Pulp Faction Interviews
Andrea Bresciani: An Artist between Two Worlds
By Giuseppe Trovato
Re-Print Permission Secured by Kevin Patrick
(Click images to see a larger version.)
The following interview with Andrea Bresciani was recorded by Giuseppe Trovato in February 1997. It was first published in Italy by ANAFI (National Association of Friends of Comics and Illustration) in their quarterly fanzine, Fumetto (‘Balloon’), No.25, March 1998, and appeared as part of a 20-page insert devoted to the work of Andrea Bresciani.
The English translation of this interview1 was prepared by Vittorio and Giuseppe Trovato, Melbourne, August 2007. Additional background research and preparation for online publication was provided by Kevin Patrick.
Giuseppe Trovato (GT): Mr. Bresciani, your career in the comic book world has many dark spots. We lose track of you in the 1950s, after the success of Tony Falco and Geky Dor. Shall we start with your date and place of birth?
Andrea Bresciani (AB): I was born on 29 January 19232 in Tolmino, located in the province of Gorizia, which was later ceded to Yugoslavia.
Although his name sounds Italian, Andrea Bresciani was actually born into a Slovenian family – his Slovenian name was Dušan Brešan. The town of his birth, Tolmin, was originally part of Slovenia, but, with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War (1914-18), large tracts of Slovenian territory were ceded to Italy. As a result, Tolmin became known as Tolmino, and formed part of the Italian province of Gorizia.
GT: Did you have any formal artistic training?
AB: No, none.
GT: Was your passion for comics inspired by the work of other artists?
AB: No, I worked for an architect, where I designed furniture. I didn’t attend any drawing classes, nobody taught me. After the war, there was not much money. I worked in Milano, but I lived in Pavia.
One day, on the train, somebody left behind a comic magazine. I started to read it, out of curiousity. That was the first time I saw a comic book. Then I started thinking: “If I could draw comic books, I could earn some extra money!”
Every night, returning from work, I started drawing. After three months, I took my best drawings and went to see a publisher in Milano and asked his opinion of my work. Luckily, when I went to see this publisher, his artist had just resigned. When a comic series [was] started, the publisher is supplied with ten episodes in advance, in case the artist gets sick, etc – a supply of ten weeks is reasonable. But this publisher was at the end of the last two weeks [of work], and if he did not find another artist…So, after three months of personal experiments, I found full-time work as a comic artist.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Italy became home to a vibrant comics publishing industry, issuing both translated reprints of imported comics (particularly American) and locally-produced comics.
During the 1930s and 40s, Benito Mussolini’s fascist government banned American comics (fearing their ‘corrupting’ influence), but Italian publishers continued to produce unauthorised ‘pirate’ editions of American comic strips, as well as original Italian comics.
The postwar years saw the new format of ‘piccolo’ comics – small, pocket-sized magazines, usually numbering less than 20 pages – became immensely popular in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Both Tony Falco and Geky Dor were examples of ‘piccolo’ comics.
GT: Do you remember which comic strip that was? Perhaps they were some episodes of Saette? [Published by Edizioni Alpe]
AB: Yes, I think so, yes. But my memories are very confused.
GT: Did you also draw episodes of the humourous comic strip, Poldo?
AB: I did so many things that I do not remember. You showed me the collection of Tony Falco, but I have forgotten everything. Truly, you are awakening the past.
GT: What do you remember of the late 1940s-early 1950s, when you drew Tony Falco?
AB: For me, it was a job. I liked drawing for money and for fun. This is all; I do not know what else to add.
GT; Still, for [comic strip writer] Andrea Lavezzolo [1905-1981] you drew Geky Dor.
AB: Geky Dor… [Sighs]. It was a job like any other. I worked for a living.
Sadly, there are many gaps in our knowledge of Bresciani’s work for Italian publishers during the immediate postwar period. He drew many stories anonymously (a common policy enforced by publishers at the time), or he used to sign his artwork as ‘BRADUAN’. While exact records do not exist, it appears that, between 1945-50, he did draw some episodes for the weekly comic book,
Albi Dell’Intrepido (Intrepid Comic Books), for the publisher, Universo.
GT: After the 1950s, we lose all trace of you.
AB: I migrated to Australia.
GT: Why Australia? [Was it a] work agreement?
AB: No. I had heard how much comic books were in vogue in America, how much they earned, what was involved. As my town had become part of Yugoslavia, I gained the right to emigrate as a refugee. It would have cost me nothing to go to America.
Again, a brief historical discursion is needed to understand Bresciani’s personal circumstances after the war. During the interwar decades, the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs was formed in 1918. Renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929, it struggled to remain neutral in the face of Nazi Germany rise to power, but was unable to repel the German invasion of April 1941. Andrea’s mother took him and his two sisters, Bozena (‘Natalia’) and Vera, to northern Italy at the outbreak of the Second World War, where they adopted the Italian name ‘Bresciani’.
Bresciani’s Slovenian homeland was divided up between the ‘Axis Powers’ (Germany, Italy and Nazi-occupied Hungary) and remained an occupied nation until it was liberated in May 1945.
After the war, Slovenia became a ‘constituent republic’ of the larger Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Over 15,000 ethnic Italians were expelled from Slovenia in 1946-47, once the Communists assumed power. Many of these refugees fled back into northern Italy.
AB: I was given a list of jobs available in America – but there was no demand for artists! I was advised that I could not fill any of the listed categories. “I am an artist”, I said. I was asked to find myself a contract. I sent my artwork to five publishers, three of which expressed interest – Fawcett being one of them and they wanted me to come to America. With contract in hand, I went to the office to complete the paperwork. They asked me about my citizenship. “I am Italian,” I said. “That is a pity, [because] our quota of Italians to America is now closed. Why not try Australia?”
Australia? Australia? Who ever heard of it!? “Look,” they told me, “it is a rapidly advancing country, with many things to do.” I asked for information [and thought to myself] ‘well, I will go to Australia, it will cost me nothing, I will get a [free] trip, if it doesn’t work out, we will go back to Italy.’ So, I came to Australia [with my mother and two sisters.]
Beginning in 1947, the Commonwealth of Australia initiated a massive assisted migration programme, to boost Australia’s population (then numbering over 7.5 million) and assist in postwar reconstruction. New migrants (along with wartime refugees) were initially housed in quarantine centres and government-run hostels located around Australia. Migrants carried out work under government direction, until they could secure permanent employment. Approximately 1.68 million new migrants settled in Australia from 1947 to 1960.
GT: Did you disembark in Melbourne or Sydney?
AB: No, we arrived in Perth [Western Australia], and then we drove to the government hostel in Northam, not far from Perth. We had an agreement with the government of two years’ work. We had to accept one of the jobs available. At the hostel, I kept drawing. From Northam, I often went to Perth with my precious bundle of cartoons. I visited an advertising agency and showed them my artwork – they immediately gave me a contract for work, freeing myself from the agreement with the government.
I heard about Sydney, where life was much better, with more possibility for work and a better future for a comic strip artist. So, I moved to Sydney and started working for Atlas Publications. It was 1951.
Atlas Publications was the brainchild of Jack Bellew, the former Editor in Chief of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper (then owned by Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press). Bellew relocated to Melbourne in the mid-1940s, where he formed his new publishing venture with his former Consolidated Press colleagues, George Warnecke and Clive Turnbull. The popularity of its first comic book publication, Captain Atom, drawn by Arthur Mather, allowed Atlas Publications to expand its comic book range and expand into mainstream magazine publishing throughout the 1950s. In addition to his comic book work, Bresciani also provided interior artwork for the company’s other publications, such as Squire (a men’s magazine). Although Bresciani worked for the company while living in Sydney, Atlas Publications was based in Clifton Hill, Melbourne.
AB: I illustrated front covers of various comic books published by Atlas. One comic I remember well was Sergeant Pat of the Radio Patrol, for which I drew a complete story. Radio Patrol was an American series, written by Eddie Sullivan and drawn by Charles Schmidt. Atlas published its own stories of Sergeant Pat under licence. The official artist was the Czech-born Yaroslav Horak, better known as ‘Larry’, who was already famous for such comics as Skyman, Ray Thorpe, Jet Fury [and] Brenda Starr.
The first 30-40 issues of Atlas Publications’ Sergeant Pat comic book contained reprints of the original American newspaper strip, before the comic was initially passed on to Yaroslav Horak, followed by Bresciani, then onto Arthur Mather. Yaroslav Horak’s principal work for Atlas Publications during this period was The Lone Wolf (a western series originally created by Keith Chatto) and Brenda☆, a locally-drawn edition of the American comic strip, Brenda Starr.
AB: [After working for Atlas, I drew] a very popular comic strip series, Frontiers of Science.
GT: Did you draw the whole saga of Frontiers of Science?
AB: Yes, over approximately 12 years, one strip per day, five days per week. The scientific text was provided by Professor Stuart Butler, from the University of Sydney, while the comic strip script was written by Robert Raymond. I am trying to locate the original comic strip artwork and offer them for sale to some collectors.
Around the 1960s, the Australian comic book industry was at the end of its glorious era. A pity to say, but it was true. One of the last comic books I remember doing was drawing a few episodes of Smoky Dawson for KG Murray Publishing, around 1960. Smoky Dawson was originally a daily strip drawn by Albert De Vine for the Sydney Sun [newspaper]. In my spare time, I did illustrations for Adam, Man and Pocket Man, published by KG Murray of Melbourne. The one in Sydney was a branch office.3
GT: After you established yourself in Australia, did you go back to Italy?
AB: I migrated to Australia in 1950. So… [SIGHS], my first marriage broke down! When I remarried, we went to Spain for our honeymoon, where we lived for two-and-a-half years.
GT: While living in Spain, did you draw any comic strips?
AB: Yes, I did something for Brughera Publishing.
Juan Brughera established his publishing company, El Gato Negro, in 1910 and eventually launched his first humour magazine, Pulgaricto, in 1921, which featured comic strips. His sons, Pantaleon and Francisco, changed the company’s name to Editorial Brughera in 1939 and began publishing comic books in 1947, eventually dominating the Spanish comics market until the early 1980s.
GT: From Spain, did you return to Italy?
AB: No. I stayed in Europe until around 1980-81.
During his stay in Europe, Bresciani once again illustrated stories for the Italian comic, Albi Dell’Intrepido, including such stories as Il Sosia (The Double) and La Notte in Cui Nacque Lenny (The Night when Lenny was Born), between 1976-77.
GT: You told me of your stay in Germany. Did you do any work for local publishers there?
AB: No, not for a publisher. It was a bank which published a children’s magazine, which taught them how to save money. I established my residency in Monaco Di Baviera [West Germany], but frequently I went to Trieste, Italy, where I lived with one of my cousins. After living away from Trieste for some time, I telephoned [my cousin] to see if there were any letters for me. My cousin said, yes, there was a letter from Genoa. “From Genoa? But I do not know anyone there!” I told myself. My cousin could not see properly, but she managed to give me a name and a telephone number. The name was unknown; I cannot recall it even now…
I rang the number and I told him “I am Bresciani.” “Bresciani? Do you know that we have been looking for you for years? I have to come and interview you.” I told him, “Look, I am in Germany, in Monaco.” He replied “It doesn’t matter, we will come to Germany.”
I thought it was all a joke. Since I often travelled to Italy, we agreed that I would call them. So I did and we met at the Principe train station in Genoa. When they came, there were three of them. I cannot recall what we said and which magazine they were interviewing [me] for. I do recall, however, that in Italy they held annual comic exhibitions and begged me to participate in one. Each year they gave a trophy to the best artist – and one of these trophies was being kept by them for me, as they were unable to find me. But, since I was always on the move, I could not attend the exhibition and receive the trophy – I think it is still waiting for me in Italy! I remained in Europe, from 1976 until approximately 1981, when I returned to Sydney.
The abovementioned interviewers were Mr. Gian Mario Traverso and his son, Carlo, who met Bresciani on 4 June 1981. The interview, titled ‘Emergono Dal Limbo’ [They Emerge from Limbo] was not published until years later, when it appeared in the December 1998 edition of Fumetto. The trophy referred to by Bresciani was ‘La Targa Di Fumettoamicizia’ (Comic Friendship Plate) which was presented by the International [Comic] Fair of Genoa.
GT: Frontiers of Science was your last comic strip work. What else did you do?
