Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tim Bollinger Interview Part Three of Three

Attitude Problem #3 (1996)

What are the attitudes of New Zealand archival institutions such as the Alexander Turnbull Library to preserving New Zealand's comic heritage?
You'll have to ask them. They certainly have some comics in their collections and I've found some interesting material (in Alexander Turnbull Library and Archives New Zealand especially), but I'm not sure how much has been collected especially and they're not all together in a single place. Their attitude to preserving New Zealand's heritage generally is great. It's just that back in the day, such material was considered ephemera, low quality and culturally unimportant. I found a few interesting New Zealand and Australian comics in the Government's Education Department files, at Archives New Zealand (thanks David Newton!), filed in folders with complaints from school teachers and the minutes from government censorship committees. So the context is sometimes quite interesting as well.

But for comprehensive well-studied collections of comics, you have to go to private collectors to find stuff.

Lost Wellington (2005)

Are there any tragic tales from New Zealand's comic history you could relate? 

The whole story is a tragedy from go to whoa. Anyone who ever tried drawing or publishing comics in New Zealand has had to fight a battle on several fronts - cultural, logistical, economic. There's never been the population to support large numbers of local sales and, unlike say France or Japan, New Zealand does not have a strong culture of reading or writing comics (bandes dessinées/manga, call it what you will). The brief time in which a (so-called) boom took place, back in the 1940s, there were tight import restrictions on imported material, but they were hardly great times either for the artists or their art. Distribution was always and still remains, a problem, because a few big distributors dominated magazine circulation, limiting access to retail outlets by independent publishers.  Most New Zealand comics are born out of a combination of naive optimism and bitter struggle. Karl Wills once described the New Zealand comics scene as "a corpse on a life support machine".

 Early Stories About Food & Death (2004)

Specific tragedies? Eric Resetar has stories of losing large quantities of unsold comic books, either accidentally in garage fires, or on purpose, by dumping them into rivers out of the back of his station wagon. Eric's friend and colleague Rod McLeod at the Auckland Art Gallery knows some of these stories.

Then, there was the original artwork for the final episode of Joe Wylie (a.k.a. Flexible Shaft)'s 'Kabuki' comic series in 'Strips' back in the late 70s that was stolen out of the back of his car and never saw print! A real tragedy for New Zealand comics of the period…He pretty much gave up, there and then.

Colin Wilson's 'Captain Sunshine Volume 2' is another apparently completed comic book that never saw the light of day and no one knows where the finished artwork ended up. The whole history is littered with premature births and deaths…It's very Shakespearian.

 Orpheus in the Underworld - first appeared in White Fungus Issue # 12 (2011)

What are the difficulties in producing a definitive book like Back of Beyond?

Well, it's kind of you to refer to this almost 'mythical' volume called 'Back of Beyond'. Since I proposed that title back in the early 90s - a comprehensive 'history' of New Zealand comics
- I've been gathering and writing material for it. But the more you learn and find out about, the more questions it raises, and the more leads there are to follow. Furthermore, the longer it takes, the more new comics get produced, so the biggest hurdle is time. Plus I have a day job. But I'm getting there. I reckon I'm about half way through. That would make it a mid-2025 release date…(give or take a decade).

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - first appeared in White Fungus Issue # 11 (2009)

Can you offer any advice for young cartoonists in New Zealand?

Draw to deadlines. A bird on the page is worth two in your head. Publication deadlines are the best sort of deadlines - try submitting to your local student newspaper. Use digital sparingly - clarity of line remains supreme.

All images copyright 2012 Tim Bollinger

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