I was hoping to find a recent quotation from Tim McEwen to lead this blog, wherein he summarised the growing local Australian comic scene far more succinctly than I know I shall. But I can't seem to find it.
Essentially, Tim was saying (if I recall correctly) that the number of comics being produced in this country in this modern era, are greater in number and quality than those from the era that is referred to as the Golden (and Silver Age) of Australian comics. Perhaps we need a name for this era? The Platinum Age? (Nah.) New Dawn of Australian comics? (Following on from the first Australian comic, Sunbeams. Perhaps not. In twenty years it won't be seen "new". Never mind.) The point is, there is a greater diversity in comics, not only in subject matter, but in the demographics of those publishing (males and females, young and old), in geographical location, in the type of material being published (from zines to 'floppies' to hardcovers, from original material to reprints), from genres (superhero, slice of life, you name it), and even from physical to digital copies. There is such diversity in the medium, and that is such a healthy place to be.
The only thing we don't have (and I don't see that as a major problem anymore) is a national, commercial comic available to all Australians. Clearly, with lowered and limited print-runs, there are not too many people making a full-time living from the medium. If any. Trying to keep tabs on what comics are out there is nigh impossible. Even scanning the Long List of the 2018 Ledgers Award, I have only today noticed that there are many local Brisbane-based comic creatives who have not submitted their works. I'm not sure why this is so. The point is, given there is no overarching means of one hundred per cent knowing what has been released in 2018, there will be comics that I may not highlight, merely because I am not aware of their existence.
With the acceptance of digital downloads, too, there are difficulties in learning about comics that don't appear in a physical form. I come from the era of LPs, where records were sourced from Record Shops. I know that music is (for most Australians) digitally downloaded. Music is discovered differently than when I grew up. Comics have similarly changed. There are different means of discovering comics these days. Some I clearly will have missed. (Please offer feedback and let me know what you liked this year, where you discovered it, and why you liked it. Even if I cannot reply to everyone, I shall appreciate every response.)
As I have mentioned before, this 'Award' is arbitrary, it is purely a personal selection, and there are no financial benefits associated with 'winning' the Comicoz Award, so please don't sulk if you don't win or get big-headed if you do! It's all about discussions and feedback; designed to get some people to try to read and get into comics, or provoke others (who do read them) into perhaps exploring comics they may have missed. You may not like my selections, and that's okay too. It's all meant as a bit of fun!
There are a few zines and minis that I liked this year. I can't find my copy as I type these words, but one of the mini-comics I really enjoyed this year came from Petrie Press' Alisha Jade, who put out a mini explaining how to make your own mini-comic! In the middle of the project was a blank piece of paper, designed especially for the reader to have a go at making their own! What fun! Along a similar vein, was Behind the Scenes, a zine produced by George Rex (Georgina Chadderton) explaining how she makes her zines and the techniques she uses.
There were two zine artists whose work I really enjoyed in the year past. Elle Jenkins has a nice pleasing style, and I would like to see her put out a longer comic story. In the zine Flower of Rhodes, I was so transfixed by the black and white art of Mark Sheard, it was some days before I got around to reading his story!
Two zines really stood out, though. Robyn Tatlow-Lord's short story was high on emotional content and made my mind linger long after I had read her zine, Small Mortal Mammals. Just a beautiful read. I really loved it. But my pick of the zines for the year was by Rachel Ang: Happy Valley. At about forty pages, it may seem a bit long for a zine (even for a mini-comic), but that's how I am going to assess it. Rachel's subject matter isn't gentle, but she handles it in a manner that rewards a concentrated read. I was personally disappointed by the written text (it was difficult to read at times) but the subject matter and the internal artwork had me hooked. If there was ever a truer truism 'don't judge a book by it's cover' - this is it! Happy Valley was a well-worth read!
Two worthy comic series, and both anthologies, came to a halt in 2018.
Groovy Gravy has been a comic series that clearly hasn't taken itself seriously over its twenty-five year life span. It has been published erratically by Brisbane-based Brad Daniels, in the style of the underground comics of yesteryear. The latest and last comic (issue number 20), like all those before, is an acquired taste and won't be to everyone's liking. Through its lifetime, the anthology has covered a whole range of different art styles and stories. I've enjoyed it, because it isn't too serious. You can find the latest copy here. Brad has told me that he wants to work on some of his own projects now. I'm not sure I know what they are just yet, but it's something to look forward to....
Darren Koziol has been a lot more intense than Brad in promoting his comic. For reasons I am not clear about, he decided to round off his horror anthology Decay in 2018. The last issue was #24 and is available via his web-site here. Darren continues to publish, with his Science Fiction anthology Retro Sci-Fi Tales now up to issue #7. I'm not sure if the change was for commercial reasons (it must be easier to sell a science fiction format to a parent of an attendant child at events like Supanova, rather than some of the adult-only material seen within the pages of Decay). Not that I mind: it's good to know that he continues to publish and promote his works, and he certainly does try to get as many Australian artists and cartoonists within his pages as he can. Both series have been printed on high-quality paper stock and come highly recommended.
