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What three published or unpublished works are you most proud of in your comics career or journey and why?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.
On January 5th..... 96 years ago.....one of Australia's great comic book illustrators was born. Today, as we honour the memory of Monty Wedd, Comicoz announces -- on that very same date -- a purely subjective Award that bestows on the recipient neither worldly acclaim or great financial rewards. It is purely a honoury one, this first Australian comic book award for the year. There is no way you can bribe me into selecting your favourite into winning the Award, and there is no way you can win the Award if I publish your work (I don't want to be accused of any bias, you see). You do not have to agree with my selection, and you can debate my selection as much as you like (in fact, that debate is encouraged, as discussion among Australian comic book Fans should be encouraged, as I see that as a healthy sign for the local medium).
What is the state of the local scene? Comic shops are still starting up around the country, and there are more regional areas that are seeing them. I have noticed more Facebook sites that are selling and auctioning comics in the past twelve months. In fact, even I have made some pleasing transactions over the past twelve months through Facebook than I have in the past. (Some I should have documented on this Blog, but for some reason did not, and perhaps that could be a topic for another day.) Pleasing signs, as I say. But are these signs of expansion, or more simply that signs are there that there is an increasing market for American comics (which is, to be honest, what most comic retailers sell)?
Two ventures that have highlighted and supported Australian comic creators have decided to modify their profile this year. The Australian Comic Arts Festival ran for the first time in Canberra last February, and plans were underfoot for a second Festival this year (in 2017) until just recently. I have heard through the comic grapevine that the second Festival will now be held in 2018. I am not sure why the sudden change of plans, although that will suit me in my comic social life. (My wife's auntie is celebrating her 80th birthday in February, and we have been making plans to see her in Tasmania; so my wishes to attend Canberra's ACAF for this year had to be abandoned.) And the Homecooked Comics Festival, usually held in the spacious Northcote Town Hall in Melbourne has lost funding, and will now be held in the small and aptly named Squishface Studios in Brunswick. Is this a sign that the local industry is undergoing some sort of correction? Are there just too many Festivals or Conventions being held around the country; are the larger ones sqeezing out the smaller ones? I don't suppose I have any answers, just a whole lot of questions.
As a sign there is still life in the comic beast in this country, long-time Australian publisher Frew is making new plans. Jason Paulos has announced on Facebook (this week!) that he and Chris Sequeira are to team up for an "on-going series" of stories. This news has just broken, so I am going to find out more, hopefully making this news a future posting. After my frequent criticism of Frew on this Blog in the past, it is going to be a case of Nat Karmichael happily eating his words if all promising signs comes true!
And now, as promised, the announcement of the Best Australian Original Comic Book for the past year. I have read many of the comic books available throughout the year, and I am also sure I have missed reading just as many and maybe more. As I have recently stated, there have been more comic titles released in Australia than at any time during the Golden Era of the mid-1940s to late 1950s (although the sales quantity is not the same as that previous age). So, this task of selecting one comic has been a most difficult one. I also ran into the delemma of what constitutes an Australian comic.
Thomas Campi is now based in Sydney. He produces comic art work that is absolutely first class. His publisher released "Macaroni!" this year, and it is absolutely beautiful to look at. I can't read it, because it is not in English, and Thomas is too busy to read it to me. It was one book I loved from last year. But, is it Australian? I am going to say "Yes": purely on Thomas' involvement. But is it the Best Australian original comic work for the year? Sadly, I am going to say "No", but it is one of those I considered in my final selection. Here's part of the cover.....
Now, I am not an advocate for the Ledger Awards dividing up their annual awards into many different categories. This is a debate that takes place every year after their awards are announced each year. However, when choosing my own selection of comics that made my final short list for my ultimate selection, I found that I had chosen comics that could easily have been seen to belong to different groups.
The Invisible War: A Tale on Two Sides is a solid example of the potential for comics, and I was most impressed with two things in this volume. Firstly, the sharing of science in an easily accessible manner. Want to give me a book to read on Microbes and their discovery? I would not be interested in the slightest. Make it in comic format, and you have me hooked. This book, created by Briony Barr & Dr Gregory Crocetti and written by Ailsa Wild, in collaboration with Dr Jeremy Barr, is an absoulte delight. Science is made fun again. And the second thing in the book that sells it for me is the comic book sequences illustrated by Ben Hutchings. This is Ben's cleanest line work, his finest work: it is this artwork that makes this book the success it surely will become. You can learn more about this team by clicking on this link.
