Sunday, August 17, 2008

A brief history of Australian Comics

Last year i was asked by someone to do some articles for a web-zine thing; i wroe half-a-dozen. They never saw the light of day.

A brief history of Australian Comics

When Captain Cook floated past the East Coast, the original Australians had already been creating comics for 40,000 years. Upon a beach, the early inhabitants smirked at Cook’s copy of Beano remarking “Kids stuff”, in turn they held up a copy of “Oz” which so incensed the captain he tried to take legal action. However court proceedings were suspended when Cook was speared in Hawaii for his suggestion that the natives weren’t mature enough to read Viz.

Some years later though, the First Fleet landed at Sydney Bay and an argument ensued over which was better - English comic writer, Neil Gaiman’s Dreamtime or the actual Dreamtime. The argument ended with a stalemate but the British, as they do, decided genocide was a good solution. The traditional owners of the country had to hide in caves which started Australia’s underground comic scene.

Relations improved when Ginger Meggs was created, here was a character everyone thought wasn’t that funny.

For some unknown reason, Winston Churchill hated Australian Comics and as part of the military machine in World War 1, he orchestrated the disaster at Gallipoli in an effort to kill Australia’s best comic creators. It was here that Australia’s favourite war time comic was created “Simpson and his Donkey” with its memorable catch phrase ‘Stop shooting at the wounded men Johnny Turk”, the comic was a hit between the wars (the Spanish Civil War and World War 2). During the Second World War, Churchill had Singapore abandoned, leaving Australia open to the Japanese. Without paper supplies from Asia, Australian Comics had to be rationed . Only one copy of “The Shadow” was printed in 1943 and handed around - household to housegold. It had no relation to the American pulp fiction hero “the Shadow”, the local version just walked around pointing out shadows - it never caught on, mainly because Warwick Chesterman of 12 Dulwich St, Surry Hills never past it on. Subsequently it was many years before people realised what a comic actually was – and the reason why Graham Kennedy was named “King of all comics” even though he didn’t have any staples or ads for sea monkeys.

Up until this time American Comics were not able to be imported into Australia, they could only be reprinted using crappy paper and without colour. This changed when Harold Holt became Prime Minister; he allowed DC and Marvel to directly import their comics onto the newsstand. People to this day question if he was drowned by the owners of Newton and Kg Murray.

American Comics were now available on newsstands, news agents in solidarity with the local publishers (who were slowly going out of business) would vandalise American Comics using black or blue textas, squiggling out the top left hand corners and writing 20P, 50P and than later 10c and 25c. Historians believe this was some sort of code but to who or for what was never realised – some say to Mother Russia, some say signals to CIA spies some say that the acid available at the Sunsbury Music Festival was really really good. In any event American Comics dominated newsstands for the next 30 years.

Until the mid 80s, when Australian Comics finally resurfaced onto newsstands and were so successful that they disappeared from those very same stands some 10 years later.

Next: The secret behind why Snake Tales is still published today.


Owen Heitmann said...

Nice one, I thought this was really funny. Were the other articles in a similar vein or did you run out of in-jokes?

Mark Selan said...

I wouldn't say there was a lot of in-jokes in the piece but i did run out of the funny.

The other articles were 'Why i like australian comic creators" "Comikaze 2007" and an intro peice about me, hip hop and local comics.