Monty Wedd's son Justin last year was honoured that I chose to announce what I considered to be the Best Australian Original Comic Book for the past year on his Dad's birthday. On January 5th.... 95 years ago, Monty Wedd, one of Australia's greatest comic book artists was born. So, as we reflect on one Australian Great, it seems a good day to honour a great piece of modern work. The Award is a personal one, and based on the Australian comic books I have read during the past twelve months. I cannot pretend I have read every book published in this country, and there may be many that you consider more worthy.
The idea is that the Award is just for fun (it's not meant to be too serious), and it is merely an honorary one. The recipient doesn't receive a Statuette or financial rewards; but I have no objection to my 'decision' generating discussion, because that is healthy for our medium. No Comicoz book can ever 'enter' the Award (sorry, Neil Matterson!), much as I would like to self-promote my works further. I do enough of that during the year, in any case, and I don't want to show any bias in making the 'announcement'.
I thought 2015 was an excellent year for Australian comics. More creators than ever are working in the medium, and the overall standard of both artwork and storytelling is improving. There are more opportunities to showcase comics, with an increasing number of shows appearing in regional Australia. More female creatives are willing to tell their stories, and that is adding to the rise in overall quality. While a 'comic' is still seen by the Australian public as a disposable commodity, there is -- and perhaps I am biased here! -- a growing understanding that writing and drawing comics might be a legitimate means of self-expression.
I found choosing this year's 'winner' difficult, given that there were many that were worthy. Two that I will mention (and, co-incidentally that I reviewed on this Blog during the year), and that nearly got the nod, were Decay #19 published by Darren Koziol and Fly the Colour Fantastica, an anthology compiled by Vikki Ong and Eri Kashima. Darren's anthology was a trip down memory lane, with many Australian independent comic characters from the past being written and drawn with all new stories by the original creators! Vikki and Eri's anthology was a high-quality affair: hardback, with 150 pages of beautiful colour, featuring many of the talented female creators presently working in the medium.
But the 2015 Comicoz Award for Best Australian Original Comic Book goes to ...... Drumroll, drumroll.......
STRUGGLE by Darren Close
Darren Close is the creator of Killeroo. Darren states that the question illustrated above is the most frequently-asked question (above) about his creation. That question, and the 24 hour Comic Challenge organised over the 2015 Queen’s Birthday long weekend, were the starting point for Struggle, the recipient of this year’s Comicoz Award.
I consider Killeroo to be not only the most undeveloped character in the local comic book scene in Australian, but also the one with the greatest potential. Rufus is a genetically altered kangaroo bounty hunter with anger issues, and first appeared in his own comic in 2002. The character is typical of many Australian comics from that era: they came out sporadically, most likely when the money allowed, and as a result, very few issues have been released over the years. (By my counting, there have been four other Killeroo comics since that first issue thirteen years ago, not counting his recent appearances in the Melbourne Comics Quarterly anthology.)
By Darren allowing his Killeroo character to be illustrated by a variety of artists over the years, this has assisted in the higher recognition factor of the character among artists and local comic Fans. But it has also lead to numerous artistic interpretations of Rufus over the years, and therefore to differing visions of the character. Part of the reason that Darren has had to do this, is because many of the artists who have initially worked on Darren's character have later gone on to alternative success in other ventures. I won't list them, because this is not about them, and you can do yourself a favour by discovering them yourself when you buy back issues of Darren's comics by clicking here!
Many Australian comics’ marketing begins on Facebook (or other social media), primarily perhaps because there is a ready-made audience who can 'Like' as they watch an artistic progression. Many do so without having to commit a cent. Darren reports that he initially intended the story to be a "light-hearted" romp of Darren arguing with his Killeroo character Rufus. By competing in the 24 hour comic challenge and posting his story page by page on Facebook, Darren was able to quickly gauge public opinion and obtained vital feedback of this work. In fact, I believe that Struggle typifies the genesis of many modern Australian comics and their marketing in 2015, and one of the reasons why I found it so compelling a read.
But another reason why I enjoyed the ‘read’ as it was slowly page by page, posted on Facebook earlier in the year, is because the story took on a life of its own. It began to take on a darker tone, when Darren decided to move the story to a different place and put it all on display for the public to view and witness. He told of the struggle of a creator (himself), with all the doubts, the self-loathing, and the personal space from within his psyche. Darren told a tale that so many writers and artists experience but few share, and he told it with such brutal candour and honesty. It was a powerful and positive read, and made me think when I had finished re-reading the physical copy: “That is why I read comics!”
I won’t spoil the outcome of Struggle in case you have not discovered it. Darren tells me he still has about 100 units available of the initial print run of 300 copies. This, the limited print run, is again typical of a modern Australian comic in 2015. But Struggle is much more than a typical comic. If you have not done so, I strongly urge you to purchase a copy from Darren. Read and immerse yourself in it....
Struggle is the Honorary Winner of the Comicoz Award for the Best Australian Original Comic of the past twelve months.
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 was 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