The collected works of Dillon Naylor's Frankie Laine's Comics and Stories featuring Dillon's Da'n'Dill characters is, I believe, the best anthology of the year (outside of Oi Oi Oi! of course) and one of my favourite reads. Disclosure: some of my grand-children call me "Poppie" and some of them call me "Da" (it's a long story, and not worth sharing here). This is a volume that I would be happy to read to them! Or, rather, allow them to read and discover for themselves. This is an absoulte fun read. Although these adventures have been previously published (between 1986 and 1994), there were many I did not read in their first printing, mainly because they appeared in such a variety of magazines. This volume collects a portion of Dillon's works for posterity. That in itself was a good enough reason to print this very large 234 page paperback, in my opinion. You don't need to decide whether or not you need to own a copy, you simply have to buy it. And you will, I promise, thank me for telling you about it! It is available by clicking here.
Comic writing, research and criticism all tend to be forgotten and ignored when it comes to comic fans, buyers and award ceremonies. The Ledger Awards, for example, will never entertain Inkspot as a contender or even on their long list for their annual awards (and I can understand and accept that decision). I know Graeme Cliffe's book on Australian comics that I am presently proud to be working on, is not going to sell in big numbers either. One book like those that is not technically a comic book, and as such will probably be overlooked in all 'best of' reflections of the year past, is this volume called Australia's First Comic Book: A Problem of Definition. It was written by former comic shop owner and comic collector Roger Morrison as part of his quest for his Masters. And despite all this, I am going to include it in my list of finalists for this Award by Comicoz for 2016.
What does Roger consider Australia's first comic book? There is only one way of finding out: and it won't be shared by my posting the answer here. Only 100 copies of the volume (and its companion-piece Twentieth Century Australian Comic Books) were printed, and they do cost a pretty penny. No, they are not cheap. This may only be of interest those who have a passion for the history of the local medium. People like me. If you are interested, please send me an email (email@example.com) and I can gladly put you in touch with Roger.
And so, the time has come, to name the "Winner" of this year's Award. Another to be considered included Karen Beilharz' Monsters anthology. I was also going to include my friend Rob Feldman and his manic and oh-so-funny comic Fast Freddy's Big Race, until someone told me (probably Rob) that that was short-listed in last year's Ledgers. So it was not eligible. But, as I have said, it's my Award, and I can make the final selection. And the piece I have chosen may have actually been released before January 2016, although I do not think I discovered it until about that time, or just after, I announced last year's "Winner" (Darren Close's Struggle).
The Honorary Winner of the 2016 Comicoz Award for the Best Australian Original Comic of the past twelve months is ....
These Memories Won't Last, an interactive comic by Stuart Campbell or Sutu as he now likes to be known. Computers are the new medium, where comic strips and comic stories are now presented in digital format. Comics by the major US comic companies are now released in both physical and digital format. That, on its own, is not new. But Sutu takes this further, with a truly interactive comic that you have to actively scroll down to "read".
Sutu has taken part in some wonderful activities over the past few years. He has recently released a book of Augmented Reality, featuring artists and cartoonists from around the world. He has been involved in working collaboratively with a group of indigenous teenagers from the Pilbara (in Western Australia) to bring the complete collection of NEOMAD stories to life (and which won the Gold Ledger Award last year). But it is this project that Sutu brings his own personal history to life, and one that will resonate with many a person who has seen a loved one grow old, that I felt was the year's best.
If you have not experienced These Memories Won't Last, I shall not say any more about it. The artwork conveys the messages clearly, it is a brilliant piece of storytelling. This piece brought into question in my mind: What is a comic? What is the possibilities of a comic? You cannot "read" this comic. You cannot help but be moved by this work. This is more than a comic: this is an experience. This work, for me, transcended all other comics in 2016, because with this piece I was placed in a state of wonder, it was a powerful piece, I was raptured. In simple terms, this piece These Memories Won't Last by Sutu is the future of comics.
Want to experience it for the first time? Want to experience it all over again? You may have to undertake a google search: Key in Sutu eats flies + These Memories Won't Last or try directly by keying in: http://memories.sutueatsflies.com/
If you want to know more about Sutu here's the link, just click here.
As seems to be my wont from 21 December to the end of the calendar year, I tend to be a little reflective of the time that has passed since we circled the sun yet another time. The one pleasing thing from a creative point of view, has been steering the Editorship of the Australian Cartoonists' Association's journal Inkspot to a fourth issue for the year. (Above is the latest Summer issue with cover art by Judy Nadin and design by Chris Barr.) Without meaning to brag, it is the first time this decade that four issues of the magazine have seen print, so I am pretty chuffed to have been able to pull that off (with help from the contributors, artists and cartoonists, our printer, and the assistance of co-editors Phil Judd and Chris Barr). While I take the lead and all the glory in the role, it really is a team effort. I am really looking forward to keeping to this schedule in 2017, to maintain the progress made. As my last Blog stated, copies of the next issue will be available to Australian comic shops and Libraries around the country, and already much interest has already been shown. (If YOUR comic shop or local library is interested in carrying a copy, get them to drop me a quick email firstname.lastname@example.org)
My work on the Monty Wedd book Bold Ben Hall and the publishing frequency of Oi Oi Oi! has taken a bit of a hit, partially due to my work on Inkspot, but also due to some of the financial issues surrounding the magazine (Oi Oi Oi! has been running at a loss), as well as the state of my distress at some of the people that I care about being struck ill since August. From Andrew Bergen (Magpie writer), my son-in-law, to my wife. And now being added to this list is my Mother, who only learnt about a week before Christmas that she has bowel cancer and had to undergo major bowel surgery last Tueday (yes, just a couple of days after Christmas). This latest turn of events has subdued my seasonal celebrations somewhat. (Having to work on Christmas day, and having just completed night duty hasn't helped too much either!)
