For the generation of Australian men who had been scarred by the Great Depression of the 1930s, this was the only path towards secure employment and one that many insisted their sons pursue.
Arthur Mathers father, a furniture upholsterer raising his family in the inner Melbourne suburb of North Fitzroy, was no exception.
I finished school at Collingwood Technical School and my father, who saw the worst of the Depression, insisted I get a trade, he recalls.
Arthur, however, had other ideas. An imaginative child, he was always drawing and making up stories, when he wasnt poring over the popular newspaper comic strips of his childhood, such as Tim Tylers Luck, which was one of his favourites.
I was also a great fan of David Lows work, who was probably the most famous political cartoonist Australia turned out, says Arthur.
I told my dad I wanted to be a cartoonist, but he said there was no living to be made in being a cartoonist.
Arthur left school in 1940 and, at 15 years of age, seemingly followed his fathers wishes by becoming a printing apprentice at The Truth, a racy Melbourne tabloid newspaper that also did printing for other newspaper and magazine publishers - including the Australian Army Education Service's wartime magazine, SALT.
This didnt stop me from being a cartoonist, according to Arthur. While I was working as an apprentice, I used to draw political and joke cartoons for other Melbourne newspapers, as well as national magazines.
These freelance assignments included weekly cartoons for a long-defunct Melbourne newspaper, The Mid-day Times, before Arthur became a sporting cartoonist for his employer, The Truth newspaper.
It was while working as an apprentice that Arthur met the man who would eventually help launch him on a new career as a comic book artist: Jack Bellew.
The Atomic Age
Jack Bellew was a well-known Sydney journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Telegraph, the premier newspaper of Frank Packers Consolidated Press publishing empire.
Towards the end of World War Two, Bellew, who had now relocated to Melbourne, visited The Truth to arrange the printing for a new current affairs magazine he was to edit with John Sinclair, called Tomorrow The Outspoken Monthly.
It was just one of those extraordinarily lucky things, according to Arthur.
I was up in the composing room and the foreman of the composing room was talking to this chap about his magazine and he said Jack, Arthurs a cartoonist, so if you want some cartoons for your magazine, hell do them for you.
Arthur contributed cartoons to the short-lived Tomorrow magazine (March-December 1946) and thought no more about it, until Jack Bellew later called him at home.
He had an office in Queen Street and he said Id like you to come in weve got an idea you might be interested in, recalls Arthur.
After the demise of Tomorrow, Jack Bellew, together with his former Consolidated Press colleagues, George Warnecke and Clive Turnbull, had decided to form their own publishing company, Atlas Publications.
With the Commonwealth Governments wartime ban on imported periodicals (which included comic books) still in place, Bellew decided to launch a new comic book in what he saw as very dry market.
Wed like to do something about the atomic age, which is all the thing now Atom Man or Captain Atom, Bellew told Arthur. Would you like to go away and do some drawings?
We could get an artist in Sydney to do this, but it would cost us a fortune, Bellew continued, but youre just starting out, so if you really want to be a cartoonist, heres your big chance.
I didnt have to be told twice! says Arthur, who promptly went and drew up 3 or 4 sample pages featuring his first ever comic book superhero Captain Atom.
I took them into him and he said This is exactly what were looking for, according to Arthur.
Hed written the first [story] and gave me the script for me to draw, he says. Id just finished my apprenticeship, so I could get away and set myself up at my parents home.
I finished drawing [the first story] and said What do you think? and they say said thats just what they wanted.
Id say they were influenced by the popularity of Superman and Batman, adds Arthur.
Superman and Batman were, in fact, setting new sales records for locally published comic books. Sydneys K.G. Murray Publishing Company has acquired the Australian rights to reprint full-colour editions of Superman and other characters from Americas DC Comics line-up, which were soon selling around 150,000 copies per issue during 1947-48.
Captain Atom also became one of the first Australian-made comic books to be published in full-colour.
That was done with a colour overlay, says Arthur. I would draw it in black and white then, with a transparent sheet overlay, the colours would be indicated on that.
The first issue of Captain Atom, published in January 1948, was a roaring success, selling over 100,000 copies.
This is was what they [Bellew et. al.] hoped to use as a seed-bed for their publishing company, says Arthur, for the publishing of high quality magazines at least, thats where they were aiming.
Captain Atom continued to grow in popularity, spawning a line of merchandise (including a glow-in-the-dark Captain Atom ring), as well as a Captain Atom Fan Club, which had over 75,000 members at the peak of the characters popularity.
Unlike American comic books of the time, which were created by several artists working on different aspects of each story, Arthur Mather was solely responsible for each entire Captain Atom episode.