AB: I did men’s and women’s fashion design. I had an office and an advertising agency with a Frenchman, John Tish, who also drew political cartoons for a newspaper. Then I moved away and we lost touch. We met again after ten years and celebrated with a lunch. Tish asked me if I have ever been inside an animated cartoon studio. “No, never,” I said. “Next time, come to lunch half-an-hour earlier and I will take you into the studio. We make animated cartoons for Hanna-Barbera.”
I went along and it was like entering a new world! I was fascinated. I went back to my office, called my workers together and said: “You know the work…there are plenty of clients…the studio is yours! I go now to enter another world!”
So, I left all that for animated cartoons! I started working there around 1970, before going to Spain for my honeymoon. We worked for Hanna-Barbera in an independent studio. Only later did Hanna-Barbera open their studio in Sydney.
During the 1970s and 80s, the American animation production company, Hanna-Barbera, opened a string of international production studios in Europe, South America and Asia. Hanna-Barbera’s Australian animation studio was established in Sydney in 1972 and branched out into animated TV commercial production in 1974. Hanna-Barbera’s Australian operations were eventually bought out by Walt Disney’s Australian subsidiary in 1989.
GT: You mentioned that you stayed in the Philippines.
AB: Yes, I moved to Manila around 1981. The Sydney studio of animated cartoons sent me there to open another studio. In Manila, we worked for the American company, Marvel [Productions]. I remember the TV series we did – Defenders of the Earth.4 It featured the comic strip heroes Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician & Lothar, The Phantom and Ming, Tyrant of the planet Mongo.
The other two [animated] series I remember were Robin Hood and Swiss Family Robinson. I was the artistic director in charge.
Bresciani’s other animated film credits from this period include The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972); 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1985); Alice through the Looking Glass (1987); Hiawatha (1988); The Corsican Brothers (1989); and Otherzone (1998).
GT: Australia was not your personal choice, but a destination decided by fate, even though you dreamed of living in America. Do you have any regrets?
AB: No, I do not mourn. I take life as it comes, positively.
GT: Professionally and artistically. Sydney would have offered you more job opportunities – so, why did you move to Melbourne when you returned to Australia?
AB: My sisters, my son and my ex-wife lived in Melbourne. I preferred to be close to them.
GT: Have you ever thought of restarting your comic book activities?
AB: No! I don’t believe that such activities would earn [me] a living in Australia today. At my age, one can no longer dream!
Towards the end of his career, Andrea Bresciani pursued other creative passions, such as sculpture. He specialised in creating dynamic sculptures of horses, sometimes with an American Indian theme. He received orders for up to 250 of these figures from Japan, France and the United States, but as he was unable to meet such high-volume demands for these figures, he ceased making them. However, he left his family an exquisite collection of statuettes.
Andrea was a modest man who demonstrated an exceptional, natural ability in both his comic book illustrations and all his creative endeavours. He always said, with pride: “The little I have learnt, I have learnt by myself.”
Andrea Bresciani passed away on 7 February 2006 at his home during his afternoon ‘siesta’. He enjoyed every drop of his life; not only did he enjoy travelling and fine food, but loved hang-gliding, which was his favourite sport. He died happily, as if he were dreaming of flying to freedom.
Text of this article is copyright © 1997-2007 Giuseppe Trovato. All artwork reproduced in this interview is copyright © 2007 their respective copyright holders.
About the Author
Giuseppe Trovato was born in Italy, but together with his wife and two children, migrated to Australia in October 1973, where he eventually settled in suburban Melbourne. A lifelong comics fan, his personal library includes collections of international comic strip characters specially prepared by Italian publishers (many of which are unavailable in English), along with an extensive collection of Australian comics. He has written extensively on Italian and Australian comics for such publications as the Australian edition of Il Globo, and the Italian comic fanzine, Fumetto.
2 Andrea Bresciani was born on 27 January 1923, but due to a mistaken transcription on his Australian passport, it was recorded as 29 January 1923. It was Andrea’s wish to use only the second date of birth and, out of respect for his wishes, this has been done.
3 KG Murray Publishing Company’s editorial offices were always based in Sydney (Australia), not Melbourne.
4 Although Defenders of the Earth was, a TV showcase for comic strip characters owned by King Features Syndicate, the animated series was produced by Marvel Productions, while a spin-off comic book was briefly published by Marvel Comics in 1987.
He was responsible for creating Australias first successful comic book superhero, yet Captain Atom was just the beginning of
Arthur Mathers long creative career, as Kevin Patrick discovered.
Get a trade behind you.
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 Comic Book Boom
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
and Flynn of the FBI
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)
The Pawn (Wren Publishing, Melbourne, 1975)
Easy Money (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1979)
The Mind Breaker (Delacorte Press, 1980)
The Duplicate (Sphere, London, 1985)
Deep Gold (Bantam, New York, 1986)
The Raid (Bantam, New York, 1986)
The Los Alamos Contract (Bantam, New York, 1986)
The Tarantula Hawk (Bantam, New York, 1989)
Ben Hutchings is creator of You Stink & I Dont, Buckets of Bile
and Dragon Hurtor, as well as co-creator of the popular title Glenjamin,
to name but a few. To find out more, or order any of his titles, visit
his homepage - http://www.effect.net.au/geeen/ or the Phase Two Comics online shop.
My inside sources tell me that you're contributing to a European anthology this year. Can you give us any details at this point, or is it one of those hush-hush kind of deals?
It is a cute little rhyming strip! I hadn't done a rhymey comic for ages, and the last one I tried was
so hard to write that I had to drop it from You Stink #8. The problem with
it is that they had to split it and do the "To Be Continued" thing. So you
will get 3 pages.... 3 measly pages! Then you have to wait for the next 4.
The comic is a British anthology called Paper Tiger ( Issue 2), and I also did a
nice cover! If you are not in Canberra, you can order it from
Paper Tiger Comix
I've also recently scored a gig doing filthy, dirty cartoons for Picture magazine! So I will be doing that, and the regular strip for BMA. But comics wise, I am working on Glenjamin #3 and Dragon Hurtor #5, and I believe after that I will get around to doing a third Buckets of Bile .
I'd like to try and bring something new out for each Supanova...tho' that is a mighty task indeed! I have just about finished a new zine too, entitled "It ain't a duty, it's a privilege" which is all about my fake war adventures.
You're a full time animator - turning heads (
GameSpot interview) and garnering nominations for all kinds of awards, have a full social life and still somehow manage to self publish comics at an alarming rate. Aside from neo-satanic witchcraft, which I understand you practise, what's your secret?
I only seem to produce one comic a year, and maybe do a couple of other small things! So when you think about it, the rate isn't that alarming. I am alarmed at the fact I am so freaking slow! I try and draw a few hours of drawing every night of the week, and don't spend any time playing computer games or watching shitty television, so that helps. I had to give up witchcraft because of all the hippies getting into it for peaceful, aren't-I-alternative reasons. I now do stitchcraft and make time saving cardigans.
The passion for some local comic creators is with animation, yet due to the costs involved in creating a animation they took up comics as a release valve. As a creator who does both, is this the case with you or just a natural codependency?
Doing animation is pretty cheap compared to doing a comic! Look at the cost... a pirated version of Shockwave, a computer which everyone has anyway, something with the internet so you can upload it... all in all a few days work and the cost of a blank CD.
A comic can cost hundreds of bucks when you think about printing and visiting cons and stuff, but it's not the cash, I just animate coz I love it. I have been animating for as long as I have been comicking. Comics are better because you don't have to go on the computer all the time, like some big loser.
Dragon Hurtor is probably your fans most favourite comic series, are there any plans to release a 5th issue, and does it have a conclusion?
It's actually my fans least favourite comic series! I assumed it would be the most pop, being a genre comic, but lo and behold nobody really buys it. Those that buy it seem to love it however! I am working on #5 slowly. I will wrap up the story in that one, and leave it open for more adventures from him. I like the world of Dragon Hurtor so I might continue the series but with adventures concerning new people. Who knows! Since everyone hates it so much I might just ditch the bloody thing.
Was there any local creator who has retired now you wished you had a chance to work, but never got the opportunity, and why?
I really wanted to draw and write a Greener Pastures story! Some of my friends got the privilege to work on it and they did some great artwork. As you know, they don't really do it any more.
How long have you carried that beard for?
It carries me. Take it away and my head just flops forward! I grew it when my neck stopped working after a headbanging injury at a Missy Higgins concert at the Wallaringa Drop-in centre, Wallaringa, 1976.
What motivates you to do your comics?
A desire to let all my grievances, beliefs and japes be known to all man. That's about it really! I can't imagine not doing comics. I'd probably end up being one of those people who doesn't stop talking. I get a lot of motivation from comics that suck too - I think "I can do better than that!" and I really want to show that I can. And comics that rule provide short bursts of motivation.
How do you stop yourself from procrastinating when having to ink very detailed panels?
I find that after a few minutes of washing my bra or tending the garden, I get restless as I know I am procrastinating! I've become good at bowing to my guilt. To be honest though, the inking part is the fun bit in my opinion. I hate pencilling, that is godboring. That's where I always screw up, see.
Has working in the computer games industry influenced your artistic styles (in either direction, going with or rebelling against the visuals and image making processes of computer games)?
No, and I am glad of it! Have you flicked through a computer game mag lately? These days it is all soulless polygon art from Half-Life or Doom 3 or whatever. It is so bland to look at compared to the clever pixel art of the 90s. No matter how smooth or realistic computer graphics become, they are boring to look at compared with hand drawn art.
How has your creative voice developed/changed over time?
I think just coz I am older I am less preachy and heavy handed with trying to get a point across. But I like to think that I have not gotten less funny, despite doing some more arty and serious stuff in Glenjamin.
What do you think is the most important message your stories convey?
I try to encourage people to love one another, and live together in tolerance, compassion, understanding, love, laughter, joy, acceptance, open mindedness, generosity, wisdom, forgiveness, lochness, giving, sharing, caring, nurturing, shoes, friendliness, mateship and harmony in the one same global village on the same earth under the same stars with the same blood (except for those who have diseased blood who are not to be judged except by whichever god or goddess you happen to feel is the right for you).
Pulp Faction Standard Question
Do you see Australian comics industry as running in place? Is it advancing to a point where it can compare to other markets and carve out its own unique niche? Some say we are stuck in a cycle of derivative regurgitation of mainstream comics, particularly from the US, and narrow self-referential works when trying to make them 'Aussie'. What's your take on this?
To compare to other markets we have to have at least one title being sold on a regular basis in newsagents across the land. Until then, we can't really say we have a proper scene, let alone an industry. And that accusation is quite accurate , but the landscape of our underground scene changes constantly, like the surface of Jupiter. The lineup in the Artists Alley at Supanova is totally different from say, six years ago. I wish people would stick with it sometimes.
The following questions were put to comics writer Christian Read via e-mail. They were compiled from questions
asked in the Pulp Faction forums and sent by e-mail. In order to sort them all into a proper interview, some
editing and re-wording occured. Please blame Maggie McFee if you don't like these changes. A big thanks should
go to Christian for further shaping the interview questions as well as for bothering to answer at all.
Thanks and enjoy.
Q. - Could you please bring newcomers to your work up to speed by
giving a brief rundown of what your past work includes?
My name is Christian Read. I've written twelve issues of The Watch
with a few in the can. Contributing artists include Image's Doug
Holgate, Dark Horse's Nicola Scott, and Marvel's Andrew McKenny. The
three issue mini Dunwich: A Tale of the Cthulhu Mythos, with Doug
Holgate, Eldritch Kid, a four issue mini with Christopher Burns, and the
long delayed but out next Feburary Witch King, with Paul Abstruse [Ed. - Issue 1 art preview below], as
well as the web comic Criss Cross Jazz with Scott Fraser.
Scott and I also work together semi-regularly on the Dude in the Coat shorts. I also did a few Star
Wars shorts a few years ago. All but four of those books are distributed
internationally. We've had sales in every continent but Antarctica.
As a quick aside, a few days ago I calculated that's around 450
published comic pages since 2000, with another 100 in the next year and
Q. - What's coming up?
Finishing Witch King [Ed. - Previews below] and EK. A project with Doug Holgate, and I've
got a few proposals doing the rounds. Expect some announcements soon
concerning the incredible artists on the new Watch mini Cathexes [Ed. - Preview art below] and
possibly a new monthly, with the working-title “Superwicked”. Expect
resumption of Criss Cross Jazz very soon. Plus, Sidereal Kingdom, oh yes.
