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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.