For those who came in late, the 5th January is the birthday of one of Australia's greatest comic book writer-artists, Monty Wedd. While Monty is no longer with us -- he would have been ninety-nine years 'old' today! -- it still seems a good way to remember him and his contribution to our local comic industry. I do this, each year on this date, by announcing a purely personal subjective "award" for what I consider the best Australian original comic book to have appeared in the preceding twelve months. There is no monetary reward for being named, and people are welcome to disagree. The selection is mine alone, and I do not accept bribes. My only qualification in making my selection, is that I do not consider any books or comics I may have published in the selection period. I have noticed that some publishers have made mention of the Award on their works that have been reprinted, and this is flattering. Because I do make a considered and serious selection. I have now been doing this annually for the past eight years (this is the ninth time I have made the 'award').
Previous winners (to save you having to trawl through my blog!):
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 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
I cannot pretend I have read every Australian comic-book or comic work published within the past twelve months. Some I only hear about, some I learn about when I announce I am making the annual selection (on my Facebook postings). For example, I saw Sorab Del Rio's Bazza the Bogan Barbarian at Brisbane's Supanova last November, and thought it looked colourful enough to pick up a copy -- only to be told the format I was seeking had sold out. Similarly, Dave Dye's artwork on Eureka (written by Hugh Dolan) is known to me, but I have not seen a copy to purchase yet. I have been living blissfully unaware of both Gregory Mackay's The Adventures of Anders and Pat Grant's The Grot #3 until Campbell Whyte and Owen Heitmann respectively pointed out the error of my ways. I have since ordered both books, although (sad to relate) neither are going to arrive in time to allow me to consider the merits of them for this year's award.
And so, here we go....
Best reprint of older material goes to "The Passions of Pussy Willow" published by Dark Mirror Publishing and Press. This Kickstarter-based project was set up by Garth Htimz with the sole purpose of sharing this comic book serial created by Kim Taverner in Sydney way back in 1972. It ran for over ten years and was intentionally designed for the international market. "Over the course of the strip's life, it evolved from being a simple, yet sexy, take on a traditional newspaper adventure strip, to at it's best, being a fabulously designed, well written and exquisitely rendered, graphic storytelling experience."
The material has been licenced from the series' original creator, and limited edtion copies are signed by Kim. The scans and subsequent printing quality are high, and the product is on great paper stock. It is hoped that there will be more issues planned in the series. This story, "Baron Priapus" originates from 1978, and the book carries a detailed history and chronology of the series. From a comics-history viewpoint, I really hope the book is popular enough to allow for the publication of future volumes. Reflecting the Australian comics of the era, the art is black and white and spans about 60 pages. Copies are still available from the publisher ($30 plus $13 postage and handling within Australia), with full details on their Facebook page. Please NOTE: this product contains adult themes. "Kam's pioneering work during the 1970s' produced these playful, risque adventure fantasies, in what was at the time, a first foray by an Australian comic strip creator, into what might be considered today, as adult, fringe or alternate comics."
I'm going to make a special mention this year about Darren Koziol. Darren (and his imprint DARK OZ) has been plugging away making comics for over ten years now. He doesn't win many (rather, any) awards and he won't be winning one from me this year, either. But he still plugs away, finding new markets to promote his work, getting his comic message out there. He has now abandoned his Decay comic book series, and is now concentrating on his Retro Sci-Fi Tales instead. They are, after all, more commercially appealing. The thing is... he keeps on plugging away. His latest venture was available as a Kickstarter late last year, and while it may be reprinting some of his older material, it came with some rather nifty Christmas cards. Have a look at his web-site (here) and, if you care to, show him some support by buying some of his comics. I rather liked this one, with the brilliant Michal Dutkiewicz cover -- Q: When does Michal ever do a second-rate work? A: Never! -- with some lovely coloured stories inside by Dave Dye, Ben Sullivan and more. 44 pages, full colour, $10 (plus postage).
Another comic I have not given plaudits to in the past, but that I shall do today, is Rose. Written and illustrated by Cameron Davis, Rose is a young girl who likes to eat. A lot. But she never puts on weight. Or, as Cameron says: "an all-ages comic about the world's hungriest redhead and the power of friendship". There are no deep and meaningfuls in this comic, whose artwork is similar in style to the Archie comics from the US. Cameron published his eleventh comic in this series in 2019 ("Rose and Dahlia"), which in itself is a cause to celebrate. The story is short (the comic is in full colour, $7 plus postage for 28 pages) and is an ideal entry for a somewhat younger reader. There are too few comics aimed at this demographic in this country, and this one really is fun. I've passed copies on to my sister Rose (or was it my daughter Rosie?!), knowing that they will in turn pass it on. And isn't that the way comics used to be? There's a wonderful website where you can order the latest issues, or a collection of the earlier issues (and a whole lot more too). Check it out here.