I've also got some upcoming work with Top Cow and I'm
very excited to be doing a horror short with Tonia
Walden. I've been a fan of her's since I was
seventeen, so that's a bit of a dream.
I'm also doing a commisoned piece with
Chelsea Fritzlaff for the band "Dead Inside the
Chrysalis" [Ed. - Preview art below]. An excursion into surreality for me.
|Preview from The Watch
|Preview from 'Dead Inside
the Chrysalis' project.
|Preview from Witch King|
Q. - Any mysterious projects you can speak cryptically about and
spark some gossip, rumour and innuendo?
Nah. If I start shooting my mouth of about the work roughly based on
the life of Gesar of Ling or Villanelle, I'll look stupid when it never
comes out. Mind you, the remixed Contractually Obliged that appeared in
the excellent Ink anthology is slouching towards Bethlehem.
Q. - You've done pretty well for yourself in terms of recognition
and continued work on several titles. In other words, you've established
yourself as a 'professional'. So, inquiring minds want to know; Why
don't you "sell out" (Readers: Please note my use of quotation marks
before anyone comes gunning for me)? Why not shoot for a book with one
of the big guys and suck down some cash and instant recognition?
What is selling
out? Do you mean doing work for a professional
company using their characters? I'm fucking trying.
Look, I've never heard anyone use the words ‘sell out' used
anyone who actually worked in an industry where your ideas solely decide
if you're eating that week. Did anyone call Eddie Campbell a sell-out
after Order of Beasts or that Green Lantern? No. And if they did, fuck
them. Selling out is a myth people with no talent or no experience
I would love to write for Marvel or DC or whoever. I have some, if I
say so myself, tops ideas for certain characters. I do not feel the need
to justify that.
But, like any writer worth his salt, my main focus and love is, and
always will be, what I create myself. I fail to see how one diminishes
the other and I very much doubt anyone will be able to explain it to me.
The point is, I'd love to work for a big company. I just don't need
Although, to be fair, Luke Webber has gotten drunk and railed at my
mainstream work. Of course, one day, I'll seduce that mad bastard and
he'll draw for me. Then I will have won.
Q. - Being a writer is generally
viewed by the public as a cerebral
vocation. Good writers tend to prove this out by being well-read and
voracious absorbers of knowledge. With all that goes into writing and
goes into becoming a good writer, how do you respond to the idea that
comics are 'just for kids'?
Writing is a cerebral vocation. It should be. But interesting
writing is good living. I can research the poetry of James Mangan, the
micro-gravity/string implications raised Brane Theory, the history of
the Haitian Uprising until the eyes drop out of my skull. All that stuff
is great, but it's just props, a decoration you know? It's just a
It's living an interesting life and thinking about interesting
things, and going to interesting places and talking to interesting
people that makes good writing.
Pump as much money into the pokies, play as much X-box as you want,
watch as much children's television as you like, that's not gonna
make a good writer.
Just get out there and experience. That's all you can do.
As for the idea that comics are for kids, well, no one who would say
that with any breadth of knowledge and are talking out their arse. So;
‘fuck you, you non-comic reading motherfuckers.' That's what
Or I'd suggest they enter a comic shop of repute and, on discovering
their taste in other forms of fiction and non-fiction, make
recommendations concerning works that may engage with them.
Q. - What does writing comics give you that other forms of writing
cannot? What's different about writing comics for you as opposed to
other forms? Do you see yourself eventually moving within the profession
(screenplays, novels, etc.), or do you see comics as always being a part
of your life?
You know what?
I don't know for certain, what comics can offer that
is wholly unique. I have suspicions but part of why I work in comics is
to understand the form.
My notions in regards to comics is that there are narrative
structures and conventions that film, prose, music, poetry and
photography can't emulate. But I don't feel qualified to tell you
what those are just yet. It's all a bit complex and theoretical. Check back
in a year and perhaps I'll have a better vocabulary to express what I'm
Working in comics is good because the artist does all the work. You
can go look at internet pornography and the wrestling while they squint
at a drawing table into the long hours of the night. (My advice to comic
writers is that you don't tell them that)
Seriously, comics writing is a series of complex relationships
between image and alphabet, time and space. One must be aware of
physical limitations in the medium as nowhere else. The page size is
limited, the space to put words is limited.
For a writer who is not an artist, one is constrained (and boosted)
by the artist's aesthetics, commitment, style. Your vision is never,
ever, going to be your own and you rise and fall with the penciller.
Communication of ideas and plot information is in a very real way out of
That less positive stuff being said… comics are a way to express
complex ideas quickly, and utilize many storytelling techniques and I
like pretty pictures very much indeed.
As for my writing future, I've been working freelance as a
journalist for many years. See my upcoming feature in Hyper Magazine for
a taste of the kind of pop-culture ephemera I discuss.
Novel? One day. Hopefully very soon. Writing a novel is without a
doubt the hardest experience I have had in my artistic life.
Film? Working on getting two out.
Play? Should have had one out in January, but the director pulled
out. Still trying to salvage that. Pray for me.
Q. - Speaking of "craft",
do you keep a writer's journal?
Since the death of my website, I certainly keep a blog using popular
web-based software. See if you can find it! It is, for all intents and
purposes, a writing journal.
Otherwise, my writing journal is called ‘my writing'. See if you
pick when I've been drinking. Nicola Scott and I play a game “guess
page I did naked”.
Q. - Comics readers are divided along many fault lines, so to speak.
A lot of rumblings come about from the grinding where they meet. One
'plate', if I may run this analogy rapidly and completely into the
ground, views mainstream super-hero books with a less than prideful eye.
However, The Watch seems to have avoided this stigma and been generally
accepted by both the opposing sides. To what, if anything, do you
This stigma about superheroes… I don't understand it. It always
seems a basically false position to take. Critiques against whole genres
always strikes me as ineffective, incoherent and short-sighted. And
almost always comes from people who argue with bloody-high-mindedness
about art. Booooring.
You can either choose to view corporate superhero books as boring
wastes of paper, written by aging hacks or you can dig a little deeper
and see an vast experiment, unique in the history of the world, in
meta-narrative. And if you ignore the good work using supers to examine
a variety of themes, and still dismiss the sub-genre as a whole… then
you're ignorant and have no right to an opinion. Walk on home.
People who make those tired old “adolescent power-fantasy” attacks
are herbivores of the mind. Ignore them in favour of the carnivorous who
see a vital, sexy, magic pop-art when it's in front of them.
That being said, if you defend superhero books mindlessly, refusing
to take criticism from either within the medium, (re: Planetary. That's
not a comic book, that's an extended act of criticism and deep
engagement) or without is a mistake.
All that being said, I think I tried to write a book about people
with super powers, not superheroes. Superpowers have played an important
role in the book as both the basic plot engine and the most basic sub
textual symbol of what's going on really.
If people like The Watch, I think it's because it's smart, there
some good jokes in it, and there's stuff exploding on a fairly regular
basis. There's some good characters and hopefully an entertaining
Plus it's one of the best looking books out there. Look at the list
of who has worked on it above. Am I not devastatingly proud of the
incredible people who have and will work on that book? Call me a
terrible hack who molested your pets and stole your wife's undies, I
don't care. But attacking how good that book looks is futile.
As for why people who don't like superheroes, but who do like the
Watch (and we do get correspondence to that effect, especially from
countries where superheroes never took off) I think it's because I never
really worried about writing a genre book. I write about what I want, in
this case, that happens to be about people with amazing skills and
It's not just a book about Dr Weaselflaps kidnapping the moon. It's
a heavy dose of shock and awe with a point of view. If it transcends
notions of what a super hero book is capable of then I've done my job,
because people stop viewing it as a “superhero” book and just see
story. That's all I want.
I write it for people like me, informed about the world and curious
to know more and I don't really feel the need to have all the tropes of
a superhero book. It's a story about people, about the whole pernicious,
hateful notion heroism, and about what makes someone a good person.
I think that's actually pretty easy to see.
Of course, I'm not the person to talk to about why people read the
Watch. I'm not qualified to speak for them. All I know is I see a lot
people at the cons and get a lot of letters and my readers are uniquely
sexy, smart, funny, clever and informed people. If you've bought my
works, and enjoyed them, you can almost guarantee that you're one of
more of those things. Tell people I say so.
Q. - Have you ever or could you ever write [a version of] yourself
or someone very close to you into a story -- even just a thumbnail?
Many, many times. The Dude in the Coat is me, and many times I've
put my opinions into characters mouths. So, I suppose you could argue
they are versions of me. I doubt many writers could, would, or should
However, I don't think that's what you're asking, so
Dude in the Coat and upcoming and previous Diggsville
Q. - A very involved question: Tell us about your theories on the
use and integration of space, time and movement in sequential art. Or is
what you do instinctual and innate?
Oh, man, we'd be here for hours and I can't imagine too many people
care. Let me simply say that photographic theory, not film theory, is
the most useful tool we have to inform comic writing and drawing. Comic
art is basically a series of photographic representations, that only
become a story via their relationships to each other, and their
relationships to space. Foremost in writer's and artist's mind should
be, I maintain, the understanding that a story needs to make the most
amount of time that happens in the slippage between panels.
I enjoy, very much, the craft-related underpinnings of any art form.
Comics have very little theoretical cannon and it's something I look
forward to writing about one day.
I think that my approach to the stories I tell is innate. It's all
gut-feeling concerning what's going to be fun to tell and interesting
read. But when it comes to the behind the scenes matters of crunch, I'm
all ruthless application of cold, machine like calculation. Oh yes.
As for my own work, I've never been more aware of theory than in the
upcoming Superwicked, but of my published works, examine the Watch,
volume 2, issue 5, and the final issue of Casus Belli. My notions of how
time is expressed in comics are probably best expressed there.
Q. - How do you cope with the notion that nothing is original? Or do
you feel that's nonsense?
Is nothing original? I don't know. I don't have a chronological
table of every thing written ever. And how far can you take that
questions. “Read's use of pictures and words in this comic is
However, if you find yourself saying “it's like the bit in
X, where…” you're probably not original.
If my work reminds me of anyone else's, I scrap it. I'm a firm
believer in telling my stories my way.
Nothing gets me off-side or disinterested quicker than someone
saying “it's meant to remind the reader of” or “it pays
What they're really saying is “I don't have enough faith in
to tell my own story”. And, brother, if you don't have faith in
yourself, by Christ, I'm not going to. I don't need to read something
that artlessly apes what has happened before. Nor does anyone reading
If you are not consciously trying to create something great, why are
you trying at all? Would you read something that you knew was
That being said, notions of originality are highly suspect. Even if
you are working in a vacuum, you may unwittingly hit on already used
ideas. Anyway, the human experience has only certain finite expressions.
I don't think succeeding in being original is nearly as important as the
So I don't over worry. I just ensure that whatever I'm writing is
expression of my concerns, my talent, my voice. If you aren't doing the
same, you're probably not going to be telling a good story.
Rethink. Try again.
Remember, even working with unoriginal material, you can tell
original stories. It's why “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”
powerful comic, masterfully rendered comic about the myths colonial
powers tell themselves, and not a rip-off of Jules Verne.
And be aware the self-conscious art is sooo 1998.
Q. - In a sweeping generalisation, it seems that when Aussies go to
work freelancing for one of the major US publishers, they don't catch as
much slack for working on 'super-hero' books as they seem to when
working on those sorts of titles locally. You've worked in super-herodom
locally (and managed to avoid a good deal of the 'slack'), so what's
your take on this phenomenon?
No one would dismiss David Yardin for doing superhero
I don't think there's anyone that fucking idiotic in the world.
trained as, and wanted to be, and slogged his guts out to become, a
super hero artist. He's one of the best at it. Who could or would attack
someone for living their dream? Are you gonna dismiss Darren White, a
smart guy, just because he wrote some Batman?
I don't know that many people do automatically attack people just
for doing superheroes.
It's like telling Steven Griffin his work is “too Hawaiian,”
or Jason Rand his work is “too much about gods that are small.”
I've had three bad reviews out of some twenty five and the only
review I have ever had that seemed dismissive of my work simply because
it was mainstream was from an Australian. And I didn't pay attention to
that because the reviewer was making a conspicuous big deal about how
little they knew about superhero comics.
