Saturday, October 24, 2009

Word Balloons 10, October 2009


Welcome to the tenth issue of Word Balloons, which comes to you in glorious full colour. And what better person to feature as our interview subject this issue than Douglas Holgate, who has a deft hand with a paint brush, be it sable or electronic. Whether I persevere with the colour remains to be seen as the price was more than I had been led to believe, necessitating a rise in price to $6.00. Whilst this may not affect overall sales that dramatically $5 is certainly a lot easier when it comes to dealing through the mail or in person. Consequently, those who want to pay via sending bank notes in the post can still do so via a AU$5 note.

“Comics aren’t just for kids, but I think we can get a bit obsessed with that at times.”
An interview with Douglas Holgate.

Conducted by Philip Bentley, September 2009.

Douglas Holgate is a prime example of someone with a passion for the graphic story medium who has taken his craft and applied it to a variety of commissioned work, be it in toy designs, children’s book illustration or political cartooning.

In this interview we cover all of these topics as well as his youth in Sydney, the Australian comics scene of the late 1990s and early 00s, the ups and downs of small-press publishing and how to be a creative freelancer in the modern world.

PB: In 2003 you did Tales From Under Your Bed [TFUYB]. Was that a return to cartooning?
DH: Yeah, but in a way, I see it more as the start of my cartooning.
PB: Was it also a statement of intent from you? It’s just that as well as it being a step up in your art, it was an all-ages strip. And both that and a cartoony style were in the 70s and 80s seen by many as something of an anathema. It looked as if you were nailing your colours to the mast and saying this is what I believe in.
DH: That was part of it, but it was probably a culmination of a few things. I had started a new job at a company called Creata. They were a merchandising and promotions concern where I was basically designing toys to be given away in places like McDonalds. So I was working in cartooning every day turning either the McDonalds characters, or those they had acquired rights to use, like Pixar and Disney, into toys. So TFUYB was the first real comics work I produced during that period and the style just clicked into place. It felt more natural and came more easily. It was also the result of being in the Australian comics community for a few years and forming some opinions about where comics seemed to be heading and where I felt they should be heading. Genre-wise it was saying that there weren’t enough comics being made for kids any more. How are you going to get the next generation interested in reading and making comics if you aren’t providing them something to be introduced to when they’re young. And I still believe that. I agree that comics aren’t just for kids, and it’s great that they are maturing and are finally grabbing the spotlight as a critical form of literature, but I think we can get a bit obsessed with this whole notion of validation and lose sight of the forest for the trees. A kid doesn’t start with The Watchmen. We seem to go to extremes in comics. From either censoring ourselves to almost death in the 1950s to seeking more literate works today. There needs to be a balance.
PB: TFUYB was also nicely packaged.
DH: That was probably another statement. A somewhat belligerent belief that just because it’s self-published it doesn’t mean it should be at the expense of quality production. You can still produce something of quality that people would like to pick up without compromising your artistic integrity.

* * *

PB: At some point you moved to Melbourne. When was that and why?
DH: Around the beginning of 2003. I’d lived in Sydney for more years of my life than not and wanted a change. My folks had moved here about five years earlier. The job that I was in at Creata was a good career and well-paid, but it wasn’t satisfying. It had a lot of grunt work associated with it and it wasn’t what I wanted to do as an illustrator or cartoonist. The whole point of moving here was to start freelancing.
PB: How did you go about getting your name out there?
DH: Friend and Sydney illustrator [and some time comic artist] Craig Phillips [Flinch], alerted me that his agent in the States was looking for new talent. So I sent them some examples of my work, they liked them and picked me up. At the same time I hit the ground running and sent out portfolios to anyone and everyone I could think of, from book and magazine publishers, to animation and advertising studios. But for probably the first two years of my freelancing the majority of the work I got was off my own bat. The first six to twelve months I was working for companies doing very similar toy and merchandise design jobs to what I was doing in Sydney, with some spot illustration on the side. Only two publishers initially replied to my mail outs, Random House and Penguin, and really only with a form letter to say that they had put my portfolio on file and would get in touch at a later date if anything suitable came up. At the time I thought that probably meant that they had thrown it in the bin, but that’s not true – they actually had put it on file. [Laughs.] So to all aspiring illustrators and cartoonists out there: don’t lose heart. About eighteen months later I got a call out of the blue from Random House offering me the illustrator’s job on the Horror High books. Those were my first commercially published books. And things have grown and grown since then.

