Today I am proud to announce my eleventh annual selection for the Best Australian Original Comic (for 2021). Each year on the 5th January, I select a recipient to win this 'Award' that offers no financial reward. Why 5th January? Well, it's the birthdate of one of Australia's greatest comic book creatives, Monty Wedd. Monty passed away in 2012, but this is a nice way of remembering him and his contribution to the local comic scene.
The 'Award' is purely an honoury one, chosen carefully and totally subjectively. (This means you can 100% disagree with me! It's a free world!) The only criteria I place on myself is that I refrain from selecting any book or comic I publish. And to be fair and honest, I can't say I have read every Australian comic in the past twelve month. Before I get into that and other limitations relating to my selection, let me first list all previous 'winners'. How many have you read?
2011: Insanity Streak - Striving for Quantity by Tony Lopes
2012: Kinds of Blue (anthology) Karen Beilharz (editor, contributor)
2013: The Long Weekend in Alice Springs by Josh Santospirito
2014: The Anzac Legend by Dave Dye
2015: Struggle by Darren Close
2016: These Memories Won't Last (interactive web comic) by Stuart (Sutu) Campbell
2017: Post Traumatic (anthology) by Bruce Mutard
2018: A Week in Warrigilla (web comic) by Teloka Berry and Pricilla (Pi) Wu
2019: The Phantom (Issue #1850) by Matt Kyme (writer/artist), Graeme Jackson ('digital special effects') and Roger Stitson (editor); Frew Publications (publisher)
2020: COVID-19 Diary (web cartoon-'article') by Jason Chatfield
I have to be totally honest here. In 2021, I have worked harder in my professional life than ever before. (For those not in the know, I work in the Emergency Department in Queensland's largest public hospital, with my specialty being Psychiatry.) Although COVID-19, whether Delta or the new Omnicom variant, has not (yet) hit Queensland*, the psychological effects on the general population is palpable. People are generally more scared and anxious, their financial future with employment is uncertain, and there is a general sense of unease in most people's mind about where we are headed.
* I started writing this blog soon after my birthday on 21st December; so already this news is out of date.
New words have entered our language: from lockdowns to social distancing. New 'norms' have been established: mask wearing, vaccinations, border passes. And all this has translated in the local Australian comic scene into new ways of creators are seeking to find ways for audiences to read their stories. Crowd-funding has become the main source of creators sharing their wares, as comic conventions and festival dry up and the retail comic shops struggle and/or go online. Sure, there was the Papercuts Festival in Adelaide, and some convention activity towards the end of the 2021 year, but work (and various government restrictions) offered too little opportunity for me to be able to travel and attend. As a result, I felt my opportunity to 'discover' new local comics and to make selections for this year's Award has been cruelly affected.
Creatively, I am publishing again (and which I won't go into here, as my blog adequately covers that elsewhere), and the year has sometimes allowed me more time to read more widely. This year in the overseas books (graphic novels) I've read, I've enjoyed the Collected Neil the Horse by Arn Saba (Katherine Collins), and I began reading Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates. I've just discovered there's a new version of this series coming soon (click here for the link). I've purchased Monsters by Barry Windsor-Smith but haven't started reading it yet. Trots and Bonnie by Shary Flenniken and Zuo Ma's Night Bus both lay on an unread pile and have suffered the same fate. An overseas comic series that has continued to interest me for a few years now is Marvel's Daredevil by Chips Zdarsky. The older I get, the more writers tend to excite me rather than artists. Tom King does it for me, although in the case of Human Target, the art by Greg Smallwood shows how the perfect synthesis of both writing and art (and colour) can combine to produce a master class. The twelve-issue series has only just begun and is being released by DC's Black Label series ... already one of my faviourites!
And so, what of Australian comics and books? And magazines?
First up, I'm going to (at last!) be able to draw your attention to Inkspot, now that I am not creatively involved. Published by the Australian Cartoonists' Association, the magazine comes free with Full-time or Associate Membership of the collective (at $66 annually for the latter, if you are not a cartoonist). Caricaturist Steve Panozzo took over the editorship of the magazine (from Issue #87) after my fifteen-issue stint, and he has produced some real beauties. The 2020 centenary issue of The Potts was a personal highlight, and 2021 saw a wonderful issue released featuring Ginger Meggs. Here's the cover, with the cartoon artwork of J. C. "Jimmy" Bancks:
Only by becoming an ACA Member can you obtain a copy of this magazine (although selected older issues are available to read here). There is something to be said about reading a magazine about cartoonists and written by cartoonists, especially if -- like me -- you have a passion for the medium. This issue features a six-page article on, well, you guessed it, the history of Ginger Meggs, and an eight-page history of one of his artists, Ron Vivian (written by his son-in-law). The magazine, running at 44 pages, also covers the inside story about some present-day cartoonists' activities, as well as covering artists from the past. This issue features Kaz Cooke and highlight some of Jimmy Bancks' non-Ginger Meggs' work.