Recently, Darren has chosen to fund his printing costs (and no doubt increase his distribution base) by crowd-funding his comics. This has become almost a norm among many Australian comic creators (including myself) in recent years. Whether Pozible or Kickstarter or other platforms, it does allow creators an opportunity to market a little more widely that Facebook or the comic conventions....
One of my criteria in selecting this Comicoz 'Award' is to ensure that I do not name any book or comic I may have published. The main reason, is that I don't wish to show any bias in making both my selections or in the announcement of the 'winner'. It has become a little difficult this year to say whether by naming creative efforts that I have published previously contravenes that self-imposed edict, or whether I can allow them to stand on their own merits. So, I must say, it was lovely to see people whose work was once published (or were due to be published) in Oi Oi Oi! in print in 2018.
Reverie, published once again by Gary Dellar after an absence of too many years, featured a wonderful story that I had looked forward to printing in the 'next issue' of Oi Oi Oi!: A Toon Named Trash by Paul Harris. And Hah?! published by Dillon Naylor featured some of my favourites from both Oi Oi Oi! and Australia! - Preston Peace and Battlers Inc. In reading the comics, I sort of felt a pang of … of what I don't know how to describe … a bit like I felt when I gave away my daughter at her wedding many years ago. Seeing those works (and the year before, The Demon by Matt Kyme) was a little bittersweet. It was so nice to see what felt like old friends back in print.... Another joy (and another crowd-funded effort) was seeing a longer and more permanent form of Sneaky Goblins in print. Rene Pfitzner has a beautiful book that deserves wider reading. (I would have liked to have seen it in hardcover, but that is my aesthetics talking.)
Some of the other better Australian comics to have seen print during the year that I have discovered and liked: Toby and the Magic Pencil by Dillon Naylor (art) and Gary Dellar (words); Drongo by Natalie Michell Watson; and Eternal by Eric Zawadzki (art) and Ryan K Lindsay (words). I know Eric is not Australian, but like the Ledger Awards, I am going to include creative works that contain at least some involvement and aspect of an Australian creative within...
In year's past, you would not have seen one word of commendation about Frew Publications. I saw the potential for using this great Australian comic institution as being so wasted, with the many inane reprints of the American newspaper strip The Phantom. Glenn Ford and Rene White have not only injected new life into the character by printing brand-new stories, mostly sourced from Italian comics, but also by utilising some of the creative talents within the local Australian comic community to have new pages, new adventures, new covers. I actually look within the pages of the comic when I hit the newsagent: is there artwork by Jason Paulos in the story within? Is there a new Kid Phantom out, illustrated by Dr Paul Mason? And the covers! Jeremy Macpherson, Gary Chaloner and Glenn Lumsden all have produced some of the best Phantom covers ever in recent years. I still won't buy The Phantom if the stories are not locally drawn, but I won't easily dismiss it any more either.... Frew's Giant-Size Phantom line is brilliant. They are continuing to reprint some of the classic Australian comics from the past, including works by John Dixon and Paul Wheelahan. The fact they have allowed Graeme Cliffe to promote our book From 'Sunbeams', months out from our release date, has been immensely satisfying and appreciated...
More and more Australian comic publishers are either discovering or wanting to learn about our comic past. (Which is why Graeme's book is going to be so important.) Matt Emery's Pikitia Press has now completed the reprinting of the Australian newspaper strip Ballantyne, by Peter Foster (art) and James H. Kemsley (writer), and is well-worth supporting. I was initially a little dubious about rearranging the panels to allow it to read as a comic, and for that reason I don't see it as a true reprinting. However, given that artist Peter Foster has been actively involved in the re-formatting process and the colouring (it was a black and white Sunday newspaper strip initially), I can only approve. The stories are well-written for the format they first appeared in, and the artwork is top-notch. Ten volumes have now been released, and all ten should now be placed in your comic book libraries.
People who read some of my Facebook comments might be surprised for me to say that I feel Lindsay Arnold's three volumes of Emile Mercier's comic books are worthy of inclusion in this end-of-year summary of the best Australian comics. At the time, I was highly critical of the means of the selling of the three volumes: they were available on eBay, and the way they were marketed gave the impression that they were some of Emile's original old comics available for sale. (Here's a link. See what you think.) So, I (and another fellow bidder) attempted to out-bid each other in what I honestly thought were rare Mercier comics from the 1940s. I'm now embarrassed to disclose the amount I paid for them (I won the auction), but nothing compared to the disappointment I felt when the package arrived.