Anyway, I DO plan on releasing more issues of Oi Oi Oi! although planning may not take place until about March into the new year....
There are also a lot of exciting publishing plans I have for Comicoz in the new year. Mostly involved in helping see in print books that will add to the collection of Australian comics and comic-related books in this country. The major problem is (as in most years) finding the time to work on them, so my poor wife does not feel neglected!
So, let me share just some of them here! I am more committed than ever in getting Bold Ben Hall in print. Sadly, the movie based on this Australian bushranger seems to have sunk without even much of a ripple (it was in so few cinemas locally, I didn't even have time or opportunity to see it myself). I am sure the book by Monty Wedd will do well. The only thing that might cause some to baulk may be the cover price. While the Ned Kelly story was 145 pages long, and the book retailed for about $50 (or $40 from our web-site), Bold Ben Hall is going to be over 400 pages in length!
Other books that are in various stages of preparation include a third volume of Air Hawk, and collection of Gary Chaloner's past Flash Damingo and the Jackaroo works. I am most excited about a book called From Sunbeams to Sunset that Graeme Cliffe has spent the past eight years (plus) researching. We have (just about) managed to secure copyright clearances for this one, that recounts the history of the Australian comic book. You thought John Ryan's Panel by Panel was extensive? Wait until you see what Graeme has detailled! I am also waiting to hear back from Sydney-based artist Thomas Campi to see how advanced his illustrations for Joe Shuster are progressing. I believe this book shows enough promise to break Thomas in the American market.
I am also trying to begin work on retrospective volumes of both Alex Gurney and Phil Belbin's works as well as the collected comic works of Emile Mercier. But maybe one year is too ambitious, and I may have to delay planning of those little beauties until a little later.... Ahh, the New Year is around the corner. It shows promise of better days! May your New Year be a Happy one, whatever YOU have planned, and I shall look forward to talking to you more about Australian comics when next you venture onto this Blog - Web-site!
I am uncomfortable watching myself nervously talking about my passion for Australian comics, so I enter this more for the information shared and for future posterity, rather than with any sense of personal ego. The talk was arranged by Consultant Ellen Forsyth for the State Library of New South Wales and was recorded live last week on the 7th December. If you have any questions (or comments), please leave them in the Comments section (below), and I'll be happy to answer them. (If I know the answer!)
Comicstreet took place in the Queen Street Mall last Saturday. Although the number of stallholders were slightly down on the last event, I still thought it was a worthwhile visit, just before my afternoon shift. Pleasing to see comic creators Karen Beilharz and Queenie Chan had come from Sydney to make it more than just a Brisbane gig. There were some 'old' artists displaying new works and also 'new' ones sharing their art for the first time. Here are some of the stallholders I bought comics from:
This is a short small message that I am not going to shout from the mountains for another year yet. But for those of you who read my Blog, I can tell you that last night the Committee of the Australian Cartoonists Association approved the 2018 Stanley Awards to be held in Brisbane. The official announcement will be made next November (in 2017), when the event is being staged in Canberra. In order not to take away the shine of the 2017 Stanleys being held there, I have been asked NOT to spread this news. So, this message will not be read on Facebook, and not shared on Twitter. I have been given the okay to begin making arrangements for Guests, and for getting a little committee together to work on the event behind the scenes. So if you are in south-east Queensland and want to join in the organising committee, please email me. From here on, on this Blog, I shall say no more about this event now until next November. So it is now our little secret, that you too must now keep secret.
Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Matthew Holmes, 'The Legend of Ben Hall' tells the incredible true story of the New South Wales bushranger, boasting an ensemble of remarkable new talent in a gritty action-drama with an adherence to historical detail rarely seen in movies today. 'The Legend of Ben Hall' is a Two Tone Pictures, RLC Motion Picture Entertainment, Running Panda Films production in association with Odin's Eye Entertainment, Emu Creek Pictures, SunJive Studios, Film Victoria with Soundfirm and Palmarium LLC.Trailer vocals performed by Visnja Prtenjaca. Music produced by Ronnie Minder.