I would still like to see Inkspot more widely distributed, and under my editorship, copies were circulated to many New South Wales libraries. But the cost factor blew out, and the committee decided it wasn't economically viable, so the idea to expand the readership base was canned. There are some within the Association who would like to see the magazine go totally digital to save further costs, but while those remain in the minority, the magazine is still published in physical form, and this issue in particular, remains on my list as an Australian 'comic' highlight of the year just past.
Purists are going to call The Super Australians a super-hero comic anthology from the year 2019. However, for whatever reason, I didn't get to find it to read (and enjoy it) until 2021. "Conceived of and Edited by Christopher Sequeira", the book features the collective talents of (at least) twenty-six Australian writers and illustrators who are presently working in the comic medium in this country. For that reason, I feel the book is almost a time-capsule of the year and of the era, and on those merits alone, is deserving of being included in the year's best. Super hero stories tend to get a bad rap: many are hurriedly-written and illustrated with a deadline doom fast approaching. This book, by contrast, was a great and fun read, handsomely illustrated, with wonderful colour, top-class printing, and paper stock. My only gripe, however, was that there was insufficient room in the gutter to read the book without damaging the spine. A small gripe, perhaps, but one I feel compelled to report. I'm not sure where you can obtain copies, although if Christopher lets me know, I'll post the link here ...
I sometimes forget how I acquire some comics. I believe my friend Dr Bruce Mutard sent me the one pictured on the right. West Coast Anthology (link here) which, as the title says, is a comic anthology from Western Australia where Dr Bruce currently lives. The one on the left, Wild North Comics (link here) was gifted to me this Christmas past by my daughter Natalie, who lives and works in the Northern Territory, and is of a similar theme: an anthology of comic stories from local creatives in the Northern Territory.
If not for Dr Bruce and Natalie, I would not have 'discovered' them. Both publications seem, by comparison with The Super Australians, rather crude in their production values. Yet both display an honesty in character that I find more appealing. These publications are not designed to sell in their hundreds. They may even struggle to make many sales at all. I suspect they were primarily published to give voices to the people in Western Australia and the Northern Territory who want to simply make comics. Noble endeavors indeed.
Some of the creatives are well-known to me. Australi by Timothy Wood and Pius Bak in the Northern Territory volume looked like a Kickstarter volume that I didn't patronise (most probably because I didn't consider Pius, the artist, Australian enough at the time). And I'm aware of the works of Campbell Whyte, Andrei Buters, Gavin Aung Than, Tim McEwen, and Bernard Caleo, who all appear in the Western Australian anthology, for the works they have done elsewhere. Yet it was the works by the creative "unknowns" like Dan Hartney (in the Northern Territory volume), Stephanie Palladino, Tyson Elmer, and Nathan Vass Viney (in the Western Australian volume) that appealed to me most.
Seeing publications like this remind me that, during this time of COVID-19 spreading around the country (to say nothing of the globe), there seem to be an even greater need for a national magazine that allows creatives to share their stories with their fellow-Australians. Or something else, perhaps? I've harped on this before. I'll move on.
This anthology, pictured above, was my favourite anthology for 2021. Cafe AU Lait saw print in January 2021, and was edited by Samantha Calcraft and Sid Stones. The volume contains 152 pages and purports to be "a collection of cozy short comics about finding love in the tradition of fandom's Coffe Shop AU trope". And it's just beautiful. The book is mostly black and white, almost manga-size, with stories that resonate and linger after reading, something akin to a warm chocolate, perhaps? Like many comics in 2021, the funds raised to print the book were from a successful Kickstarter campaign. Again, like The Super Australians, there is some difficulty in reading some of the words/view some of the illustrations in the gutter, but it seems to be less of a problem with this volume, perhaps due to its more flexible binding.
Overall, it's the consistency in the storytelling and the beautiful artwork, that lifts this book higher than the other anthologies. I was contemplating highlighting the creative talent behind one of the stories or the artwork to one of the stories, but I was unable to do so. They were all so darn good. Unfortunately, I don't know where to direct you to allow you to pick up a copy if you have not already done so ... I'll add a link here when Sam and Sid let me know ...
