I was asked at little notice – a couple of days prior – if I was interested in announcing the recipient of the Australian Cartoonists Association’s Stanley Award’s Comic Strip category. Of course, how could I say "no"?! However, I was bamboozled. What could I say? Inspiration arrived at 3 a.m. on the day of the ceremony!
Here’s what I said (for posterity):
“I’d like to relate to you all tonight a true story. You may think it’s funny, but it is a true story.
“There’s a cartoonist I knew who lived in Gympie. It was a time in my life where I was going through a little trouble in my relationship. He wanted to offer me some advice.
“This cartoonist is now in his third marriage." (Knowing that would get their attention, this caused some murmurs in the audience.)
“His name is Ken Dove. Look, he doesn’t get into the news in Inkspot often. And he doesn’t attend these annual dinners or award nights. But Ken is a member of the Australian Cartoonists Association. And he remains a member because he likes getting his copy of Inkspot.
“Ken Dove drew the political cartoon for The Gympie Times for many, many years. And Ken recently got married. Married a lovely girl called Barbie.”
(Some laughs from the audience.) “Yes, this is a true story.
“Ken’s an example how sometimes little people can give big advice. Ken’s advice to me: ‘Laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Go on a holiday’.”
“I’d like to think that comic strips in our newspapers are on holiday. Because a newspaper without comic strips is a newspaper that doesn’t take itself too seriously."
“And a country without comic strips is a country that takes itself too seriously."
“Australians need to laugh more. You people (our cartoonists) try to make us do just that. You’re the little people doing a big job. Thank you.” [End of Speech.]
The nominees for the Comic Strip category are:
And the recipient is … Gary Clark.
I'm typing this in the middle of assessing which Australian comic creatives will be judged the recipients of the Ledger of Honour Awards, to be announced later in 2024 at the Comic Arts Awards of Australia. My fellow judges and I are still in the process of making our decisions. It's more difficult each year seeking to find consensus in trying to get everyone on the judging panel to agree to, or at least be satisfied with, the selection of the eventual winners. Australia has/has had so many great comic creatives!
It's becoming equally as difficult in the selection of the annual Comicoz Award for the Best Australian Original Comic of the past twelve months. Especially in 2023. Given that I am the sole judge and jury, you'd think that this would be an easy task. It's not. The standard of Australian comics over the past twelve months appears to have improved considerably. Of course, I can't pretend I have read every comic published in Australia, or that this selection is anything other than subjective. The Award, for those who have not been here before, is a totally honourable one, and no financial reward is bestowed upon the recipient. No-one bribes me to ensure their work is selected, and no-one who has a book or comic published by myself can be chosen. If anything, it's an opportunity to allow people to agree or disagree with my selection, and talk about Australian comics for a change. (And isn't that a nice way to begin a conversation: "What Australian comics have you read and liked in the past twelve months?")
And why is the announcement made on January 5th? Partially because the timing of my yearly reflections (about life, and everything else) takes place soon after my birthday (on December 21st), partially because it's near the beginning of a new year, but mostly because the 5th of January is the birth-date of one of Australia's greatest comic book writers/illustrators: Monty Wedd. I first met Monty in 1988, and it's always seemed a nice way to remember a really nice gentleman, and to remember the medium that he was so passionate about. (Monty passed away in 2012, just over a year after I put this 'Award' in place.) Wow! Can you believe it? This is the thirteenth year I have made this announcement. Before we begin, let's recap and recall all of those who have been selected in the past ...
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
2021: The Riddle of the Grey Malkin, by Glenn Lumsden (writer), Jason Paulos (artist), Glenn Ford (editor); Frew Publications (publisher), running in Issues #1899-1903 and #1905-1907 of The Phantom comic
2022: Flock (Chapter 1) Created, written and illustrated by Paul Mason, Edited by Amanda Bacchi, Lettered and designed by Wolfgang Bylsma; published by Gestalt Publishing Pty Ltd.
