Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Milk Shadow Books - James Andre Interview

I'll be posting some catch up interviews over the next weeks that were conducted via email and in person over the last several months.

The following interview was conducted via email in February 2012 in anticipation of the Big Arse 2 launch which included several titles from Milk Shadow Books. I've known James Andre for a few years from contributing to his anthology Yuck and following his progress self-publishing his own writing to becoming a significant independent comics publisher in the Melbourne scene. James's tastes in comics and writing are reflected in the output of Milk Shadow Books with an emphasis on matter of a dark nature, perversity, black humour and adult themes.

 James Andre

What was the impetus to start publishing other people's work through Milk Shadow Books?

When issue 5 and 6 of Yuck! were about to come out I thought we should take on some more titles as we were already distributing comics and zines anyway. Then I recalled Ben Hutchings saying how he almost had You Stink 10 ready, so we got into contact with him. Walking to Japan was the first creator owned work we published though. That went quite well, so we took things from there.

 No Map, But Not Lost - Bobby N (2012)

Have you experienced any start up difficulties as a publisher?

Apart from the usual time and cash flow stuff, nothing major. More just little details that turn into larger issues. And needing to keep track of several projects in various stages. Having to make sure certain pages/changes to one book are completed, whilst remembering edits on another one, that a cover is being done on another, and then making sure the printers are working on another. But all of the artists have been great, and some other local comic folks such as Brendan Halyday, Luke Pickett, and Jason Franks have provided much needed creative and technical support along the way too.

Where will your new books be available from after the Big Arse 2 launch?

They'll be on the website – www.milkshadowbooks.com. Comic shops such as All Star Comics, Minotaur, Pulp Fiction Comics, Impact Comics and The Beguiling. The trade paperbacks and graphic novels will also be available on Amazon, and through the Ingram catalogue for bookshops. If anybody wants them stocked in their local book or comic shop, they can bug them to place an order.

 You Stink and I Don't #10 - Ben Hutchings (2012)

Melbourne has seen a few publishers specialising in comics established in recent years, where do you see Milk Shadow's place in the scene?

I guess we focus mainly on surreal black comedy stuff. A lot of the work involves parodies and examinations of media, religion, sex, death and modern life. The feel of the material seems to have sprung out of the Yuck! Anthology series. We don't really have a huge interest in superhero or genre material, but would still have a look if it was submitted. Milk Shadow Books publishes art that can take the piss out of society, work that make people laugh and/or think. Or just gross them out.

It Shines and Shakes and Laughs - Tim Molloy (2012)

Bobby N, Bruce Mutard's and Tim Molloy's books are retrospective collections, will you be producing similar collections of other creators?

We'd like to, and we've got some more plans floating about at the moment. There's the possibility of a couple more small colour art books too, similar to the Sweat Soda book that featured David DeGrand's art. But yeah, we'd love to do more collections if the right artist approached us, or we spotted them first.

What do you have planned for the future?

In terms of graphic novels, we've got Bruce Mutard's Alice in Nomansland lined up. It's a very strange, yet literate, adult fantasy trip that's been in Bruce's cupboard for ten years, and it's unlike anything he's previously published. There's also a new collection from Tim Molloy, but more on that as it develops. Plus some more indie projects in the works from artists from Melbourne, Sydney, Brazil and Brisbane. Expanding out into action figures, art exhibitions and animated series would be nice one day too. That's the dream anyway.

All images copyright 2012 respective authors, James Andre photo copyright 2012 M.Emery

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Purple Pagoda - Betty Roland

From Girl Annual #4 an eight page story written by Australian writer Betty Roland  (22 July 1903 – 12 February 1996) and beautifully painted by Englishman Charles Paine. They also collaborated on The Rajah's Secret for Girl Annual #5. Originally published by Hulton Press in 1956. Hulton were taken over by Longacre in 1960 who in turn were subsumed by IPC Magazines in 1964.

Images copyright IPC Magazines or possibly Warner Brothers.

Tim Bollinger Interview Part Two of Three

 Tim Bollinger with partner Jo and standee of his character Little Eye.
Photo taken at Pacific French Language Comics Festival in New Caledonia 2008.

Were you ever interested in mainstream American comics or undergrounds? Are there any contemporary comics you appreciate?

Most mainstream American comics never interested me particularly. Although back in the day apart from in the 60's Tintin and then in the 70's Asterix, the only comics you ever saw that weren't British were American mainstream comics. And I connected more easily with American comics than British ones. I really enjoyed all the Disney comics and Hot Stuff, Casper, Ritchie Rich etc...We had a comic box at school that was brought out at lunchtime on rainy days. I also really enjoyed the little Signet and Fawcett Crest 'Peanuts' collections.

