Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stan Cross (3 December 1888 – 16 June 1977)

Stan Cross was born today in 1888. American by birth, Cross immigrated with his family from Los Angeles to Perth in 1892. Cross achieved fame as an  Australian strip and political cartoonist with work in Smith’s Weekly, The Herald and Weekly Times. Cross is famous for his iconic 1933 “For gorsake, stop laughing: this is serious!” cartoon as well as creating the forerunner newspaper cartoons that spawned long running strips the Wally and the Major and The Potts. The Australian Cartoonist association of which Cross was a founding member and served as president for 1931 - 1954 named their annual awards the Stanleys after Cross.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

New Pikitia Press Website

After a few years on blogger we're moving to a new site:

Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds.

Posts have been sporadic here lately as I've been tinkering with the new site and the distractions of publishing but I hope to have a regular flow of comic news, interviews, reviews and blather as of next week. The Summer Pikitia Press publishing schedule will go up this week as well as our SPX debut comics which are currently popping out of the printer into my hot hands as I type this.

They'll still be the occasional update here as foolishly previously scheduled posts appear throughout the rest of this year, although eventually the bulk of what I've posted on this blog will be available on the new site. 

Thanks to all the readers and supporters, I really appreciate the support and interest in this obsession that is comics.

Matt Emery - August 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Publishing: Lucky Aki in the New Stone Age

Pikitia Press are proud to present Barry Linton’s Lucky Aki in The New Stone Age.
Lucky Aki in the New Stone Age is the first volume in a series chronicling teenage explorer Lucky Aki’s adventures through the islands and cultures of a re-imagined past.

From Barry Linton’s afterword:
"What if there was a time, now out of mind, when there were many more islands of all sizes, and few or no continents, with busy island groups, trading, fishing, herding, farming and lots of seasonal voyaging, eh?"

"A youth might dream of a life sailing the myriad island trade ways, exploring the unknown fertile shores, and a youth might get lucky, then as now."

To The I-Land - The Comics of Barry Linton by Dylan Horrocks

Barry Linton bio by Dylan Horrocks
Barry Linton has been drawing comics since the early 1970s and was a key figure in the influential New Zealand comics anthology Strips. His comics and drawings have been published in books, magazines and literary journals and on posters and album covers.

Barry’s early comics detail the lives and loves of a group of characters living in a familiar South Pacific city, with plenty of music, sex, politics and drugs. Over the years his characters wrestled with broken relationships, parenthood, criminal gangs and crooked lawyers. In one story the cartoonist Spud is kidnapped and chained to a drawing board, forced to churn out pornographic comics by his gun-toting captors. In recent years Barry has worked on a series of graphic novels set in a fictionalised neolithic Oceania, Lucky Aki, and comics exploring ancient history, UFOs and the future of humanity.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tim Molloy Interview Part One

My first encounter with Tim Molloy was at an Auckland Armageddon convention in the early 00's. In those days artist's alley was bundled into the foyer of the Aotea Centre and tables were free (!).  I was tabling next to Tim and friends and I recall them throwing things around the room and generally terrorising other cartoonists in the vicinity. The second day I saw one of the guests from Babylon 5 come over and hang with Tim and his pals. He'd been out with them the night before. Wow! I thought, these crazy comics guys hang out with tv stars!

On the last day I traded Tim my minicomic for an early Mr Unpronounceable comic which had the same disturbing surrealism of his recent work in a still developing roughly hewn art style. There's a period of New Zealand cartoonists from the
self-publishing boom of the '90's and early '00's that have kept their hand in the comics game,  of which I'd regard Tim and I'm glad to see his work reaching a wider audience in the last couple years through Melbourne publisher Milk Shadow Books.

What were the first comics you read? What were the comics that inspired you to make your own?
It would have been Tintin,  Asterix that kinda thing. Disney comics.. . Got into superhero stuff later,  then 2000ad Etc... Calvin and Hobbes... I was making comics very young. These probably had a hand in that...  I got into Milk and Cheese later . I started doing a mash up/ rip off of them and Calvin and Hobbes called Nasty Neville and Mr Weasel. When I discovered local stuff,  local creators I've Andy Conlan,  Wade Shotter,  Corn Stone,  knuckles,  you know,  James James... I dived right in with Poot,  Ninja Sheep,  Drunken Otter...