I went to very few of the larger comic conventions (like Comicon or Supanova) this year. I did attend some of the smaller events (like Brisbane's Comicstreet and Adelaide's Papercuts Comic Festival). However, for the main, most of my discovery of new comics came through crowd-funded sites, and the promotion of them through social media (primarily Facebook). I have previously mentioned my concern that some of these methods of raising funds to publish Australian comics remain limited, and despite my finding many good quality productions this year by this means, I'm still not convinced this is the best way forward for the local medium. I have already expressed the reasons for my reservations, so I need not repeat myself here. Nonetheless, I feel somewhat of a hypocrite, given this was the very same method I employed to finance the two publishing projects I worked on in 2023. I am planning on exploring a different funding model in 2024 (not Patreon), and I should be able to gauge its level of success (or otherwise) in about twelve months' time.
Anyway, onward! What do I think were the best Australian comics of 2023?
One trend that seems to have exploded in recent years that I do not like, is the local picture books. You know the type. They abound in large quantities in K-Mart stores, and are obviously cheap to reproduce, and most of them seem to be written by Ahn Do! There seem to be a variety of stories, illustrated by various Australian artists and cartoonists, few of whom are keeping their copyright on the finished product (my major gripe with them). You know the ones I mean, right? Unfortunately, they are popular with the targeted audience (who call them "Chapter Books"), so I imagine they will be around for some time to come.
Dean Rankine wrote and illustrated one this year (and, good for him, he retained his copyright too): Death Metal Emo Elves. I published a book by Dillon Naylor along a similar theme called Rock n Roll Fairies (which you can purchase here). However, the two books are totally different and it was those differences that makes me feel that Dillon's was the superior product. Both books have age-appropriate stories that the younger set (and people like me) will like. While Dillon's book was a hardcover and in glorious colour, Dean's book was illustrated in black and white. For mine, it had a rushed feel to it. I've seen and liked some of Dean's works from the past, but this left me disappointed. Overall, though, it was a fun read, and a level above other books of the same type, and so I include it here in this list. I understand a second volume is soon due for release, indicating firstly, that the publishing venture was a success, and secondly, that I have absolutely no idea when it comes to what the market wants. Copies can be found here.
It's a sad year when one doesn't run into a comic book illustrated by Sydney-based Thomas Campi. Towards the end of the year, I discovered that Thomas had, indeed, illustrated a book in 2023: A Swallow in Winter: A Christmas Miracle. It's not really a comic, so I perhaps shouldn't include it here. But the story, by Timothee De Fombelle, was captivating. And Thomas' illustrations? His warmth of colour has me interested every time: I just can't get enough of his work! For those who want to see more of Thomas' works, he has reassured me that he has a new bandes dessinées slated for publication in 2024. For those wishing to seek out a copy of A Swallow in Winter, I found a copy here. Those looking for a higher-quality true-life story, you can't do better than checking out this one illustrated by Thomas (and written by Julian Voloj). It's my website, so why can't I plug a former Gold Ledger winner?!
I was a little late in reading this comic published by Roger Stitson in 2022, but I am going to mention it, because it was one of the highlights of my comic-reading year in 2023. Time Vault is a quick and easy read, but I found myself lingering on all the pages. What makes this comic so great is the black and white illustrations by Dave Dye. If you are just starting out as a comic book artist (or creator), you can do no better than to pick up a copy of this comic book here. Then, study the artwork on the pages without reading the story: the sequential storytelling is sublime. Dave Dye illustrates a story so well. Roger Stitson does the writing credits for this wonderful black and white comic, but it's Dave's show all the way here. This is his finest work yet. Highly recommended.
