Saturday, May 31, 2008

Word Balloons 5, Jun 2007

“I have always considered DeeVee to be an Australian comic.”
An interview with Daren White.
Conducted by Philip Bentley, May 2007.

As the masthead quote implies there has, at times, been some queries expressed over the nationality of this comic started by two Brits and an Aussie in Brisbane, printed in Canada, distributed worldwide and featuring work by another Australian-based British expatriate Eddie Campbell.

In this interview co-editor Daren White makes his position clear along with detailing the book’s genesis and development. He then describes his own path as a part-time comic writer that has seen him work for DC and Dark Horse.

Begun in 1996, DeeVee published fourteen issues to a quarterly or bi-monthly schedule until 2000 and have brought out nominal annuals since. During the initial period they mainly used Brisbane-based creators, but since then have showcased work of what could be called the cream of Australian comic talent.

PB: One of the interesting things about you is, for someone who has played and continues to play a significant role in Australian comics, you were, in fact, born and raised in Britain.
DW: Correct. I was born in 1967. My family were from the East End of London, and as a baby we moved to a place called Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex.
PB: So how and when did you end up in Australia?
DW: My sister had married an Australian and was living in Brisbane. I had visited a couple of times, but had been frustrated with the flight time and costs involved, for what amounted to a visit for only a couple of weeks. Around August 1994 I was offered a move that would have eventually led to my becoming a partner in the firm of accountants where I worked. This, instead, convinced me that I was ready to move on. I had another friend who was in a similar position, so we came out here on a twelve month working holiday visa. I found accounting work immediately and so there was little interruption to normal life.
PB: How did you contact Brisbane fandom?
DW: On an earlier visit I had gone into [Brisbane comic shop] Comics Etc. looking for the Collected Alec by Eddie Campbell. I had left my copy at an ex-girlfriend’s and decided that buying a replacement was an easier option than asking for it back. [Laughs.] I knew Eddie lived in Brisbane so thought they might stock a copy. They didn’t, but the shop staff knew Eddie had copies and passed my details on to him. We got in contact and when he heard that I was from the Southend area, he invited me over for a drink. After I returned to England, we started an occasional correspondence. When I came out here to live I got back in contact and we began to meet for a drink on a regular basis. I enjoyed it in Brisbane, and had no intention of returning to England before the year was up. A few months later I met my future wife. I subsequently extended my visa for two years and was then granted permanent residency. We eventually married in 1997.
* * *
PB: What was the editorial stance with DeeVee ? What were you trying to achieve with it?
DW: Initially just to get as good a line up as possible, and to have a vehicle for the material that was coming out of Brisbane at the time. Eddie had been thinking of doing the How to Be an Artist graphic novel but needed an impetus to get it out. Because Bacchus was a monthly he tore through ideas at a rate of knots, so Marcus [co-editor Marcus Moore] and myself began to help him out with some stories. We worked out a deal whereby there was a trade off between the stories we did for Bacchus and his contributions to DeeVee. He impressed upon us that he would only let us run the strip if the quality of the rest of the book was of a sufficient standard. So that inspired us to lift our game. The criteria was whether the stuff was good enough to be seen. We did reject a lot of stuff, particularly once the issues started to rack up. I think one of the problems with Australian comics today is that there isn’t a critical enough editorial stance. There’s nothing wrong with the small-press ethic, I still contribute to mini-comics and enjoy doing so, but there is a difference between that and something that is going to go through Diamond and get world-wide distribution. With the early issues we probably still set out sights too low. Some of my own stuff, with hindsight, I wish we hadn’t run. It took us to around issue six or seven to get a consistently good line up.
PB: One of the most noticeable things for me was that DeeVee was an Australian comic that didn’t proclaim that on the cover.
DW: Yeah, that was deliberate. I think I’d already guessed that Australian sales would be a pretty small percentage of the overall figure. But clearly, when you read it, you would see it was an Australian comic. The editorial always spoke of local issues, and everyone involved thought of it as an Australian comic.
* * *
PB: How successful was it? I’m primarily thinking financially, but I’m also interested in your thoughts on it as a creative venture.
DW: Initially it did very well and we ended up with quite a bit of money in the bank. Starting around issue five or six sales began to drop a few hundred an issue. When we got to issue fourteen we were about down to the break even point. By that time all of our circumstances had changed. I was married and [co-editors] Marcus and Mick were both looking at doing so, so there were things like mortgages and kids beginning to enter the equation. Marcus was also beginning to lose interest. He let us know well in advance that fourteen was going to be his last issue. Doing a bimonthly magazine is essentially a young man’s sport. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to go to the ironically titled ‘annuals’. “Ironic” because we’ve never been able to keep to that schedule.
PB: With the annuals there is a different feel about them. It seems that you have actually gone out of your way to use specific creators, rather than utilising a stable of locals.
DW: That’s true. We decided that we’d only do one issue a year and make it bigger. I thought that there had been too many one and two page strips.
PB: Did you specify the sorts of stories you wanted?
DW: I couldn’t exactly spell it out, but I did ask for work that was thematically ‘mature’; that had resonance. Everybody really raised their game. 2001 is probably the happiest I have been with an issue, but I think Molotov is a better issue.