What are some of the influences from outside of the world of comics?
I draw inspiration from all quarters. I've actually spent a lot more time imbibing novels, audiobooks, cinema and fine art than I have spent reading comics... Earliest memory of art would be pulling a Dali book down off the shelf and having my 5 year old mind blown. I have a very active dream life also. I've always had a sense of 'the other' and explores that realm as best I can through experiments in lucid dreaming, readings into the Occult and in the past, psychedelics. Life itself is an inspiration... a turn of phrase, the way light might be streaming in through a strange window, a half glimpsed person down an evening alley... It's all good!

How do you find balance between working in various art mediums? to the best of my knowledge you create comics, paintings, sculpture and music, does any one art form take precedent?
I kind of tend to gravitate towards one thing or another at any given time. I'm just coming out of a heavy comics period (1 or 2 pages a day) and going into some traditional art territory. Whatever is most important at any given time is what I tend to concentrate on. Working out whats important can be the hard thing sometimes... In the end though, comics will probably win out. Here's hoping I never have to make a choice to stick to any one thing! Music is serious fun, and the only team sport I have ever taken part in. My band Plague Doctor explores a lot of the same themes I do in my work, but you can dance to it.

What led to you moving from New Zealand to Australia?
I am an economic refugee. I came by plane though, so thankfully I was not locked up indefinitely in a detention center.

Can you talk a bit about the comics/art community in New Zealand when you lived there.
My journey started with me going to those early 'Iconz' conventions (Is that what they were called?) I ran into the likes of Willi Saunders, Wade Shotter, Andy Conlan, Karl Wills. Loved the irreverent, DIY aesthetic. When I came across the work of James James, and then met him in person, I started getting my work out there. That was 1997? My last year of High School. Those were fun days. Comics and music and art and poetry were all in the same place in those days. I imagine they still are. K Rd was where it was at.

James and I were the youngest, and (sometimes) the most badly behaved participants at 'Poetry Live' at Alleluyah in St Kevins Arcade. Hanging around at Corn Stones house, playing Sooth, reading comics, smoking Beedies and drinking the cheapest booze available. Met a whole cast of weirdos and geniuses through that scene. Everybody knew everybody else and the yearly con at the Aotea Centre (sometimes a trip down to Wellington!) was a good chance to get drunk, hassle B-Grade Science Fiction celebrities and unload some photocopied comics on an unsuspecting public. 

It was a very welcoming, vibrant space to develop and grow as an artist, but not without it's share of drama and beef! We played a lot of music, UMX (The Uncle Marty Experience) was our first band (after 'The Tools of Waste' we made a tape called 'The Resin Sessions') and we terrorized audiences with the help of Uncle Marty, our aged patriarch - may he rest in peace.

I became good friends with Ben Stenbeck, The Sheehan Brothers and some of the other people on the 'weird' end of the spectrum. Drew a lot of inspiration and encouragement there. I hung around at Auckland Uni, got a lot of comics into Craccum, drank at Shadows, smoked in Albert park, studied animation on Queen St. Cheap rent, magic mushrooms, cask wine, The Kiss And Make Up Club, St Kevin's Arcade, inky fingers, good people, late nights and lots of fun parties...

Damn! I'm getting all nostalgic now! I could sit here, peering through the mist of time all day, but these are the first impressions that leap out of the gloom at me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sir Gordon Edward George Minhinnick (13 June 1902 – 19 February 1992)

Sir Gordon Edward George Minhinnick was born today in 1902. With a career spanning over sixty years, receiving an OBE in 1950 and Knighthood in 1976, Minhinnick could be considered one of New Zealand's most beloved cartoonists.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ben Hutchings Interview Part One

This is the first part of a belated series of interviews with cartoonists working with Melbourne publisher Milk Shadow Books. If I can manage it they should all run over the course of June.

