The Hot Seat

Tue, April 2nd, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
The Hot Seat, Columnist

Welcome to another edition of The Hot Seat, the column written by a different comics professional each and every week.

About a month ago OzComics.com owner and Webmaster Darren Close approached me about doing a Hot Seat article that took a look at the Australian comics scene. Now, I follow the American comics scene, know a good amount about what's going on in Europe, have an understanding and appreciation for comics coming from Japan, but when it comes to Australia I really know squat! And I figure that most of you are right there with me. So I was happy to let Darren sit in The Hot Seat and share his story with us. BTW, in case you haven't figured it out already, Darren's from Australia himself! Here's Darren

COMICS FROM THE LAND OF OZ

How many of you have read an Australian comic before?

No, I'm not talking about when the X-Men fought the Marauders in the Aussie outback, I'm talking about books like Hairbutt the Hippo, the Jackaroo, The Watch and Platinum Grit, among countless others.

No? Okay, grab a cup of coffee mate, and get ready to learn something.

The wartime bans on imported publications during the Second World War meant local publishers had a captive market, which they dominated throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. The local comics industry suffered two body blows in the 1950s - the arrival of television in Australia in 1956, followed by the resumption of imported, full-colour American comics. Local titles could not compete with either of these and most local publishers had left the field by the early 1960s.

[The Jackaroo]Australian comics have undergone sporadic revivials since the early 1980s, probably peaking in the late 1980s/early 1990s with the Cyclone Comics imprint, which published The Jackaroo and The Southern Squadron, both of which were reprinted in the USA.

The mid 1990s saw an enormous glut of imported American product into the Newsagents, which pretty much strangled books like Platinum Grit, Bug & Stump and Pizza Man. The decrease in quality and rise in prices made it increasingly difficult for black & white Aussie comics to compete with full-color foil covered flashy titles.

However, the last few years have been quite prolific, with new creators and titles popping up left right and center. The low value of the Australian dollar (worth about 50 US cents currently) pushed the prices of American imports through the roof, and has made local product more accessible due to lower prices without sacrificing quality, both at home and abroad.

"The Australian industry is really beginning to flourish, with a whole heap of self-motivated enthusiasts out there writing, drawing, and producing their own comics" says Daniel Zachariou, founder of the recent Australian conventions Supanova and Comicfest. "With the advent of the internet, and the breaking down of distance as an issue, the sharing and dissemination of these projects to an international community of fan sites online has really helped"

Australian comics has grown and developed some of the Mainstream Industry's great new talent, including Ashley Wood (Popbot), David Yardin (Aria: The Soul Market) and Ben Templesmith (Hellspawn). There are also several well-established creators such as Eddie Campbell (From Hell) and Colin Wilson (2000AD, upcoming Point Blank), who have broken down the barriers between countries with the use of Internet technology to communicate with editors, writers and publishers.

Ben Templesmith tells: "I do the art, whack it up onto a website for the US guys to view usually, or email them specific images sometimes. Then they get back to me usually by email. Phone calls are usually few and far between for me. I truly am a bastard child of the internet I guess."

However it's much more difficult for Australian writers to use the technology as effectively as artists can, purely from the instant feedback that the Internet as a visual medium provides.

Christian Read, writer of several Australian comics including "The Watch" as well as recent stories in Star Wars Tales #10 and #12, talks about the difficulties he's experienced in "getting the foot in the door" of US Publishers:

"Part of the problem with Australians breaking in is sheer physical distance. You don't have the opportunity to meet with editors, or other freelance professionals. You can't show them your work, or sit down and have a drink with them and do a verbal pitch. The chances are good if they need a freelancer they'll go with the one who lives six blocks down from their office, rather than 22 hours by plane. "

Australian comics feature a range of underground, gothic and manga books and zines, reflecting the wide acceptance of multiculturalism and the wide variety of themes and cultures they present. There is a large contingency of Australian manga artists, including Gary Lau, who produces Knight-Edge, an urban samurai/ninja action romance.

[Knight Edge]"The influence of manga and anime as far as style goes has certainly been most significant in both the Australian and American comic book industry recently" Gary tells. "My enthusiasm for the genre as an artist and publisher is that it's great that people including both the readers and creators are beginning to accept more and more foreign influences from Japan/China/Korea"

Aaron Burgess however, founder of the Comics Australia website, is more interested in the underground comics scene, appreciating the diversity that mini-comics in particular can represent:

"It's more underground and harder to mingle with than ever before. So much of today's current local scene seems to have ignored the heart of our industry. It is still very healthy, with regular releases, many often producing more titles than the more popular local "US format" Publishers. It's great, it's more diverse, and well worth understanding."

As detailed above, there's certainly more new Australian comics and mini-comics coming out now than ever. Let's take a look at some of them in more detail.

[Diabla]One of the most promising new books has been Diabla, published by Little Hammer Comics and created by Marcelo and Rachael Baez, and was recently voted as Australia's favourite new comic release of 2001 in the Inaugural OzComics awards. The great art and solid storytelling, coupled with superior production values really made an impact, and Issue 2, released in the next few months, is highly anticipated.

[The Panther]A recent surprise hit has been the reprinting of a Phantom-inspired series from the 1950s, The Panther, which has been distributed primarily by Australian Newsagents. This outlet was a popular avenue for comics in the past 20 years, but the new Panther series has been the first ongoing series that has managed to succeed on the rack alongside the masses of music and computer games magazines competing with the consumer dollar.

