Archive of Australian Alternative Comics: DOWN UNDER GROUND

Underground comics are the subject of this post, Australian underground or alternative comics as they are better known. Firstly, an exhibition that Glenn Smith curated called The Ink Runs Deep Down, Down Underground at the Orange Regional Gallery in New South Wales in 2005, and then a conference organised by Donald Ault called Underground(s) at the University of Florida in 2003. I was involved with both, writing an essay “Art From The Inkubator”, for the exhibition catalogue in Orange and opening the exhibition, and presenting a paper “Down Under Ground: Emotional and Oppositional Outpourings from Sydney’s Subculture in the Comics of Glenn Smith” at the Florida conference.

The Ink Runs Deep...exhibition catalogue. (Design by Glenn Smith)

The Ink Runs Deep...exhibition catalogue. (Design by Glenn Smith)

The successive waves of Australian alternative comics produced since the 1980s feature a raw and spontaneous graphic style, an irreverent attitude and D.I.Y. Punk influenced approach to production, different from mainstream approaches to comics production in that they could be pluralistic, wide-ranging, antagonistic and mocking, containing taboo themes. The exhibition in Orange celebrated the creative expression behind these comics, that much maligned art form usually consigned to the pop culture trash bin, but there elevated to the gallery wall.

Back cover of the exhibition catalogue. (Design by Glenn Smith)

Back cover of the exhibition catalogue. (Design by Glenn Smith)

Creators featured in the exhibition are listed on the back cover of the exhibition catalogue, above. They exhibited applications of comic art in animation, painting, posters, book covers, and skate boards and a range of mediums from pen and ink to digital imaging. The day after the opening I went to the Orange farmers’ market and had the sweetest apples and tastiest bacon and egg-roll ever!

Display of Anton Emdin comics in the exhibition.

Display of Cruel World minicomics by Anton Emdin.

Display of Black Light Angels minicomics by Louise Graber in the exhibition.

Display of Black Light Angels minicomics by Louise Graber.

Commenting on the emergence of the underground comix in Australia in his book Panel By Panel, John Ryan pointed to the social context of the 1970’s as a period in which a sense of national pride developed and led to a consequent interest in locally made comics. That first wave of Australian alternative comics was seemingly motivated by the North American Underground Comix movement. Like the Abstract Expressionist art movement of the 1950s, which Australia seemed to have mysteriously imported, rather than organically grown, these comics initially appeared derivative but later developed an Australian style.

Louise Graber with a painting of a panel from her comic Black Light Angels in the exhibition.

Louise Graber with a painting of a panel from her comic Black Light Angels in the exhibition.

These comics can be seen as an echo of the Underground comix of the late 1960s that began in San Francisco, different in style and content to the mainstream North American super-hero themed comics, they opened up the way for autobiographical and artform genres. At the Florida conference it was exciting to hear from some of the creative figures from the original Underground as well as to describe Glenno’s work, and argue that it had some resonance with what they had done.

Front cover of Underground(s) conference program. (Design by William S. Kartalopoulos)

Front cover of Underground(s) conference program. (Design by William S. Kartalopoulos)

Back cover of Underground(s) conference program. (Design by William S. Kartalopoulos)

Back cover of Underground(s) conference program. (Design by William S. Kartalopoulos)

Underground(s) poster (detail).

Underground(s) poster (detail).

This is the twelth 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

Archive of Australian Alternative Comics: COMICS IN RECORD SHOPS

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.

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

Archive of Australian Alternative Comics: SAVAGE PENCILS

Savage Pencils was an exhibition of contemporary Australian comics cover art that I curated at Silicon Pulp Animation Gallery, Sydney in 2001. It featured original art by Paul Abstruse, Ray Ahn, Gerard Ashworth, Anita Bacic, Xander Black, Neale Blanden, Anna Brown, Bronson Boyd, Susan Butcher, Bernard Caleo, Dakanavar, Tim Danko, Anton Emdin, Michael Fikaris, Edo Fuijkschot, Louise Graber, Ben Hutchings, Scott Johnson, Gregory Mackay, Alex Major, Kieran Mangan, Daniel McKeown, Chris Mikul, Alice Mrongovius, John Murphy, Dillon Naylor, Linzee R. Nold, Mandy Ord, Jason Paulos, Q-Ray, Kirrily Schell, Jan Scherpenhuizen, Shags, Bernie Slater, Glenn Smith, Cipta Tanamas, Dean Tarjavaara, Matt Taylor, Ross Tesoriero, Tolley, Ryan Vella, Kevin Whitfield, Colin Wilson and  Carol Wood.

The invitation by Glenn Smith.

The exhibition catalogue contained the essays: “The Broken Pencils of Southeast Asia” by International Journal of Comic Art editor John A. Lent, “Why the Australian Small Press Make Eskimo Comics” by Tim Danko, and my “Sick Puppies With Pencils”.

Neale Blanden illo-also used as the exhibition catalogue cover.

As a fun idea for the catalogue I asked the artists to draw a ‘savage pencil’. Here is a selection. All art is the copyright of the respective creators.

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson

Butcher and Wood aka the Pox Girls.

Louise Graber

Louise Graber

Ross Tesoriero

Alice Mrongovius

Linzee R. Nold

Shags

Chris Mikul

Chris Mikul

Matt Taylor

Ben Hutchings

Tolley

Bernard Caleo

Bernard Caleo

Ryan Vella

Kirrily Schell

The notion of collecting comic art was fairly new in Australia at the time. This exhibition offered 50 works ranging from the mainstream to the the avant-garde, from 44 artists representing every State of Australia except the Northern Territory. Some of the cover art was displayed on the gallery’s website.