I think anyone who says “superheroes aren't my thing and I don't
like them”, should probably not read superhero related work. They have
little useful to say to me, my work, or the readership.
Anyone else working with pop-material who gets this kind of review,
here is my advice. “Fuck em”. Don't ever dismiss criticism,
but always be aware of your reviewer's credentials.
Q. - Do you see Australian comics industry as running in place? Is
it advancing to a point where it can compare to other markets and carve
out its own unique niche? Some say we are stuck in a cycle of derivative
regurgitation of mainstream comics, particularly from the US, and
narrow self-referential works when trying to make them 'Aussie'. What's
your take on this?
[Ed. - I intend to ask this question of all our interviewees.]
Hmmm. OK. I approach this question with a fair amount of care. I've
never noticed this “industry” deals very well with criticism. Any
can be made to seem personal, and people don't care to separate the
dancer from the dance. So, up front, let me say that I have no
intentions of attacking specific people.
But: What comics industry?
There is not an Australian comics industry. Industry indicates
professionalism, indicates commercial consciousness. Tell me, do you
honestly see many comic creators out there sticking to deadlines,
creating markets for their books, printing professionally and all that
Cos I don't.
That's an industry. Phosphorescent is the only commercial comic
concern in this country. That's one company. One. We have very little
peer reviewing that's not fraught with either tentative worry about
hurting feelings, or is cowardly, anonymous bitching.
There is no industry.
What we have here is a scene. A movement, if you will. We have an
intense amateur hobby market. Some of the things that come out of this
scene are very fine indeed. You'd have to go a long way to find someone
who likes the work of, say, Matt ‘Stikman' Hyunh, more than me,
instance. I thought Crumpleton Experiments was one of the best comics,
(not Australian comics, comics) I read this year. I've talked many times
how much I liked Violin Girl and Dogs and on and on. It drives me nuts
someone like Mandy Ord isn't enormously well known and reviewed in Heat.
Why isn't Selan's magazine distributed through Gordon and Gotch?
As for the smaller stuff… it's not going to sell. By dint of their
very nature they are not, shall we say, industrial. I suspect two
reasons for that.
One, a lot of those books just aren't up to scratch for a mainstream
audience, who rightly expect high production values. They're not meant
to be, after all. They're not designed as commercial work.
And secondly, comics are already a niche market. A zine is almost
certainly going to be narrowly focused. I don't think I'm being
here when I suggest that indie material is going to find an indie
audience that is, by definition, not mainstream.
There is less readership for
that kind of work because it doesn't
court it. If you produce a book that's meant to be read only by your
mates, don't complain when only they read it. If you rush the art over
the weekend, with no good equipment, don't be surprised if people are
dismissive of it. If you produce a book rife with spelling mistakes,
don't complain when the stores don't buy it. Produce irregular size,
don't freak out when the companies don't distribute it. Produce
ten pages a year, don't be shocked when you can't maintain readership.
Mainstream means, appeals to more people, after all. The difference
between indie and mainstream is that simple. And that useless.
Let me tell you a quick story. My fine friend Doug Holgate did a
book called 'Tales From Under Your Bed' a few years back. Born out of the 24
hour comic challenge, he did 20 page story. It is funny and charming.
Then, when he decided to print it, he took his time, reproduced the art
with a proper scanner. He cleaned it, redrew what didn't work. He
drafted. Then he bound it together and had it printed professionally.
That book had international sales, gathered huge reviews and was loved
by fans retailers and pros alike. It was part of the momentum that
surged him to getting into the prestigious Flight anthology and his own
OGN with Image.
It didn't have superheroes and tits. It was a kid's story about
a worm. That book did well because he worked at making it good. Indie
material, treated to mainstream quality and, golly, look, it did well.
I've been barking in the dark about this for years, and Doug proved me
Make no mistake about what I'm saying, now. It is not talent that
this country lacks. It is application. Forget about the bullshit divides
between mainstream and indie. Only sad bastards who had no friends who
think a Jesus And Mary Chain album makes them interesting buy into that
Comics will not advance in this country, or create an international
profile as a whole, until we all apply ourselves to creating works that
can and should be seen internationally. And that has nothing to do with
whether or not your comic is about fucking superheroes or menstruation
or your cat.
It has to do with creating quality works in marketable formats.
That, my friends, is the sad reality of this fallen world. Otherwise we
will remain a hobby scene. If that's what you want, fine. But I have
bigger dreams for our talent.
Australian comics should, and can, be seen internationally as a
hothouse of talented an interesting creators. But not until we all agree
to try as hard as we can, every time.
No one quits. Everyone fights.
December 21, 2004
Doug Holgate (website) shouldnt need much of an introduction but heres one anyway. Doug conquered Newcastle in the early nineties, where he meet Luchador tag-team partner Scott Fraser. The two of them, realizing theyd each found the soul-mate they longed for, created Cowman and Dollboy, which saw publication locally. From there, Scott self-published the solo Dollboy title and Doug did the back up, Lusus.
Soon after, I met Doug and on a rainy, gin-filled night, at the local comic shop, tricked him into doing Dunwich: A tale of the Cthulhu Mythos. Doug followed this up with a variety of zines he and longtime partner Jen Hook wrote and illustrated such as Soda, contributed to the Diggsville anthology, then struck gold with small press work Tales
From Under Your Bed. From there, he ramped up his online presence, took a lot of tangential comic work, (flown domestically on Qantas recently? You may be one of the million or so people who read Dougs comics for younger readers available there.) As well as working with Australian comics historian Big Kevin Patrick. Recently, he struck it big with his inclusion in the second Flight anthology.
After collapsing in his doorway, Doug gave me an interview in returning for leaving his home, and pets, alone.
CR - What's your greatest success in comics to date, on a personal level as well as in your career?
Doug - Being invited to contribute to Flight #2 is both a personal and career success at this stage. Definitely. On a personal level because I dont think Ive ever been surrounded with such passionate people devoted to making the best work they can. Inspiring beyond anything Ive experienced in comics. Im also overwhelmingly humbled to be involved with people whom I think are some of the best storytellers comics have yet to fully discover. And career wise because Flight has this feeling about it. That something is happening here that will be talked about as a major turning point in comics history for a long time and Im a part of it.
CR - You've worked with writers but seem more comfortable as a writer-artist. What is the appeal of working for? Others? Doing it all yourself?
Doug - I dont mind working with a writer. Its something I enjoy, as its purely an opportunity to flex artistic muscles. But its a different discipline...and lately I think its a matter of having to feel really passionate about the script. There is the constraint there of working to the expectation of someone else and working to the constraint of that script, if Im not a hundred percent into it...I find it easy to get distracted.
Usually when I write...its a purely visual stream of consciousness thing. I rarely write a script. If anything just major plot points so that I remember them. But usually I will have an idea and I will just draw it out until it stops talking to me. It adds a freedom to the process that I really, really enjoy. Listening to the characters tell me how to layout a page or tell the story, and letting them dictate where it will lead. Its something that Ive only really discovered in the last couple of years.
CR - That's an interesting phrase. Do you really interact heavily with the characters and setting as you create them?
Doug - Definitely. Its usually where my ideas start. A character. Right...what is this character doing? Why is he here? Why do I care? etc. And it usually expands on that. I will do a few finished character illustrations in a scene, engaging with something in their space telling a self-contained story with one picture or two pictures just to get to know them. If it starts to expand easily from that Ill think more about where they could go. A lot of the time I get nothing and the illustrations on their own are enough. Theyre out on paper and theyre story pretty much captured immediately with nowhere else to really go. Other times it all just falls into place and all these doors open up and Im dragged along for the ride.
CR - I think one of your great skills is actually using the comic medium to great potential. I think especially your decisions to let your characters have enough panels to move around in. How do you decide to lay out panels? Any particular rules or theories you employ?
Doug - I love the 9-panel grid. Especially in this day and age of splash pages and dynamic action shots. I usually try and make my comics as easy to read without words as possible. I like to let my characters act...so they basically get the room to do so. I do like to break out every now and then...but the simple panel to panel grid is the simplest and most effective way to engage an audience. Especially to those not particularly well versed in comics language.
Its a very intuitive thing I find too. I will usually do really rough thumbnails of panel layouts for a page...and its always dictated by what the character wants to do and how each panel will most effectively communicate that. If its a 12-panel page or a 3-panel page or one big panel and 15 small ones...thats what it has to be. I was for a while there trying to get some maddening art composition theory in there, Golden section kind of stuff. How to divide up a page and draw the viewers eye across it through geometry etc. Basically the kind of stuff the French poster artists of the 1920s came to play with. But it just got too crazy and you really lose the rhythm. Better to read about this stuff and use it subconsciously than go out of your way to include it.
CR - I know lots of artists generally don't enjoy reading comics and are usually happy to look at the art. Where do you stand on that issue?
Doug - In my youth I used to be all about the art. And to an extent now...if I dont get drawn in visually right off the bat the book will be on the back foot. But as I grow older and surlier Im definitely more interested in the actual story of a comic now. How the story is told etc. I also think its a delicate balance. A lot of people say a beautifully drawn book can make up for a shit story. But not vice versa.
Which I think is utter bollocks. Ive lost count of the comics Ive read that would be considered well drawn comics that just left me cold and throwing them across the room in disappointment.
Were meant to be STORYtellers. STORY should always be the driving force. Otherwise its just a bunch of nicely drawn pictures dancing around a page not doing much.
CR - What's the Flight Project all about and how did you get involved?
Doug - Flight is a group of animators and comics makers (Mostly from online communities and web comics) that got together online to create an anthology. Originally planned as a direct homage to the likes of Miyazaki and Mobieus its grown well beyond that into something truly original and pretty groundbreaking.
What's your particular story about?
Doug - My story is an alternate history of what might have happened to Laika, the first dog in space, launched by the Russians during the space race in the 50's and 60's. The idea hit me when I put together a painting of Laika sharing a vodka with a space god for an Outer Space exhibition about a year ago.
(Previews: 1, 2, 3)
When I had to start getting serious about putting something together for Flight, she popped up again and the rest pretty much fell into place. Her actual story is really quite sad and moved me to, I guess, explore what would happen if she just kept floating out into space.
It's a bit of rumination on politics, on how destructive and paranoid the human race can be, and how extreme advances in technology are not necessarily the answer to solving these problems. At its heart though it's a fun little doggie adventure.
CR - Can you give us a description of how you actually made Laika in pornographic and crunchy detail?
Doug - Like I mentioned it started with a painting of Laika and Azathoth The Infernal sharing vodka in space a year earlier. Im not entirely sure what horrid part of my brain that emanated from but thats where it started. And it was essentially the same theme. Laika didnt die she floated away into space and saw things that the human race can only dream of.
Then she popped up again around Flight time. I false started once...and it went nowhere. Sat on it for a couple of months ridiculously intimidated by the phenomenal artists that I was being published next to and eventually bit the bullet and launched her back out into space.
One of the hardest comics Ive ever EVER done. I think both because I wanted it to be 110% better than I could make it...and because I was wrestling with how to tell her story.
No script just the same technique of here she is...where are we going and jumped straight into rough pencils. Polished pencils were then done, re-reading it and with some help from yourself and the Flight Crew...decided we all hated the ending and that it needed to change. It sat right with me at first...but it wasnt Laikas ending. More Chuck Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes complete with fist shaking at the sky action. So back to the drawing board and 6 redrawn pages and two completely new pages later she was finished. Inks then colours and now shes published running around on some crazy arse planet somewhere.
I might actually post up the alternate ending on my website once the book comes out. Just so people can compare and contrast. I would be interested to see what people think of both of them.
CR - Now, convince us to part with our cash and purchase it.
Doug - You could split galaxies with the spine its THAT thick. Plus it has, I believe, set an incredibly high precedent for where comics should be looking in the near future to grow as a medium. And you want to know what the future for comics looks like dont you?
The Flight contributors are a strong new voice as far as comic artists and writers go. Do you feel you belong to a movement within comics?
As I mentioned before. I definitely think its setting a new benchmark for what comics should and can aspire to. A movement? Probably not at this stage...but definitely a bold statement. Its success so far is I think testament to the fact that comics peers and audiences are craving something more than flashy gimmicks and film deals to take comics in a new direction.
CR - Tell us of Heidi Hyperwarp?