I used to write a synopsis and Id show it to Jack, says Arthur. Hed look at it and usually say Fine, then Id go away and write the rest just for myself dialogue, captions, action directions just in longhand.
I used to knock the script off in a day or two, he says, then Id pencil it in first.
I was penciling in the morning, then Id ink them in the afternoon then Id collapse!
You do get incredibly fast when you do something like that, says Arthur, but I was much younger then!
Despite the workload, Arthur enjoyed it all: I thought it was great to be actually doing it its what I wanted to do all my life and now I was.
The early issues of the Captain Atom comic book also featured back-up strips, including Jim Atlas and Dr. Peril of Iggo, by Sydney artist Stanley Pitt, who would later go on to create the influential science fiction comic strip, Silver Starr.
Michael Trueman contributed several supporting strips as well, including Terry Flynn, Big Paul, Two-Gun Barrel, Wildfire McCoy, Dick Hawke and Crackajack Daredevil.
I remember Stanley Pitt, although I don't recall him working for Atlas says Arthur. However, I do remember Michael Trueman, certainly he was a good artist, but Ive no idea whatever happened to him.
The first 16 issues of Captain Atom were published in colour, before it was converted to the standard black and white format typical of virtually all Australian comics of the era: Atlas Publications stopped producing Captain Atom in colour because it was too expensive for the price.
The character proved sufficiently popular to withstand the switch and continued to be a strong seller, racking up 63 issues before concluding some time in 1954.
Just as Captain Atom was switching to the black and white format, Atlas Publications was expanding
its comic book line throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. These included Australian comic book
reprints of American and British newspaper comic strips, including Garth, Jimpy, Johnny Hazard, Rusty Riley, Jane Arden and Red Ryder.
The overseas reprints were joined by new, locally created comic book series, including Keith Chattos Western cowboy, The Lone Wolf, a masked crime fighter called The Grey Domino and another Western gunslinger, The Ghost Rider, both of which were drawn by Terry Trowell.
Some of Atlas Publications reprint comics began with the original overseas artwork, before being passed on to local artists, who would create all-new stories featuring the existing characters.
One example of this curious trend was Brenda Starr, which started out reprinting the original newspaper strip installments by its American creator Dale Messick, before being passed on to Australian artists, such as Yaroslav (Larry) Horak.
"I regard Yaroslav as the finest comic strip talent to ever work in this country," says Mather. "Not in the fine art sense, but in the comic book style, with the dramatic use of black developed by the great Milton Canniff."
"To attest to Yaroslav's talent, he went to London and won international fame illustrating the James Bond newspaper strip for London's Daily Mail," he adds. "A wonderful strip and drawn with Yaroslav's exceptional talent."
Arthur Mather inherited two American comic strip characters in a similar fashion: Sgt. Pat of the Radio Patrol (image)
and Flynn of the FBI (image).
Sgt. Pat originally began as a newspaper comic strip called Radio Patrol, created by two employees of the Boston Daily Record, Eddie Sullivan (writer) and Charlie Schmidt (artist). Although well regarded by critics today, Radio Patrol never enjoyed the huge success of Chester Goulds Dick Tracy, the strip it was most frequently compared to, during its American newspaper run between 1933-1950.
Sgt. Pat did, however, enjoy a longer life under the Atlas Publications banner, running for 79 issues until the late 1950s.
The first 30-40 issues contained reprints of the original American newspaper strip, before the comic was initially passed on to Yaroslav Horak, followed by another local artist, Andrea Bresciani, before Arthur Mather took over the title.
Andrea Bresciani was another very good artist he was a very natural talent, according to Arthur. (Bresciani, who originally drew the Tony Falco comic book in his native Italy in 1948-49, immigrated to Australia in the 1950s, where he worked for several local publishers, before illustrating the acclaimed newspaper strip, Frontiers of Science, written by Bob Raymond, in the early 1960s.)
Flynn of the FBI may have been originally a newspaper strip, because I know I didnt create the character, recalls Arthur.
He remains unsure about why Atlas Publications decided to use local artists to illustrate overseas comic strips: A lot of that stuff at Atlas would have passed me by, because I was working from home at the time. The only time I ever went [to their offices] was to take stuff in.
I certainly wrote and drew Flynn of the FBI at the time, he says. I didnt have to follow any guidelines, so I did it as I saw fit.
The first three issues of Flynn of the FBI apparently contain reprints of the American version, before Mather took over the comic for the rest of its 66 issue run, which ended in the late 1950s.
The Collapse of Atlas
Comic books were just one part of Atlas Publications rapidly expanding line of magazines, which included Squire, a mens magazine based on the American Esquire, along with joke books like Frolic, which also featured the occasional girlie cartoon by Arthur Mather.