"The small size of the domestic market makes comics publishing difficult, and the structure of the newsstand distribution networks means final payment for sales can take up to six months, which plays havoc with your cashflow, to say the least!" Kevin Patrick tells, Publisher of the new Panther series.

"Nonetheless, the reaction from readers is extremely positive. We're distributed in New Zealand and have picked up a growing American audience, thanks to our reselling strategy with Florida-based AC Comics, who are selling The Panther via their online store. These are the sorts of strategies that hungry young Aussie comic creators are pursuing, taking their work to the world stage, because they simply have no other choice."

This sort of fresh thinking is the key to developing awareness of local product. Anticipation can be generated for a book well before its release by using many different mediums, particularly the web, to generate interest.

Killeroo: Book One


Cover art by Ben Templesmith
Click to enlarge.

My own upcoming publication, Killeroo: Book One, has done just that. By using message boards, email and online art initiatives as promotion, Killeroo has developed a small following all over the world without even releasing a story or issue yet. And by utilizing the entries from the art contests, I've generated content and further promotional material to market the book.

To help some of this new product reach an audience, a new national distribution scheme is under development right now. Tentatively called Ozone Distribution, this new scheme is designed to mimic the Previews system in some respects to make it easier for retailers to support the local product. However with the small amount of Comic Shops in Australia, alternate retail outlets are being scouted as potential comic-stockers. Bookstores, Record stores and even Skate & Surf shops could bring in new readers. Given the wide variety of themes and genres available, there should be something for everyone.

Without a unifying Distribution system in place, each creator has to promote their work individually, which can be a daunting and crushing experience, both for creators and retailers alike.

"It is not an easy industry to deal with" says George Vlastaras, founder of one of Australia's most successful comic stores, Kings Comics. "I have been involved in many aspects of the local comics industry, dealer, financial backer, publisher and promoter. The one thing I have learned is that "it's not easy. Success is dependent upon promoting oneself and their work, which is dependent, upon how much you of a promotional budget you have. ie. $ = success. Look at how many bad to mediocre titles from DC and Marvel sell tens-of-thousands. The quality of our creator's matches those found in America and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, distance is an issue and many are overlooked for someone who may be closer to the overseas publishers."

However, there are several success stories that have overcome the distance problems and broken into the American market by using Diamond and competing on the same playing field.

[The Watch]Phosphorescent Comics has become one of the main players in Australia, having released over 14 books in the last 2 years, and their flagship title "The Watch" is distributed through Previews and has received many favorable reviews. Interestingly, to avoid exorbitant shipping costs, The Watch is printed in America and shipped to Diamond directly, to avoid international freight which can be the difference between making or breaking a book.

Another Australian success story is DeeVee, an anthology title published since January 1997. It differs from most Australian comics in that it was specifically planned to appeal to an international audience. Each issue is edited and assembled in Brisbane, printed in Canada and distributed world wide, primarily, from Diamond in the US. Featuring creators from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the USA and Canada, 14 regular issues and 2 specials and 1 annual have been published to date. Regular contributors include Eddie Campbell, James Kochalka, Gary Chaloner and Bruce Mutard.

And then of course there's the aforementioned Eddie Campbell, whom I'm sure you're already familiar with. Bacchus, Alec, From Hell. 'nuff said.

There's a very healthy community of talented artists and writers over here in the land Down Under. With Australians from all fields now being recognized all over the world (our Eric Bana is gonna be the Incredible Hulk!), hopefully it won't be long before you hear a lot more from us Aussies.

So watch out, mate.

The upcoming comics convention, Supanova, will be held at the Sydney Showgrounds at Homebush in New South Wales (where the Olympics were held) on the 20th and 21st of April. International comic guests include David Mack, Frank Quitely and Mark Millar. If you're in Sydney in a few weeks, you can't miss this event, it's one of the events that fuel the Australian Comics Industry. For more Information check out www.supanova.com.au

For more information on Australian comics, there's a few great websites you should check out:

www.Comicsaustralia.com features the most up-to-date releases information, particularly with the underground comics.

www.mr-tang.com features a bi-monthly downloadable Aussie comics zine, Comics on my Mind, with interviews and reviews. Well worth a look.

www.tabula-rasa.info/AusComics/ Tabula Rasa features a wealth of information of Australian titles both past and present, the cover gallery alone is a great resource.

Lastly, if you want to hear the latest projects and interact with Australia's comics community, the forums at www.OzComics.com are hard to beat. More information on the Ozone Distribution scheme will be available over the next few months there as well.

Thanks for reading!

-- Darren Close

Darren Close created and has been running the OzComics.com website for over 2 years now, and will be publishing his debut comic Killeroo: Book One in the next few weeks (available online at Killeroo.com soon), featuring work from Ben Templesmith, Jon Sommariva, Evan Jacobson, Danny McGillick, Gary Chaloner, Jason Paulos and lots more. Darren is also the Creative Director of his own Web Development business, MediaKinetix, based in Melbourne, Victoria Australia. And proud of it.

Are you a comics professional interested in contributing to The Hot Seat? Drop Executive Producer Jonah Weiland an e-mail with your idea.

The Hot Seat will return next week with another edition.

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