Magic Pencil by Dillon Naylor (art) and Gary Dellar (words); Drongo by Natalie Michell Watson; and Eternal by Eric Zawadzki (art) and Ryan K Lindsay (words). I know Eric is not Australian, but like the Ledger Awards, I am going to include creative works that contain at least some involvement and aspect of an Australian creative within...
In year's past, you would not have seen one word of commendation about Frew Publications. I saw the potential for using this great Australian comic institution as being so wasted, with the many inane reprints of the American newspaper strip The Phantom. Glenn Ford and Rene White have not only injected new life into the character by printing brand-new stories, mostly sourced from Italian comics, but also by utilising some of the creative talents within the local Australian comic community to have new pages, new adventures, new covers. I actually look within the pages of the comic when I hit the newsagent: is there artwork by Jason Paulos in the story within? Is there a new Kid Phantom out, illustrated by Dr Paul Mason? And the covers! Jeremy Macpherson, Gary Chaloner and Glenn Lumsden all have produced some of the best Phantom covers ever in recent years. I still won't buy The Phantom if the stories are not locally drawn, but I won't easily dismiss it any more either.... Frew's Giant-Size Phantom line is brilliant. They are continuing to reprint some of the classic Australian comics from the past, including works by John Dixon and Paul Wheelahan. The fact they have allowed Graeme Cliffe to promote our book From 'Sunbeams', months out from our release date, has been immensely satisfying and appreciated...
More and more Australian comic publishers are either discovering or wanting to learn about our comic past. (Which is why Graeme's book is going to be so important.) Matt Emery's Pikitia Press has now completed the reprinting of the Australian newspaper strip Ballantyne, by Peter Foster (art) and James H. Kemsley (writer), and is well-worth supporting. I was initially a little dubious about rearranging the panels to allow it to read as a comic, and for that reason I don't see it as a true reprinting. However, given that artist Peter Foster has been actively involved in the re-formatting process and the colouring (it was a black and white Sunday newspaper strip initially), I can only approve. The stories are well-written for the format they first appeared in, and the artwork is top-notch. Ten volumes have now been released, and all ten should now be placed in your comic book libraries.
People who read some of my Facebook comments might be surprised for me to say that I feel Lindsay Arnold's three volumes of Emile Mercier's comic books are worthy of inclusion in this end-of-year summary of the best Australian comics. At the time, I was highly critical of the means of the selling of the three volumes: they were available on eBay, and the way they were marketed gave the impression that they were some of Emile's original old comics available for sale. (Here's a link. See what you think.) So, I (and another fellow bidder) attempted to out-bid each other in what I honestly thought were rare Mercier comics from the 1940s. I'm now embarrassed to disclose the amount I paid for them (I won the auction), but nothing compared to the disappointment I felt when the package arrived.
My disappointment stemmed from the fact that the prized 'win' was not a set of original comics, but rather a reprinting of three titles. I suppose I was further disappointed with the fact that Emile's son (and present copyright holder) had granted Lindsay the rights to reprint the books, when not six months earlier he had written an email to me suggesting he would be interested in working with me on a collaboration of his Dad's comics sometime in the future. (Further investigation proved that Lindsay had every right to reprint the works, as the Rev Michael had indeed granted him those rights. Yes, it was an ego thing, no question.) Once I removed my ego out of the way, and had voiced my displeasure publicly on Facebook, Lindsay did send me copies of Volumes Two and Three (in the hope of appeasing me?). At over 200 pages of Emile Mercier merriment per volume, the paperback books are a welcome addition to the canon of Necessary Australian Titles in Need of Reprint, but I still did not feel my outlay was compensated by what I received. (I'm unclear what Arnold is asking for the volumes these days, and I am also unsure how he is marketing them.) I thought the printing quality was similar to my first attempt at book printing (John Dixon's Air Hawk and the Flying Doctor, the first volume); pixilated images.