A few years ago now, on this Blog, I was critical of the long-time Sydney publisher Frew. They were the only Australian publisher (*ahem* apart from someone else who was publishing Oi Oi Oi! at the time) with Australian comics on the newsstands. I was critical of their decision to 'count-down' and reprint the earlier issues of The Phantom, as I felt it was a publishing opportunity lost. I'm now going to eat my words. Since Rene White and Glenn Ford have taken on the publishing role, I have actually bought a Phantom comic. If you had told me, when I made my comments, that I would one day have purchased a Phantom, I would have scoffed derisively at you! These days, there are covers illustrated by Australian artists (here's an example by Shane Foley) and internal stories written by local creatives are also being published. I am really enjoying Phantom by Gaslight, with episode ten recently being written by Glenn Lumsden and illustrated by Jason Paulos. Jason's work, at times, seems a little rushed but his page designs are good and the story moves at a good pace. It would have been nice to have the story run in successive issues, and one day I'll make a purchase if the whole story is released as a stand-alone graphic novel, but I don't want to sound too critical. Seeing Aussie artists like Glenn Lumsden, Paul Mason and Jeremy Macpherson in the only remaining local newsstand comic, sets my comic-heart a-beating! Here's a link to their official website.
Speaking of Paul as we were, now Dr Paul Mason, one of the highlights of my Australian comic-reading in 2019, was a project he illustrated for Gestalt Publishing. The Eldritch Kid: Bone War, telling the story of "monster hunters and guns-for-hire in a weird wild West, where every myth, monster and magic are real", is a rumbling, rollicking read! Written by Christian Read, coloured by Justin Randall and lettered by Wolfgang Bylsma, this is one of my top picks for the year. For me, it's Mason's artwork that bounds off the page: his sequential storytelling is superb, fully complimenting Read's script. Some might find the work "too cartoony", but for me it was the perfect feel for the characters. The book is in full glorious colour, runs for 108 pages and there is a soft cover available for $24.95 (and postage). (I must have obtained my copy from the Kickstarter earlier in the year: my copy is a hardcover. I looks really nice.) Copies can be ordered from the Gelstalt website (here's the link); and, while you are there, I do suggest you check out the other books available on the home page. I noticed, when visiting the website to write this piece, that they have a 'Relocation Sale' going on. I'm not sure exactly where they are going to, but why not take advantage of this comic-book generosity?
And now, we come to the final two. I was tossing around, right until the last minute, who I ought to bestow this year's 'Award' to. (I was even contemplating giving it to the Eldritch Kid, at one point.) Anyway, it was close. I decided to name "A Week in Warrigilla" as runner-up.
I believe I promised to write more details when I learnt a little more about the Sunshine Coast, Queensland-based creators, Teloka Berry and Pricilla 'Pi' Wu. But, as seems is my wont, I didn't get around to it. Still, further recognition was given to them when they were announced as the Silver Ledger recipients in 2019. In the past year, the series has continued the high quality artwork and storytelling. There is no way of telling who writes, who illustrates -- the end result is a seamless whole. I have not been able to read each episode as they have been uploaded throughout the year, but it hardly matters. For anyone who has never read the series, there is no problem. The web-experience allows new readers to read from the beginning, 'older' readers to catch up when they can. Over one thousand people subscribe to the series, and it has been viewed over one hundred thousand times! The dialogue fully informs the characterisation, the romance and the horror as they travel through the Australian landscapes. The beautiful artwork continues to impress. This is just stunning work. Here's a link to where you can start, if you want to see what I am talking and raving about. Soon you will be too!
DRUMROLL! DRUMROLL! DRUMROLL!!!
The recipient of the Comicoz Award for this year, the Best Australian Original Comic Book that I read in 2019 was...
Issue #1850 of Frew's The Phantom.
I understand it is so rare an opportunity to be able to write or draw The Phantom, as the character is so closely guarded by its copyright owner, King Features, Inc (a division of Hearst Holdings). Years ago, Frew's Jim Shepherd, the then-publisher, told me the difficulties he had in getting his story (the first written by an Australian) published.
So to be able to both write and draw the character is an extra-special opportunity. Melbourne-based, and prolific comic publisher, Matt Kyme (The Demon, That Bulletproof Kid, The Wrath of the Cursed) can now add that string to his impressive bow. Assisted by Roger Stitson (Editor) and Graeme Jackson ("Digital Special Effects"), this is a comic that can be read on so many different layers. First and foremost, it's a comic. A great and easy 28-page read. But the artwork harkens back to an earlier era: almost as if it were written and drawn in the mid-1930s, when the character first appeared. The style of the artwork is totally different to Ray Moore's work, but the use of space and the arrangement of the panels gives the impression of a series of daily comic strips all cobbled together to present a singular story ... just as Frew once published them in their heyday.
