THE AUSTRALIAN COMICS
BY JASON FRANKS
When was the last time you heard those two words in a sentence? There are some Australian writers, some Australian artists involved in the global comics biz, but when it comes to actual contentÖ well, Australia is the place Keith Giffen likes to destroy every time he comes onto a new book.
But there is an Australian comics scene. Reportedly there are more than twenty comic titles published in Australia--per head of population, that's more than the UK or the USA (per square kilometer of landmass is a different story). More than 100 creators contributed to a recent 250 page anthology, OPERATION FUNNYBONE [Read about it here
], which was compiled to raise funds for the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. There is definitely an Australian comics community--or rather, there are comics communities. Australia's big cities are few and geographically quite distant from each other, and its comics scene reflects this.
Perhaps the highest profile Australian comics professional right now
is Ben Templesmith
, artist on THIRTY DAYS OF NIGHT and FELL, creator of SINGULARITY SEVEN and WORMWOOD. Hailing from Perth in Western Australia--the most isolated capital city in the world--Templesmith got his start (a fill-in on HELLPSAWN) through an internet contact. The internet is of huge importance to Australian creators, Templesmith says. "Oz to the US is a gazillion times further than anyone in Europe ever has to travel to get to the States."
With his distinctive mixed-media style and prolific output, Templesmith has taken quite a different path in his career than most comics artists do; eschewing work-for-hire at Marvel and DC and rising to prominence through creator-owned work with smaller publishers. The majority of Templesmith's work has been in the horror genre, one of fastest-growing genres in the Western comics market where superhero stories constitute the mainstream.
Many of Australia's best known talents are from West Australia: Ashley Wood
(AUTOMATIC KAFKA, POPBOT, METAL GEAR), Steve Griffin (HAWAIIAN DICK), Shane McCarthy(BATMAN) and Gary Chaloner (JACKAROO, JOHN LAW) among many others. Templesmith ascribes this to the city's isolation: "What that means is you've got two million people here who are a bit more outward looking. We're an international city in many a sense, because we have to be. There's nothing bloody local." Despite the amount of talent operating out of Perth it seems that there is not really a local scene there. West Australian creators look to overseas markets because even Sydney and Melbourne are far away.
BATMAN scribe Shane McCarthy
is also from the Perth un-scene. McCarthy has been quietly making a name for himself
years, working on A List properties like STAR WARS and, well, BATMAN for the American market over the last two years.
McCarthy isn't the first Australian to work the Batbooks, either: South Australian team Glenn Lumsden and David De Vries did a stint n the early nineties, as well as a stint on Marvel's PHANTOM series. THE PHANTOM maintains a huge following in Australia, doing business almost exclusively from the news agents and with little crossover into the specialty shops serviced by the Direct Market. In the 1980's, Lumsden and DeVries founded Cyclone Comics with Gary Chaloner
where they produced a popular and edgy superteam book called SOUTHERN SQUADRON, as well as Chaloner's pulp vigilante JACKAROO. A masked crimefighter, Jackaroo would encounter everything from space aliens to the Sydney Swans football team in the course of his adventures. IDW recently published a JOHN LAW graphic novel by Chaloner, based on Will Eisner's police hero.
Melbourne is home to an eclectic group of comics creators working in a variety of idioms, from the kabukiyasha manga collective
to classic indie comics, newspaper strips, genre books and webcomics. Indie cartoonist Bruce Mutard had a story in the SPX anthology a few years ago. He has been producing work regularly since 1995 that should by all rights have made him a hero on the American indie scene if he was... well, in America. Doug Holgate
, whose story "Laika"
appeared in FLIGHT Vol. 2 http://www.flightcomics.com
, says that Sydney and Melbourne both have "pretty vibrant scenes. Both have a lot of good, committed cartoonists who bash their heads against the wall
of self publishing on a yearly basis in the name of the love of comics!" Holgate reaffirms the importance of the internet to Australian creators. "Definitely the web has offered an opportunity like no other, where people from around the world can see your work at the touch of a button. The majority of my initial work as a freelancer
came from my online presence, both locally and internationally."
Dillon Naylor has a fairly singular career as one of the most widely exposed and prolific Melbournian comics creators. Rather than having a Direct Market presence, Naylor's work now appears in newspapers and
magazines: DA'N'DILL--originally a comicbook--now runs as a strip in Sydney's Sun-Herald. His hugely-popular BATRISHA THE VAMPIRE GIRL
appears in K ZONE
, a children's magazine available in
newsagents and supermarkets all over Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Naylor also has a strip called ROCK'N'ROLL FAIRIES in TOTAL GIRL magazine.
KILLEROO, by Darren Close
, is perhaps the
best known locally-published comicbook of the past few years. Close has long been a key player in the Melbourne scene. "I used to be a lot more involved than I am currently. Nowadays I'm more of an interested
observer," he says. "Awhile back there was a lot of buzz and talk but not a lot of action on the publishing front. Now there seems to be a lot of people just quietly going about their business without much fanfare--it'd be nice for those to meet somewhere in the middle." There are many people self-publishing work, but with fewer cities (and thus fewer specialty stores) and bigger distances, distribution is a huge problem for Australian creators. "It's still a matter of visiting the physical stores yourself and all but begging."