Don't get me wrong. There is no bad blood (from my perspective) towards Lindsay. He gave me some photographs of Monty Wedd that I used in my latest Bold Ben Hall book (a copy of which I have passed on to him). The books are a welcome addition, and I feel that because of their historical value, they were the best reprint books of Australian comics published in 2018; it's just that they could have been so much better.
There are so many Australian comics being released, and only a few of them have any continuing titles. However, there were three comic characters that saw further adventures written and drawn that excited me in the past year. I'd like to say one was Magpie by Frantz Kantor (art) and Andrez Bergen (writer), but *alas!* no, not in 2018. Maybe in 2019.... My favourite comics of characters re-appearing in 2018 were:
Bazza the Bogan Barbarian (in Carnivorous Cane Toads on a Cruise). (Here's a link.) Written with tongue planted firmly in his cheek, creator Sorab Del Rio has developed the quintessential Sydney bloke: dressed in a South Sydney Rabbitohs jersey and armed with a cricket bat, what adventure could this man not overcome? I admit I am smitten by Sorab's dialogue and story-writing: it moves at a cracking pace, and is a well-worth read for anyone who doesn't want to take their comics too seriously.
Killeroo is another character whose next episodes were scheduled to appear in the 'next' Oi Oi Oi! although it has been around the Australian comic scene since the mid-1990s. Creator Darren Close has been a previous winner of the Comicoz 'Award' (which does not exclude him from 'winning' a second time). His character ran in a new comic in 2018, Gangwars, Volume Five. Well worth supporting by clicking on this link here.
Creator Mark Hobby writes in more adult fare, and Job Dunn Fat Assassin is his greatest creation. A new volume seems to be coming out annually these days, and I always like to pick up a copy. While the stories are fun (and equal bits silly and subversive at times), there is sometimes a satirical streak running through them that appeals to me. But the biggest plus, is that Mark seems to attract the right artist for his character. This year's volume's highlight was the talented Dan Watts. For some reason, Dan's enthusiasm for the comic medium reminds me of another artist from many years ago - Jason Paulos. (That's meant as a compliment to both blokes.) I'm not sure where you can find copies of this year's comic (perhaps look up Mark Hobby on Facebook, which is where I first learnt he had a new issue out)….
Comics are a community when there are those in that community who give of themselves to bring something back to make it an even greater community. I'd like to acknowledge some from the past year.
John Hanna for some of the comics he has created that I did not discover until later in 2018. In that category I'd like to include Hien Pham and Matt Huynh who are doing interesting works that I want to see more of. Hien's It Will Be Hard, in particular seems to be advancing the possibilities of what comics can do and become, although I have not purchased it just yet.
Owen Heitmann, from Adelaide, has worked hard on his Amplified Press imprint (see link here) and has advanced the profile of quite a few South Australians, to the point where their works have appeared in this year's Ledger Long List.
Stephen Kok is always willing to share information he has to fellow creatives, without expecting anything in return. Stephen's publishing projects have all been crowd-funded, and he proves an adept marketing man. I must confess that I am not, so his advice - freely given - has often been sought and appreciated.
Stuart McMillen has spoken at the Australian Cartoonists' Association's annual conference for two years in a row now. I always find his talks inspirational and informative. He is one of the youngest members of the ACA, and, like Stephen, is another creative willing to share information and offer advice. While Stuart likes and supports Crowd-funding, he's also been strongly advocating for creatives to take charge of their own destiny, with support of sites like Patreon. (Here's a link.) I wish there was a similar site that was Australian-based, but until there is Stuart has given me future food for thought....
So …. who wins the Comicoz 'Award' for Best Original Australian Comic Book for 2018? I have made my mind up. If it were a book, I'd give it to this one. "Sorry Day" by Coral Vass and Dub Leffler was a brilliant read. But...it's not a comic. All of the comics and creatives listed above came into my consideration. I'm going to announce the 'winner' ….next posting.