I was never into the American superhero comics particularly. Although when I was about 6 or 7, I saw the Batman movie at the pictures (just once, and long before the TV series was ever played on New Zealand television, which wasn't til the 70s sometime), and that made a huge impression on me - especially Batman and Robin sliding down the bat pole and magically emerging in costume inside the bat cave, and jumping into the bat car, the Penguin submarine, the Riddler's riddles, Catwoman ...etc..etc..

Attitude Problem #2 (1995)

But superhero comics weren't something I got into much. It may have been because my parents were of a Left wing leaning, and I realise now that the whole notion of 'Supermen' in American comics was considered fascist ideology for many on the Left back then. Same with war comics, although I saw the British War Picture Library comics around they didn't really interest me.

I guess because of my Dad's political interests and activities I was exposed to a lot of counter culture material from the late 1960s and 70s - what there was of it available in New Zealand back then. I remember Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton strips reprinted in radical student publications and agitation propaganda from that period. When I first read Carload of Crumb in the mid-70s, at an artists friend's house, I didn't really get it but I was already familiar with Crumb and found it impressive (and a bit scary). And yes, I'm very interested in that stuff, and was particularly pleased when it reinvented itself in the 1980s and 90s in the form of RAW, Harvey Pekar, Chester Brown, Julie Doucet etc. etc. These are still some of my favourite comics. In the 1970s I also discovered Little Nemo and Krazy Kat - two perennial favourites.

 Absolute Heroes (1989)

These days, of course, there's heaps of contemporary comics I read and enjoy, although (because so much of the economic distribution of comics internationally has been geographically, culturally and lingually defined) I'm still discovering and finally reading much older stuff from Japan, France, Italy etc etc. etc. My especial favourite author these days is Osamu Tezuka, whose body of work is so monumental that I've pretty much figured out that I will never get to read it all in my lifetime (although I'm endeavouring to keep up with it as fast as they can translate into English, and sometimes French). He's so playful and experimental, and yet so formalistic. And he knows how to tell a story. I feel the same about a whole lot of other Japanese artists. They've hardly even translated the best work from GARO, the Japanese experimental comic book that came out from the mid 1960s in Japan, and these are some of the artists I've been getting into the most lately -  people like Sanpei Shirato, Yoshiharu Tsuge and Shigeru Mizuki.

I also really like European  comic artist/writers like Enki Bilal, Hugo Pratt, Milo Manara, Moebius et al, as well as younger generation ones like Blutch, Joann Sfar, David B and Fabrice Neaud and some younger Japanese ones too like Taiyo Matsumoto who writes No. 5 and Gogo Monster. In America, I currently like Kevin Huizenga, Craig Thompson and some of Paul Pope's stuff. I guess, quite a range - a lot of it is artist-as-author though. I'm also a big Dr. Seuss fan, and other picture book artsit/writers like Edward Gorey, Tove Janson, Edward Ardizonne and Heath Robinson. My favourite British 'comic artist' is probably Arthur Bestall (Rupert).

 Noah from White Fungus magazine #9 (2008)

Have you recognised any particular time periods since you started cartooning that have been particular boom times for cartooning in New Zealand?

The boom in newspaper cartooning in New Zealand was probably before my time, but there were certainly a lot more print publications for cartoonists to get their work published back in the 1980s - which has been steadily declining ever since.

Whether cartoonists get published or not has always been dependent on favourable editorial policy, and there's a few papers that my own and others' cartoons and comic strips have found a home in over the years, including 'Tearaway Magazine', and now defunct Wellington freebies like 'City Voice' and 'The Package'. The 'New Zealand Listener' has traditionally had a pretty good comic strips policy as well, with a particular boom of great serials in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

 Doctor Tim  Bollinger's Big Book of Cartoon Games, Facts and Puzzles (2006)

The ubiquity of the photocopying by the mid-1980s promoted a couple of decades of prolific self-publishing by New Zealand comic artists, which has continued pretty much unabated to this day with huge outpourings every year at Zinefests, pop culture conventions, independent comic festivals and alternative craft shows. I'd call this a boom (although, not a very commercial one). Some mainstream publishers are starting to pick up on this, so overall the New Zealand comics scene is pretty healthy.

For a while, Dylan Horrocks and then myself were given charge of writing about comics for Pavement magazine, and during my time there I tried to get as many original New Zealand comics printed in its pages as I could - we published new stuff by Ant Sang, Karl Wills, Toby Morris, Mat Tait, Simon Morse, Barry Linton, Tim Molloy and lots more. That was early this century and was never really any money in it. That of course has gone now as well. 