Exhibition installation view. (Photo by Louise Graber)

The exhibition catalogue with cut-up Neale Blanden illo on the cover.

The exhibition catalogue with cut-up Neale Blanden illo on the cover.

The title for the exhibition was taken from the alias of Edwin Pouncey, an English comics creator of the early 1980s whose ‘punk’ style of graphics proved inspirational to alternative cartoonists. This show celebrated drawing, a precious commodity in an age of appropriation and scanning, and the creative expression that drawing is given in comics. Here the drawing was both art and pop culture trash and very affordible.

This is the eighth 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

Archive of Australian Alternative Comics: INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION OF DRAWINGS-COMICS

Thirteen years ago to the day the 14th International Exhibition of Drawings opened at the Museum of Modern Art in Rijeka, Croatia, 17th December 1998-20th March 1999, and was devoted to comics. Invited to contribute to the selection of the show based on the research I was doing at the time following a referral from Professor Joan Kerr(ANU), I selected and sent 13 works by 14 creators and wrote an essay The Australian Underground that was published in the exhibition catalogue in Croatian and English: In its own small way the underground comics community not only contributes to the visual cultural life of Australia but also to an understanding of it. It adds to the ongoing critique of Australian culture and provides a healthy and relatively unregulated creative outlet. From its position on the margins its critical viewpoint is expressed with great humour. ‘Taking the piss out of things’ would seem an appropriate and very Australian way of describing it. (extract)

Cover of the exhibition catalogue. (Design by Mirko Ilić, drawing by Davor Vrankić)

The Comic Messiah by Q-Ray (Clint Cure), 1998, ink on paper.

Other artists in this exhibition included Max Andersson, Enki Bilal, Guido Crepax, Will Eisner, Jason(John Arne Sæterøy), Henry “Hank” Ketcham, Brant Parker, Hugo Pratt, Quino, Bryan Talbot, Mort Walker and Song Qing Zhu (Gao Diao). It was wonderful that the work of emerging Australian creators was displayed alongside these established international creators.

Black Light Angels by Louise Graber, 1998, ink on paper.

Blackie’s last day by Tony Single, 1994, pencil, felt pen, ink on paper.

Upward + Onward by Damien Woods, technical pen and felt pen on photocopy paper.

Lightning Strike by Mandy Ord, 1998, ink on paper.

Radiation Sickness by Ross Tesoriero, 1997, ink on paper.

Ah-choo by Neale Blanden, 1997, combined technique on paper.

Jean and Rolly by Timothy John Danko, 1995, collage on paper.

Kurt Hurt’s Reasons to Draw Comix by Stuart Stratu, 1997, ink and whiteout on paper.

Francis Bear by Gregory Mackay, 1998, ink on paper.

Stranger Danger by Ryan Vella, 1997, ink on paper.

Bernard Caleo and Tolley-The False Impressionists, 1997-combined technique on paper.

The False Impressionists by Bernard Caleo and Tolley, 1997, combined technique on paper.

The Killer Foetus by Ben Hutchings, 1997, combined technique on paper.

The Killer Foetus by Ben Hutchings, 1997, combined technique on paper.

This is the fifth 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

Archive of Australian Alternative Comics: SICK PUPPY COMIX

Neale Blanden T-shirt design.

This blog was triggered by a T-shirt I happened to be wearing when I bumped into Stuart Stratu, the creator of Sick Puppy Comix, at the MCA Zine Fair. It’s about fifteen years old and still wearable and I love Neale Blanden’s design. Sick Puppy Comix was an anthology of short pieces by Australian and overseas creators that was edited and self-published by Stratu who was motivated to commence small press publishing after visiting a comics convention. Stuart Stratu: It was going to OZCON, one of the comics conventions and seeing the small press booth- that’s when I got the idea to make my own mini-comics. I had never done any comics or cartoons myself, just little drawings and things. So what I did was ran ad for contributors in the personals column of Drum Media. So all the people in the first issue, none of them had published their own comics at all. So that was basically how Sick Puppy No.1 came to be. That was April 96. Number two came out four months later. It was very primitive. A total of 13 issues have been published in a plurality of graphic styles from a range of alternative comics contributors whose content is both provocative and oppositional.

One common feature of the alternative comics scene was the practice of creators contributing to each other’s publications. Sick Puppy Comix utilised this practice which gave the comic a variety of graphic styles. By contrast there was a commonality of content with much of the material dealing with aspects of sex and/or violence, the X in the title denoting adult oriented and explicit content including scatalogical material. Whilst emphasising humour, it adopted an avant-garde attitude and encouraged its contributors to test both their own and their readers’ personal boundaries of taste and creativity. The print and presentation quality of the publication improved with each issue and this seemed to inspire creators to produce quality work e.g. Gerard Ashworth, Neale Blanden, Tim Danko, Anton Emdin, Michael Fikaris, Louise Graber, Maccad, Kieran Mangan, Chris Mikul, Mandy Ord, Pox Girls(Susan Butcher and Carol Wood), David Puckeridge, Q-Ray, SCAR(Steve Carter and Antoinette Rydyr), Glenn Smith, Ross Tesoriero and Ryan Vella as well as Stratu himself.

This post is from the series Archives of Australian Comics History research for my PhD at Macquarie University, Division of Society, Culture, Media and Philosophy, by virtue of the thesis A Study Of Contemporary Australian Alternative Comics 1992-2000 With Particular Reference To The Work Of Naylor, Smith, Danko And Ord, 2003. On completion I donated the comics collection to the National Library of Australia: Michael Hill Collection of Australian Comics. Posts in this series:  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