Another book that is well illustrated (and published in 2023) is "Love is Greater Than Burnout" written and illustrated by Timothy Delaney. To be technical, this is a zine, rather than a comic, but nonetheless it's the best zine I read in 2023. I may have sang its praises before (I picked up a copy at the Comicstreet Comic Festival in Brisbane earlier in the year), but I am going to sing its praises again. There are only 24 pages in this zine, but it left me with a lovely warm glow after reading it. The book talks about addressing burnout, something that many comic creatives fall victim to, and the topic is discussed from an emotionally strong position. Perhaps that wasn't what Timothy initially had planned? The whole zine comes across with a warmth lacking in many comics these days, and I really wish I could tell you where to obtain a copy. The artist, Timothy Robert Delaney, is on Facebook, so I have messaged him asking him to share information on where you, dear reader, can obtain your copy...because you really ought to have this in your collection. *Timothy has just recently suggested you try contacting him via Instagram to obtain your copy.
Moving from zines, let's go back to comics! Here are three that were crowd-funded in the past twelve months.
Firstly, Word Smith. The fourth installment in this series saw publication early last year. (I seemed to have misplaced my copy, so I have had to share the cover image of the second installment, published earlier.) Stephen Kok is the author, and an enthusiastic creator who's prepared to explore different story-types (from cats, to fantasy). All of Stephen's books are paperbacks, full-colour, and regular comic book size. They are always well-illustrated, and can be found in many school libraries and good bookstores (making me extremely jealous). Stephen markets his books very well, and he should be justifiably proud of the quality of his output. I don't know much about artist P R Dedelis. But I'd like to! It's P.R.'s work that elevates the series, in my opinion. It would be nice to have some biographical information in the books. I'm not sure who owns the copyright to the material. (I'm assuming Stephen, although I hope he shares it with his creatives.) There is a website here, but it's a few months out of date -- I know how difficult it is to maintain one, so I'll overlook that anomaly!
Courier: The Adventures of Geraldine Barker, Volume 1 is created, written, and drawn by Angie Spice. I knew nothing about Angie (Angela Strickland) or her creation prior to backing this collection of earlier comics. I'm a little irritated by new publishers that don't allow enough space in the gutter (I know I have mentioned this before, but I'll express my beef here again). I just hate having to open a book right up to read it, damaging the spine, and making the book look, um, well-worn and read. I like to keep my books in pristine shape if possible. However, there was a nice feel to the book both in page and printing quality, that I was (eventually) able to overlook this flaw. The illustrations, the colours, and the page layouts -- and then the story itself -- eventually all won me over. This was my favourite comic volume of 2023 by a creative I knew nothing about previously. Set in the home front during World War II Tasmania, this was a comic so well off the mainstream that I was immediately hooked. Angie Spice's books can be obtained here.
Deathship Jenny was a comic that I was familiar with, having purchased the first issue when it came out ... um, a long time ago. The soft-cover, all-colour volume that came out in 2023 via Kickstarter was a collection of all four single issues, allowing you to read the story in one sitting. Written and illustrated by Rob O'Connor, this is a fabulous all-round production. Well, except once again, the gutter. I won't go on. I see that Rob has made use of the fact that he was an Aurealis Award finalist by sprouting that on the back cover of the volume. He doesn't need to. People who like humour, people who like science fiction, these are smart people and they will pick up this comic and wonder why it didn't win the award. It's a classic. You must buy your own copy to read and savour (because you will!) and you can do so by heading over to here.
Sorab Sel Rio and his offsider, Don Ticchio (as Silver Fox Comics), and Darren Koziol (as Dark Oz) are local Aussie comic creatives who have been around for a long time. I'm talking over ten years. You'll always see them at Supanova selling their wares. They never put their work in for any Comic Art Awards of Australia. They don't get the kudos they ought to be entitled to. Perhaps they don't care to. They just keep on publishing comics. Aussie comics. Because they like to. Or this is how it seems. Sorab writes his stories. Darren writes his. They both employ other artists to illustrate their various tales. The works are grounded in the commercial. They don't seek to raise comics to high art. They both do outstanding works that deserve greater acclaim. They both put out works in the past year that are on my year's Best Of list (as illustrated above). You ought to do yourself a favour if you don't attend Supanova. Support their works. Silver Fox Comics are available here and Dark Oz comics are available here. Do it today. You'll be happier for having done so.
