Sunday, June 23, 2013


Pics from the comics fair held on the last day of the Fleshtonez exhibition at Paradise Hills in Melbourne.

David C. Mahler

Jnr Blue

Michael Hawkins and Katie Parrish

Marc Pearson

Lee Lai

Simon Hanselmann


Michael P Fikaris

Emily Hasselhoof

Michael Hawkins

HTML Flowers

Katie Parrish

Marc Pearson

Michael Hawkins

David C. Mahler

My haul from the comics fair. Turning up early pays off kids, I was very pleased to score Blood & Thunder #1 and Pat Ausilio's Marvel Comics Presents. (There were only 2 copies of each there!)

Stopped off at an op shop in a church hall along the way. They had this cool painting of Jesus and his pals from 1939. The church guy told me he found it out the back of the church a while ago and thought he should hang it up.

English Comics Diversion: Tiny Tots and the Sunbeam December 15th 1951

Friday, June 21, 2013

John Kent 1937 - 2003

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of cartoonist John Kent in Oamaru, New Zealand in 1937. Kent spent his early life in Blenheim, later working in advertising in Auckland. Kent immigrated to England in 1959 and worked in advertising as an artist and copywriter. Kent made the switch from advertising to political cartooning in 1969 with his first published work a small strip, Grocer Heath, featured in Private Eye. This was the start of a thirty-five year relationship with Private Eye, a regular venue for Kent's work until his passing in April 2003.

John's wife Nina recalled Kent's career change:

"He came home from work one day and he said, "I'm going to be a political cartoonist." He was like that, he was very kind of quietly authoritative. He said it and I had enormous faith in him, I said "Yeah fine, okay." I didn't know he was all that interested in politics, though we did discuss it from time to time. I knew he was obviously some kind of artist as he'd been an art director. He was in advertising, that's what he was doing in Auckland before he left. He came to England and he did very well in the business actually. He thought it was stupid. He suddenly woke up one day and thought, what is this, a lot of grown-up men sitting around a table talking about a chocolate bar or something like that, and it didn't make a lot of sense to him. He was more interested in politics.He left one job and went to another job and they obviously didn't have a lot for him to do there or whatever it was, it was so boring. I didn't know he'd been doing it for a year, he'd been fiddling with this idea of Varoomshka. He decided to do it, He just went for it. When he had finished the idea he took it to the Guardian and they just overnight said, "Wow! That's fantastic and yes we'll have it."

John Kent cover for The Private Eye Story.

The several A3 samples of Varoomshka Kent sent to the Guardian impressed features editor Peter Preston and Varoomska appeared weekly for the next decade. Varoomshka was originally based on Kent's wife, Nina, and inspired by fashion model Verushka - Countess Vera Gottlieb von Lehndorff.

Michael McNay, a Guardian sub-editor at the time Kent's Varoomshka submission was received wrote,

"It was every features editor's dream: an innovatory political satire sprung, perfectly formed, from the felt tip of its creator. A hard core of the staff regarded themselves as the repository of Guardian values, and delivered a petition demanding the withdrawal of Kent's subversive work. But the editor, Alastair Hetherington, had the great virtue of always trusting his executives, and he saw off the opposition."

Varoomshka collection published in 1972.

Varoomshka, a naive blonde bombshell, was a device Kent used to frame his political examinations with searing insight. McNay recalls Kent's collaboration with deputy features editor, David Mckie:

"McKie's intellectual grasp of politics made him the perfect contact and adviser for Kent, but he increasingly found that as he explained the complexities of a situation, Kent cut through the persiflage to the basics."

After the Guardian dropped Varooshka in 1979 she reappeared in the NUJ paper, the Journalist, but was dropped after allegations of sexism. In 1982 Kent created another incarnation that appeared in the Sunday Times, with a strip entitled Zelda.

Kent also contributed cartoons to the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Sunday Times, and the Evening Standard. In 1998 when he joined The Times, his strip La Bimba was another "incarnation" of Varoomshka. In the late eighties Kent produced two lavishly illustrated guide books of the cities of Vienna, and Florence and Siena.

2011 saw the publication of The Someday Funnies from Abrams, A large 215 page hardcover originally commissioned in 1970 as a 20 page supplement for Rolling Stone magazine featuring artist and writers commentaries on the '60's in comic form. Editor Michel Choquette commissioned work from around the world but seven years later found himself $300,000 in debt and with no publishing partner. With dismal prospects for publication, Choquette placed the project in storage. A Comics Journal article on the project in 2009 lead to publisher interest with Abrams finally bringing the book to fruition.