The rest of the interview can be found in Word Balloons 5.

My Life in Comics: Part IV- Inkspots: the early years 1975-1980.
by Philip Bentley

This is the fourth of a series of articles chronicling my path as a comics aficionado in Australia over the past forty years. These articles have been inspired partially by a sense of nostalgia, but also to record certain aspects of the local comics scene for posterity. These are firstly, the patterns of comic collecting in the 1960s and 1970s, a process that has been irrevocably changed by the arrival of comic stores; secondly, the beginnings of comic fandom in Melbourne and Australia; and lastly, my reflections on the establishment and running of two comic magazines and a shop (Inkspots, Fox Comics and Minotaur). Primarily these are my recollections alone and make no claims to be the authoritative view.

This time I move into my entry into comic writing and publishing by detailing the lengthy planning and publish-ing of the first issue of Inkspots – an anthology which ran for four issues 1980-84.

In previous instalments I have mentioned my friendship with Greg Gates and his interest in meeting fellow fans. Thus, by the mid-70s, Greg had contact with a diverse group of fans, many of whom would visit him from time to time, often of a weekend. Many of these were artists as Greg was one himself and enjoyed encouraging others in their endeavours.

In my own case, I was something of the odd man out as I was a writer rather than an artist. My interest in writing had come about thanks to my adolescent interest in science fiction and fantasy, combined with an English teacher, whom I had for the last three years at school, who encouraged self-expression. In no time I was churning out reams of Conanesque drivel, then graduated to science fiction and more general fantasy.

It was only a matter of time before Greg and I began a strip together, an ‘epic’ sword and sorcery piece which thankfully never saw completion. Instead, soon after we were working on some shorter post-apocalypse type tales and I was collaborating on a fantasy strip with another artist fan, Colin Paraskevas. Towards the end of 1975 we decided to publish these strips in a magazine. During the five years it took to bring it out we went through a number of names before, fairly late in the piece, settling on Inkspots. This name and, I fancy, the original notion to publish came from Colin, who was more imbued with ‘the vision thing’ and the get-up-and-go to achieve it than Greg or I at this time. The fact that the first issue took five years to produce was due, firstly, to having no idea what sort of commitment it took to draw a strip on a after-hours basis, secondly, that as we went along we met other artists with strips we wanted to include, but which needed to be begun, finished, or redrawn.

Inspiration came from a number of quarters but they were unified by the fact that none of them were local. Whilst we would have been vaguely aware of the situation regarding the indigenous comic industry – that one had flourished in the 1940s and 50s, but was done in by the introduction of television in 1956 and the removal of the wartime ban on the importation of America publications in 1958 – I don’t think we ever identified with being successors to it. There was definitely no intention of trying to kick-start the industry. Instead, our inspiration, both in terms of content and presentation, came from overseas, principally America, and I think we saw ourselves as being an off-shoot of that market.

In terms of content, we were inspired by a lot of what we considered to be the cutting edge work of the day throughout the various levels of comic publishing. Mainstream titles, such as Wein and Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, Starlin’s Warlock, and McGregor and Russell’s Killraven were influenetial, as were strips in the more fringe professional area such as those from Warren Publications. Underground comix would also have been of influence, but less the counter-culture tinged ones as those featuring ‘extreme violence’, such as the horror and science fiction titles Fantagor, Skull and Slow Death. However, the most influential publications when it came to format were the slickly produced, semi-professional zines that came out in the early 1970s with names such as Phase, Phantasmagoria and Infinity, and the ‘ground level’1 anthologies they inspired, like Star*Reach, Hot Stuf’ and Imagine.

These semi-professional and ground-level zines were of especial inspiration because their publishing philosophy appeared similar to ours and many of their contributors seemed to have a shared desire to push the envelope creatively. Put simply, we held that comics, aka graphic stories, could be “a legitimate art form in [their] own right”. To quote further from the editorial of Inkspots 1, we believed that their “boundaries [were] only as restricted as a person’s imagination”, that their “future [lay] with intelligently produced publications aimed at a mature audience”, and that “to be entertaining a story need not be escapist, [one] that stimulates, perplexes, enlightens or enriches could be [just as] entertaining if handled correctly”. However, I doubt that any other ground-level anthology of the time carried such a diverse range of styles and stories as our first issue, something that was both a strength and a weakness for us.

The rest of the article can be found in Word Balloons 5.

Also reviews of Character Sketches: Trauma & Joy “a work that rises above its pulp-based roots and demands to be assessed as ‘art’”, Owen: Driver for Hire by Troy Kealley “an action film on paper”, Michael Lombardi’s Lessons Learnt Through Space Travel “a fable of childhood amusingly written and delightfully drawn in an engaging cartoony style” and Wang and Aska’s Prometheus Pan “a modern day, Goth-tinged updating of the Prometheus legend”.