This posting is over a week later than when I normally summarise the year just past. (That in itself encapsulates my year: I have been so frantically busy creatively, most times I have not had the time to update this blog as often as I wished I could have.) My apologies. From a personal perspective, even the time seems to have slipped by somehow, with little opportunity to reflect on where I have been and where I’d like to think 2019 is headed. Part of the reason has been holidays taken later in the year (something I tend to avoid altogether!), visiting loved ones in Yass, Canberra, Bendigo, Cairns and Gympie (in that order) … even before my end-of-year birthday! And no sooner had birthday celebrations taken place, then our home was filled with family members unexpectedly visiting us!
From a comic book perspective, I seem to have purchased more comics than I have done in recent memory. I have tended to buy fewer Marvel and DC titles, mainly because, for the main, I have found the stories somewhat formulised. The common denominator appears to be the striving for as many sales as possible, with innumerable variant covers artificially boosting sales on select titles, and a fan base that is prepared to accept this nonsense. As a result, my purchases have been more along the lines of independent releases and in the form of graphic novels. Many of the purchases have been less from retail outlets and more from on-line social media opportunities.
Australian comic buys have been opportunistic but no less thrilling. By far the biggest excitement was the acquiring of most of the original artwork to Iron Outlaw, an Australian comic series that ran in the early 1970s. Such was the state of my busy-ness throughout the year, I don’t think I even had the chance of sharing the find on this Comicoz blog! How did I obtain it? Someone in Melbourne alerted me to the fact that the works were sitting in an Opportunity Shop, and would I be interested in it …??!
Most of my spare time has been working on my publishing and editing, with little time or opportunity to attend the many fairs or comic conventions as I would have liked. However, with new books out (or soon due out), 2019 should be a year of travelling this country to sell these Comicoz wares. I hope I can catch up with YOU somewhere along the traps!
This is a close look at just one of the pages in the IRON OUTLAW series of artwork found during the year. I was also able to locate and contact the series' writer Graeme "The Fysh" Rutherford, although artist Gregory MacAlpine has proven more elusive. Someone told me he is fishing somewhere in Wales....
I have been more open on Facebook (if not here) describing my future plans and goals for a retail comic outlet somewhere in Australia. I envision a place where comic fans can obtain their regular fix of commercial (American) comics, but where they can also discover the locally made products that continue to be published. But a comic outlet should be so much more than that -- there should be an opportunity for original comic artwork to be sold and/or displayed (much like an art gallery), there should be a studio for cartoonists/artists to be granted residencies for (say) six months at a time, and there should be a private comics library that covers all the treasures of the medium for these artists (and members of the public, perhaps for a fee) to study and read. (I'm talking works like Sterrett, Barks, Caniff, Eisner, as well as more European creators like Pratt or even Australian greats like Dixon and Wedd. Of course, the more recent and commercial works of Ditko, Miller, Lee and Kirby should be available too.) Whether the enterprise seeks to raise a profit (to increase the library's holdings or to be bequeathed to an organisation like, as an example, the Australian Cartoonists' Association on my death), is something that I still haven't fully thought out. The idea did come a little closer to realisation, however, as I investigated a property in Bendigo, Victoria to explore its merits (a photo of which I cannot seem to find to share with you). The price was too high for the renovations required of it, but the city was right...
On the Australian Cartoonists' Association front, I have again edited four issues of the collective's journal, Inkspot, working with designer Cam Winks for the Summer 2017/18 issue (number 80), and with Steve Panozzo from Autumn 2018. For the second year in a row, I have ensured that four issues have been published, and over the pre-Christmas break I began working on the post-Stanley Award edition (number #84), which is presently at the printer. About the same time, I unsuccessfully ran for the Presidency of the Association, lost the Deputy Presidency position, and only just scraped in (through the generosity of spirit of Lindsay Foyle) to re-join the Committee. I ran, although I did not campaign hard, because there were aspects of the ACA that were troubling me. Naturally, it was disappointing to lose, but I accept the members' decision. My major disappointment (that I have expressed elsewhere) is the Committee's determination to 'save money' by limiting the distribution of Inkspot to Members Only. I am of the strong belief that the journal is a reflection of the organisation and should be more widely distributed (to Libraries, to the National Cartoon Gallery in Coffs Harbour and the now-closing Australian Cartoon Museum in Melbourne). the only way I can ensure that happens is by encouraging all cartoon and comic book fans to become Associate Members (and professionals to become Full Members), and perhaps by securing a sponsorship deal...