I first met Ben Hutchings almost a decade ago at a convention in Wellington where the artist's alley consisted of Ben, his esteemed colleague David Blumenstein and myself with a couple friends. It wasn't a great experience for us, it turned out all the hep comic cats in Wellington were attending a New Zealand comics weekend at a pub up the road. I always like talking to Ben, we share a bunch of similar experiences with comics in our formative years and I very much admire his passion for making comics.

MATT EMERY:  What were the first comics you read? What were the comics that inspired you to make your own?

BEN HUTCHINGS: The first comics I read were all the old Whitman and Gold Key ones, who did lots of Disney and Richie Rich, Scooby Doo, all that stuff.

All the comics that used to have the ads for the X-Ray specs, and slim jims, and those bloody genuine flint arrowheads. Oh and ads for selling GRIT magazine. The ads were the most interesting things in them I think.  They made you greedy with all the illustrations of great things you could buy.  All kinds of weird food, practical jokes and toys.  America seemed to have all the coolest stuff. The comic content of all of these was amazingly mediocre. They never made me smile or laugh. I still don't know why people fondly remember Scooby Doo, or any of that Hanna Barbera shite. They were soulless!

I was inspired to make my own comics when I discovered British humour comics. They had a lot more spirit and heart, and even though they were formulaic, I get the feeling they were done by people who cared about what they were doing. They were also strange because they used a lot of British colloquialisms and cultural details like bangers and mash!

Of course I was raised from birth with Tintin comics, but for some reason you never think of them as comics do ya.  But needless to say I adored them, and still do.

EMERY: Where did you grow up? Were comics easily available to you? Where did you typically get them from?

HUTCHINGS: I was born in Moruya, NSW but grew up in Canberra. Every Saturday I'd ride my bike to the local newsagents. Aside from MAD or the Phantom, the selection of comics in newsagents was always erratic, so it was a bit exciting to see what would be there. If I ventured further out on my bike I might find a whole different bunch of titles in some more distant one!  An odd Superman, or some weird Aussie comic, or maybe they'd have three different Archie titles instead of just one. It was always exciting to stumble across a newsagent I'd never been to before, and explore the comic section.

Second hand shops were, and still can be incredible places to discover hidden piles of old, obscure titles. These days they seem to have more comics than before, too. It's fun to scour the foreign sections for cheap manga, Chinese Tintins, Italian Mickey Mouses, or some risque European hard cover comics.

Once I discovered Impact Records in the city, saving up for trips there after school with my mate became my favourite ritual. We'd blow $40 on everything and anything, and as it grew dark outside we'd sit on the floor of the bus on the way home, amongst the legs of public servants, comparing our hauls for the day.

EMERY: Who were the first comic creators that you recognised by name or style?

HUTCHINGS: I reckon I got pretty good at recognising some of the artists who worked on Batman and Justice League in the 90s. I loved Adam Hughes, coz he was really good at clean, appealing faces. They didn't look like the typical rushed sort of thing, and the stories were pretty funny. I could also pick Brian Bolland pretty quickly.  

EMERY: When did you first draw your own comics?

HUTCHINGS: I can't remember when I did my first comic - it must have been when I was 9 or 10. I was already drawing funny pictures but never in a sequential style. I think my first comic was about a legion of superheroes called "Mo".  By Year 6 I had the patience to finish comics that lasted several pages. They were nearly always parodies. I found a big pile of them the other day!  I have one called "Battyman" and I think I called the Joker "The Jokester" or something hilarious like that. It's interesting because I teach children cartooning now, and always remember myself having way more patience and care than they do, but nooooo.

EMERY: Was there a particular project where you felt you had established your own style? I always thought your work had a consistent tone of humour and I wondered if you felt there was a project where you consolidated your craft or style of drawing?

HUTCHINGS: I reckon Lesson Master was the comic that sums up my style!  Very cartoony but with lots of detail.  The people looked a little goofy but the environments and objects were usually pretty accurate. That's the style I feel most comfortable working in, and the most fun. But I never stick with one style and am always figuring out the best way to draw. For example in Iron Bard which I'm doing now, I am pushing the detail way more, and trying to find the perfect mix of funny/realistic to give to the characters.  Even the shading techniques change throughout it coz I can't decide.  On the other hand I'm posting a few webcomics now and then which have a deliberately inaccurate and loose style that I love doing. So really I don't feel like I've consolidated my style of drawing yet, even though I think most people can recognise my art when they see it.

