There is nothing quite like a request for an interview to allow one to reflect on the years past. I was asked last December by Julie Ditrich, Founder and CEO of Comics Mastermind (click here for the link), to submit responses to questions she wanted to know the answers to. Yes, embarrassingly... last December! Anyway, I have finally got on to it, and found the process so reflective that I thought I could share it here....
How long have you been working in comics and in what capacity or role?
I'm a publisher. When I was in primary school (in the late 1960s), I wanted to be a cartoonist. However, in the early 1970s I read a newspaper article featuring the Australian comic historian John Ryan. This article first inspired me to consider becoming an Australian comic book publisher. I wrote to John detailing my 'plans', and he was kind enough to write back to me. He shared his own plans to write a book on the history of Australian comics and sent me many of his monographs. These detailed numerous past Australian comics and artists (including John Dixon). The die was set! In 1976, still a teenager with dreams, I self-published my very first comic book; and I have been publishing Australian comics on and off ever since.
Do you consider yourself a hobbyist, pro-am or professional?
I try to ensure that all of my publications are professionally presented. However, only "Ned Kelly, Narrated and Illustrated by Monty Wedd" has been selected for distribution in Australian booksellers. Until all of the books that I publish become best sellers (or even break even!) I have to consider myself merely a hobbyist. My accountant agrees.
What category of comics do you predominantly work in? (i.e. comic books, graphic novels, comic strips, web comics, zines / mini comics, digital comics, other)
At time of writing, I have self-published eighteen comic books (with ten distributed on the Australian newsstands, and one internationally) and six comic-related books; and with more in various stages of completion.
To date, I've also edited six issues of the Australian Cartoonists' Association's journal Inkspot. While I appreciate a good zine, like reading web comics, and I am passionate about comic strips, these are not areas I have personally worked in.
What three published or unpublished works are you most proud of in your comics career or journey and why?
I tend to look forwards rather than backwards. So, although I am very proud of my back-catalogue, I am most proud of the books that are going to be published. Three of the titles that I plan to release later in 2017 all under my Comicoz imprint:
1. From "Sunbeams" to Sunset: The Rise and Fall of the Australian Comic Book (1924 to 1965). The material is completely written by Graeme Cliffe, after about nine years of his extensive research. This book is the most comprehensive examination of Australia's Golden Age of comic books ever. Even -- dare I say it?! -- putting John Ryan's Panel by Panel in the shade. This will be the seminal book on the topic in years to come: it has to be published!
2. A collected volume of Gary Chaloner's Cyclone Comics works from the 1980s. In 1988, Gary gave me the opportunity to see my Air Hawk comic book series in the Australian newsagents for the first time; so in some ways, this book is my opportunity to repay the favour to him.
3. A John Dixon retrospective that I plan to market to the Overseas market. (My two Air Hawk books have sold more copies to overseas readers than all other books that I have published combined.) I know I am biased, but I believe John is one of the greats of the Australian comic scene, and I don't want his legacy to ever be forgotten.
What title / project are you currently working on?
Bold Ben Hall - An Authentic Biography, Narrated and Illustrated by Monty Wedd. Again, my Comicoz imprint is the publisher, with the late Monty Wedd the creator. I am most proud of this book project, as it is a massive undertaking, running at over 400 pages long. As far as I know, Bold Ben Hall was the longest continually-running single comic strip adventure to appear in Australian newspapers.
From a comic perspective: I plan on releasing another issue of Oi Oi Oi! and a series of Magpie for the local and international market is in the early stages of production.
I didn't include the book, "Joe Shuster" (to be published by Comicoz) in my reply, because I am unsure when it will be available for publication. I understand the artwork is almost complete. Illustrated by Sydney-based artist Thomas Campi, I really believe this work will be Thomas' break-through in the American market. The story tells the tale of Joe Shuster, the co-creator of the comic book character Superman.
Which three comics creators have been your biggest influence and why?
1. My Father introduced me to the wonderful world of comics at at very early age, when he must have brought home every age-appropriate comic on the market. I was 'reading' comics before I could read. Newspaper comic strips were a natural extension of this when I could read.
2. John Ryan. John gave me a sense of the history of the Australian comic medium that, up until then, I was totally unaware of. He also was the first to introduce me to the earlier works of John Dixon, which I had previously been ignorant of.
3. Writer Andrez (Andrew) Bergen. To be honest, I was really rocked by Andrew's illness late last year. We (Andrez, Magpie co-creator Frantz Kantor and I) had planned to meet in Melbourne in late August (2016) to formulate plans for the international release of Magpie when Andrez fell ill. At the time, I thought he had stood us up at the planned meeting. It was only on my return to Queensland that I learnt the true extent of his illness, and I was horrified (and, I admit, a little embarrassed by my earlier thoughts). It has lead me to re-evaluate my Life. Although I am nearly 60 years of age, and conscious that I have only a few years available to me to get as much published material out there, I am also now aware that I need to be kinder on myself and not push myself as hard. Although I still have my comic book plans (some of which I have already described), they are not the be-all and end-all that they once used to be. Some of the recent events in my personal life over the past few months have really underlined this.
What three personal attributes or core values have contributed to your success?
An 'ability' to work with little sleep! No, seriously, I have a saying that I (really do) subscribe to that really sums up my personal attributes: "I strive to have the strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I cannot, and the incapacity to tell the difference". (Bill Watterson said this first in a Calvin and Hobbes strip, and I really do think it describes me.)
I am often asked which is my favourite Oi Oi Oi! cover. It is a bit like having to name your favourite child. This week, I like the Special Nostalgia Edition, with the cover illustration by Glenn Lumsden and designed by Ryan McDonald-Smith. But next week, it may be Issue #1 because it was the first.... Or Issue #2 because it was nominated for a Ledger Award. Or Issue #4....
What three personal challenges have hindered you in the past and that you are working to overcome?
First and foremost, a lack of time. I still work full-time, and have a wife and family. My wife, who is not really a comic fan, does (rightly) expect that I spend some time with her rather than in front of a computer attending to emails and working on the latest publishing projects, or attending comic-related events.
Linking the first point, my life has had - and also has, present tense - many unfortunate personal family dramas that make Home and Away look tame, and that in the past have kept me out of the comic game for many years. Some of them still impact on our day to day life. (Most people do not know them, and I tend not to speak of them. Here is not the place.)
I suppose from a creative point of view, most of my comic-related projects have been costly exercises, in that I have lost a lot of money on most of them (with the possible exception of Ned Kelly). And there are only limited funds for all these projects.
There are little ways to overcome the personal family challenges; I could choose to live alone and ignore the dramas. But, then, please refer to my earlier quote from Bill Watterson! From the financial position, I think crowd-funding is a recent innovation that pleases me no end. The fact that many people have supported my projects by buying my books and magazines is also a source of gratification that makes it all seem worthwhile.
Do you belong to a comics group or network?
I am presently the Deputy President of the Australian Cartoonists' Association. With the assistance of Phil Judd and Chris Barr, I also edit their quarterly journal Inkspot.
The Australian Cartoonists Association is the world's oldest cartooning organisation, and was first established in Sydney in 1924. www.cartoonists.org.au is the link.
Where do you want to be in three to five years?
Older. Wiser. Not really happier, as I am pretty content as it is. I also hope to still be reasonably healthy; because without that at my age, you have nothing.