Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Word Balloons 13, October 2011


The ‘unlucky for some’ thirteenth issue of Word Balloons marks a partial change of tack for the magazine. Following the completion last issue of my recollections of ‘my life in comics’ this issue sees the unveiling of not one, but two replacements.

The first will be articles by myself and others. Some, as Dann Lennard’s here, will be of a nostalgic bent, others will deal with issues relevant to the form. The second replacement will be interviews of a more historical nature where I will track down past proponents of the field. My especial interest is with those creators who were active during the interregnum period of the 1960s & 70s, post the collapse of the local industry but before the rise of the more fan-based titles of the 1980s and 90s. It is an area largely overlooked and ripe for exploration.

Towards that end this issue’s historical interview is with Fysh Rutherford, the writer of the brief but legendary newspaper strip Iron Outlaw. These historical interviews are meant to complement those with contemporary creators, such as this issue’s conversation with Mandy Ord.

As a result of these changes I have decided to stick with the thirty-two page editions. I would much prefer to charge either five or ten dollars, and I don’t hear anyone pushing for a return to the black & white format. That said, in all likelihood I will be cutting back production to once a year (around April-May) to allow space to undertake other endeavours.

In news of a more personal vein, Greg Gates, who will be known to many readers, either personally or via my recollections, has recently announced that he will be moving to Adelaide for family reasons towards the end of the year.

Greg has made a significant contribution to the Australian comic scene in general and the Melbourne one in particular over the past forty years. Had it not been for Greg’s insatiable desire to meet and converse with other comic aficionados it’s fair to say that the course of comics in this city would have been quite different.

By introducing himself to those he saw buying comics, first in newsagencies and later at Space Age Books, Greg formed a network of friends that inevitably led to the creation of the comic anthology Inkspots and the Minotaur emporium. He has also been instrumental in perpetuating the monthly Melbourne comic meetings, which have been running continuously for over twenty years. As well he has been an informal mentor to a generation of artists, doling out praise and criticism in just the right measures to inspire these people forward.

Greg has also been a great supporter of this magazine, always ready to provide an illustration here and a cover there, sometimes at short notice.

So Greg’s cheery countenance will be missed around the Melbourne comic traps, but our loss is Adelaide’s gain.

“I like stories where people take that risk and reveal things.”
An interview with Mandy Ord.
Conducted by Philip Bentley, September 2011

From self-published mini-comics to square bound books from major publishers, and a slew of contributions to magazines of both a comic and literary bent, Mandy Ord has trodden a path that many would like to follow, but few have achieved.

Seeking to uncover how she has gained such apparent success, this interview follows her life from Sydney, to Canberra and then Melbourne, seeking to understand the forces driving her to wish to commit her life to paper.

Mandy gives insight on the creation of her one-eyed alter ego, explains how baring your soul can be empowering and describes some of the challenges of teaching the medium. Through it all Mandy’s passion for comics is self-evident.

PB: Over the course of the last ten years or so you have concentrated on autobiography. It really could be said that you have just done instalments of one strip, that of the One-Eyed Girl, for want of a better name. What is it that drew you to continue with autobiography rather than other genres.
MO: Well that had to do with working in a comic book store.
PB: Really?
MO: Yes, I worked at Impact Records for two years. [Canberra’s first comic store that branched out from merely carrying records. Ed.] I was in charge of ordering all the alternative titles from Fantagraphics etc. So I used to order a lot of different books for myself. That’s when I discovered the various artists out there doing autobiographical work; people like Mary Fleener, Julie Doucet, Seth, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Denis Kitchen etc. I also liked Charles Burns, even though he didn’t do autobio. But seeing all this work sort of confirmed that autobio was a legitimate way to tell stories. I like stories that are real. I know some may find them trivial, but you will find with any genre that it will appeal to some and not to others.