Doug - Heidi Hyperwarp is an ongoing project that has been picked up by Image. Written by Jai Nitz (Paper Museum, Heavens Devils) its an all ages western, crime, sci-fi adventure graphic novel. At this stage its slow going as freelance work has me in its vice like well paying grip. But hopefully we should have something out later this year or early 2006.
(Previews: 1, 2 ,3)
CR - Viewing comics in any commercial aspect is a dicey situation amongst people who view it as a hobby. You and I both have talked about it being an ambition to turn our craft into our living. And we've both worked in related industries doing bill-paying dead work. Do you feel that your professional work has affected your comics work or vice versa? And do you think other can benefit from this kind of attitude? Or, if you make it a job, do you think something is missing from your art?
Doug - A bit of both. I know that the experiences Ive garnered from some freelance jobs have been invaluable. Other times its just dead work because the money is there. And sometimes my comic is what sells a client on the job. We want what you do in THIS.
I think though, its always important to put your best foot forward and try to make the most of any paying work regardless of how fulfilling (or not) it is artistically. Its still my voice out there representing me whether its my grand personal masterpiece or a job for a pet store.
So I think that dead work can be of definite benefit. Its all just another arrow in your bow and so forth. But of course there is compromise.
Time wise especially. I was just chatting to Craig Phillips this morning and we were regaling each other with the various things we were working on. We basically said at the same time Yeah its great to be busy and theyre good gigs...but man I just want to go and paint and do MY work. Its almost like taking a walk in some fresh air or a shower on a hot day there is just something completely satisfying about it.
CR - From waking up to going to bed is a hard days slog for an illustrator. What keeps you going during those hours?
Its hard to stay motivated sometimes...you have your good and bad days. I think as you go a long trying to attach yourself to projects you know you will enjoy working on and have a great deal of creative input into helps. Also this sounds really fruity...but since Ive gone fulltime freelance in the last 2 years there is an almost primal buzz that comes from knowing your skills are such that people WANT to utilise them. And Im utilising my skills to keep myself alive and the woman of the house in the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. Its a hard feeling to describe...but it definitely keeps me up till the small hours of the morning before a deadline.
CR - You used to be a con scene regular, then sorta dropped out of sight. Why?
Moving to Melbourne and the fact that the cons dont come down here to Hobbiton its become even MORE of an expense to visit them as a creator and self-publisher. Travel and accommodation costs on top of printing promotion and table costs. Its a ridiculous amount of money and its just not an expense Im willing to forego twice a year for a fraction of a return. I always feel a little pang of Ah man it looks like it was fun homesickness through photos and post con reports...but its always for the social aspect rather than the sitting behind a table scowling at people aspect. Which is probably the sole reason.
CR - How useful has the Internet been to your success?
Incredibly so. In fact its probably the biggest promotional tool I wield. Most of the work Im engaged in has come via promoting myself on the web or through someone seeing something Ive done and tracing it back to my website. Plus especially with things like the Flight message boards and The Drawing Board its a fantastic source of inspiration and camaraderie. Working at home with two moth eating cats isnt exactly the creative hotbed people make it out to be.
So these online communities are the closest things to emulating a studio environment without having to put up with office politics. Bouncing work off each other, getting advice tips or just scouring the web for new artists and inspiration. Its an invaluable tool.
Australian comics. The Inevitable Australian comics questions.
You've been involved in Australian comics for nearly a decade now. What's your impression of the attitude and skills of the average Australian product?
Doug - The average Australian product? Pretty average. A few blips of brilliance here or there, the good can be really great, but overall at the moment pretty much...average. I think we certainly have incredibly talented people here that have made comics in the past, but through one reason or another (mostly that comics here is a hobby and not a bringer of food to the table.) Those few have gone onto bigger and brighter things. Either other creative endeavors or breaking into mainstream comics overseas.
CR - It's a small pond. Who are the big fish?
Doug -The usual suspects. Dillon, Trudy Cooper, Gary Chaloner, Jason Paulos, Tonia Walden, Phosphorescent. Amazingly, (bar Phos) creators who have been in it for what...almost 15 - 20 years and still creating strong bodies of work despite all the woes that Australian comics goes through. There is a reason they are the big fish. On the up and up, Jase Harper, Dean Rankine, Matt Hyunh.
CR - What's your prediction for where things are headed, for the scene as a whole?
Doug - Actually I was thinking about this the other day...and while Im just as prone as the next person to let fly with doom prophecies...I think 2005 could be a pretty good year. Already weve had Deevee: Flange, Sporadic 5, A new Crumpleton Experiments, Eldritch Kid 1 and 2 and Meus Officium Est Abyssuss. Ive had a 24 page Western printed in France (Mococo) as well as 16 pages in Flight #2. On its way is Pirates, Something Wicked, the Operation Funny bone project. Colin Wilson is doing a 3 issue Losers story arc for Vertigo, Ben Templesmith keeps on keeping on. Jason Rand has Small Gods (Image Comics) up to issue...8?? And a trade of the first arc released earlier this year. There are rumors always of a Hairbutt The Hippo Trade. Hopefully we will see a couple more issues of Platinum Grit. Plus crews of ridiculously talented cartoonists are gathering together and in the throes of re-entering the self-publishing arena later this year with the Toon Buggy anthology.
So...its not TOO bad. Thats more than a few average blips.
Obviously...in a perfect world we would all be working 24/7 on quarterly graphic albums, lavishly produced and distributed by book publishers, paid handsome up-front wages, royalties and honored with cities named after us.
But all of the work I just mentioned I believe can stand on its own two feet against the best any overseas market can offer (some of it already is). I think its just a matter of us thinking outside the square a little and making that happen. Its a hobby sure...but taking that work and approaching publishers cant hurt. I think if we are seriously keen to make something akin to a self-supporting industry here, self-publishing 50 copies and selling them at a con wont cut it. Im a firm believer that good work will speak for itself ALWAYS. But that work isnt much good if its stuck in niche comic book shops over crowded by louder and brighter material.
Its up to us to take the initiative. While Oztaku has its flaws...I think its a perfect example of what is possible for us with a bit of savvy when it comes to promotion and production.
CR - Everyone involved in the local industry has some irritations with it. What are yours?
Doug - Lots of things...but they ebb and flow. I think on a broad scale it disappoints me that we cant keep the best people working on producing great comics, because of the nature of things. It disappoints me that the majority of creators here are pretty apathetic and not particularly interested in a bigger picture. That the same ideas to save comics go round and round and round but always with Ive got an idea that someone SHOULD... Not Ive got an idea and this is what Im DOING. It disappoints me when I see potential but no payoff and opportunities wasted. Something like 60+ people created 24 page comics in 24hrs last year...and we saw something like not even 3 or 4 of those put to good use, finished, polished up printed and sold. It disappoints me that we get caught up really quickly in stupid scene controversy that isnt there and dumb stacks on arguments rather than putting that energy into doing something creative. Screaming at creators, the scene and rage is so 2004.
CR - Where do the Australians go right?
Doug - That when we actually DO put comics out there we have no fear about telling stories that we want to tell. And being diverse within that. Its a great point to be proud of, that each of our works is utterly different. From comedy to romance to all ages to adventure, sci-fi, horror, autobiography and even a superhero or two. And I think one of the reasons that if Australian comics took itself a bit more seriously we could really make a splash.
Gully Foyle: The Best Science-Fiction Comic You’ll Never Read
By Kevin Patrick
The Second World War and its aftermath revealed both the promise and perils of scientific advance.
Physicists had unleashed the power of atomic energy, but in doing so gave mankind a new weapon which could ensure its destruction many times over. Conversely, the Nazi V2 rockets which rained death down on England were now giving the world’s new Cold War adversaries the means to reach the stars.
It was no coincidence that science-fiction was, by this time, breaking free of its pulp magazine shackles and finding favour with a wider, mainstream audience, buoyed by that new publishing phenomenon, the paperback book.
Science-fiction, it seemed, finally had something to say to its readers about the world they now found themselves in – and where their futures might possibly take them.
Alfred Bester (1913-1987) wrote his first short story, ‘The Broken Axiom’, for the April 1939 edition of Thrilling Wonder Stories, but it wasn’t until the early 1950s when he found his ‘true’ voice as a writer and, in doing so, demonstrated just how far the boundaries of science-fiction literature could be stretched.
Far from spelling the end of his embryonic career, comic books provided a valuable training ground for Bester, who found himself a berth at National Periodical Publications (DC Comics) where, from 1942 onwards, he hammered out scripts for such characters as Superman, Hawkman and Green Lantern.
He continued penning short stories for such magazines as Astounding Science Fiction, while working on his first novel, Who He?, a fictional expose of the television industry which was published in 1953, but renamed The Rat Race when released in paperback three years later.
However, Bester became truly inspired when he began working on his first science-fiction novel, The Demolished Man.
Originally serialised in Galaxy magazine during January – March 1952, The Demolished Man was, on the surface, a futuristic crime story about Ben Reich, a ruthless business magnate who sought to commit murder in a society where telepathy made it impossible for people to conceal their criminal impulses.
Written with a cynical, ‘adult’ sensibility not often seen in science-fiction, The Demolished Man caused a minor sensation when it was published in book form in 1953. It won the inaugural Hugo Award for ‘Best Novel’ in 1953 and has since been recognised as the literary forerunner of many so-called ‘cyberpunk’ novels of the 1980s and 90s.
For his next novel, Bester later revealed that he turned to 19th century literature for creative inspiration.
“I’d been toying with the notion of using The Count of Monte Cristo pattern for a story,” Bester later wrote. “The reason is simple – I’d always preferred the anti-hero and I’d always found high drama in compulsive types.”
“[The story] remained a notion until I found a pile of old National Geographics… [and] came across a piece about [a sailor] who lasted four months on an open raft.”
This intriguing anecdote formed the kernel for Bester’s new work, which revolved around Gulliver (‘Gully’) Foyle, a brutish, primitive spaceman who is transformed into a ruthless instrument of revenge, after a passing spacecraft refuses to rescue him, leaving Gully Foyle to die in the airless confines of his own crippled rocket ship.
When the first installment of Bester’s novel, originally titled Tiger! Tiger!, but renamed The Stars My Destination (at the suggestion of his editor, H.L. Gold) appeared in the October 1956 issue of Galaxy magazine, it electrified readers everywhere.
Yet even Bester couldn’t have guessed just how much impact it would have on an avid 27 year-old science-fiction fan, living on the other side of the world.
For Reg Pitt, a writer and artist living in Sydney, Australia, The Stars My Destination was much more than an entertaining, thought-provoking novel.
“As soon as I read that first issue [of Galaxy], I was dying to read the rest of the book – and I became a lifelong fan of Alfred Bester, there and then.”
“It made an indelible impression on me for so many years,” he admits. “It became an obsession.”
Reg Pitt was no stranger to the worlds of science-fiction. He’d previously collaborated with his elder brother, the illustrator Stan Pitt (1925-2002), on the comic book version of Stan’s renowned science-fiction series, Silver Starr.
Silver Starr was an Australian soldier who, after serving in the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War, joined a daring expedition to the Earth’s core aboard a vessel capable of smashing through solid rock, built by the scientist Dr. Onro. Together, they discovered the mysterious ‘Flame World’ and rescued its rightful ruler, Queen Pristine, from the evil despot, Tarka.
But the Silver Starr comic came about almost by accident, as Stan Pitt later recalled.
“I did a [full-colour comic] called Nelson Power Conquers the Universe – it was never printed incidentally, it never went on the market.” 
“But I introduced Silver Starr in the last panel and a friend of mine at the George Patterson advertising company in Sydney took them along to Eric Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer of the Sun newspaper, and he fell in love with the work.”
“He asked me to come in and see him and he said ‘This looks good, this one you’re talking about in this last panel, Silver Starr – I like the title ‘Silver Starr’, he said. ‘Could you do Silver Starr for us?’ and I said ‘Sure’.” 
Greatly influenced by Flash Gordon, the classic American comic strip created by Alex Raymond in 1934, Silver Starr in the Flameworld made its debut in Sydney’s Sunday Sun and Guardian newspaper in November 1946.
Initially spread over two tabloid pages and printed in sumptuous colour, Silver Starr was arguably the most visually stunning Australian comic strip of the postwar era and was sufficiently popular to earn its own magazine, Silver Starr Super Comic, in 1949.