One of Pricilla (Pi) Wu and Teloka Berry's stories appeared in the Cafe AU Lait volume. People who read this webpage know that I just love their work so much that I awarded their web comic, A Week in Warrigilla, the 2018 Comicoz Best Australian Original Comic. Well, what can I say? Today I am going to award their physical comic the best stand-alone comic of the year. Granted, if you have been following their story on the webpage, you'll have already read these stories. (And start here, if you have not done so.)
During the course of the year, the web comic was purpose-fit to appear as two stand-alone comics, released and made available to the readers of the web comic. It certainly hasn't diminished the joy of re-reading them. But, not content to simply reproduce the all-too human story and all the marvelous colours of the original artwork, the creators also supplied promotional 'brochures' in the form of two "Visitor's Guide to Warrigilla" to go with each book. It just created a joyous reading experience. It's wonderful to see the comic books preserving for all time the web comic (which, one hopes, stays for all time too).
Again, the gutter let the production down. I suppose a lot of my thinking comes from my feeling that a book needs to be able to be read and kept as near mint as possible. (Probably from my years of comic collecting?) I don't like to have to open a comic or book and damage the spine, because it then no longer looks new. Perhaps I am getting fussy in my old age. Nonetheless, I know I can read the original A Week in Warrigilla online, maintaining these comics in pristine condition...
Now, shortly, I shall come to The Crux of the Matter. Who shall I name the Best Original Australian Comic for the past twelve months? In recent years, I have deemed the Comicoz honour to be 'awarded' to web comics, interactive comics, even last year to a comic-article.
This year, I came really close to naming a collective, ComX Studio (here's a link). Priding itself on "supporting up and coming local comic book creators", web designer Shane Syddall (and partner Isaac George) have created a space where they feel they can "support all Australian comic creators in the Australian [comic] Community". This includes publishing material that allows creatives to control and own their own copyright. Nothing new here; Reverie Publications, run by Gary Dellar in Victoria has done this before. (Here's a link.) Shane seems intent on taking it one step further. He allows other creatives with other publishers the opportunity to sell their wares on the ComX webpage. Again, nothing new. Ownaindi do this too. (Link here.)
The difference is that Shane is keen on building a comics community that engages the readers, the fans, and the creatives in linking them all together. He's arranged regular Zoom meetings, with the emphasis on creativity, highlighting a different creative's creation at each meeting. At a time when people are feeling distant and not connected, Shane has actively sought to bring them together. Confession. Due to my working life, I work a lot of shift work, and that includes many afternoons when most 'normal' people are relaxing at home. I've not actually been able to make one of Shane's sessions.
But we have met over a coffee. We've had a decent conversation about publishing and comics. Shane has successfully run a couple of crowd-funding campaigns (which I supported), so the books he has published are out there (here's another link). They are not (yet) up to the standard where I am going to award any of them the Comicoz Best Original Australian Comic of the year. But our meeting reassured me that there remain passionate people in the medium, like Shane, who will carry on the 'tradition' of promoting the local comic scene long after I am gone...
Comics, in their most traditional sense, have been 'floppies'. From the early 1960s, Marvel comics in particular (under the masterful marketing of Stan Lee) learnt how to capitalise on readers' willingness to be engaged. Continuing subplots, then continuing stories, ensured a growing readership. It's rarely been done in this country's comics.
As a reader, I always felt gypped if I was unable to complete a storyline, due to the subsequent issue being unavailable (newsagent habits in days of old - in 1960s Australia - were inconsistent in having titles displayed regularly) or, in the case of Australian comics, having the following issue never appear, when the publisher stopped production. As a result, when I was a publisher, I always agonised over running a continuing storyline, for the same fear. I remain forever embarrassed that the second episode of Hero Australia (from 1982) never saw print, and from my Oi Oi Oi! days, that the seventh and final episode of Alisha Jade's Seven and, to a lesser degree, Andrez Bergin and Frantz Kantor's Magpie did not conclude. (The latter having more to do with Frantz moving on to other projects, rather than any publishing failing.)
So, it was great to see a continuing Australian comic story that completed its run of eight episodes. And carried off masterfully, both in script and artwork. The 2021 Comicoz Award for Best Australian Comic goes to The Riddle of the Grey Malkin, written by Glenn Lumsden and illustrated by Jason Paulos, with editing credited to Glenn Ford and published by Frew Publications.
