Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Ponsonby Rag

 
Earlier this year I got to have a little dig through the Auckland Library and came across five issues of an amazing paper The Ponsonby Rag, created in Auckland during the late seventies. Similar to alternative papers being produced around the world since the sixties and very informed by counter cultural elements, the Rag consisted of poems, stories, illustration and a significant amount of comic strips by a small group of Auckland artists and cartoonists. A lot of the work struck me as very experimental for the time perhaps influenced by the American underground comics of the sixties and seventies.

Cartoonist/Illustrator Joe Wylie shared his recollections of The Ponsonby Rag:

I didn't do anything for the Ponsonby Rag, though I remember it well. I met the people involved through Barry Linton when I went to live in Auckland in 1977. They had their own little offset press, which was a pretty nifty thing to have back then. There was a particularly impressive issue titled Ponsonby Bag, which came in a bag and consisted of various items. It would be amazing if one had survived intact. I know that David Eggleton wrote for it, but I can't, I'm sorry to say, remember the name of the guy who did most of the printing work. I believe he was also responsible for most of the cartoons, which were pretty memorable. What really impressed me was the attempt at handmade colour separation, made by drawing directly on the offset plates.


David Eggleton was involved with the Ponsonby Rag from it's beginning through to it's end. I approached him for some recollections on the production of the Rag and he sent me the following article effectively detailing the history of The Ponsonby Rag.

The Ponsonby Rag by David Eggleton

            The Ponsonby Rag was an offset-press publication, containing original graphics, cartoons, poems, stories and commentaries. It appeared erratically between late 1976 and early 1978, out of a big weatherboard villa opposite the old and very aromatic DYC Vinegar factory at the top of Crummer Road. The anarcho-absurdist  tone was set by the cover graphic of the first issue, which showed a man wearing a newspaper, which he is also reading, crossing the road at the Three Lamps corner while a seven-headed dragon flies above the old Hydra bacon factory and a crowd of good keen Kiwi blokes with short-back-and-sides haircuts look on.

            It ran to five issues and the average print run for each issue was 200 to 250, with  the largest print-run being 300 for the first one.  The border of the first issue’s cover graphic was made up of over 100 possible-but-rejected alternative titles typed-out, ranging from ‘Dehydrange’ to ‘Pun Sun Be’ to ‘Verb with Paper Snack’ to ‘Remember Gypsy Mick’. A lot of people swirled around the making of the magazine, almost as many as there were copies of issues to begin with, in keeping with the mass-demo vibe of the time.


            The Rag grew out of the rich compost that was Ponsonby in the mid-1970s — an inner-city Auckland working class suburb rundown and seedy and home to dissidents and drop-outs of all persuasions in the years before gentrification. The neighbourhood was pullulating with idealists, and every group and its obligatory dogs seemed to be publishing a little magazine, from the Polynesian Panthers to various workers’ unions.

            The product of a loose collective of like-minded contrarians, agitators,  and artists, some of whom had been involved with the Progressive Youth Movement, Auckland’s Resistance Bookshop, or anarchist collectives in the South Island, it was a publication partly inspired by British and American and New Zealand underground magazines and comic books of the Sixties and early Seventies. As such it is one of the missing links between alternative magazines such as Earwig (Auckland), Cock (Wellington), Ferret (Christchurch) and Counter-Culture Free Press (Dunedin) ,and publications of the late 1970s and early Eighties: Strips, and various Kiwi punk and Flying Nun ‘zines.


            Central figures in early stages of its production were artist and cartoonist Alan Harold, his brother, writer Denis Harold, and members of the Auckland Anarchist Activists, including Frank Prebble, Graeme Minchin, John Markie (later John Segovia) and writer Chrissie Duggan. Artistic contributions were provided by writer and poet David Eggleton, cartoonist Barry Linton, the artist Malcolm Ross, collagist Bryan Harold, and local poets Herman Gladwin and Sue Heap, amongst others.



            The offset printing press that was used had had several previous lives. It originally printed newspapers and posters for the American armed forces based in Auckland during World War Two. Later it became the Socialist Unity Party’s printing press. Eventually coming into the possession of the Ponsonby People’s Union and some associated groups, it was installed at 4 Crummer Road at the top of Ponsonby Road in a former clothing factory annex, where it was used to print leaflets. By this time some of machine’s parts were getting quite worn, and main printer Alan Harold proved adept at buying or obtaining replacement parts and he and others used number eight wire techniques to keep it running.
 

            Over the nearly two years of The Ponsonby Rag’s existence the composition of the core group gradually changed. (Those involved funded it —we all had part-time jobs). By the time of the last issue, Ponsonby Rag 5, Denis Harold and David Eggleton did most of the assembling, lay-out and printing between them.

            Printed on A2 sheets of paper, folded and stapled into an A3 format, using a variety of ink colours to obtain a streaky semi-psychedelic effect, the aesthetic of The Rag borrowed from the hippy, organic-community-garden ethos for its pumpkin/cabbage/beetroot colours, and some of the large sheets were pasted-up on walls around Ponsonby in emulation of wall-pasted community newspapers in Red China: the pasted-up images included big Linton cartoons and Eggleton political poster-poems.


            Otherwise, it was sold at cafes and other outlets around Ponsonby for 30 cents a copy, rising to 50 cents for the fifth and final issue, which consisted of a hand-stencilled paper bag containing printed leaflets and pieces of card. This issue was modelled on the notion of the ubiquitous Kleensac: the big, khaki-coloured, all-purpose paper rubbish bag of those days. The idea was that you went through the contents of the paper bag like a homeless street person in search of  literal and cultural sustenance, emerging with poems, graphic, cartoons stories and poems in a rainbow of colours on various pieces of paper and card.


            One reason for this was that the offset-plate machinery had become very erratic and was not inking properly. Consequently, while the images and text of number 5 were consistent, they all looked slightly different because of eccentric printing techniques in the overlaying of colours. The printing press itself became pretty much unusable shortly after, and anyway all principal parties involved had moved on to other things: single-artist comic books done elsewhere by Alan Harold Kin Oath Comics, The Esoterrorists and Cracking Up; while the anarchist faction put out ‘spasmodical’ anti-newspapers; Barry Linton got involved with the Strips group; and David Eggleton published a series of self-illustrated poetry broadsheets.


            Content-wise, there were three main contributors to The Ponsonby Rag: artist Alan Harold, cartoonist Barry Linton, and writer and graphic artist David Eggleton; while Denis Harold provided editorial direction and the most elbow-grease throughout. Each much-argued-over issue was intended as an anarchic one-off, so it did well to survive, while the eccentricities of its means-of-production remain unique.

 

The Ponsonby Rag article © 2013 David Eggleton, Joe Wylie recollections © 2013 Joe Wylie, Images © 2013 respective artists, Thanks to Auckland Libraries for access to archival copies of The Ponsonby Rag.

1 comment:

Dave Dye said...

This is a real time capsule, great to see that it has survived for posterity. It raw and appears full of energy. Beaut!