 Little Eye currently serialised at online magazine Werewolf

Further to that, I guess I've seen a number of time periods come and go for comics both in New Zealand and in the world generally:

My experience of the 1980s was that comics had a different place than they do in the 21st century. The readership's got more sophisticated now, and on the whole most comics are much better and smarter. The underground and mainstream are less differentiated these days. Manga's changed a lot of things. Libraries and bookshops stock "graphic novels" sections nowadays, which they didn't do much before the turn of the century. I don't like the term 'graphic novel' though, cause most of my favourite comics are just collections of tight snappy adventure-story comics for children.

I guess I saw the "fad" for autobiographical comics come and go in the 1990s. It was an interesting discovery for many in the mainstream that comics were so well suited to telling small stories of the personal and the mundane, even though R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar (and others in Japan) had long since shown this to be the case...Unfortunately, it gave every nerdy teenager licence to draw comics about themselves, which may have been a dangerous thing (I was as guilty as anyone else)...Dream comics was another one...

Personally I'd like to see tight snappy adventure-story comics for children come back in a big way, but I think their day might have gone for good.

 Little Eye serialised at online magazine Werewolf

All images copyright 2012 Tim Bollinger

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tim Bollinger Interview Part One of Three

During correspondence with Herge in his late teens, New Zealand Cartoonist Tim Bollinger announced to Herge he would be popping over for a visit and embarked on an ocean-liner voyage to meet his comic-hero in Belgium. Herge was elderly and unwell at the time and Bollinger was unable to see him but did visit his studio and spend time with Herge's Secretary Alain Baran. Baran encouraged Bollinger not to let geography be a barrier to the making of comics.

Tim Bollinger has been active in the New Zealand comics scene since he was 17 with his initial contributions to Wellington student Newspaper, Salient, (Joe Sputnik & the Mystery of Ravioli's Father). Through the eighties and nineties Bollinger produced over a dozen comics and many contributions to anthologies, newspapers, magazines and educational material.

Stories Strange But None The Less True (1981)
For a time Bollinger served as an editor and cartoonist for Tearaway magazine (a free monthly for young people) which also featured work by notable New Zealand cartoonists Toby Morris, Willi Saunders and Dylan Horrocks.

Back of Beyond is the title of a New Zealand comics history volume that Bollinger has been researching and writing for over 20 years. With a long standing interest in the history of New Zealand comics and cartoonists, Bollinger has managed to record many aspects of the local industry that would have otherwise been lost to time.

 Tim Bollinger, New Zealand Comics Weekend 2010. Photo from Adrian Kinnaird

Bollinger has also curated and contributed to exhibitions examining historical aspects of New Zealand comics. Notably 'The Work of H.W Bennett' and 'NZ Comix in the '70s' both held during New Zealand Comics Weekend in Wellington April, 2010. Adrian Kinnaird's blog has coverage here.

Noah from White Fungus Magazine #9 (2008)

The following interview was conducted via email over February and March 2012.

When and what were the first New Zealand comics you encountered?

The first comic book that I consciously remember noting as a New Zealand-drawn comic was in the late 1970s at Printed Matter Bookshop on Plimmer's Steps in Wellington. It was a copy of 'Strips' No. 3, with a cover by Dick Frizzell (who I'd never heard of before back then). I think it had a cover price of 80 cents.I guess before this, I'd encountered all the strips that ran in the NZ Listener (Murray Ball had some strips before Footrot Flats like 'Kids' and 'Stanley' and he had some predecessors in there as well), but my real interest was in longer comic narratives. My favourite comics at the time were Tintin, Asterix and Donald Duck.

 Even though it presented itself as a kind of fanzine, 'Strips' was a real comic book. The thing that struck me most about it was how good all the artwork was, from Flexible Shaft's 'Maureen Cringe', through to Colin Wilson's carefully crafted European-style adventure stories. All were really well drawn in completely different but equally unique styles. All of the artists' lines were really thick and clear, with lots of interesting pointalist and other black and white inking techniques that helped to create depth and tone, with lots of strong flat blacks. To this day, I think clarity of line and image remains a characteristic feature of many local comics.

Yet despite the slick artwork, it had a real underground feeling about it too - for a start it was in black and white - but it also had a radical, hippie bent that seemed to allow for freedom expression in the sexual, political and experimental comics of the likes of Barry Linton, Laurence Clark and others.Compared to most of the other underground comics I'd seen, and Printed Matter carried a few, given that the store at that time was being managed by Leo Hupert, who ended up founding VMS (Visual Media Services) which later became 'Graphic' (in the Cuba Mall, Wellington), 'Strips' was a really well-put-together book. It included comics criticism and historical reviews as well as strips (Australian comics historian John Ryan even had a column). I committed  the comic's Waiheke Island publishing address to memory: Wilma Road, Ostend.