PB: Do you find it challenging to bare your soul?
MO: No. I have something of a confessional streak. I will be talking to someone and find myself revealing things even though I didn’t mean to. A voice in my head will be saying “Shut up”, but I just go ahead. [Laughs.] I like stories where people take that risk and reveal things. Often the sort of things people are reluctant to reveal are the things that others will best relate to. But within telling your own story there is a degree of control. I do try to be sure that I’m certain about what I’m putting in a story before I publish it. There’s a lot that I don’t tell. That would be the advantage of doing fiction – you can deal with various human conditions without mentioning names or referencing anyone. Although it’s not as easy as that. If I’m reading a book I will often wonder if any of the author’s friends have asked “Is that character based on me? [Laughs.] But I feel confident when I tell stories about my life, because they deal with events that I have experienced and processed.

PB: I was amused in the final strip in Sensitive Creatures [Allen & Unwin, 2011] you say that someone had suggested you should “put yourself out there more” as a creator, as of anyone who has produced comics in Australia I’m inclined to say that you have been the most widely published. So I’m just wondering what your strategy for being placed has been. Have you actively submitted work wherever you can?
MO: I actually don’t think I’m very good at actively seeking things out. I tend to have offers come to me. And there’s a ninety-nine per cent chance that I will say yes – unless it’s going to be a lot of work for little reward, not necessarily financial. But I really like appearing alongside other artists in anthologies. And working in anthologies with a single topic is good as it stretches you as a writer and artist. I tend not to go searching for things because whenever I do I seem to be rejected and I find that soul-destroying. It’s like I know I can do this thing, but someone else is sitting in judgement. I’d rather sit at home and do my own work. But it’s not like I’m dependent on comics as a means of support. I have a day job working in an organic greengrocer, and previous to that I have done lots of things.

PB: How do you approach creating a comic story?
MO: I generally write it first. I always work out where I’m going, and where the characters are going visually through the story, allowing for some tweaking as I go along. If it feels wrong and you ignore it, it’s not going to turn out right. The incentive for me is always the story. Forget about the drawings, forget about the panels, just think about the story. Even comics that are rendered in a style I normally wouldn’t be attracted to, if the story is fantastic I get sucked in regardless and put my aesthetic bias aside.

The rest of the interview can be found in Word Balloons 13.

“We were ‘being the change’ at this time.”
An interview with Fysh Rutherford.
Conducted by Philip Bentley, August 2011

For a brief period of time in the early 1970s Australia had its own superhero, in the form of the Ned Kelly-helmeted, golden boomerang-wielding Iron Outlaw.

A full page weekly newspaper strip, it ran for the year July 1970 to June 1971 initially in Melbourne’s Sunday Observer, then later in the nationally distributed Sunday Review. Although in part a super-hero spoof, Iron Outlaw was very much a part of the radical agenda of its day and gained in notoriety by sending up then political figures and societal attitudes.

Credited only to ‘Greg & Grae’ it was in fact drawn by Gregor McAlpine and written by Graeme ‘Fysh’ Rutherford, two friends who had met at uni and created the strip on a whim inspired by the ‘spirit of the times’.

In this interview Fysh explains the strip’s origins, its connection to the radical culture of the day, the reasons for its truncated run and why the two creators never produced any more strips.

PB: How did Iron Outlaw come about?
FR: Greg [MacAlpine] was a talented artist and I liked writing so at some point I suggested we should do something together. There must have been some trigger, I think he had some comics in his folio.
PB: What were you attempting to achieve with it? It presumably was tied in with the growth of radical culture at this time.
FR: It was, but it’s not like we had a well-thought through agenda. To begin with we were both pretty naïve, just interested in drinking and girls and the like. If you had asked us who the Prime Minister of Australia was I’m not sure we would have known. [Laughs.] But we were interested in some of the more creative events happening around the city like the Film Festival. Its director, Erwin Rado, was one of a number of [Continental] European immigrants after WWII that helped to break us from the shackles of our staid Anglo culture. But at the same time there was a growing Americanisation of the country. There was an increasing American content on TV and of course there was also the Vietnam War and conscription; the big raffle you didn’t want to win! Both Greg and I were in the draft, but our birthdays missed being picked. It was scary stuff. So there was naturally a big anti-American sentiment around. Our idea was that there were all these American superheroes so we would do an Australian one and parody the American influence, whilst propagating Australian humour and attitudes. At the same time we decided to stick it up local politicians, as there was a backlash against Liberals, such as [State Attorney-General Arthur] Rylah and [Premier Henry] Bolte.