Also in between the holiday break, as Lead Judge I also oversaw the judging of the Ledger of Honour Award. This is such an honour, and now the second (or is it third?) year I have been given this responsibility. Given my passion for Australian comics, I suppose I have a closer link to the Ledgers, so I am thrilled to be a part of these fledgling Awards (now only in their fifth year). As Lead Judge, I am bound by oath not to reveal the winners … just yet … so keep your ears posted to the ground. Click here for the link:http://ledgerawards.org/ Two books I published last year (Bold Ben Hall, An Authentic Biography Narrated and Illustrated by Monty Wedd and Truth, Justice and the American Dream: The Men Behind Superman by Thomas Campi and Julian Voloj) are in the final long list of nominees for the Ledger Awards, with a Short List of Nominees to be announced sometime soon.... The ceremony itself will be held on the Friday of the Anzac Day long weekend, at a Sydney venue.
Exciting projects for the future: working in collaboration with the Reverend Michael Mercier and the National Cartoon Gallery (the Bunker) to produce a book of Michael's dad, Emile Mercier's cartoons. The groundwork for this was laid in the past two years, when I assisted in the negotiations between Michael and the Bunker. Another project I began consulting on -- a non-comic one, believe it or not! -- is a book on the 40th anniversary of the Ipswich branch of Zonta. These are some of the ups for the year ahead. And the downs from last year?
I've harped on it before, so there is no need to say much more than the collapse of my books' distributor, Dennis Jones and Associates, was the biggest disappointment of 2018. My sales now rely on people learning about the books and this web-site/blog.... I had a commercial agreement with a Perth-based company called Bee Modern to upgrade this website, with specifications of what I was after, and for reasons I must still explore, nothing came of it, except for being somewhat poorer in cash...
Fortunately, the local Australian comic scene isn't as bleak. I'll talk about that in my next post, as well as some of the comic highlights that I discovered in 2018. And the Comicoz 'Award' for Best Australian Original Comic Book? Well, maybe I might announce that then too...
Update on the From SUNBEAMS book. Ryan has completed the internals. Graeme is making (final) corrections. Diamond are interested. We're contemplating a Kickstarter to widen the publicity (while acknowledging those who have already pre-paid for copies). In the meantime, I thought you, my valued readers, might like to read the book's introduction....
In 1954, Australia’s population stood at less than nine million. In the same year, Australian entrepreneurs published more than seventy million comic books; equating to more than seven comics for every man, woman and child in the country. Not only had Australia built up and established a thriving comic book industry, Australians read and loved their comic books. While comic strips were mainly being read for entertainment, they had also been used to promote commercial products, to sway a Federal election campaign, to influence voters on a referendum, and as regular inclusions in many of the country’s magazines and newspapers. In 1954, the comics reached a pinnacle of success in Australia that has never been exceeded.
Although the comics were extraordinarily popular, most of the comic books published in Australia in 1954 were devoted to reprinting comic strips which had previously been published in the United States of America. Licensing arrangements which had been made with the comics’ U.S. copyright owners allowed locally produced reprints to be sourced at a fraction of the cost of generating a similar product in Australia. Accordingly, a holistic approach to the era’s local comic books would result in a history firmly grounded on American comic books and American syndicated newspaper strips. Such is not the intent of From “Sunbeams” to Sunset. The intent of this history is to chronicle the locally created elements in Australia’s first comic book industry.
