As the only Member of the Australian Cartoonists’ Association to attend all four days of the Supanova Pop Culture Expo (at both the Gold Coast and Melbourne leg of the events), I thought it might be prudent to share my public thoughts and insights on the events. This is an edited version of a letter I recently sent ACA President, Jules Faber.
First of all, I believe as an experiment (by the ACA) and as an experience (for myself) I thought the exercise was well-worth exploring. The ACA has never been represented at Supanova, and it was also the first time I have attended such a gathering (although I had thought about attending many times in the past).
From a personal point of view, it was good to see some of the cartoonists working with the general public. Paul Harvey didn’t stay long, but made a great impression. Jules Faber helped a young lady make an equally good impression with her partner with a spontaneous but planned impromptu marriage proposal – you just don’t get that every day! And Jenner was the hardest working of all – he was just non-stop all Sunday in Melbourne with his caricatures of and/or animal illustrations for the public!
It was good to see how Gerald Carr does his pencils and inking, and there were more than a few interested spectators watching him quietly working away on an Australian super-hero page! Great to meet one of my all-time favourite comic book artists: Colin Wilson! And even though I only sold a total of two copies of Ned Kelly, Narrated and Illustrated by Monty Wedd (and none of Air Hawk!) I personally found both weekends well worth attending.
Given the number of ACA Members in Queensland and Victoria, there were only a handful of Members willing to help out; but all who did I think had a good time. (I have not mentioned everybody who attended here. And I have not mentioned - or pictured - some of the wonderful sights our position availed us!) I do encourage any Members who have never been before - or even if you have - to come along to the Sydney Supanova: help out and have some fun! I do feel it is so important for the ACA to maintain a presence at events that are associated with the cartoon world.
My understanding is that the idea of Supanova grew out of the early Australian comic book conventions of the late 1970s-early 1980s when “Comic Fandom” became collectively more organised with the growth of many comic specialty shops in most of our major capital cities; in many ways mirroring the Direct Market trends in the American comic book scene of that time. And whilst the initial plan may have been to cater for the comic book fan and allow them the opportunity to congregate with each other in celebration of that medium, the initial essence of that sense of genial community seems to have now been lost. And somehow I feel the ACA appeared equally lost in the general positioning of its stand at both the Gold Coast and Melbourne’s Supanova events.
Rather than being located in the area allocated with Groups and Collectives, the ACA would be better placed within the Artists and Comic Publishers section (“The Alley”). Given that most of the ACA members are Artists and Cartoonists, this simply makes sense. And, fortunately, two of the Founders and Organisers of Supanova (Daniel and Tim) seemed to recognise this when we all spoke about this during the waning hours of Melbourne’s event. From my understanding, Tim McEwen – as a Supanova founder and organiser and ACA Member – will ensure that the ACA is better placed at Sydney’s Supanova event. With Tim able to wear two hats, we are fortunate indeed to have him as a Member of our Association, because he knows our needs and is best able to advocate for us a more suitable position within all future Supanova events.
Okay, I have taken some liberties with the photo sequence, but the essence remains! I am sure you will join me in wishing Susan Rowe and Sia Bandarian-Balooch every good wish for their future happiness! Congratulations Lovers! The Caricature was done by Cartoonist (and ACA President) Jules Faber at the Gold Coast Supanova.
The problem I see with Supanova, however, is that it has become too big, and this is something that Tim and Daniel are really unable to control (unless they consciously seek to limit their profit margins). As I said, the earlier goals for the event were to celebrate the comics community; but gradually over time the introduction of television, film and other ‘personalities’ (which were invited in order to bring in a larger crowd, which in turn leads to a more profitable event, allowing more ‘names’ to be invited…) simply leaves comic fans and publishers marginalised in an expo that was once designed for them. As a result, the majority of the ticket-paying public who do attend are not comic fans.
This leads to another reported result: the many cartoonists, artists and/or comic publishing store-holders that I spoke to, said they are not making much of a profit from their stands if at all. In comparison with other store-holders at Supanova, most cartoonists, artists and/or comic publishing store-holders told me the returns from their sales either just cover the outlay of the table’s cost or they leave with a small loss. However, in order that the comic-buying market is made aware of the existence of their comic or book’s presence, the cartoonists, artists and/or comic publishers feel they have to be there.
Without being privy to the financial outcomes of the ACA’s presence, I wonder if that was a similar result of four day’s attendance for our Association. Throughout the four days of the Gold Coast and Melbourne Supanova Pop Culture Expo, the ACA Members actively sought out potential new members from artists, cartoonists and members of the public. The outcome of this “recruitment” may not be known for some time yet, but longer-term this may prove to be a financial boon for the Association, and may yet justify the ACA presence at this year’s Supanova.
Supanova has actively attempted to give back to the Australian comic community this year. (Perhaps in response to the disquiet among the creative comic people who have held stores at the events over the years?) As Platinum Sponsor of the Ledger Awards (“Promoting Excellence in Australian Comics”), in 2014 Supanova helped organise an Awards Night that was held in the State Library of Victoria on the Friday Night before the Melbourne (Supanova) leg. The Ledger Awards were open to the public, although to these eyes most of those in attendance seemed to be from the comic community. Given the concentration of cartoonists, artists and publishers attending these Awards, I wonder if the ACA’s financial investment might produce a better outcome (than the hiring of tables at multiple Supanova Events) by sponsoring one of these Awards.
This commentary does not reflect the official position of either the Australian Cartoonists' Association or Supanova Pop Culture Expo. The view expressed are purely my own based on reflection of my first experience at Supanova and discussions with numerous stall-holders at the Expo, and a desire to advance the goals of the ACA and the well-being of the general Australian comic community.
...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.