That Frew has extended this 'feeling' to include the same paper texture, the similarities to the covers of the 1960s (and earlier) editions, lends itself to a totally complete package. The yellow strip at the top of the cover (see above) was a device Frew used for many years, giving this new magazine an incredible nostalgic feel, despite the original story/art. (To prevent any casual readers becoming too confused, the strip clearly screams out "New Story!") The whole design continues throughout the book -- even the inside cover, with a similar introduction "for those who came in late" seems to be taken from a comic from the past.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I congratulate Matt, Roger, Graeme, and even Rene and Glenn: I have not enjoyed the nostalgic feel of a new comic as much as I did this one, for many, many years. I am pleased to announce The Phantom, Issue #1850 as being Comicoz' Best Australian Original Comic Book for 2019.
When I get the opportunity to visit Sydney, I always find I am filling myself with comic-related things to do, and not enough time to do everything. When attending the Ledgers Award in recent years, I have caught up with Richard Rae, an early 1980s Australian comic publisher and entrepreneur, and visited the Mitchell Library to view the original artworks of Emile Mercier (and other artists and cartoonists' works) that they hold.
In 2019, I went visiting and met up with Graeme Belbin and Bodine Amerikah. Graeme is the son of the famous Australian artist (and comic book illustrator, during the local Golden Age), Phil Belbin. I met Phil (1925-1993) before publishing my sixth issue of John Dixon's Air Hawk Magazine in the late 1980s, so it was a wonderful opportunity to talk to Graeme about his Dad's work and view some of his original artwork.
Original cartoon artwork for MAN Magazine, from the 1960s. Many of the cartoons found their way on the cover, although this was an internal page. When we were looking through Graeme's originals, we found an American cartoon with similar themes nearby. Indicating, if you will, that the original IDEA for the cartoon may not have been Phil's.
I've been in touch with Bodine Amerikah (born 1961) sporadically over the years on Facebook, so it was lovely to catch up with him after too long a time. Bo was the writer-artist of the Australian-distributed three-issue comic series (also from the late eighties-early nineties) Niteside and the Rock, as well as the madcap writer for Jason Paulos' Hairbutt the Hippo, when it appeared in Australian Mad Magazine. These days, Bo says his eyesight is fading, but he's in a great headspace, and I was honoured to be shown some of his (best and, to date, unpublished) original comic book work.
I have touched on my major dilemma these days: my age. I am acutely aware, perhaps more-so this year of my own mortality. More than ever, I realise that the books I want to publish on Australian comics are going to be limited, unless I can find a way to continually publish them without placing financial strain on my own personal finances. (I find most book sales are sporadic at best, so I have learnt to not be dependent on sales to funnel the funds into further publishing ventures. Perhaps that speaks of my deficiencies in marketing?) In recent years, I have utilised various crowd-funding sites -- Pozible and Kickstarter, the two I have used -- to at least cover the printing costs of all new publications. And, while this is an increasingly popular mode for comic creators to fund their comics projects, I am concerned that it is becoming saturated with too many similar projects. Crowd-funding sites also demand a lot of time expended on the promotion and 'selling' of the product. I have noted quite a few comic creators these days using the portal Patreon, and I began preparing my own Comicoz Patreon site over a year ago, but have taken it no further. (Why, I cannot really say. Obtaining a book distributor this year has certainly eased a lot of my stress in worrying that I was not getting my books into bookstores.)
My main worry these days, is that I have so many books I want to publish that I may simply run out of time! I have named some of the titles that I'd like to work on over the past few years, with some are in further stages of development than others. Here are some: a book on the one-hundred year history of Ginger Meggs' creators written by Lindsay Foyle, another Air Hawk (or -- more accurately -- a John Dixon) volume, and Gerald Carr's Brigette. (I understand Matt Emery has now abandoned plans to work on this, giving me the chance to start on it.) Volumes on Peter Player's Picture Magazine work and a collection of the complete Iron Outlaw are both limited without a secondary copyright holder agreeing to allow them to go ahead An Emile Mercier volume in conjunction with the National Cartoon Gallery (at Coffs Habour) is most likely in 2020. I've discussed with some people about an expanded work like From 'Sunbeams' detailing the internal pages of Australia's comic history, but this will be hampered by copyright clearances, so this will be many years away. Who else would I like to publish? Alex Gurney, Phil Belbin, the list goes on. What about Syd Nicholls? Syd Miller? Did you know the famous Australian author Alan Marshall once wrote a comic strip: why shouldn't that see print?