The first such comic book was published in 1924 as The "Sunbeams" Book. The Book was subtitled “Adventures of Ginger Meggs”, and it reprinted humorous comic strips which had previously appeared in a Sydney newspaper. Sunbeams went on to be an enduring success, and it was followed by further book compilations sourced from local newspapers. World War II saw a fledgling industry flowering, taking advantage of the lack of overseas competition. The arrival of television in Australia created a serious dent in comic book sales. By 1965 locally created comic books were practically non-existent, with the few surviving titles often reduced to reprinting previously published work.
Australia’s comic book publishers created a viable industry over a span of more than forty years. Ultimately, the locally created product faded and died in the face of a range of other entertainment alternatives. Although the era has long passed, the flowering of the locally created comic industry and its subsequent withering does not deserve to be forgotten.
Defining a Locally Created Australian Comic Book
The “Sunbeams” Book was an unequivocally Australian publication. However, tracing the history of the locally created comic books which followed it is no simple matter, and the complications are numerous. Most of the local comics of the era did not include a date, and many failed to include a creator’s credit or a copyright notice. A very substantial proportion of the local comic books had covers drawn (or re-drawn) by Australian artists, but in most such instances the comic’s content was reprinted overseas comic strips. Accordingly, the nationality of a comic’s cover artist is not an appropriate measure as to whether a comic book is locally created.
What distinguishes an Australian comic book as being locally created? For the purposes of this history, a locally created comic is a comic book printed and distributed to the newsstands and/or bookshops of Australia, or disseminated for promotional purposes, and which includes one or more comic strips drawn by an artist residing in Australia at the time of its publication. In addition, the definition also includes comic books published in Australia which include strips making their first appearance in the English language. Examples of artists residing in Australia who drew locally created comics include Eric Jolliffe and Yaroslav Horak. Although not born in Australia, both artists drew comic strips for the local industry in the 1940s and 1950s. Jolliffe went on to self publish the multi million-selling Jolliffe’s Outback magazine, while Horak went on to establish an international profile as the premier illustrator of the British “James Bond” syndicated newspaper strip.
The main focus of this history is the locally created original comic books: books which feature comic strips drawn specifically for comic book publication. Examples of such titles include The Phantom Ranger (Frew Publications), The Lone Avenger (H John Edwards Publishing) and Kokey Koala (Elmsdale Publications). In this text, such newsstand titles are included in the chapters headed “Titles Created Locally for Comic Book Publication”.
Further instances of locally created comic books are the compilations which reprinted previously published Australian comic strips, sourced from local periodicals. Examples include Ginger Meggs, Bluey and Curley and Wally and the Major. In this text, such titles are included in the chapters headed “Locally Created Titles Which Sourced Australian Periodicals”. Given the importance of the local newspapers and magazines to the comic book industry (and particularly to its artists), this history makes extensive reference to Australia’s periodicals. To a much lesser extent, this history also makes reference to regularly appearing illustrated features which were published in those periodicals.
Australia’s publishers sometimes included locally created comic strips in books clearly focused on reprinting overseas material. Such strips were used as back-up material. Examples of such titles include the K G Murray Publishing Company’s Superman and Batman. Many of these titles are identified in the chapters which are titled “Comics Based on Overseas Strips, which included Local Content”. Also included in these chapters are comic books which included new, locally created strips authorised by overseas franchisers. Examples include Flynn of the FBI and Sergeant Pat of the Radio Patrol.
From “Sunbeams” to Sunset also includes a chapter dealing with the locally created comic books which were not treated to newsstand or bookshop distribution. Such comics were produced for promotional purposes, and most were simply given away. Examples include The Road Ahead, The Road Back and The Way Ahead, three comic books printed in 1949 in the hope of swaying voters in that year’s Federal elections.
The author has also noted various overseas appearances of Australia’s locally created comic strips. Such comics include titles where a separate, identifiable print run of a title was created concurrently for overseas distribution; strips which were reprinted in foreign countries, and locally created titles which were franchised to the point of allowing new stories to be created overseas. Examples of overseas appearances include “Aguia Negra”, which was published in Brazil and went on to both reprint and create new stories featuring Australia’s Sir Falcon.
