What is the state of the local comic "industry"?
It is a question I often ask myself. Comics, as a medium, are a wonderful and unique means of communication and entertainment. Do they have to be economically viable for them to survive? In the 1940s and 1950s, comic sales (in this country, at any rate) were around the 80,000 copy mark -- per issue! Admittedly, that was partially due to the fact there were limited forms of mass entertainment then, and the banning of the US comic books certainly helped sales along. By the 1980s, sales of newsagent released comics were between 2 to 3,000 copies sold (per issue), and with a 10,000 print run that made them viable. (I am basing my figures on my Air Hawk comic book of the time.)
These days, in the new century, there are even fewer newsagent-released comics. (I am not going to count The Phantom, or Mad Magazine or the other smaller digest books available, mainly because I see them as licenced products of overseas owners.) I understand that there are even more alternative means of entertainment available for people these days, that people do not visit the newsagents to purchase magazines as they once did...
Yet, many people are still reading and making comics. There are more comic shops springing up around the country than ever before. Movies and TV series are being made about some of the comics (including, pleasingly, an animated TV series based on the Australian comic The Deep). Attending all the Supanova conventions over the past two years, I notice that there are many more people making and selling their own comics. Next week (Tuesday), I am due to give a free comic and Zine workshop to the public (with Jeremy Staples at The Edge in the Cultural Centre, at Southbank in Brisbane) and the event is booked out. So, there is still an interest in the medium that indicates it is very much alive.
So, how to make them a viable proposition in Australia? I have had three issues of Oi Oi Oi! on sale in newsagents around the country in the past twelve months. While I am still waiting on the sales results for the Third Issue, I have to be honest and say that the sales of the first two issues of Oi Oi Oi! have been really disappointing. There were few media willing to carry copy about the launch (and all of those that did were on-line; no mainstream media touched the story, despite media releases and sample copies being sent to them). Given the growing grassroots appeal of comics at the conventions, made me think that this might translate into sales around the country in the newsagents. Sadly, it was not to be.
Yet, there is still a need for the medium within Australia; and there are certainly the local artists and cartoonists who are seeking a vehicle for their craft. The Distributor has allowed me the opportunity to release an annual Summer Holiday edition of Oi Oi Oi! (with a four months sale period), which is really great. In the meantime, I am seeking ways of continuing the sequence of the magazine in a more grassroots manner to alert people of its existence. Do comics have to be economically viable for them to survive? From my perspective, Oi Oi Oi! does: I do not have deep enough pockets for it not to. And even though the first two (and possibly third) issues have not produced a profit, I am going to soldier on for the time being.
Issue Four will be available from Australian comic shops and via subscription. The enthusiasm of people like Matt Emery (who has distributed it throughout Melbourne) and Vince Steele (even though he was/is disappointed with some of the content) and the subscribers make the losses to date more palatable at least. Yesterday, I completed preparation of Issue Five for Ryan (our interior design guy) and from there it is off to the printer. That issue will be available to co-incide with the Copier Jam! Exhibition at the Childers Festival in July. (More of that later.) I had hoped to get to Sydney's Supanova (as part of my beloved Australian Cartoonists' Association stand) to further publicise and sell more copies of Oi Oi Oi!, but my other comic book publishing schedules may yet prevent me from doing that.
And that's another story...!
...acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to elders past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all First Australian peoples.
Over the past decade (2011 - 2020) Nat has self-published ten comic-related books and was Publisher-Editor of Oi Oi Oi! - the last nationally-distributed comic book of original comics stories to appear on Australian newsstands. He edited Inkspot, the journal of the Australian Cartoonists Association for 14 issues from late 2015 to 2019 and is a current member of the ACA's Committee. In his spare time, he is a husband, a father (to six) and grandfather (to fourteen), and works in the Psychiatric Emergency Centre in Queensland's largest public hospital.
Comicoz is Nat Karmichael's publishing imprint. Nat is committed to preserving a permanent collection of Australian comic and comic strips. He feels that there is a need to recognise comics' contribution to and depiction of Australian culture.