FR: We came up with a hero who in real life was Gary Robinson, an accountant for Melvern Council, who after becoming concerned with the way the world was going encountered an aboriginal spirit at Glenrowan and is bequeathed superpowers, a Ned Kelly helmet and some golden boomerangs. Gary Robinson resembled and was broadly based on me. I worked at Malvern Council at the time and like him drove a FJ Holden.
FR: We produced some pages, made an appointment at The Age, went and showed our samples and they said “Hmm…gosh…well…this is interesting… Maybe you should go and see this new paper the Sunday Observer”.
[A creation of the libertarian millionaire Gordon Barton, the Sunday Observer, and it’s successor the Sunday Review (later Nation Review), ruffled the feathers of the staid Melbourne establishment of the time by giving a voice to the emerging radical urban left. Ed.] So we just showed up and they said “Okay, we’re looking for some comic strips.”

PB: What sort of editorial direction or interference was there?
FR: Very little. We answered to nobody and told no-one what we were doing. Greg would show up once a week with the strip and I think he picked up the cheque at the same time. But some of the things we depicted now make me cringe. Like the drawing of aboriginal trackers as bloodhounds on dog leashes.
PB: I do read that as satire i.e. you’re drawing the reader’s attention that that is how aboriginals are viewed by society at this time, rather than promoting the idea, but it is fairly edgy and I’m sure that there are those who would take offence at it. But I’m betting that there would have been fewer complaints to this than there would have been to say bare breasts. In one of the later strips there is an aside that “Dawn [Iron Outlaw’s girlfriend and partner Steel Sheila] is depicted nippleless in Victoria”.
FR: That was a joke on the state of affairs here, not direct interference.

PB: Did you deliberately keep a low profile due to worries that you’d be a target by those in power? The strip was just signed Greg & Grae.
FR: Not really, it was more our inability to handle fame. [In Ferritabillia, Richard Walsh’s annotated reprinting of the best of Nation Review, he calls Iron Outlaw one of the Sunday Observer’s most popular features. Ed.] But then again Greg once claimed that one time when he went to the studio he found a couple of ASIO agents going through it. And there were a couple of blokes in a car parked near where I living in St Kilda for a few weeks. So we were observed.

The rest of the interview can be found in Word Balloons 13.

My Life as a Comic Geek
Dann Lennard

Inspired by ye ed’s recollections of collecting comics in the 1960s and 70s Dann Lennard has committed his own story to posterity. Providing an interesting counterpoint to my own, Dann traces his steps around rural South Australia and Adelaide in the 1970s and 80s, then to Sydney in the 1990s.

Dann is a journalist for Australian Consolidated Press and has published the shrine to trash-culture Betty Paginated since 1992. This article originally appeared in Betty Paginated 30 in 2007.

If there’s anyone I have to thank for my lifelong love of comics, it’s my mum. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of grabbing the big plastic bag from Mum’s wardrobe, removing the musty, crumbling contents and poring over her beloved collection of Australian comics from the 1940s and 50s. I quickly fell in love with the artwork of Keith Chatto, especially his ‘good-girl art’ in the bush soap opera, Bunny Allen, a standout strip in Tex Morton’s Comic (Allied, 1947-50), and Lone Wolf (Atlas, 1949-56).

But my love for comics was influenced from many different directions. Growing up in rural Kalangadoo, South Australia, there were no shortage of Wizard Of Id, B.C., Peanuts and Tumbleweeds paperback collections in the house, courtesy of my older brothers. There were also their Cracked mags and tons of Phantom comics. Best of all, my older brothers had accumulated several 60s-era English annuals: hardback collections like Hurricane, Bronco Layne, Superman and Batman (containing reprints of the original American comics).