Soon afterwards, Stan embarked on a new direction as a cover artist for American Science Fiction Magazine, a 36-page ‘pamphlet’ published by Malian Press, which reprinted short stories by prominent American authors, such as Leigh Brackett Robert Heinlein and John W. Campbell, for the Australian market. Stan painted a string of bold, eye-catching covers for this series, which ran for 41 issues during 1952-1955.
Just prior to the debut of The Stars My Destination in Galaxy magazine, Stan Pitt relaunched Silver Starr for the Cleveland Publishing Company, which was emerging as a dominant force in Australia’s booming ‘pulp fiction’ and paperback book industry. The company’s founder, Jack Atkins, was determined to capture a share of the local comic book market as well and released an all-new Silver Starr comic, published in full-colour – a costly experiment, partly designed to compete with the advent of Australian television broadcasting, which commenced in 1956.
The colour comic didn’t last beyond its first issue, but Reg and Stan Pitt repackaged earlier Silver Starr stories for Cleveland’s King Size Comic, as well as producing new installments of the strip for this title.
Yet from the moment they read it, the Pitt brothers seized on the idea of adapting The Stars My Destination into comic strip form.
“The book made an indelible impression on me for so many years – even though it would be 10 years before we finally got the chance to do it,” says Reg.
“It became an obsession with me over all that time,” he admits freely. “It became an absolute necessity for us to do something with it.”
Stan Pitt, too, could see the visual potential of Bester’s groundbreaking novel.
“Reg put it to me one morning that I should think about doing another comic, a science-fiction comic, this time by a well-known American author.”
“He told me that this [book] was the best thing that had ever been written in science-fiction, from the point of view of illustration. He said ‘it’s just made for you and if you do it…we’ll have no trouble selling it to America’.”
Reg set about contacting Alfred Bester through a Sydney solicitor known to his family. “He was a real cricket nut, because every time we said ‘Bester’, he kept referring to him as ‘Bedser’ – after an English cricket captain!”
While their solicitor set the legal wheels in motion, Reg and Stan busied themselves preparing a presentation folder showcasing their vision for how the comic strip, Gully Foyle (as it would be called), would look.
“Stan drew illustrations of all the main characters, and depicted situations in which they would find themselves in the comic strip,” according to Reg.
“I recall one of those images specifically showing the ‘burning man’ who appeared throughout the book.”
The brothers prepared high-quality bromides (black & white photoprints) of the sample art pages, which Stan hand-tinted using coloured inks.
“We put these pages together in a presentation folder, which we put inside this graphically designed box, using coloured paper inside and out,” says Reg. “I made all the stuff to go with it – we had to make it so appealing that he [Bester] couldn’t resist it.”
Reg wrote a cover letter to accompany the parcel – then sat back and waited for a response. And waited.
“There was a period of months where nothing happened,” explains Reg. “Then we got this telegram from Alfred Bester and it was obvious he was really annoyed.”
“The impression we got was that US Customs had told him that the parcel we sent him had insufficient postage and that he’d have to pay for it, if he wanted to get it.”
“It turned out to be some puny amount, less than US$30 – but our package of artwork was worth hundreds of dollars and I thought ‘what a bloody hide you’ve got’!”
The postal delay was eventually overcome, but getting the green light from Alfred Bester to proceed with the comic strip was by no means easy.
“Alfred Bester was a strange guy,” explains Reg. “He used to send us these pages from notepads, with little notes scribbled on them.”
“They reminded me of that line from [Australian author] A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson – ‘like a thumbnail dipped in tar’ – these strange notes scribbled in thick pen.”
“He seemed all the time to be preoccupied and these [notes] looked like afterthoughts.”
“From what we could glean, he gave us carte blanche to do what we wanted. He said ‘you obviously know what you’re doing’ – he didn’t even make any monetary demands.”
The sporadic correspondence between Reg and Stan Pitt and Alfred Bester was no doubt partly caused by Bester’s ‘nomadic’ working life. By the late 1950s, Bester was firmly established as the literary editor of Holiday magazine, a role which frequently saw him travel abroad.
As a result, months passed, and eventually dragged on into years, before the Pitt brothers began work on Gully Foyle in earnest.
While recovering from his injuries, Reg received a compensation payout which gave him and Stan the funds they needed to work full-time on the Gully Foyle comic strip.
“We got enough money to carry us through,” explains Reg. “We took out an office in [the Sydney suburb of] Burwood, just to work on the comic – we paid the rent on that and we could draw wages for both of us.”
“We started work on the strip in 1963, because that’s when my daughter [Jasmine] was born,” Reg explains, “because I had great plans for her future – that would’ve been the motivation to launch the comic.”
In recognition of what he called “Bester’s pyrotechnic style”, Reg decided that he and Stan would abandon the traditional weekend newspaper comic strip format.
Not only would Reg consciously retain as much of Bester’s original text in the comic strip’s script, but he and Stan decided to present the strip as a full-page feature.
“My main talent was always art and I was working in the advertising industry all this time as a graphic designer,” he explains.
“The writing [for comics] was something I’d been doing all my life, working on comics with Stan since I was 10 years-old.”
“Stan and I would have brainstorm sessions about the characters and ideas,” he adds. “For instance, we changed Gully Foyle’s helmet from our original, Ned Kelly-styled helmet, to a more modernised design.”
Some aspects of the book were changed, such as the extended sequence where Gully Foyle manually fires the Nomad spaceship’s rockets, which Reg replaced with the introduction of an intelligent, onboard computer, which sent the Nomad spinning off into space at Foyle’s insistent command. (“Let it burn, Brighteyes! Let’s get movin’!”)
“I’d do the backgrounds on Gully Foyle,” explains Reg. “When it came to designs that would entail buildings or structures, I’d do those, as Stan would much rather draw [human] figures.”
The Pitt brothers worked devotedly on the comic strip for months on end, as they compiled 14 weekly episodes, so they would have a backlog of work ready to publish, if the strip was eventually picked up by a newspaper syndicate. The comic strip sequences ‘concluded’ at the point where Gully Foyle blasted off from the Sargasso planetoid aboard a stolen spacecraft.
“We were going after the [American] Sunday papers, but we’d come into a lot of problems, with the [full-page] layout of the comic,” according to Reg.
“The Americans wanted a [half-page] landscape format in Sunday strips, so we went through [preparing] several versions of the strip in landscape format.”
“We even had to put in two ‘drop-out’ panels, which could be taken out, without affecting the story, as well as reduce the size of the artwork.”
“There were two versions of [Gully Foyle] in the alternate landscape format that have never been published – they’ve never even been looked at.”
Their efforts to sell Gully Foyle received some unexpected support from a local comics’ fan, John Ryan (1931 – 1979), who not only published Australia’s first comic fanzine, Down Under, in 1964, but was also a prolific contributor to American comic fanzines and amateur press association (APA) publications. Ryan even won an American ‘Alley Award’ (named after the comic strip character Alley Oop) for Best Article (Fan Category) in 1965 for his piece, ‘Down Under with the Comics’.
Ryan devoted an entire installment of his column, ‘Bidgee’, in the June 1967 edition of the American fanzine, Star Studded Comics #11, to the Gully Foyle project, providing American readers with their first glimpse of Reg and Stan’s breathtaking artwork.
“I designed the logo for John’s ‘Bidgee’ column,” Reg explains. “He was only too happy to promote it – he was delighted we were doing a new comic and were aiming so high for it. He was a good friend in that regard.”
Ryan was so passionate about Gully Foyle that he even acted as a go-between for the American newspaper syndicates and the Pitt brothers.
“John handled all the correspondence on our behalf, and we received replies from most of [the newspaper syndicates] – and some of them were very favourable,” according to Reg.
“There was a publisher in New York that was very interested in it,” as Stan Pitt recalled, “and it reached the point where it would have appeared in a few weeks in 25 newspapers throughout the United States.”
“But they wanted confirmation [from] Alfred Bester himself that it was okay for them to go ahead and do it.”
“John Ryan carried out a lot of correspondence with the publisher to try and get Alfred Bester to answer his letters, but he never did.”
“When Reg finally got an answer from [Bester] to his letters, he [apologized], but when those letters arrived, [Bester] was away on an assignment in Paraguay for Holiday magazine.”
Despite receiving Bester’s blessings to proceed with the comic strip, an unexpected legal obstacle arose when it was discovered that a planned film adaptation of The Stars My Destination apparently included exclusive rights to any comic strip adaptation – which meant that Reg and Stan Pitt no longer had the rights to sell the Gully Foyle comic strip.
The tyranny of distance, especially in those years before the advent of fax machines or email, also worked against the Pitt brothers.
“What it amounted to in the end,” explains Reg, “as someone said to us, ‘if you could be across my desk, we could solve a lot of problems there and then’.”
“The distance [between Australia and America] was what went against us in the end.”
Eventually Reg and Stan decided to abandon the project and concentrate on their respective careers, with Reg returning to the advertising industry, while Stan cemented his position as the premiere cover artist for Cleveland Publishing’s flourishing line of Western ‘pulp’ paperback novels. (In fact, Stan eventually painted over 3,500 covers for Cleveland Publishing during 1958-1986.)
“By 1967, we were both entrenched in our jobs and gave away all our foolish expectations,” says Reg.
“It was a shame, because I recognised Stan’s brilliance as an artist,” he says, “and Gully Foyle was my futile attempt to wring out one last great comic strip from him.”
Yet the Gully Foyle project did serve as an artistic calling card for Stan Pitt, who received assignments from several American publishers, including DC Comics and Gold Key Comics, which he drew in collaboration with Reg, as well.
Gully Foyle, however, seemed destined to languish forever unseen, until decades later, when an Australian advertising artist and comics’ publisher, Richard Rae, introduced himself to Stan Pitt.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rae had been actively involved in different aspects of Australia’s still largely-moribund comics’ scene. Briefly working as a cover artist for Sydney publisher KG Murray’s line of American reprint comics, Rae began writing and publishing a series of science-fiction comics, including Star Heroes and Fantastic Australian Heroes.
Aside from operating his own specialty comic book shop, Comic Empire, Rae also mounted the grandly-named event, Australia’s First International Comic Convention, which was held at the Sydney Opera House in January 1986 and featured American comic book artists Will Eisner and Jim Steranko as guests.
It was during this period that Richard first met Stanley Pitt. “My first contact with Stan was when I was putting together my Cartoonists of Australia book back in the early '80s,” he recalls. “Stan did not have the time to be interviewed for the book, as he was flat-out doing paintings for western covers [for Cleveland Publishing].
“Also, he was not that interested in being in my book [which was published in 1982], as John Ryan’s history of Australian comics, Panel by Panel [which prominently featured Stan’s work] had just been released in '79.”
“Later, when Stan and I actually met for the first time, Stan told me he had made a mistake not being in the book, as it was one of his favourite books, because it included photos of all the artists - something I've always insisted upon and that Panel by Panel did not have.”
“Anyway, we just hit it off great and my family became really good friends with him – my son even called him ‘Poppa Stan’.”
“Then, during one of our weekends together, Stan and Reg told me the full story about Ryan and Bester and Gully Foyle,” Richard says. “Stan was really sad that no one wanted to run with it...not Marvel Comics, not DC, not King Features [Syndicate]...no one!”
Left to Right: Reg Pitt; Stanley Pitt; Richard Rae
“It was that same weekend Stan asked me to be his manager,” explains Richard. “As Stan was always being bugged by fans and collectors who wanted a piece of him, so I said ‘let’s let them have a piece of you – but let’s make sure you get paid for that piece’.”
“Stan loved that idea, so I went about producing a number of items that Stan and I could sell to fans and collectors”
Under the banner of his new company, Home Grown Media, Rae repackaged and marketed a range of publications and ancillary items, featuring examples of Stan’s ‘pulp fiction’ cover artwork on posters and calendars, as well as giant-sized reproductions of the early Silver Starr in the Flameworld comic strips.
Perhaps the most sought-after title amongst all these was the limited edition Gully Foyle magazine released in 2001, which published for the first time in Australia all 14 full-page instalments of the Gully Foyle comic strip.
“The ‘compleat’ Gully Foyle book was just one of the items I produced,” Richard explains. “But Stan and Reg were blown away [to see that] their amazing work on Bester’s story was FINALLY in print!”