Another problem faced by local creators is the infrequency of comic conventions where they can network amongst themselves and international publishers and put their wares on display for the
is the big show every
year, running in Sydney and Brisbane. Conventions in Melbourne are infrequent at best due to the cost of the available venues. They are rare in Adelaide and Perth, and non-existent in the smaller cities. Conventions are important for the local scene, Close says, because "they serve as a reason book out, gave creators motivation and a set deadline to work towards, which was good." Like conventions in the US, he observes, conventions in Australia have become more about video games, animation and pop culture media and less about comics.
Close is now presently signed on as inker for the Image comics series SULFUR. Writer Jason Rand (SMALL GODS) is another Australian with a creator-owned book at Image. Illustrator David Yardin
broke into the comics world at Image, illustrating WICKED and ARIA for Avalon Studios. He has since worked on WONDER WOMAN for DC, and STORM and BLACK PANTHER from Marvel.
Sydney's scene is just as diverse as Melbourne's. Phosphorescent Comics
is perhaps the big dog in Sydney. Publishing superhero stories like THE WATCH as well as fantasy works(WITCH KING) and horror (DUNWITCH, ELDRITCH KID), Phosphorescent books are now carried by Diamond and available internationally across the extent of the Direct Market.
PUT IMAGE 8.jpg HERE: 'THE WATCH by Stewart McKenny'
Like Melbourne, Sydney also has a manga collective, Hayase
, who meet every month to work on their craft.
Hayase member Artist Queenie Chan
is the creator of TOKYOPOP's THE DREAMING, perhaps one of the most international books on the shelves: a story set in mythical Australia published by an American publisher of Japanese comics.
Nominally based out of Sydney, writer/artist J. Marc Schmidt's
graphic novel EGG STORY was published by Slave Labor Graphics
in 2004. Schmidt, also a casual member of the Hayase group, says "a lot of comics readers and creators in Sydney have Asian backgrounds, and identify with Japanese/Korean/Chinese art styles more than other mainstream styles." Manga has had a presence in Australia for more than 15 years, but it has certainly grown in conjunction with the US market's recent boom. The relatively new presence of big American book retailers like Borders has also had a big hand in making manga available to Australians. "Manga is more interesting to readers young and old these days," Schmidt says. "The impression that superheroes, indie comics and even BD are a little too cliquey to new readers. Manga offers more bang for the buck, offers good stories, has a broad base of genres, is normally tightly written and drawn, and is damn cool because it's Japanese."
An inveterate traveler, Schmidt worked on EGG STORY while living in New Zealand and Korea. Travel is a big part of Australian life, and it has clearly had a big impact on Schmidt's work. "I think I would have eventually done it (created EGG STORY) had I stayed in Australia, but the desperation to do comics only came when I was away from home and able to think a bit more clearly." He adds, "I had been traveling and feeling generally rootless since 2000, and I think that contributed a lot to wanting to do comics."
Since the publication of EGG STORY, Schmidt has lived in Germany and Sydney. He will be relocating to Japan in July.
In the nineties a few independent books from Sydney or Melbourne creators did quite well: GREENER PASTURES by Michalandos and McEwan was distributed to the Direct Market; BUG AND STUMP by Sexton and Petropoulos and PLATINUM GRIT
by Trudy Cooper and Danny Murphy sold out print runs. PLATINUM GRIT, the only one of the three titles still around, is now published on the web only. For a while self-publishing proponent Eddie Campbell's operation
ran out of Campbell's home in Brisbane, but Eddie Campbell Comics has ceased operation and Campbell's newest book, FATE OF THE ARTIST, was produced by new American publisher First Second.
Although Australian comics creators do not, as a group, have a very large profile--either internationally or at home--Australia hosts a diverse and talented group of creators working in a variety of genres and idioms: the superhero mainstream, manga, horror, autobiography, surrealism, drama, comedy. Independence is the rule, rather than the exception, whether they are self-publishing their own work or working for a larger publisher, most Australian creators are working on their own properties. For all its isolation, Australia is a lot more diverse and sophisticated a place than many people realize. Australia today is multicultural, highly urban, hard working, and very well-traveled, and the output of its growing population of comics professionals reflects this.
The economic realities of the Western comics marketplace make it a tough place to do business, particularly from a place like Australia. "A lot of people leave comics through either being disgruntled about self publishing, life getting in the way or getting busy with careers. It's hard to keep the momentum in such a small scene when things fluctuate so much," says Doug Holgate. "I think at the end of the day it's just a matter of producing the best work you can as often as you can. Good things will naturally come from that. You make your own luck."
Australian creators keep on battling through with traditional persistence and self-deprecating good humor--and with increasing success, both at home and abroad.
Jason Franks grew up in Melbourne, Australia. Currently residing in Florida, Franks writes and self-publishes independent comics http://www.blackglasspress.com
. He and J. Marc Schmidt produce the
weekly webcomic Nannah Laveaux http://www.blackglasspress.com/NannahLaveaux
, which is set in