Soon, I was ordering weekly English comics from my local newsagency. My fave titles as a non-discerning reader in the early 70s were IPC’s horror-themed humour titles Shiver & Shake and Monster Fun (starring Frankie Stein), followed by the adventure-filled Valiant & Lion.

However, my comic-reading habits were to receive a massive shake-up one day in 1975 when my mum sent me down to the corner store to buy some milk. She also gave me twenty-five cents to buy a comic. Instead, it was a thirty cent comic that caught my eye: The Avengers 2, a black & white reprint published by Aussie company Newton Comics [see article in WB 6]. Despite the lack of colour, it had more pages, plus a pull-out colour poster… that seemed like value for money to me. So I ‘borrowed’ five cents of Mum’s change and bought the mag. Despite getting in a heap of trouble from my parents when I got home, it was worth the hassle as I pored over the cheap reprint, marvelling at Jack Kirby’s artwork (although I had no idea who he was at the time) and the fascinating tale of a team of superheroes bickering and fighting among themselves thanks to the cunning machinations of a creature called the Space Phantom. There was also a creepy back-up tale featuring Giant-Man and the Wasp versus Egghead’s android. I loved that comic. After that, I collected as many Newton titles as I could find, especially The Avengers.

When my family relocated to another country town, Peterborough, in 1977 I discovered two wonderful things – there were two newsagencies and a second-hand bookshop. From Homes Newsagency I picked up my first genuine Marvel comic. Distribution was utterly random but I scored a fair number of George Perez’s Avengers including the Kang/Immortus finale in 143-44.

But the coolest thing about Peterborough was the second-hand store run by Mrs White. It was located in the town’s defunct movie theatre and for a while there it seemed like every week it had a fresh stock of awesome comics for sale from the 60s and early 70s.

My attitude to collecting comics changed drastically in 1980 when I spied my first copy of The Uncanny X-Men. It was issue 138 – written by Chris Claremont, art by John Byrne and Terry Austin – and was the perfect issue to get into the title. Cyclops had quit the team after the tragic death of Phoenix the previous issue and this was a recap of not only his life but the X-Men from its beginnings. I was hooked.

1980 was also the year of another seminal event in my life while on a trip to Adelaide to visit my oldest brother Chris. One evening we went out for dinner in the city centre and afterwards he took me to a trippy second-hand bookshop called Third World in Hindley Street. For a naïve country boy, being inside a shop at…gasp…9.00pm was mind-blowing. After all, Peterborough’s shops closed at 5.30pm! The two-storey shop was overflowing with strange books and magazines (many appeared to have been there since the 60s) and its ceiling was covered with weird and wonderful posters.

In this magical place I bought Masters Of Comic Book Art by PR Garriock. This 1978 book featured art and bios by some of the world’s greatest artists and opened my eyes to the likes of Will Eisner, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Moebius, Richard Corben and Robert Crumb. It was a consciousness-expanding experience. Very quickly, I adopted Eisner, Wood and Corben as my three main comic book idols.

The rest of the article can be found in Word Balloons 13.

Plus reviews of The List and Uncle Silas.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Word Balloons 12, April 2011


Welcome to the long overdue twelfth issue of Word Balloons. Having concentrated mainly on creators in past issues I thought it was time that the spotlight was shone on another aspect of the scene namely publishers. After all they are responsible for taking raw material and turning it into a published entity. Even though professional comic publishers in this country are fairly thin on the ground I have sought out the three most prominent.

My original idea was to ask them all essentially the same questions in an endeavour to see where their similarities and differences lay. My assumption was that this would produce a number of fairly short responses (especially as two would be conducted by email), which would hopefully take up the same amount of space as one long interview. However I reckoned without their loquaciousness. So given circumstances had prevented me from producing an issue at the end of 2010 I decided that rather than holding over the conclusion of the Fox saga I would increase the page count to present a bumper issue. It is my intention to revert to the 24 page full colour format next time.