For the past twelve months, for a change, I have been able to read more comics and books than I usually do. I'm not sure why really. I'm hoping that I have more opportunity to do so in 2024, as I retire from my work career in March. While I am leaving the workforce, I'm not leaving the publishing of comics and comic books alone. Some will still be coming out. Probably a little more than Mrs. K would like, but that's not really going to stop me, I'll wager! I'm probably going to (try to) watch less of the news, because I find it all so sad and depressing. There are so few "good stories" that I feel I can live without knowing about the awful things going on in the world. In an attempt to try to understand some of what was going on in the Middle East, I purchased a couple of comic books. Joe Sacco, although born in Malta, spend his early youth (up to 12 years of age) in Australia, before his family moved to the US of A. Two of his books, Footnotes in Gaza and Palestine, were not published in 2023 (although Palestine is about to be re-published in 2024 by Fantagraphics). But Footnotes in Gaza was my 'favourite' overseas (i.e. non-Australian) book. It gave me more insight into the latest conflict between the Israli Government and the people of Palestine. Joe Sacco has describe his time in Gaza earlier this century, and doesn't seem to be "taking sides", as he questions the people of Gaza and their recollections and beliefs just as much as he seeks information into the reasons behind his visits. Inside the "comic book pages", we're exposed to the past horrors of repressive regimes and appreciate the far greater horrors being inflicted on the present-day Palestinian people. Essential reading for anyone seeking to learn about the issues behind the current conflict. A powerful book.
My Top Selections....
I've always expressed my liking of David Hodson's Anyhowtown (which made my list of favourite comics from 2022), and I was eagerly anticipating the second volume of the trilogy in 2023. It didn't happen. Which is okay; I was hardly disappointed to learn that David Bird has published another volume of David's works under his Paper Tableaux imprint. The only similarity between David's lauded aforementioned Anyhowtown and The Many Moods of Doctor Stupid is that it's a black and white comic. The comic was written by a "long time friend" Robert Sterling. The collaboration works well. The stories are not meant to be taken seriously. David (Bird) describes the book as "a fusion of absurd lunacy and dark weirdness" which I think sums the comic up nicely. The world these days needs more lunacy and weirdness like the good Doctor Stupid ... and David (Hodson) and Robert Stirling! I don't have a contact website for you to purchase a copy (although David Bird is on Facebook, so I shall ask him), but please - when and if you can - purchase a copy to encourage Paper Tableaux to publish more of David's comics and to allow me an opportunity and/or possibility of seeing the second volume of Anyhowtown see print...maybe next year?
The comic A Yuletide Flame arrived just before Christmas, and is set on the night before Christmas ... which was the day I read it! Whether that had an impact on my selection doesn't really matter now. Hayden Fryer's the writer/artist of this comic (and my apologies for the difficulty in reproducing a decent image of the cover, above). This comic was one that I supported on Kickstarter during 2023. I enjoyed Hayden's pacing of the story, and the artwork - especially on the fourteenth page - added to the enjoyment of the comic: it was a perfect synthesis of both elements leading to a wonderfully gentle, seasonal tale. Personally, I found no great surprise in the conclusion, but that did not take away my total enjoyment of this comic. Highly recommended. We don't see enough of Hayden's comic artistry, although I understand he plans on releasing a four-part mini-series in 2024, something I am already looking forward to reading. Copies of A Yuletide Flame are available from Hayden's Siberian Productions' website by clicking here.