Comic books like Captain Atom may have helped get Atlas Publications off the ground, yet by no means were the companys founders entirely proud of them.
I dont think even Jack Bellew or Clive Turnbull liked to be associated with the idea of comic books, says Arthur.
While we were never censored, there was a real campaign against comics [during the 1950s], with people claiming they were undermining the morals of the young, says Arthur. It was ridiculous, even then!
It was during this period of Atlas Publications rapid expansion that Arthur found his working relationship with Jack Bellew becoming increasingly strained.
When we first started, it was a lot of fun, he recalls. I can remember Jack had a great laugh and wed go in there and tell him jokes, throw ideas around thered be lots of jocularity.
As the company got bigger, we really lost that, says Arthur. By now he was the Managing Director, so my work no longer went through him, Id have to go through an editor.
Atlas Publications biggest attempt to enter mainstream magazine publishing would eventually prove to be both Jack Bellews and the companys undoing.
The Pharmaceutical Guild of Australia, in 1955, contracted Bellews former employer, Consolidated Press, to print Family Circle, a monthly magazine to be sold through pharmacies across the country.
Jack Bellew and George Warnecke took over the production of the magazine, but Family Circle did not prove to be the financial success that Atlas Publications founders hoped it would be.
The strain and the stress really killed [Jack], says Arthur. He was of an age, when youve got to a point in your life where you think youve done it all and you cant get up and run again.
There was a Christmas break-up party and someone said to me, This is all a joke, the companys going to go bust, he says, which it did.
Jack Bellew died in 1957, shortly after which Family Circle ceased publication, while the entire Atlas Publications business appears to have collapsed some time in 1958.
Farewell to Comics
Atlas Publications demise may have ended Arthur Mathers comic book career, but he was not ready to give up on comics entirely.
Mather got together with Harry Cox, a friend of Jack Bellew and a Sydney journalist who was the former editor of the outspoken newspaper, Smiths Weekly.
He told Cox that one of Melbournes daily newspapers might be interested in running a new daily detective comic strip.
Mather asked him if he would be interested in writing it: I thought it would have had more chance with Harry Cox writing it than with me writing it.
I think I did about two or three months worth [of sample artwork] and we took into The Sun [News Pictorial] and they said they were very interested, recalls Arthur.
You know the business and you know how daily papers operate more than I do, Mather told Cox, so Ill leave it to you to go and arrange the deal.
He came back and told me they liked the strip and they were going to do all the [printing] plates and proof it up on art paper, says Arthur.
What did you ask for it, he recalls, and Harry said Oh, I thought about £80 per week this was at a time when people were earning £6 or £ 7 per week!
I said thats a bit much, but Harry said Oh, they can afford it but they turned it down flat, just on the money!
I turned my back on comics from there, according to Arthur. I just wasnt going to do that anymore, because I worked for about 3-5 months, for no money at all and I couldnt afford to do that, especially as I had a young family to support.
The arrival of television in Australia in 1956 not only changed the leisure habits of Australian households, but it also had a detrimental impact on the fortunes of local cinemas, radio stations, newspapers and book and magazine publishers all of which, initially at least, lost a big chunk of their established audience to television.
Television played a significant part in hastening the end of Australias indigenous comic book industry, but it also provided new opportunities for Arthur Mather.
I did a childrens program for Channel Two, about a little aboriginal boy, all done with cardboard puppets, he recalls.
The show was called Brogli and it was a big hit, says Arthur. It was a lot of work, though, because you had to make a lot of cardboard characters and do it live on camera.
Brogli ran for nearly 18 months on Channel Two, before Mather took the show to a rival station, Channel Seven, where it ran for another six months or so.
Once Brogli ceased broadcasting, Mather got a job as a layout artist with Melbournes Herald & Weekly Times magazine publishing department, before responding to an advertisement for a layout artists position with the advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson.
I went in and got the job, says Arthur, and I sort of fell into the advertising world fairly easily.
Over the next 20 years, Mather held senior positions with some of Australias biggest advertising agencies. He eventually became Art Director at J. Walter Thompsons (I enjoyed that and had some big accounts there, including MacRobertsons Chocolate), before accepting a generous offer to join Darcy Massius (The agency just didnt work out for me.)
Then I went to George Pattersons, says Arthur. By the time I finished working there, I was Senior Creative Director.
George Pattersons was to be Arthurs last agency in the advertising industry. It was while working there that he wrote a dystopian science fiction novel, The Pawn, which was published in1975.