Text © copyright 2007 Kevin Patrick and cannot be reproduced without the author’s permission, except for purposes of comment and review. All featured artwork and/or images are © copyright 2007 their respective copyright holders. Used here with permission of the author.
Nelson Power comic artwork scans courtesy of Richard Rae.
 Bester, Alfred (1975), Hell’s Cartographers: Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers; Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison (Eds.); London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson (pg.65)
 Nelson Power Conquers the Universe was a revamped and extended version of Universal Conquest, written by Frank Ashley and illustrated by Stan Pitt, which was serialised in various Frank Johnson Publications’ titles, including the Star Pocket Comics series, during the mid-1940s.
 All quotes attributed to Stanley Pitt are taken from a transcript of a radio interview (© Spectrum FM Radio) conducted by John Weeks on 1 November 1997 on 3MDR 97.1 FM, Victoria, Australia, and used with permission.
This is an interview I did for a reporter from Q Pride. I don't know if it ever got published, but I thought I'd share it in case anyone was interested. - Maggie
When did you develop an interest in art and comics?
I was really small. I can remember bugging my dad for Batman comics at a very early age. I must have been 5 or 6. I drew my first comic when I was maybe 10. I used my mom’s eye shadow to colour it. I've drawn all my life. My mom has a framed picture I did when I was about 4. It's awful. *laugh*
What do you see yourself as primarily? A storyteller or an artist?
I don’t know. I really _want_ to be a storyteller, but I’m an impatient storyteller... I’m always anxious to jump right to the cool stuff. But I love weaving a mythos, too. So I’m a bit scattered. And as an artist... I’m not all that impressed with myself. But I get better every year, so that’s something.
Where did the ideas and characters in Katie Galaxy originate?
OK, now you can see what a bad storyteller I am. *laugh* I actually quit drawing for many years. I've always drawn, since I can remember. No matter what I always had a sketch book somewhere in my possession. But in the 80s and 90s, after being knocked out by ‘Love & Rockets’, I just really got enthused and I drew and I drew and I drew. I ripped off Jaime Hernandez a lot... but I kept at it. But eventually I made the mistake of thinking I needed to be able to break into mainstream comics to 'be' something. You know, send samples to the Marvel and DC and the like. All the while I’m drawing comics about three girls who live in an apartment together or about two odd characters stranded in the desert (somethign call ‘If’ which I _will_ resurrect one day - probably as a webcomic). Man was I stupid. I should have been, as it was called then, 'underground'. Nothing ever came of the whole submissions thing. Mainstream comics is not where I belong, nor can I ever compete there. And it _is_ a competition. I did some inking for some small-time guys, but that was about it.
Oops. Bad storytellers digress... So one day I drew a picture of a cartoonish girl dissheveled, dirty and slumped against a bullet-hole riddled wall with the caption ‘I just saved the universe, what’s your excuse?’ I named her after this amazing young girl called Kate that a friend was helping raise (hi, Katiebug!) and decided she should be in space salvage. After a bit I began penciling page after page of a Kati Galaxy comic. Long story shorter, eventually some crap in life absorbed me and my soul and I just stopped drawing. I mean literally. A box sat in my basement labeled "Maggie's art crap" and I didn't touch it for years. I might draw some little thing on the computer for someone, but that was about it. And... oh, man this is gonna cause a collective groan... all those pages of Katie Galaxy... I threw 'em out.
I can't tell you exactly when or even exactly why, but one day I just picked up and started drawing again. And Katie was the first thing that came out. So I sat and thought about her story (OK, I didn't sit... I was probably in the shower and at the grocery, etc.) and I decided I'd just take the very core story from before, except her dad has died, and see what happens. Format, story... the whole thing has been an experiment from day one. The first page was a single panel, later it was a 3 panel strip, but nowadays it's a full 'regular' comic page. I would do something, see what people thought, then try something else. It went from cartoonish to a more semi-realistic style. And I still play around with things. I always said I'd print it one day, but I'm dead certain I'll end up re-drawing the first part so that it matches the end. And I want to go back to hand colouring, too.
The absence of Katie’s father is a driving force throughout the text, why is this? And what was the rationale behind eliminating the ultimate masculine force in Katie’s life?
Oh, man! You cut right to the chase! *laughs* Yeah. From the beginning I put Katie into a precarious world that was on the edge of collapse and I pulled the rug, or in this case 'dad', right out from under her. Well, that's not entirely true... there's the Katie no one ever saw and the reason that, technically, the strip is called 'The New Katie Galaxy'. Her dad was alive in the strips that ended up in the dumpster. Wow... dumpster sounds so horrible. Like I've murdered something.
But I'm getting off track again. I wanted things to be very personal for Katie and, necessarily, very hard. And I felt I had to let her dad go for that to happen - to really give her some angst to work with. I guess the fact that I have a very strong bond with my dad is what colours that idea. And add to this the fact that she, a strong woman who's struggled with the whole idea of being 'tough' instead of taking the fluffy girly route (like Leggs, the daughter of the 'bad guy'), has to fill a man's shoes now and show that she can do it. One of the regrets I do have about doing this strip in a fluid, experimental way, is that I let go of 'Green-eyed Monster' too fast. I thought the readers were getting bored and so I jumped into some action. But I think that exploring more of Katie's struggle with body image and defining 'feminine' would make for a better and stronger story in the end. But, in case anyone missed my heavy-handed metaphor... when the skimpy green shorts went out and she starts wearing the flight suit pants and braces, that's when she lets go to and decides to be Katie Galaxy, Adventurer and not Katie Galaxy, The Daughter.
What part does your identity as a woman play in the writing process and what stories you choose to tell?
It depends. I mean, a lot of what I do is 12 year old boy territory, historically. Whiz bang sci-fi space stories and chasing monsters. But... I guess I approach them in a completely different way. I guess if movies made for women are 'chick flicks', then I do Chick-Fi. I like portraying women in the same way that male characters like Allan Quatermain or Doc Savage or Indiana Jones or Batman were portrayed. So this is necessarily going to include Katie having to overcome not just an antagonist's gender-typing, but also possibly the reader's. Katie kicks butt. She's strong, smart and adventurous. Ava Giddy, from my book project 'Lense of Bast', isn't so strong or confident, but she also kicks butt in her own way. I also have a rarely-updated journal comic called 'Encre de Chine' (http://heyniceshoes.com/encre ) where I vent some of my rage and bile so that it doesn't come out elsewhere.
You play a lot with women’s identity and the concept of ‘woman’, where does this confidence to experiment come from and do you think it is generally well received by readers?
Well, originally most of my readers were just friends. So they were willing to read whatever I did without complaint. *laugh* But after a while I started gaining new readers and I think... well, there's a whole thing about coming in late. You feel a bit of an obligation to be quiet and not ask for explanation as to why the woman on screen is wearing those ridiculous shorts. So, for the most part, I've not given it a lot of thought. Well, except in that I wish I'd actually explored it more. But this sort of thing is definitely why, for instance, her mechanic and only employee, Diesel, is a guy. He's there as the setup for instances where prejudice comes into play - just as it still does in real life. Go out to a couple of car lots and act like you're gonna buy a car and gauge your experience. Come back the next day, but bring a guy. I guarantee you'll have a different experience. You may even become invisible. But Katie will never accept invisible. And Diesel won't either. He's that guy friend who understands - who believes in you and will go the distance to back you up. On the other hand, I consciously made Faust a woman because I don't want all my 'bad guys' to be men. I'm not like that. Bad people come in all underwear types. *laugh*
So... I hope this is all well-received because, if Katie continues for some time, I hope to explore it all a bit more.
How focused on the writing style are you in comparison to your style of art?
Hmm... not enough, for sure. But I do love dialogue. In my head the characters play-act and I enjoy trying to capture their dialogue into a story. In that respect I'm more of a Kevin Smith-style writer. I mean... space nazis? Pretty un-original, but dammit... I loved things like Indiana Jones and Hellboy. They got to do Nazis and I wanted to do some Nazis too! This is my chance to do Nazis! That said, the next Katie arc is more well-defined.
With Ava Giddy ('Lense of Bast') I'm trying to really beat myself into shape. Nothing goes on the page until a story's arc is really worked and worked and I know that it's compelling. Which makes me even later than usual. *laugh* Fortunately I've got some backup. Daniel Lawson, for instance, has done a very cool story for LofB which will both fill out the book and bring in some real 'writing' talent alongside my half-assed storytelling. *laugh* I've also, for the first time, written a story for someone else to illustrate. I can't say who's doing it yet, but it's going to be super sweet visually.
With writers like Joan Hilty, Alison Bechdel and numerous others dealing with the issue of homosexuality in a heterosexual world via more real-world stories, where do you think Katie Galaxy fits in with her dissection of femininity in action?
Oh, wow. I don't know. I mean, they're on another level from me. I'm awed by the very thought of even having the question asked. One day, hopefully, I'll have made at least some mark where people will say nice things about me. But Bechdel and Joan Hilty... well, they've already left wide swaths in the landscape, as far as I'm concerned. Hell, my wife won't go to comic conventions with me, but she's said she _will_ go to San Diego next year if it means she might get to meet Bechdel!
Self-effacing remarks aside, I hope I can do my small part to be an example of a woman participating in comics in an area where we aren't generally noticed or expected and to portray characters who are just as strong and interesting as your average male adventurer. And you can count on some commentary about gender-typing and homosexuality along the way... if my sad storytelling holds up, that is. *laugh* I will say this... one of my characters _is_ gay. But I haven't told a soul, even my wife, who it is yet. I'll point it out when it's relevant, but not until then.
Was it always your intention that Katie Galaxy would increase the visibility of female action heroes around the world?
It would be cool to say that... but it's not true. In fact, I never expected I'd be doing interviews about Katie. The strip was an experiment in forcing myself to produce _something_ and to explore various aspects of making comics -- a self-imposed trial by fire, if you will -- leading up to doing more substantive things like, hopefully, the series I'm working on now.
Your strip is not overtly political but it certainly has a political edge- why is this and how is this received?
People who know me see the political sort of... bubbling underneath. But it's very diluted. I've really thought about going more hardcore 'message' with Katie, but it never seems right. But it has its place in some of my other work. In my everyday life I'm a very vocal person in regards to politics and I read and absorb in great voracious gulps. It spills into my journal comic more than anywhere else. The next Katie story is a bit more political, I'd say, but not a lot more. 'Lense of Bast' will, however, deal with the pitiful state of poverty and homelessness in the US. I feel very strongly about that.
What was the first real piece of your writing that was taken seriously?
Oh, God... eons ago! I feel so old! There was a period where I wrote quite a lot. I was drawing too, but not to tell stories. And I had a thing here or there printed. Small press sort of things. But, to be quite honest, I can't even recall most of them. In my adult years, I guess it was when I was writing for a web magazine called Tripod; back in the dot com boom days. My mom to this day still asks "when are you going to start writing again?" She's not real interested in my comics. *laughs*
What is your opinion on the well-known superhero comic genre and is Katie Galaxy at all a reaction to male-centric genres?
Loaded question! *laugh* I should mention that I run an online forum for Aussie comics fans and creators (pulpfaction.net) and a lot of my friends there are into mainstream comics. I read them as a kid and I'll occasionally pick up and read a really exceptional series here or there, but for the most part I'm not into them. But in deference to my friends at Pulp Faction I feel I should add a Seinfeldian "not that there's anything wrong with that!"
I will say this, though: Even though I'm not a fan of the superhero genre, I think that some of its creators have taken a lot of undeserved heat in the past 10 or 15 years. Sure, there's still plenty of 'big tits and big guns' sexism in the genre. Hooboy is there ever. But there are also a lot of people trying to change mainstream comics from within. And while it might take the collapse of one of the big players before it happens, they just might eventually succeed.
And is Katie a reaction to the genre? Hell yes. *laughs* But I have to tell you that one of the scariest bits for me was when I started the strip, the whole body image lead up... There were butts and tits and... I was terrified someone was going to take it as more T&A claptrap which, on the surface, it might just appear to be. On top of that, there's the just plain human aspect too; I'm gay and I'm human. So I like women and I'm a sexual creature. So I draw things to please my eye and my libido. Even for a woman, it's sometimes hard to know when you cross the line.
Katie is somewhat of an anti-hero, do you find the hero’s call to arms more realistic when it comes after the kind of trauma Katie experiences?