John Kent was among the 169 artists and writers featured which also included Frank Zappa, Jack Kirby, Frederico Fellini, Jean Giraud, Tom Wolfe, William Burroughs, Art Spiegelman, Ralph Steadman, Will Eisner, René Goscinny, Wallace Wood, Justin Green, Don Martin, Sergio Aragones, Harvey Kurtzman and Gahan Wilson.

I'll be posting an interview with John Kent's wife Nina Kent in coming months.

All images © 2013 Nina Kent

Sources: ,

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Black and White Maestros by Les Tanner (Part One)

Les Tanner

[Editor's note: the following survey of Australian cartoonists was written by cartoonist and cartooning historian Les Tanner for the centenary issue of Sydney publication, The Bulletin, published January 29th, 1980. Les Tanner's Family maintain a facebook page for him here.]

The Black and White Maestros by Les Tanner

"THE sketches in the American comic papers made us yearn." This is not some clubman, pre-Australian Play-boy, talking but W. H. Traill, editor and manager of The Bulletin in the early 1880s, reminiscing about the pioneering days of the paper.

Traill in 1883 was about to embark on two trips overseas which were to change the future of black-and-white drawing in Australia. He was going recruiting.

J. F. Archibald has most of the glory from The Bulletin but it was Traill who did the leg work. He brought "one of the many clever comic draughtsmen whose work embellished various Yankee papers which we received regularly . . . Further," he wrote, "we had taken notice that the illustrations  were effected by some photographic process unknown in Australia." The first was Livingston Hopkins (Hop); the second, photo-engraving. Photo-engraving was to illustration what television is to Willesee, Frost and Parkinson — without it they would have been as interesting and exciting as any bunch of nice lads.

Until photo-engraving, drawing for reproduction was a dodgy business, relying on the skill and sobriety of the engraver as he painstakingly pared away with his engraving tools at the wood block, scooping out the white areas and leaving the black areas standing to receive the ink. Admirers of Tenniel's style in illustrating Alice would do better to pay homage to his engraver. Now Hop, Phil May (Traill's second recruit), Norman Lindsay and the others no longer needed to limp in this fashion; Traill gave them dancing shoes. Now they could draw with pen or brush and have their lines photographically enlarged or reduced on to a sensitised zinc plate and the whites eaten away by acid.

William Macleod, The Bulletin's first cartoonist, had tried drawing on metal with acid-resisting ink, and then etching. Traill stunk his house out with collodion experimenting. However, Hop insisted that he import two American engravers.

 Livingston Hopkins (Hop)

Livingston Hopkins was a tall, thin, austere veteran of the American Civil War whose work caught Traill's eye on the train journey from San Francisco to New York. His humor was the dry, laconic, no-bull type we have come to call Australian. He thought up his own ideas, clipping cuttings from newspapers which he carried around "in case of an idea."

 The Little Boy at Manly as captured by his creator, Livingston Hopkins.

Hop was remarkable in that he had no set manner of drawing — style as it is sometimes called. He moved easily from pen to crayon to brush, in line or half-tone, so that for the two periods when he was the whole art staff, The Bulletin had the appearance of having a variety of artists working for it. Hop was a truly inventive man with a keen sense of the ridiculous. In an age where most cartoonists were searching for a national symbol and were dredging up some of the most unlikely antipodean Britannia-substitutes (Minerva, goddess of handicrafts, professions, art, war and wisdom, was one), Hop spotted in the subscription list to aid the Sudan contingent the words, "A Little Boy at Manly, £25." He was off with the longest-playing supporting character in the business.

Norman Lindsay depicts The Little Boy from Manly in a cartoon during the conscription furore.

Hop drew him, Low drew him (sometimes as the Meggitt's linseed oil boy), Minns drew him and Lindsay drew him. Sometimes a bit stunned, sometimes shedding a tear (for poor, dead Henry Parkes), cheeky, angry or defiant, the Little Boy at Manly was both original and right as a symbol. As for what Hop did to Premier George Reid, Malcolm Fraser should take comfort at his demise. Although dignified, if not freezing, in manner, Hop was a practical joker, given to seating people on strategic benches in his garden, whereupon they would get water squirted in their ears. He nevertheless believed in creating for the readers an acceptable public image of lunatic bohemianism (every-one knows that artists are mad) and his self-portraits convey this convincingly. Maybe the self-portraits were right. When was the last time you had water squirted in your ear by a six-foot patrician?

David Low renders the Little Boy at Manly as the Meggitt's linseed oil boy.

Livingston Hopkin's portrait from Harrower collection, Les Tanner portrait from Cartoons of Australian History by Peter Coleman and Les Tanner. The Black and White Maestros © the estate of Les Tanner.