Dennis Wren, of Wren Publishing, God bless him, loved it, says Arthur. I got these fantastic reviews and it sold pretty well at the time.
Emboldened by the critical success of The Pawn, Arthur decided to retire from the advertising world in the early 1980s. I thought it was time for me to do something different, he says, so I decided to give it a go as a full-time writer.
The first thing Arthur did was to send the manuscript for The Pawn to William Morris, a huge literary agency in New York City: They sent it back to me in the same package unopened!
When The Pawn was published [in Australia], I sent the published book back to a contact I had there, a lady named Rhoda Weyr, recalls Arthur.
I sent it with a note saying, This is the book you didnt open, he adds. She read it, liked it and said If you do anything else, send it to me.
Arthur took her up on the offer, sending Rhoda the manuscript for his next novel, a thriller called Easy Money.
In some respects, Easy Money was as good as I ever did, he says, and [Rhoda] was really over the moon about it.
Easy Money (1979) was sold to Delacorte Press in America, as well as being picked up by the UK literary agent Ed Victor (He handled every top writer in the UK), who in turn sold it to the British publishers Hodder & Stoughton.
Then there was my next book, called The Mind Breaker (1980), which Ed Victor was also very keen on and he also sold that to Hodder, says Arthur.
It went from Hodder in the UK, to Rhoda in New York and she sold it to Delacorte Press, who published it in hardcover, he says, but it only sold around 20,000 copies.
It was during this time that Arthur had a falling out with Rhoda Weyr. Im not sure how it happened, he says, but she would see things in manuscripts that she said required altering which seemed quite odd to me and to a number of other people.
Arthur soon signed up with a new literary agent, Roslyn Targ, whom he describes as one of the nicest Americans Ive ever met and shed work her butt off for you.
She took all of Arthurs next five books: The Duplicate (1985), Deep Gold (1986), The Raid (1986), The Los Alamos Contract (1986) and The Tarantula Hawk (1989).
[Roslyn] had a good connection with Bantam Books in New York, who published them all, says Arthur.
All of Mathers books are taut, exciting thrillers, which usually revolve around plots that are partly based on historical incidents or technical facts, such as new technologies or scientific advances.
Ive always been a reasonably imaginative person, says Arthur, which is why I find it easy to write thrillers, I suppose.
Ive always liked thrillers and I think The Day of the Jackal is a masterpiece of the thriller genre, he says, but I also read other things, like Bertrand Russell.
Mather briefly returned to the world of comic art during this period, when he became the political cartoonist for the Melbourne Sunday Observer newspaper, a role he retained until 1986.
By the end of the decade, however, Mathers writing career had reached an impasse. This was partly because his agent, Roslyn Targ, went into semi-retirement to look after her ill husband, and because his editor, Fred Klein, resigned from Bantam Books.
One of the last books Mather wrote for Roslyn Targ was called Donor, a thriller about the illegal trade in human body parts.
I did an awful lot of research for it and went out to the Austin Hospital [Melbourne] and spoke to the team there about surgical operating techniques, explains Arthur.
Ros was very keen on it, but she couldnt sell it, even though she tried for a number of years, he adds. I was very disappointed she couldnt sell it.
Arthur does, however, admit that he has a habit of picking controversial subjects for his novels.
I wrote another [unpublished] book called Blood Relations, he says, which was about the discovery of a religious document which denied the resurrection [of Christ] ever took place.
That went the rounds and Id get rejection notices from editors whod say This is a dramatic and compelling story, but were really wondering if we should publish it!
Arthur recalls that, back in 2002, he received an email from Roslyn Targ, saying she wasnt trying to sell fiction anymore, claiming it is just too hard to find a market for novels nowadays.
Undeterred, Mather wrote to another New York-based literary agent, Richard Curtis, with a story idea.
Curtis, who was also the President of the Independent Literary Agents Association, responded with a proposition that would take Mathers books to a whole new audience on the Internet.
He had just set up a company called E-Reads (www.ereads.com), which featured electronic versions of previously published books, explains Arthur, and he asked me what I would think about putting my existing novels on the Net.
I thought theyre only gathering dust on the shelves, says Arthur, so why not?
" I've just signed a contract with Richard Curtis for all my books to go on the Net, starting with Deep Gold" says Arthur. " He believes this is where the future of fiction is."
Captain Atom Nos. 1- 63 (Atlas Publications, Melbourne, c.1948-1954)
Flynn of the FBI, Nos. 4 66 (Approx.) (Atlas Publications, Melbourne, early-late 1950s)
Sgt. Pat of the Radio Patrol, Nos. 40 79 (approx.) (Atlas Publications, Melbourne, early-late 1950s)