I've only met Mel Stringer once. At a Supanova event, many years ago. However, disclosure: I have published one of her comic stories...in the second issue of Oi Oi Oi! I was most familiar with her work, when she had a weekly gig in one of the local weekly music street-press newspapers in Brisbane. (How long ago that now seems!) I sort of lost touch with her, although someone (perhaps Mel?) had told me that she had move to the USA after marrying. This volume, was published by Silver Sprocket, a San Fransisco business that since 2016 has specialised in the publishing of "radical indie comics, art and zines". Last year, the business took a punt and published Fart School by Mel, and it's one of my favourites for 2023. This 200-page, hard-cover book (a square 15.5cm x 15.5cm approximate size) details Mel's earlier life as she moved from Darwin to Brisbane to attend Art School. I'm not really certain why the book had to be called "Fart School" (perhaps seeking to draw attention to it for marketing purposes?), but the charm of the book is Mel's honesty in how she settled (and found difficulties in settling) into a new city. Brisbane-based comic fans will love how the story name checks certain places and a certain timeline, with references to some of the music of the day. (Ben Lee and Darren Hanlon, anyone?) I found the book's honesty, its rawness, and high production values all appealing...and one of the best comics of 2023. Here's where you can obtain your copy. Although, anyone who is quick: get in touch with me. If you're willing to pay the postage, I have a copy to give away. First in, best dressed.
...And the winner is...
The Comicoz Award for best original Australian comic of 2023 is one that made me realise why I love this medium. From the artwork, to the story, to the colouring, to the production values, to a comic that made me feel the passion of a long-time ago...
I don't normally like local comics that are "to be continued", as Australian comic history is sadly littered with examples of comic stories that are left unfinished (look no further than my own Oi Oi Oi! issue 8, where I published the penultimate episode of Alisha Jade's Seven). But here is one (Drum roll, drum roll)...
Adventure Illustrated, Number 2. This is advertised as an anthology, and published by Gary Chaloner's Cyclone Comics. Look, is there no better Australian comic character than Killeroo?! Created by Darren Close, this comic creation is incorporated into Gary's Cyclone Force 20-page comic story that leads this comic. The story rocks and rollicks at a fast-pace throughout, with some of the best comic writing and illustrating since ... um, Number 1. The Marvel Comics Group of the 1960s used to feature comic characters that used to interchange and feature in each others titles. Gary and Darren have gone a step further: here's some Australian comic characters from two different Australian publishing houses sharing the same comic story. Bliss, bliss, bliss! This totally takes me back to the age when I was just discovering comics in the early days of my reading comics (a really long time ago now)! The fact that the story is clearly "to be continued" doesn't diminish the work: it can be read as a complete whole. The artwork is world-class: just have a look at that cover! The internal pages are even better! Colour! Action! Adventure! There's nothing bad I can say about this comic. Here's where you can see some of Gary's output, and here's where you can purchase copies.
Gary has made no secret of the length of time between issue number one's appearance of Adventure Illustrated and the second. In this issue's editorial, he clearly and bravely states to his loyal readers the reason for the delay. I'm one! I'm not concerned how long it takes between issues, when the quality of the work is this high. Perhaps it may have had some baring on why the second feature in the comic, Tim McEwen and Michael Michalandos' Greener Pastures is going to appear in their own comic book in 2024. Although the Greener Pastures story in this comic is in black and white, and also 'to be continued' (!), it adds to the overall feel of Adventure Illustrated. Tim (the artist)'s style is totally different from Gary's, but he has a sequential style about his work that is so appealing. The third and final story, Red Kelso (again written and drawn by Gary Chaloner) rounds out the comic, and is just a bonus.
I'm happy to announce that the Comicoz Award for the best original Australian comic for 2023 is Gary Chaloner's Adventure Illustrated, Number Two! I dare anyone to have any dissenting viewpoint! But be my guest...!
**Side note. This article was posted a day late. We had some family illness that made the publishing of this post a day later than I had planned. I trust it has not diminished your reading pleasure...!
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