And what about new artists and cartoonists? Bruce Mutard has new work I believe deserves to see print. And Thomas Campi. When I left Adelaide, I had an idea (based on a manic mood on my part?) that it would be great to be able to publish one hundred Australian comic artists' works in one hundred stand-alone issues of a comic series. I thought about telling my mate Rob Feldman about it one day, and then got cold feet -- how could I honestly fund such a project? I am still waiting on Michal Dutkiewicz to finish updating his Verity Aloha stories.... Anyway, without further ago, there is a book I am going to soon start working on. Want a clue or four? Here you go....
This Blog written 4 January. More to come!
In 2017 and 2018, after Carlene and I lost two significant players in our lives (my Mother and her Sister respectively), we approached 2019 with what turned out to be misplaced optimism. This year, my sister's first husband passed away with an awful suddenness. (From a medical diagnosis on Boxing Day 2018, and dying less than a month later, it seemed to set the tone of the year.) My sister Flo (four years younger than I) and Carlene's Auntie both passed away most unexpectedly. Three deaths in one year.
These events, and with the current destruction of bushfires still ravaging the Australian landscape, make an 'announcement' of what I consider the "Best Australian Original Comic Book" for 2019 seems somewhat trivial and unimportant, and have continued to remind me more than ever of my own mortality. As a result, this year I have spent more time than usual reading comics that I have generally put off reading, to ensure that I continue to make the most of my time remaining. So, books that ordinarily would not be on my 'Reading List' have made it there. As two examples: the Lee-Ditko Amazing Spider-Man run, and Will Eisner's early The Spirit Archives (with help from Dr Kevin Patrick in the USA, who has kindly attempted to source volumes I am missing to ensure I can complete this 'task'). It's also been a motivating factor in seeking to have the room (actually, garage) I store my books, comics and music made a little tidier, although I'm sure Carlene would say she cannot see any progress being made there!
I've been to less 'bigger' comic-related shows this year. My time at Melbourne's Supanova, for example, was more to introduce my Granddaughter Charlotte into the event's joys, rather than with any set purpose to sell more books. And it was pleasing to see her picking up some comics along the way. The shows that I have enjoyed over the year were smaller affairs.... Comicstreet in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall, the Hidden Laneway Festival (again in Brisbane), Bendi-Con (in Bendigo, Victoria) and Adelaide's Papercuts Festival. If Melbourne's Indi-Con hadn't been held on my birthday, I may have even considered attending that too.
One thing that sticks in my mind as I attend out-of-state events, is that I know I won't be able to do it once I retire from work. The income I receive from book sales never seems to outweigh the costs of not only getting to events, but also supporting the local creators by purchasing comics that I find of personal interest, or the works that seem to have something to say. I am sure it is the same for the many creatives who travel the country seeking to get their comic in as many of the reading public's hands as possible. Apart from Adelaide, there seemed to be less Australian comics being published last year, and a general tiredness within the local industry. Or is that simply my own personal malaise that clouds my objective view of the medium and its local creative efforts over the year?
Of course, there were bright spots. There always are. My cup is always half-full (or fuller!), never half-empty. The Ledger Awards is always a highlight. Somehow the simplicity of the event, the way the evening flows in a relaxed and congenial atmosphere, is something I enjoy, even (dare I say it?) more than the Stanley and Rotary Awards. Or could it be that the audience is comic-centric, and that I feel these are 'my people'? That I have a role in the event (as Lead Judge in the Ledger of Honour categories) also ensures I may carry a bias. I'm talking generally here, not specifically the 2019 Award night, held again in Sydney.
As has been recorded elsewhere, a couple of my publications were short-listed for awards in 2019 (always a great honour), and I was overwhelmingly proud and happy (it's difficult to describe the exact emotion at the time) that one of my books, Julian Voloj and Thomas Campi's The Men Behind Superman, was the recipient of this year's Gold Ledger Award. It was also pleasing that my beloved Australian Cartoonists' Association was one of the sponsors of the event, and that there were many members of the Committee in attendance in the audience (Jules Faber, Cathy Wilcox, Ian McCall and Steve Panozzo).
The biggest personal publishing highlight, without question, was finally getting to see Graeme Cliffe's manuscript turned into a physical book. Can From 'Sunbeams' to Sunset -- let's use the shortened version here! -- be the final book that I publish? For a long period of time after publishing the book, I felt that I could never produce a book so important in the history of Australian comics, and I was a little lost. To be frank, I'm still feeling that way at the present time, although I have had some ideas of where I could go from here. (I might leave that for another Blog, another time....)
This blog entry written 1 and 2 January. More to come!
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