This issue also brings to a close the recollections of ‘my life in comics’. Given it seems as many people appear to buy the magazine for these as the interviews, I do wonder how sales will hold up in the future. For the moment, though, I intend to press on and will replace my recollections with a variety of articles broadly alternating nostalgia with a more critical analysis of the form, which tend to be the two hallmarks of the journal.

It should be noted that none of the three publishers interviewed are currently in a position to accept unsolicited submissions.

"My motivation in publishing is not just to make money.”
An interview with Erica Wagner.
Conducted by Philip Bentley, December 2010.

The Australian publisher Allen & Unwin was established as an independent entity in 1990, following the sale of its British parent George Allen & Unwin.

In 2007 Erica Wagner (pronounced Germanically like the composer), the publisher of their children’s and young adult books made the significant decision to publish Nicki Greenberg’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby .This has been followed by a number of other graphic novels and illustrated books including Greenberg’s adaptation of Hamlet (2010), two works by Bruce Mutard The Sacrifice (2008) and The Silence (2009), Shaun Tan’s Tales From Outer Suburbia (2008), Nathan Jurevicius’ Scarygirl (2009), and Five Wounds by Jonathan Walker & Dan Hallett (2010).

This interview endeavours to discover what led a mainstream publisher to what many might consider a fringe market, what they are trying to achieve in it, as well as canvassing the vexed issue of marketing comics in the modern world.

PB: Why did you decide to start publishing graphic novels and what interest had you had in the comic medium prior to this?
EW: Well it grew out of doing children’s books – working with illustrators who were wanting to develop their own stories. I guess I have always been attracted to work with a strong visual element. As a child I loved dark German fairy-tales and stories, Disney comics and Peanuts. I would also read comics that my older brother had. But my big awakening was reading Maus in the 1990s when I was still at Penguin (it was a Penguin book). The lynchpin to start doing the graphic novels, though, was probably [cartoonist] Andrew Weldon. He had approached me when I was at Penguin looking to have his editorial cartoons published. I loved them, but they didn’t come under the heading of children’s books and the perceived wisdom was that cartoon books didn’t sell unless you had a huge name already. So I suggested Andrew do some kids’ books. Andrew knew of my interest in graphic-oriented works and he would occasionally send artists my way to look at their work. One of these was Nicki Greenberg, who came with the first 100-odd pages of The Great Gatsby. And we all thought it was fantastic and I really wanted to publish it. But it took a long time to work out how we could do so. It was a big risk
PB: What criteria do you use in choosing works? Is it different for graphic novels than with other books you publish? EW: At one level it is, but it isn’t at a fundamental level. The basic reasons that make you take on a book are whether you have a gut feeling that it is good and that there’s a market for it. Then you’ve got to analyse whether there actually is a market or you just want there to be one. [Laughs.]
PB: Do you have a specific idea of the types of stories you’re after or is that being too proscriptive?
EW: It’s more of a gut reaction that I look for – you just feel it in your bones if the work moves and excites you, has integrity, is very well thought out and executed, and has that indefinable ‘x’ factor that is of the time and will attract readers.
PB: It must be more difficult to work out what is going to sell well in the graphic story market as you have fewer sales figures.
EW: That’s true. But we’re not trying to attract just the established comic audience, we’re trying to attract a book-loving audience.

The rest of the article can be found in Word Balloons 12.

“The nature of storytelling is truly gestalt.”
An interview with Wolfgang Bylsma.
Conducted by Philip Bentley, December 2010-January 2011.