My disappointment stemmed from the fact that the prized 'win' was not a set of original comics, but rather a reprinting of three titles. I suppose I was further disappointed with the fact that Emile's son (and present copyright holder) had granted Lindsay the rights to reprint the books, when not six months earlier he had written an email to me suggesting he would be interested in working with me on a collaboration of his Dad's comics sometime in the future. (Further investigation proved that Lindsay had every right to reprint the works, as the Rev Michael had indeed granted him those rights. Yes, it was an ego thing, no question.) Once I removed my ego out of the way, and had voiced my displeasure publicly on Facebook, Lindsay did send me copies of Volumes Two and Three (in the hope of appeasing me?). At over 200 pages of Emile Mercier merriment per volume, the paperback books are a welcome addition to the canon of Necessary Australian Titles in Need of Reprint, but I still did not feel my outlay was compensated by what I received. (I'm unclear what Arnold is asking for the volumes these days, and I am also unsure how he is marketing them.) I thought the printing quality was similar to my first attempt at book printing (John Dixon's Air Hawk and the Flying Doctor, the first volume); pixilated images.
Don't get me wrong. There is no bad blood (from my perspective) towards Lindsay. He gave me some photographs of Monty Wedd that I used in my latest Bold Ben Hall book (a copy of which I have passed on to him). The books are a welcome addition, and I feel that because of their historical value, they were the best reprint books of Australian comics published in 2018; it's just that they could have been so much better.
There are so many Australian comics being released, and only a few of them have any continuing titles. However, there were three comic characters that saw further adventures written and drawn that excited me in the past year. I'd like to say one was Magpie by Frantz Kantor (art) and Andrez Bergen (writer), but *alas!* no, not in 2018. Maybe in 2019.... My favourite comics of characters re-appearing in 2018 were:
Bazza the Bogan Barbarian (in Carnivorous Cane Toads on a Cruise). (Here's a link.) Written with tongue planted firmly in his cheek, creator Sorab Del Rio has developed the quintessential Sydney bloke: dressed in a South Sydney Rabbitohs jersey and armed with a cricket bat, what adventure could this man not overcome? I admit I am smitten by Sorab's dialogue and story-writing: it moves at a cracking pace, and is a well-worth read for anyone who doesn't want to take their comics too seriously.
Killeroo is another character whose next episodes were scheduled to appear in the 'next' Oi Oi Oi! although it has been around the Australian comic scene since the mid-1990s. Creator Darren Close has been a previous winner of the Comicoz 'Award' (which does not exclude him from 'winning' a second time). His character ran in a new comic in 2018, Gangwars, Volume Five. Well worth supporting by clicking on this link here.
Creator Mark Hobby writes in more adult fare, and Job Dunn Fat Assassin is his greatest creation. A new volume seems to be coming out annually these days, and I always like to pick up a copy. While the stories are fun (and equal bits silly and subversive at times), there is sometimes a satirical streak running through them that appeals to me. But the biggest plus, is that Mark seems to attract the right artist for his character. This year's volume's highlight was the talented Dan Watts. For some reason, Dan's enthusiasm for the comic medium reminds me of another artist from many years ago - Jason Paulos. (That's meant as a compliment to both blokes.) I'm not sure where you can find copies of this year's comic (perhaps look up Mark Hobby on Facebook, which is where I first learnt he had a new issue out)….
Comics are a community when there are those in that community who give of themselves to bring something back to make it an even greater community. I'd like to acknowledge some from the past year.
John Hanna for some of the comics he has created that I did not discover until later in 2018. In that category I'd like to include Hien Pham and Matt Huynh who are doing interesting works that I want to see more of. Hien's It Will Be Hard, in particular seems to be advancing the possibilities of what comics can do and become, although I have not purchased it just yet.
Owen Heitmann, from Adelaide, has worked hard on his Amplified Press imprint (see link here) and has advanced the profile of quite a few South Australians, to the point where their works have appeared in this year's Ledger Long List.
Stephen Kok is always willing to share information he has to fellow creatives, without expecting anything in return. Stephen's publishing projects have all been crowd-funded, and he proves an adept marketing man. I must confess that I am not, so his advice - freely given - has often been sought and appreciated.
Stuart McMillen has spoken at the Australian Cartoonists' Association's annual conference for two years in a row now. I always find his talks inspirational and informative. He is one of the youngest members of the ACA, and, like Stephen, is another creative willing to share information and offer advice. While Stuart likes and supports Crowd-funding, he's also been strongly advocating for creatives to take charge of their own destiny, with support of sites like Patreon. (Here's a link.) I wish there was a similar site that was Australian-based, but until there is Stuart has given me future food for thought....
So …. who wins the Comicoz 'Award' for Best Original Australian Comic Book for 2018? I have made my mind up. If it were a book, I'd give it to this one. "Sorry Day" by Coral Vass and Dub Leffler was a brilliant read. But...it's not a comic. All of the comics and creatives listed above came into my consideration. I'm going to announce the 'winner' ….next posting.
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