  Strips  #1 - Cover by Colin Wilson

The other thing that I took mental note of was the type of ink drawing pen depicted by Colin Wilson in his strip on the inside back page. It was an 0.5 Rotring Rapidograph - a refillable tech pen favoured by architectural draftsmen of the era. I went straight out and bought one, and that's what I used to draw all my comics with until Rotring discontinued the model in  favour of, firstly the refill cartridge-based Isograph, and then, for the fully disposable one-piece Rotring ready-made fit-for-the-landfill each time the barrel's emptied - I guess the manufacturers finally figured that us cartoonists weren't contributing our share to the devastation of the planet - now all that's changed. Each one might as well be the barrel of a loaded  gun, and I no longer draw with an easy conscience.

Who were the first local comics creators you encountered?

These were the artists I first consciously encountered (on paper). Encountered in real life, well...I never actually got a comic book of my own printed and (self-) published till 1981-2 - 'Stories Strange But None-the-less True'. I sent a copy to 'Strips' to review. They did. Then I visited them during a distribution trip to Auckland. Back then there were no comic shops, so you circulated them however you could, through University bookshops, and  second hand record and magazine stores, like the one in St. Kevin's Arcade, which I know is where the likes of Cornelius Stone first picked up copies.

On that trip, I met Laurence Clark, Barry Linton and one or two others. Barry made the biggest impression on me, and despite long intervals between meetings, it's been a life-long friendship.

What sparked your interest in researching and writing about New Zealand Comics? and when did you start work in earnest on Back of Beyond?

Ah well. I did a politics degree. It was a lot of hard work, but I developed some skills. Delving, fossicking, researching, writing, reference-checking, cold-calling, fronting up, conducting interviews and recording and transcribing them. I was doing some research into Foreign Investment in New Zealand, sponsored as things were in the new corporate world of the early 1990s by Tradenz, a government qwango that wanted me to prove how good it was for the New Zealand economy. I'd pretty much figured out that it wasn't.

So, almost without even thinking around the end of 1991, I started to apply these same academic techniques to everything I could find out about locally drawn comics. I had in mind a book I called 'Back of Beyond' which would document all the great comics I'd seen published over the years in my lifetime. It was a great idea. I got in touch with all the usual suspects, most of whom I'd never met, but whose work I'd seen through the 80s and 90s: Chris Knox,  Dylan Horrocks, Cornelius Stone, and the Langridge brothers in Auckland;  Peter Rees, Lars Cawley and Ian Dalziel in Christchurch; Tim Cornelius, Anthony Behrens, Robert Scott and Tony Renouf in Dunedin.  

 Noah from White Fungus Magazine #9 (2008)

But there was another strand that I hadn't counted on. I knew of no New Zealand comics from before the 1970s, but I wanted to include and document  any in my book if I could find some. So I went to visit a well-known Wellington antiquarian who used to reside at the top of Cuba Street (pre-Bypass) above a Victorian villa turned into a junk shop, called 'Mr. Smiles'. I knocked on his door. He answered. When I asked him about New Zealand comics, he mentioned 'Strips'. He said that he remembered a comic book published back in the early 80s by a guy called Tim Bollinger. I said that was me. I said I wanted to find some really old stuff. He had a bit more of a think, and then he said he thought he might have one or two things in his collection. He took me upstairs and pulled out a bunch of old comic books, among them a slightly amateur-looking Buck Rogers imitation called Crash Carson that immediately jumped out as a New Zealand comic book because of a little kiwi stamp imprinted at the end of each row of panels with the letters: EANDI. This was the signature of the artist Eric Resetar  (behind which there's a story that I'll tell in my book...when I get round to finishing it!). The comics had been sent to Mr. Smiles (Possibly from Sam's Book Exchange), with an accompanying note explaining their origin, and summarising Eric and his brother's publishing achievements as children in the early 1940s.

 Attitude Problem #2 (1995)
There was no address, but Resetar was not a difficult name to track down in the Auckland telephone directory. I think Mr Smiles might have given me Geoff Harrison's contact too. Harrison has also written about early New Zealand comics, and probably has some of the best knowledge of what was published in New Zealand before the 1960s and 70s. Anyway, that's how I got started.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Paul and Pam - W. C. Merrill

Paul and Pam by W.R. Merrill ran in the Friday Junior Age section of The Age during the early 1950's. Scant information about cartoonist W. R. Merrill is available but the setting of this strip in Australia indicates it is Australian as well as the only other strip featured in the Age at the time being local cartoonist Ivan Rowley's Terry. These weekly strips are excerpted from a longer serial and featured in The Age Nov-Dec 1954.