Long-time readers of this blog will recall how much I have, in the past, mercilessly 'bagged' the publishers of Frew Publication's The Phantom for some (what I believed were and are) poor editorial decisions, and for an unwillingness to feature local Australian artists and writers. How much humble pie can I eat? This storyline by Glenn and Jason ran in The Phantom from Issues #1899 to #1903, then continuing from Issues #1905 to #1907. I don't think I have ever looked forward to seeing and purchasing a series of The Phantom! (Issue #1904 contained that infuriating practice of 'counting down' earlier issues of Frew's Phantom, and it remains an editorial decision that I continue to find unpalatable, irrespective of the sales. I won't go on, I'm here to praise, not pour scorn.)
Copies (for those who missed out) are still available through this link. I particularly liked Issue #1905 - how long has it been since we've had an issue of The Phantom featuring all-Australian artists? (I celebrated by buying four copies!) Dr Paul Mason's story/art was the main attraction for that issue. Indeed, the eight-issue run of Glenn and Jason's story was always as a back-up feature, with little on the magazine's cover even hinting at the wonderful story within, which I saw (see) as a travesty. I do hope that those with the power to decide consider releasing the eight parts as one volume one day, perhaps by using the back cover of Issue #1905 as the cover. This series run was my Australian comic highlight for 2021.
And what of the future of Australian comics? And what can I do to contribute? With COVID, and particularly the Omnicron variant rampant, marketing a comic is made more difficult. As a fan of the medium, I have seen little local product this year. The work is out there though. (A quick look at Dr Bruce Mutard's invitation to compile a list of works for this year's Comic Arts Award of Australia - here's the link - indicates quite clearly that people are still wanting to tell comic stories.) As I have written in an earlier blog, Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites are only temporary methods to use for marketing. Sure, word is that comic conventions are (and Life in general is) going to return to 'normal'.
My feeling is, however, that the traditional comic (the 'floppy') is on its way out. Marvel is looking to release their product via booksellers. More comic stories, in the graphic novel European tradition, are more likely to be published. Stories about super heroics are going to be niche products with limited appeal. Australian creatives need to move away from that direction if they want to succeed in the exciting new direction comics are going to be taking. For that reason, today I am going to announce here for the first time ...
The Comicoz-Wedd Mentored Australian Graphic Storytelling Project.
Montague Thomas Archibald (“Monty”) Wedd (1921-2012) was an Australian comic book artist and writer (and animator) who was passionate about Australians maintaining their cultural identity, particular through the comics medium where he loved to share aspects of our country’s history, both fictional (The Scorpion, Captain Justice) and non-fiction (Captain Cook, Ned Kelly, Bold Ben Hall, The Making of a Nation).
Comicoz is a comic-centric boutique publisher, specialising in publishing both new and reprinted Australian artists’ comic works. Although most titles have been published since 2010, the publishing house – run by comic aficionado Nat Karmichael – has been releasing comics since 1988 (John Dixon’s Air Hawk Magazine, Oi Oi Oi!). Comicoz’ books are now nationally distributed to Australian booksellers and Libraries by Novella Distribution.
The Wedd family welcome having Monty’s name associated with this publishing project, open to all Australian graphic storytellers. All details of this project will be released on 5th January (which was Monty’s birthday) 2022 by Nat Karmichael.
The idea behind the project is to select an unpublished Australian graphic novel by a local graphic storyteller. This is an ideal opportunity for an Australian graphic storyteller to realise their dream, by getting the necessary professional assistance in seeing their story published. The plan is to offer mentorship of the work by other Australian comic professionals, from the development stage right through to the final publishing and distribution of the completed book. The selection of the work chosen will be by current working Australian professionals in the comic book medium (an announcement of those selecting the work will be announced shortly) and will include an interview process.
What is being sought:
Australian graphic creatives willing to submit either a full script or a precis of a full script outlining a story idea that can translate into a commercially viable stand-alone 100-page graphic novel, that tells an unique tale about an aspect of Australian life.
Accompanying the above, six pages of art that will demonstrate that the graphic storyteller/s has/have an ability to artistically tell a sequential story related to the story idea proposed. (The project welcomes submissions from both artists and writers working in combination, or singular creatives who feel more comfortable writing and illustrating alone.)
Creative/s who has/have the temperament to see that the comic medium can be a marathon, and not a race quickly won.
What is being offered:
A date will be set to allow the creative/s time to work on a script and six pages of art based on the script.
Following which, a date will be set to select one project to be chosen by a panel of Australian comic professionals for future publication. Part of the selection process will include an interview, that may be conducted electronically or in a manner suitable for all parties.