Since its beginning in 2007 Perth-based, but internationally focussed Gestalt Publishing has produced a number of impressive looking works in a variety of formats. There have been the anthologies Character Sketches (2007) and Flinch (2009); graphic novels Vowels by Skye Ogden (2007), Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday (2008) by Alex Cox & Chris Bones and Justin Randall’s Changing Ways (2010); and ‘traditional’ comic magazines The Example (2009) by Tom Taylor & Colin Wilson and Taylor & Ogden’s Rombies (2010). They have also stepped in to publish the originally self-published Digested by Bobby N. (2008-)

Nowhere is its international perspective better illustrated than by its two principals – Perth-based Wolfgang Bylsma and the Tokyo via Melbourne and Perth located Ogden.

In this email interview Bylsma gives an insight into Gestalt’s origins and their publishing rationale.

PB: What is the story behind the establishment of Gestalt?
WB: Gestalt came about owing to an alignment of several elements. I used to teach media production at Murdoch University in Perth, but opted to leave that position in 2000 to take my own business in branding and web development more seriously. Admittedly, that became a smidgen laborious despite being quite successful. After a couple of years I came to realise that I was essentially just doing my work because it was, well, just work. Enter Skye Ogden, now Art Director with Gestalt. We worked together on [comics] projects for about eighteen months. During this period we managed to network and discover more Australian comic talent than we’d realised existed. We were disappointed that their work wasn’t more readily available and, after one of our production meetings, decided to do something about it. Investigating arts funding options led me to the Write In Your Face grant, established by the Australia Council to assist with exactly what we were trying to set up. So I applied, and a few months later we received the letter that made it all possible. The funding was only $5000, all of which was paid out to artists for the stories that were included in our first anthology, Character Sketches, but that was the crux of our approach; we wanted people to be paid for their work.
PB: What is Gestalt’s publishing ethos or mission statement?
WB: We started out with the clear mission to enable Australian creators to receive international distribution and exposure without having to take their intellectual property overseas, or being forced into ‘work-for-hire’ to create their careers. For the most part that remains true, although we have now expanded to work with international creators as well. Our underlying ethos, however, is to enable great storytelling.
PB: What market are you aiming at?
WB: We’re aiming at a somewhat discerning market who appreciate storytelling with substance, which may sound a little odd given that we’re publishing a comic about zombies in Ancient Rome, but at the heart of every story we choose to publish there is a poignancy or perspective that we feel holds a degree of gravitas.

The rest of the article can be found in Word Balloons 12.

“I want to back artists, not hire them to do a job.”
An interview with Baden Kirgan.
Conducted by Philip Bentley, December 2010-January 2011.

Begun as an offshoot of a successful printing business, Black House has initially concentrated on horror or gothic-tinged comics in the traditional pamphlet–style format, before recently branching out into graphic novels and pulp fiction in a wider range of styles. To Chris Sequeira, John Cornell & Dave Elsey’s revisioning of Sherlock Holmes in The Dark Detective and Jan Scherpenhuizen’s apocalyptic thriller The Twilight Age has been added Jason Paulos’ horror anthology Eeek!, a collected edition of an early Bruce Mutard strip A Mind of Love, the black humour of Matt Emery in the Guzumo Show and finally a line of zombie novellas After the World by a variety of authors.

In this email interview Black House proprietor Baden Kirgan explains what led a teenage sci-fi nut to publish comics once he ‘grew up’, the pitfalls of calling for submissions in the horror genre and why ballerinas should get a day job.