Absolutely. It's that old saw about having greatness thrust upon you. I like stories that are messy from the start. And as Australians and Americans... we love the diggers or the underdogs. I mean... some people just can't get enough of Ned Kelly. Now by any other measure the guy was a rogue and a criminal, but because of who he was fighting against, The Man as it were, and his situation... people just respond to that. And they are willing to blot out that little fact about him being a reckless criminal. In some fashion or other, we all feel like and anti-hero. So we relate.
What other projects (if any) are you working on?
Well, now that our life has settled down again, I'm eager to get some bigger projects off the ground. The biggest is a new on-going series called 'Lense of Bast: The Strange Chronicles of Ava Giddy' (lenseofbast.com). It's a sort of 'monster of the week' book with a character I'm just aching to write for. There's an over-arching story arc for Ava Giddy, but then there's the fun of a weekly (well, bi-monthly) monster chasing romp. If all goes as planned, it will be a long story and a shorter backup story in each issue. As a kid I always loved getting more than one story in a book, so I'm bringing that back in my own small way. And this allows for other people to come in and give their own take on writing or drawing for the character. I'm really excited about that.
Ava is a 30-something woman who lives in an abandoned bank vault. She has a history of mental illness and has lived on her own since she was about 11. She finds, in the vault, a pair of goggles that allow her to see that there are monsters walking amongst us disguised to the naked eye. She reluctantly finds herself having put herself at risk and take on these demons and monsters time and again. The last thing Ava needs, however, is to do is draw attention to herself. And even when she does find herself confronting the authorities, they just think she's nuts. She faces a constant struggle between doing the right thing, she's a bit crazy but she's also smart and decent, and not doing things that will get her arrested or shipped off to some hospital. Along the way she learns of some very mystical aspects of our world that none of us ever imagined.
What else... I did the cover for and contributed a story for another Australian anthology that's coming out any day now, the FoolProof Anthology. It contains stories that all, in some way or other, refer to the fictional Sydney neighbourhood which is home to the Suburban Knights from Foolproof Comix. I did a one off story about a pair of rocket pack wearing cops and a giant robot called 'Sky Corps'.
And speaking of one offs, apparently enough people liked 'Jill Tomorrow: Girl of the Future', my last entry for the 24hr Challenge - where you create an entire comic in 24 hours - that I'm going to print it up and make it available online. It's a story about a girl who has to save her girlfriend from the clutches of evil. And deal with her parents. I also printed the book I did last year, but there seems to be much more interest in 'Jill Tomorrow' and I'm just pleased people want to buy it. Trudy Cooper even said I should do more. Everybody loves a happy lesbian couple story. *laugh*
I also recently inked a book called 'Seasons' with Aussie penciller Sean Lee for an American outfit. I'm not sure where it will end up. And I have every intention of adding some new strips to my journal comic 'Encre de Chine'. I've promised another round of guest comics there, too. If any webcomic/comic artists out there would like to contribute, drop by the site, have a look at last year's and drop me an e-mail.
And last, but not least, I hope to get off my ass and finish the current Katie story so I can start on the next one! It's more developed and there's far less room for experimenting. And it has hackers and snow. So I'm excited. *laughs* And I have tons of Katie gift art I need to get online. And I'm always looking for more (hint! hint!).
You recently contributed a piece to an Australian anthology called Something Wicked; What is it all about and what is your piece? Is horror one of your preferred genres?
A year or so ago Jason Paulos posted online a very old-school horror story he'd done. It was very coll and very much in the vein of those old 'Vault of Horror' and 'Creepy' anthology comics. People started talking about how cool it would be to do a new horror anthology in that tradition. Then one day Troy Kealley put out a call on Pulp Faction (pulpfaction.net) for artists and writers and said let's just do it. I'd never done a true horror piece, but I wanted to be in the book for sure so I asked if one of the writers who'd responded had a story I could illustrate.
I got one from Dan Best that was just awesome, but I knew there was no way I could do it. It needed someone who could faithfully do animals and... I suck at animals, among other things. *laugh* Now, I love Dan Best's writing so this was a hard thing to turn down (please Dan, send me another one way!). But Andy Finlayson did an incredible job and did the story ('Wolf') real justice. Troy said Liz Argall might have a short atmospheric piece and, well it was sci-fi and zombies so I figured it was fate! *laughs*
That's the first horror piece I've done and... let me tell you... drawing guts is hard!
What graphic novels do you keep that you never want to lose?
Hmm... I love Mike Mignola's 'Hellboy'. I think I'd have to say those. Oh, who am I kidding... I can think of 50 more! *laugh*
What led you to publish directly on to the web in addition to submitting a graphic novel publishers and going the minicomics route? Or do you publish hard copy (and where can Australians buy them?)?
Originally I started publishing on the web because it was easy and because I could make mistakes along the way and no one could say they weren't getting their money's worth. I wanted to push myself and explore and webcomics were the in thing at the time. And it's been good for me. It's been a sort of hothouse for me and it's helped me grow a lot faster than sitting around trying to figure out how to get something printed.
Australians can find some of my anthology work in 'Eat Comics', 'Something Wicked Horror Anthology', 'Pirates', 'Foolproof Anthology' and I have some pinups in the upcoming 'Dreams of Tomorrow'. Most, if not all, are available from PhaseTwo Comics (http://www.phasetwocomics.com). I also try to keep links to other books on my portfolio site () See 'about me' for links to a compilation book and some other things. 'Lense of Bast' will definitely be available from Phase Two when it comes out. I'm still an honorary Aussie!
Publishing on the web only, do you get a lot of interaction with your audience? Who seems to be reading your stuff?
No. And that sucks. I do hate that about the web. Hello! I know you're out there, I see the traffic come through, so please drop a line even if just to say hi. I'm just a regular person and I promise to reply. :)
What makes you make comics? Why work in this medium, rather than prose or another visual narrative art?
I don't know. I just do. Because drawing is a part of who I am it needs to be expressed. And I'm a frustrated wannabe filmmaker. So drawing comics lets me express some of that. Fish gotta swim, I gotta draw.
You seem to be draw towards Film Noir and Sci-fi (in fact you have an interesting hybrid of the two- Sci-noir!), why and how conscious are you of your influences?
Oh, I'm totally conscious of it. :) I love film noir and I love sci-fi. Sci-Noir. I like it! I also love monster movies and old radio and TV/film serials. I used to sneak out of bed and watch old monster movies when I was a kid. A local TV station played them late at night when they didn't have much else to play. I still get a tingle in my spine when one of them comes on cable now. So for me, a movie like 'Sky Captain' is almost pornography.
What is it like being a woman working in the industry? What hurdles (if any) do you face?
It's good, actually. At least in Australia. I really feel like I'm treated with the same level of respect as a guy would expect from the Australian community. But back in the US it's a little different. The mainstream is SO dominant here that you really have to work at screaming loud enough to be heard, and _then_ you can go about trying to get some respect. But it's still early days for me in the US, so ask me again in a year. :) Having said that, I have to note what a boon to publishing print-on-demand has been. It's the real world equivalent of the web - anyone who wants to can access it and use it to get your story out to the world. And I see a lot of women taking advantage of this.
My day job is heaps harder as regards gender-typing. I'm a system administrator at the physics department of... a certain Ivy League university in Boston, Massachusetts. For the most part it's not a big issue as the field is attracting more and more women, but it's traditionally been a predominately male field of study -- hell, my building didn't even have female toilets until really late in the 20th century. So sometimes I feel like I've got to really shine a bit brighter to show that I'm good at what I do. But, I'm really psyched as the latest batch of graduate students was over 1/4 female!
So, comparing the two, being a woman in comics is a breeze.
You lived with your partner Sarah for some years in Australia, what were your impressions of the comic industry here?
Great! I love the Aussie comics community and I was welcomed with open arms into it. So on a personal level my experience has been really positive. And I continue to be active in the community as much as I can. But, sadly, the 'industry'... it's disconnected, scattered. I run a pretty big Aussie comics forum and there are still books and artists I've not even heard of who are selling well in, say, Perth, but I've never seen their books. The North, the South and the West - none of us communicate very well with one another. One of the most frequent answers to questions similar to this is, "what industry?"
But there are people trying to change that. And the Internet is helping. Gavin and Emma at Phase Two have built a great online store that anyone can submit books for sale to. That's been a big change. This year's 24Hour Challenge got heaps of print, web and radio time. Diamond, the big worldwide distributor, has been very supportive of Paul Abstruse and Christian Read's 'Witch King'. And the sheer quality of 'Something WIcked' has apparently gotten some traditional retailers going "wait a minute... that's rather nice!" Now if we had a decent print-on-demand service and a bit more cohesion... we could _just_ about make an industry. And I think the public at large, through things like the success of 'Sin City' at the box office, are learning that comics are not necessarily kiddie books. They can be as cool and as hard hitting as a movie or television show. And they can be about anything. The people who do them are burning to tell a story. And there's nothing more compelling than a story someone's just bursting to tell. And draw.
Okay now the easy questions…
What cds are in your cd player at this moment?
Our Cds are still in Australia! But recently, on my iPod, I’ve listened to NoFX. Liz Phair. And I just got turned on to New Pornographers. I listen to a lot of news podcasts, too.
What book is in your bag or on your nightstand?
Kids' books! ‘Operation Red Jericho’ by Joshua Mowll, ‘Bloody Jack’ by L.A. Meyer. I have it in my head to one day do a book for the 7-12 year old set. So I read a lot of what’s out there.
I have an Iron Giant figure that’s about 56cm tall. I was crazy for the movie.
If you could have dinner with ten people, dead or alive, who would they be and why? (Who is your personal hero?)
I think I’ll pick mostly dead people ‘cuz that’s more fun. A table of spooks! Einstein and Nils Bohr for a good science fight. Alan Turing, a queer genius of epic proportion, Grace Murray Hopper and Charles Babbage for computer nerdiness. Maxfield Parrish, probably the greatest illustrator who ever lived, because he’s my biggest non-living art idol. Mike Kaluta and Jaime Hernandez because they’re my biggest living art idols. Alex Raymond because he could draw comics like no one else could. And, finally, Trudy Cooper because I love her company and I couldn’t deny her a chance to meet Maxfield Parrish and Jaime Hernandez!
RIght now my personal hero is Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show’ because his ‘fake’ news show does more to expose the real news than any ‘real’ news show does. And America needs a lot of that right now.
What is your favourite movie of all time?
I’m a HUGE movie fan and this is a question I’m never able to answer well. But I’ve decided to go with the movie that had the most impact on my work: The Day The Earth Stood Still. But that’s not to say that ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Dark City’ are any less favourites. Man that’s hard...
What TV show would you never miss?
Right now this is a really easy question to answer: The new Battlestar Galactica. All sci-fi aspects aside, it’s just a really great drama. I only wish my friends back in Australia were able to watch it too.
Which part of the world would you happily live in forever?
It'’s hard... Right now I’m really happy to be back ‘home’. But I have a great interest in exploring the world. But at my core I’m most comfortable in America.
Who is your favourite writer?
I adore Neil Gaiman. But I’m fickle. I love many writers and cheat on them regularly with other writers. *laughs*
What is your favourite word?
”Awesome”. Well, it’s my favourite in that I use it way too much. That and some words you probably shouldn’t print. *laugh* I’m a smart-assed butch woman with a potty mouth.
If you had to go to a costume party, who would you go as?
I don’t know! And my first good Halloween in 4 years is coming up and I need to decide! That’s one thing that Asutralian kids need to reconsider; Halloween - it means FREE CANDY! Why aren’t you doing it? Last year I went very punk, mohawk and Siouxie-like makeup. The last really neat costume was Catwoman. But that was several kilos ago... *sniff* No way I could do it now.
One last question (this one I have to ask) - Are you happy being “identified” as gay?
Absolutely! I’m here, I’m queer, get me a Diet Coke! It’s just a part of who I am. It’s like Neil Gaiman is British. Or Kean Soo is Canadian. I’m Queernadian. Or Gayish. *laugh* And I’ve long ago given up caring whether it influences people’s judgement of me. Considering what Sarah and I went through just to stay together I’m right damned proud of who we are. How many straight couples can say they've gone so far just to stay together? Not many, because they don't _have_ to jump through hoops just to keep from being separated. We've each had to leave a career and our families and friends on either shore and then suffer through _two_ international moves. We now live in the only state in the US that allows same-sex marriage and, by god, we deserve it!
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