The rest of the interview can be found in Word Balloons 10.


My Life in Comics Part VIII– Fox Comics, the early years 1984-86.
by Philip Bentley

This chapter deals with the small press beginnings of Fox Comics, a magazine that was the brainchild of David Vodicka, but which I played a hand in directing. In the course of its run from 1984-91 it provided an outlet for many Australian comic creators, such as Dillon Naylor, Greg Gates and Neale Blanden. As well, it had a decided international flavour publishing works from New Zealand’s Dylan Horrocks and the cream of the 1980s British small press scene such as Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin and Ed Pinsent.

In Chapters 4 and 5 (WB 5 & 7) I related the at times tortuous path of producing the Australian comic anthology Inkspots in the early 1980s. Whilst not without its twists and turns the saga of Fox Comics was far less angst ridden and, frankly, became something of an antidote to the Inkspots experience for me, as well as a bulwark to the dramas that were occurring at Minotaur at the same time (see Chapter 7, WB 9).

The fourth and final issue of Inkspots was released in August 1984. Earlier that year, in April, the first issue of a modest, A5 photocopied anthology entitled Fox Comics had appeared with little fanfare. Its editor/publisher, David Vodicka, was then barely seventeen and still at school, yet he had had a presence in Australian comic fandom since his early teens through his involvement with a couple of similarly entitled fanzines: the Fox Comics Catalogue, a one-man zine and the Fox Comic Collector, produced with Lazarus and Mitchell Dobelsky.

By early 1984, after seven sporadic issues, the three editors of the Fox fanzine were running out of steam. As with most Australian comics, works about them in this country tend also to be labours of love as there is little interest from local fans and enthusiasm can only be sustained for so long. David Vodicka, however, saw that there was the possibility of spinning a comic magazine off from the fanzine.

* * *

To begin with Fox Comics utilised the ‘shelfstuf’ of a number of local cartoonists, augmented by Martin Trengove’s Roscoe the Dawg strip. Many other Inkspots alumni appeared in the Fox although for most it was more of a cameo performance. The only artists to really make the transition between the two magazines were Greg Gates and Darrel Merritt. Consequently the Fox’s most prolific contributors had not appeared in Inkspots. Three of the more notable of these from the early issues were Ian Eddy, The Big Simp and Paul Harris.

The third issue of the Fox marked the beginning of what would become one of the magazine’s defining aspects, the inclusion of artists from the then fomenting British small press scene such as Eddie Campbell, Phil Elliot and Ed Pinsent. Perhaps it seems strange that English artists should feature in an Australian magazine, but I don’t remember the matter being an issue. I can only assume that like me David was more interested in publishing comics in Australia, rather than Australian comics.

* * *

As time went by we began to receive unsolicited submissions from around the country and overseas. This meant that in nearly every issue we were, able to introduce new artists. Yet there is, to my eye, a consistency to the look of each issue that has something to do with a continuing coterie of contributors, as well as the fact that a lot of the strips had an ‘off the cuff’ style, predicated by our preference for shorter strips to showcase as many artists as possible. To call it a ‘Fox style’ would be to go too far given that each issue was an amalgam of submitted work, but there was still an agreeable element there.

The rest of the article can be found in Word Balloons 10.

Also reviews of Bruce Mutard’s The Silence “one of Australia’s leading creators working at the top of his game”, Tom Taylor & Colin Wilson’s The Example “a thought-provoking vignette with some inspired use of panel arrangements” and Star Wars: Invasion 1 & 2 “well-crafted entertainment”.