PB: What prompted you to found a comic company?
BK: The same reason anyone starts a company – to make money. I had been operating a successful commercial printing business for about eight years by then and I was a bit bored. I was also looking to the future and for printers a challenge we all face is that we are always waiting for the next job to come through the door. The most successful printers, however don’t wait, but generate their own work by creating content, such as magazines or newspapers. I wanted to find a way to do that myself. At the same time my interest in comics had really blossomed and one night I was at work running a press and reading a trade of The Walking Dead [Image, 2003- present]. It occurred to me that I could easily produce the physical book myself if I wanted to and so I set out to see if anyone was doing anything locally to the level I thought I could achieve.
PB: What is Black House’s publishing ethos or mission statement?
BK: When I started I remember telling Jason Paulos I wanted to be an Australian Vertigo. He was very kind in not laughing in my face, but that was the original idea – to print good quality, adult oriented darker material. Over time that changed a bit as a few realities hit. No company can really restrict itself to one genre and be commercially viable. You need to be open to a spread of genres and ideas. You also have to be careful not to dictate the art to the artist. I had several very good creators pitch stuff to me that they thought I would like or that fitted my vision of the company, but they mostly lacked passion or interest because they were trying to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear – and it showed. It was much more rewarding for me to ask them to give me an idea they liked regardless of whether they thought it would suit us
PB: What are your selection criteria when it comes to projects?
BK: From a material point of view, really, I just have to like the story. I have no one to please but myself and if the book is something that I actually want to read then I am interested. I am text focused so I tend to pay more attention to the idea and the quality of the writing at first. I don’t regard myself as a good judge of art so I do ask advice on that. But having said that, I know enough to be put off by non-professional standards and I have knocked back several projects with interesting stories because the artist hasn’t been up to it. Apart from those obvious points, who is behind the project is the main criterion. A professional attitude and proven record of getting work out the door is essential.

The rest of the article can be found in Word Balloons 12.

My Life in Comics Part X – Fox Comics, the later years 1989-92.

By Philip Bentley

This is the tenth and final of a series of articles chronicling my path as a comics aficionado in Australia over the past forty years. Primarily these are my recollections alone and make no claims to be the authoritative view.

After last chapter detailing what I felt to be the strengths of the magazine, this issue I look at the difficulties involved in its production. Starting from the move to magazine size in 1985, the saga is taken through to the last four issues co-produced with Fantagraphics Books. Reasons for the title’s cancellation are canvassed and the variety of short-lived titles, also under-taken with Fantagraphics, are detailed thereafter.

With our thirteenth issue (Oct. 1985) publisher David Vodicka decided it was time to up the ante by seeking greater overseas distribution. As I have previously explained, at this time there were fewer comics being published and more distributors carrying them than is the situation today, so achieving overseas distribution wasn’t that difficult. We simply sent a sample copy and many, but not all, agreed. Much to our surprise the issue was ordered in numbers far exceeding expectations – in the vicinity of 3,500 copies, a considerable amount for an indie publication. Whilst gratified by this turn of events, I think we greeted the news with caution given the prevailing conditions in the US comic scene at this time.

Like many collectables over the years various types of comics have come in and out of popularity, with various companies, titles, artists, characters and motifs all having their time in the sun. By the mid-80s the spotlight had turned to black and white indie books sparked by the success of the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles (TMNT), a spoof on the X-Men and other teen groups. When TMNT’s popularity took off back issues, which had been produced in modest numbers, became like gold. This frenzy spilled over into the rest of the indie market as dealers bought up any and every new work in the expectation that one of these would go stellar and sales of its back issues, at vastly inflated prices, would cover the cost of all of the other stockpiled titles.

But of course there was no guarantee that any of these books would gain massive popularity. So after a while dealers became tired of tying up money on obscure titles and in a version of ‘blame the victim’ there was a backlash against all indie comics. Fox Comics was unlucky enough to be caught in the middle of this reaction and whilst it would be churlish to lay all our woes at this door it still provided market conditions that were weighted against us. So from a high point of 3,500, orders steadily declined in direct opposition, in our minds, to the increase in quality in the book.

The situation in Australia was a bit different although very much of two speeds. Away from Melbourne there was virtually no way of reaching interested parties and the few copies that ended up in comic shops probably languished in some dark corner. In Melbourne, though, sales steadily grew. This was due partially to word of mouth, partially through being prominently displayed at Minotaur where there were a number of supportive staff. But most importantly it was due to promotion on independent radio programmes.

The rest of the article can be found in Word Balloons 12.

Plus reviews of Daren White & Eddie Campbell’s The Playwright, Gregory Mackay’s Francis Bear, It got big for no reason by Andrew Fulton, Guzumo Show by Matt Emery, & Yuck 1 & 4.