A contract being signed by both parties to clearly enunciate the expectations and responsibilities of both parties. This may include a designated period of time to allow both parties time to complete their obligations to the other.
The ownership of copyright and all matter of intellectual property associated with the project will be owned by the creative/s. If more than one creative is involved in the project, there will be an expectation that the copyright is shared between all who work on the project (and that this is clearly documented prior to the contract being signed).
There will be up to twelve (12) hours free mentorship to the creative/s to assist in the developmental stage of the project to be taken within the first year. The payment to the professionals assisting in this mentorship for that year will be paid in full by Comicoz.
The one-time reprint rights to the completed project will be first assigned to Comicoz for a negotiated period, and aspects of the publishing will be overseen by the professional assisting the creative/s if requested.
Comicoz will publish the completed project and distributed nationally around Australia, with an initial minimum print-run of 1,000 copies.
The creative/s will not be expected to financially contribute to the project, and there will be no charge to the creative/s for professional advice offered to them by the comic professionals during the first year of the creative process to a maximum of twelve (12) hours.
Three copies of the same completed full script or three copies of a precis of a full script outlining a story idea that can translate into a commercially viable stand-alone 100-page graphic novel that tells an unique tale about an aspect of Australian life.
Three copies of six pages of art from the submitted script. Do not send original artwork.
Full name, postal address, phone, and email* contact details of all contributors related to the submitted project, with clear specifications of the division of labour within the project (that is, specifying who undertook the writing, the pencils, the inking, lettering, et cetera).
*An email address is not essential, but alternative means of being able to contact each individual creative will be required.
All material submitted must be each individual contributor’s original and not previously published work.
All contributors must own or hold the license to all necessary rights (including copyright, trademarks, intellectual property) of all materials within, and do not impinge on the copyright, trademarks, right of privacy, publicity or other intellectual property or other rights of any other person or entity.
Send all material clearly addressed to:
Comicoz-Wedd Storytelling Project
Post Office Box 187
MARGATE BEACH 4019
Material must arrive before last mail on Thursday, 30 June 2022.
Arrival of all material received by the deadline will be acknowledged by mail.
Material that arrives after that date will not be considered for this year’s Storytelling Project. However, given that the Comicoz-Wedd Mentored Australian Graphic Storytelling Project is (at time of writing) planned to extend annually beyond 2022, any material arriving after that date will be considered in the following year.
This year’s judging panel will include Dean (Itty Bitty Bunnies in Rainbow Pixie Candy Land) Rankine and Dr Bruce (The Sacrifice, The Silence) Mutard.
The short-list of story ideas being considered is planned to be announced on the weekend of the 2021 Comic Arts Awards of Australia (presently slated to be held in Perth, Western Australia from Saturday, 6 August 2022).
The final selection will be made following online interviews with all short-listed creatives at mutually suitable times.
The creative project selected will be announced at a time to be decided (at time of writing), although it is anticipated that the decision will be made before Thursday, 5 January 2023.
The creator/s of the selected project will be offered a contract, signed by both Nat Karmichael of Comicoz and the creative/s, with the aim of clearly enunciate the expectations and responsibilities of both parties to each other as detailed earlier in this document.
The contract will be written external of Comicoz, to ensure that there is an independent and transparent process in working relationship between both parties. At time of writing, Julie Ditrich, principal of Comics Mastermind (a professional development service for Australian comic creators), has offered to write the contract.
If you have any further enquiries about the Comicoz-Wedd Mentored Australian Graphic Storytelling Project, please contact me, Nat Karmichael, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or via the contact button on this website.
I am going to announce this on other mediums, but you have now read it here first!
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.
Since 2011, Nat has self-published over twelve comic-related books and was Publisher-Editor of
Oi Oi Oi! -- the last series of nationally-distributed comic books of original stories to appear on Australian newsstands. He is a member of the Australian Cartoonists Association and edited the Association's journal Inkspot for 14 issues from late 2015. For numerous years he has been the Lead Judge in the Ledger of Honour Awards for the Comic Arts Awards of Australia (formerly the Ledgers). These days Nat dreams of retiring from his occupation as a Clinical Nurse in the Psychiatric Emergency Centre in Queensland's largest public hospital, so that he can spend more time with his long-suffering wife and their six children and fourteen grandchildren. And perhaps publish some more comic-related books.
Comicoz acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay respects to elders, past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.
Australian Publications since 1976:
1 x Poster
19 x comics (one a co-production with Cyclone Comics in 1988/9, one a co-production with Cowtown Comics in 2022)
2 x Paperback books
10 x Hardcover books