In the 1990s it was not unusual to find alternative comics in record shops in Sydney such as Phantom Records, Red Eye Records and Waterfront Records. You could find an assortment of locally made comics in a corner on the floor or on a shelf or display rack (some of the odd sizes of the comics produced did not fit standard racks and perhaps that is why they found their way onto the floor), along with the standard stock of vinyl and cassettes, CDs, music books, VHS tapes and DVDs. A similar situation could be found in Brisbane at Rocking Horse Records, in Canberra at Impact Records and in Adelaide at Big Star Records and Dominator Records. It was in these record shops that I first found some of the Australian alternative comics that became the subject of my research into comics. There were also specialist bookshops that stocked these comics as well as fantasy and sci-fi and movie material. In Sydney such shops were Land Beyond Beyond, Comic Kingdom, Kings Comics and in my suburb of Glebe, Half A Cow, a really wonderful shop to browse in with its carefully selected subcultural stock. It also had that strange logo of a cow cut in half, across not along like the Damien Hirst version and in cartoon form not realistic style. There were also mail order distros such as Chewing Gravel that sold Australian comics.
The shop in Glebe. (Photo by Louise Graber)
Half A Cow business card with it’s eye catching sliced cow illustration.
That independent record shops were selling alternative comics was perhaps due to the perceived affinity of both medium’s independent approach to production and distribution. This positioning of the small press in the independent landscape created parallels with the independent music industry that had flowed on from the Punk Rock movement. The term ‘Xerox music’ referred to the independent production of Punk records where the distribution system also employed a D.I.Y. approach with product being delivered to interested shops by hand. Alternatively it could be distributed by mail order. There were similarities in the way alternative comics were produced and distributed. These comics of the 1980s and 1990s, because of their small print runs (usually less than 500), were commonly printed on photocopy machines by their creators rather than by the more costly offset process or digital printing used by professional print technicians for commercial clients. After printing their comics the creators, like their musical colleagues, would normally distribute their work themselves, to comics, books and record shops, doing the rounds on foot, bus, train or bicycle and carrying small amounts of stock in their bags, then returning a week or do later to check on sales. Eventually most of the more mainstream comics shops carried some alternative comics. There were even some musicians who also made comics. Ray Ahn, Ryan Vella and Glenn Smith are examples. Half A Cow’s affinities with independent music ended up changing them from a bookshop into an independent record label.
Louise Graber’s Black Light Angels comic-first sold at Half A Cow in Glebe.
This is the ninth in a series of posts called Archives of Australian Comics History that document moments in the recent history of Australian comics, particularly alternative comics and the Australian Small Press. I started researching this subject in the late 1990s and it eventually led to my PhD thesis: Ph.D. Macquarie University, Division of Society, Culture, Media and Philosophy, A Study Of Contemporary Australian Alternative Comics 1992-2000 With Particular Reference To The Work Of Naylor, Smith, Danko And Ord, 2003. On completion of the research I donated the materials and comics I had collected to the National Library of Australia: Michael Hill Collection of Australian Comics.
Posts in Archives of Australian Comics History: Comic-Fest Comics in Record Shops Comics Workshops Down Under Ground Getting SMASH(ed)! Imaginary Worlds Symposium International Exhibition of Drawings OZCON Mind Rot Savage Pencils Sick Puppy Comix TiNA Arena MCA Zine Fair 2002 Sequential Art Studies Conference 2nd Sequential Art Studies Conference