The Relevance of Cover Prices
Australian comic publishers often gave minimal information about their product’s details: some even failed to identify a publisher. Very few carried information in the form of indicia, copyright notices which state the official name of a comic, its issue number, the name of its publisher, and its newsstand date. The lack of indicia in most Australian comic books leaves a comic book's cover price as often the only guide to its date of publication. Most comics published before 1951 sold for six pence or less. A transition then occurred in prices over the ensuing five years. Post-1951, prices rose through eight pence and nine pence, with rising costs being passed on to the reading public. By 1957, all newsstand comic books were retailing at a shilling (twelve pence) or more. In February 1966 Australia adopted decimal currency, and pounds, shillings and pence were replaced by dollars and cents. Accordingly, it is usually obvious from a comic's cover price whether it was published before or after 1965.
The lack of significant, reliable data makes it difficult to accurately date most Australian comics. A seemingly minor statistic like cover price becomes an important dating tool. As some locally created titles were the subject of more than one series of comics, often the only way to distinguish between duplicated issue numbers is that a later series will have a higher cover price. Accordingly, the cover price of a comic book is often referenced in this history.
Why a New History of Locally Created Comics?
There was little contemporary material written on comic books during most of the era of Australian comic books. An exception was the post World War II period, when the availability (and perceived low standard) of cheap ephemera provoked public outcries demanding censorship by the authorities. Following the era, the lack of research into Australia’s comic books may safely be attributed to a drastic lack of the primary reference source: the comic books. Notwithstanding the provisions of Australia’s copyright legislation (which required publishers to deposit “within one month … a copy of the book”), most comic book publishers of the era chose to not regard their comics as books. Accordingly, the legal repository requirement was largely ignored by the publishers.
It is possible that the omission could have been repaired by Australia’s various state and national libraries, should they have elected to take action. No such action was taken. The era regarded comic books as ephemera, and the libraries missed the chance to preserve the comics at the time when they were most readily available. Subsequent attempts by Australian libraries to acquire representative examples have met with mixed success, and have been hampered by difficulties in cataloguing.
The first attempt at an authoritative history of Australian comics was published in 1979 under the title “Panel by Panel”. The book appeared in hardcover and was written by comic collector John Ryan. However, Ryan's book had its main focus on the locally created newspaper strips, rather than on the comic books. A further important text was published in 1998 as “Bonzer: Australian Comics 1900s - 1990s”. The book included a ground-breaking checklist compiled by Melbourne collector Mick Stone which identified many of the locally created comic books by title, and also named the books’ main artists.
It is the intent of this new history to build on those existing texts, and to provide a comprehensive chronology of the era’s comic books and the people who created them. Accordingly, this book includes biographies of the publishers, writers and artists and references authorities to substantiate its content. Ultimately, the locally created element of the Australian comic book industry faded away in the mid 1960s, hence this book’s 1965 cut-off date.
Although the comics are long gone, they will live on in the memories of those who are young in heart.
Today is 5th January, the birth-date of Monty Wedd, one of Australia's greatest comic book writer and illustrators. Monty would have been 98 years "old" today -- if her were alive. It's the date, I usually make my announcement of what I consider to be The (with a capital "T") Best Australian Original Comic Book for the past 12 months. It is, as I have said before, purely a subjective award, one chosen by me, and has become a bit of a "tradition" as being the first Australian comic award announced each year. Well, unfortunately, one thing is going to stymie the announcement of the totally honorary "Award" this year.... I am working night duty!
I have in my mind, the work that I would like to honour. And, each year, I drag it out over this day's posting. This year, I thought I could 'drag it out' over a few days postings! So, look forward to the announcement in the days to come. In the meantime, let's give thanks to Monty Wedd -- his family kindly allowed me to publish another of his works in the past twelve months.... (In case you've been living under a rock, it's called "Bold Ben Hall" and I have been spruiking and praising it wherever I can this year!)
So, what has been worth celebrating in Australian comics over the past twelve months? Let me first share some that came into my consideration.... after a few days' work/sleep....