Today (5th January) would have been Australian comic book writer-artist Monty Wedd's one hundredth birthday. (He passed away in 2012.) Each year on this date, besides remembering him and his contribution to the local comic scene, I announce what I consider to be the best Australian original comic to have appeared in the preceding twelve months. This is the tenth year I have made this 'award' that carries no financial reward. The award is carefully considered and serious, and also totally subjective. (That is, feel free to disagree!) There are clear limitations on my selection, and this year has shown that to be the case. I usually obtain locally produced comics at comic conventions or get-togethers, and there have been too few of those this year (everyone knows why). As a result, most of the comics I have acquired this year have been from crowd-funding platforms (an increasingly popular method for Australian creatives to get their wares out there). I do not choose books or comics that I have published myself, but there's no problem there in 2020: apart from a small mini-comic I published just before Christmas (for the next copy of Inkspot), I published nothing in 2020. It was a year I spent successfully and quietly rearranging my music-comic room, and reading comics from my own collection for a change. (My favourite ongoing series remains Marvel's Daredevil, but I also delved into the past by reading and completing my collection of the volumes of The Spirit by Will Eisner (published by DC Comics). In fact, this year I have spent more time reading more overseas comics. And enjoying the experience. Visually, the collection of The Trigan Empire (Don Lawrence the artist) took me back to my eight-year-old self, and I have also enjoyed reading the newly-collected manic works of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid (all from Rebellion). Corto Maltese by Italian Hugo Pratt is, once again, published in English (by IDW): fabulous work. Anyway, what's caught my eye locally in 2020....?
Frew Publications continue to mine their rich history of characters being reprinted in their Giant-Size Phantom. The series' covers -- all fifteen of them so far -- have been lovingly illustrated by Glenn Lumsden, which I am sure has been the main reason for most picking up on the series. With assistance from some Australian comic fans (peek inside the credits of this issue to see who they are) publishers Rene White and Glenn Ford have been in touch with some of Australia's Golden Age publishers and artists' families to allow Frew to obtain permission to publish other works not originally owned by them. This has led to a series that delights me even more than their regularly-published Phantom comic.
Adding to the delight, is the fact that the publisher has been willing to allow some local creatives an opportunity to write and illustrate brand-new stories based on these characters, bringing them into the modern era. So, reading new stories by Jeremy Macpherson and Shane Foley has added to the charm of the series. And Glenn Lumsden! How great is it to see Glenn writing, lettering and illustrating again! Here's the first page of part three of his Phantom-Shadow team-up. The magazine should still be on sale in newsagents around the country.
Daniel Reed has seemed to be 'missing' from the local comic scene of late. Well-known for his nine-issue comic series The Crumpleton Experiments, and his brilliant Grubby Little Smudges of Filth (both Ledger Award recipients), I was an enthusiastic backer when I heard he was planning on running a Kickstarter campaign for his latest project. I was a little disappointed with his communication (sparse and thin) as a creative, although I suspect this might reflect his personality, which might be indicative of someone shy and reserved. (I don't know: I don't really know the guy, although we have once met.) The first issue of The Mycelium Complex arrived in due course and the final product did not disappoint. I found the colour palette a little dark, although that reflected the story being told. The tale was well-written and powered on at a cracking pace. It was well illustrated and had me interested throughout. I'm looking forward to the series continuing, and trust it's not too long until that takes place. I'm not sure how you can obtain a copy if you didn't join the Kickstarter project, but a start might be by emailing Daniel. Those details (and some illustrations from his books) are available by clicking this link.
Darren Close has won a Comicoz Award before (for Struggle in 2015). And I was going to feature the anthology he edited, designed and published earlier in 2020, Australia Burns as a finalist. But then, this came out. I have always felt that his character, Killeroo, has had much untapped potential. Couple the character with The 4Horsemen, created by artist Stuart Black, and you end up with over seventy coloured pages of comic book team-up heaven. At times the artwork looks a little rushed - I personally would have liked to have seen more artwork from Darren - but the colour hides some of the artistic shortfallings. Such a collaborative approach to characters from different publishers is difficult in the first place: the creatives are both striving to highlight their own characters, and as a reader you don't want to feel one is dominating the other in the storyline. All in all, it was a great read (the story was written and illustrated by Stuart), and I do hope it leads to more future team ups. For more Killeroo stories, click here. For more of the Stuart Black's work click here.
Rene Pfitzner's works are colourful and dynamic. There is nothing I don't like about them. When Rene announced he was launching a Kickstarter campaign, I didn't hesitate to commit my money to the project, Mythic Creature Trainer. I was not disappointed. Well, only in one regard: it was Issue One (of Four) and I must try to be patient waiting for the successive episodes. Or do I? Rene prints his comics after their run on his website, so I really don't have to wait. And neither should you. Click here immediately to be taken to his website, where you can download for free the book I paid money for. And look at the extra episodes too. This is fine quality writing and drawing that all ages will enjoy. Highly recommended.
The genesis for this Cyclone Force tale, I like to think, came about when I was 'encouraging' Gary Chaloner to contribute to my Oi Oi Oi! anthology, a few years ago now. The story in question was first published (in black and white) during my editorial tenue at Inkspot (in Issue #80, Summer 2018), when the Australian Cartoonists Association lauded Gary with the 1917 Jim Russell Award for 'significant contribution to Australian cartooning'. The colour in this edition's version (only recently released following a successful Kickstarter campaign) by Graeme Jackson is absolutely brilliant. The best comic-colouring work I have seen in a long time. The other stories in this anthology (Greener Pastures, written by Michael Michalandos with some of Tim McEwen's finest illustrating in years, and Red Kelso, written and illustrated by Gary) are of similar high quality. One of the finest anthologies of the year! The second issue is reportedly slated for a release this month (January), and should be one of the most highly-anticipated releases of the year. Click here for more Greener Pastures magic, and click here for more comics from Gary Chaloner.
So, who is going to be my tenth selection and join the list of previous winners? To save you having to trawl through older blogs, here are those who came before....
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
2019: The Phantom (Issue #1850) by Matt Kyme (writer/artist), Graeme Jackson ('digital special effects') and Roger Stitson (editor)
My selection for the Best Australian Original Comic for 2020 is a web comic. Australian Jason Chatfield was born in Australia in 1984. He won the Bill Mitchell Award for Best Young Australian Cartoonist in 2005 at the Australian Cartoonists Association's Stanley Awards. In 2007 he commenced writing and drawing the Australian comic strip Ginger Meggs. He subsequently went on to become President of the ACA (2010-2012) before moving to New York and becoming the President of the (American) National Cartoonists Society, a position he's held since 2019. With the Ginger Meggs comic strip due to celebrate its centenary in 2021, we're likely to hear/see a lot more of Jason Chatfield in the coming twelve months.
However, it's a non-Ginger Meggs cartoon that I have selected as this year's best. Living in New York, Jason experienced first-hand the ravages of the virus that has swept the world throughout 2020. His COVID-19 Diary is the winner of the 2020 Comicoz Award for Best Original Comic. Here's the link where you can read it in full.
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