EMERY: A while back you mentioned to me you’d like to attempt projects outside of the humour genre, have you made any progress with this idea?

Not actively working on anything serious yet unless you count rough story outlines and scene thumbnails.  It seems to get pushed back all the time.  I have a number of serious ideas which I think would be great.  Ideas like that are stressful because I know I can do funny joke comics, but I think telling a poignant story will really expose my shortcomings in that area.  They could be hamfisted, or shallow, or derivative or self indulgent or unoriginal without me knowing.  I am not afraid of being insincere with them at least.

EMERY: With Squishface you've established a long running comics studio in Melbourne,  How has having a studio and an environment with several cartoonists/artists impacted on your work? Can you talk about future plans for the studio?

HUTCHINGS: Two years now, which was my original hope. Two years means it has actually made an impression and become a 'thing' people will remember even if it dies. So now we're starting year number three. When you are around other people who are also involved in their own projects, new things always get thrown your way, and being a sort of institution, festivals and events and people always approach us. I started it because I loved having people watch us work when we did Inherent Vice, but I find the public aspect of it very different here. When it's only me here I find I like to shut the door and work away in solitude, but when there's a few of us here I like inviting people in but it's a bit more one-on-one, being a small enclosed room. I find it hard to have one day away from this studio. I always wind my way back. I have no future plans except for this place to survive, but I would like it to have more activity, and to bring in a bit more money from comic sales and art sales. That's about it!!!

Small Press Expo 2014

It's three and a half months away but Pikitia Press are very excited to be returning to SPX this year!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Matthew Kelly Interview Part Two

Almost three months ago I ran the first part of an interview with Matt Kelly, New Zealand cartoonist behind Kiwiman. Things have slowed down a little around the Pikitia Citadel so I can now present you the concluding Matt Kelly interview part two.

Read Matt Kelly Interview Part One.

Did you make comics before Kiwiman? I think I recall you being active on the BRD at least several years ago.
Two very different things there: being active on the brd; and making comics. And two very different experiences. I made two minicomics before embarking on Kiwiman. They were each made in order to attend Armageddon comic expos, back when they were transitioning from a fairly healthy boutique show (with a NZ comics 'alley') to the monstrous and successful comic-con impersonator that it is nowadays. 

The first comic I made was the most successful in all senses: it was made on time, it was a large 24 page story, it was funny (says me) but not really about something, and it looked okay as a finished piece. It is called Not the New Losers: Mr Trigger goes on Holiday, and is based on James James's mini comic The New Losers, itself loosely based on Jack Kirby's The Losers.

The production process was ridiculous, I drew each panel on separate rectangles of scrap paper with bic pens of differing colours. I pasted these down to an a3 page. I felt that I had to do this in order not to take it seriously and therefore to get it done at all. It worked but it meant that the reproduction was a challenge. In having it printed I was lucky enough to get a really great woman do the job (I never got her name). her first effort was not good enough though, and although she had printed the entire run of 50 or however many it was (probably not that many) I had to get her to redo it as it was reproduced too light to read. Considering the crap state of the originals she really made the second run incredibly good. 

The receptionist at the photocopier's was a bit odd, a pudgy white late forties type with tightly curled permed hair. She said she liked comics and would read my book, I found her bedside manner a bit weird but tried to be nice and left it at that. Anyway, a few days later I got a call early one morning on my way to work and this weird lady tried to tell me that the management didn't want me to come back to them for more photocopying because she found the book offensive. I barely realized who she was at the time of her call and it lent a surreal feeling to the day. 

The second minicomic I produced was called “Welcome to Planet Pollywood” and is a curious, shorter piece that I don't really understand. I guess it has a vague story structure but it is not very satisfying. I may have been using brush and ink on that book a little, but I thing it mostly would have been pigment pens. The reception these comics got was purely negligible. In an apparent state of temporary insanity I gave away most of the first ('not the new losers')comics to other nz comickers at the convention without even getting much swapsies back. I think I was just excited to be there. I did make a few sales and A few people have told me it is funny and that is gratifying.

Whereas the BRD (Black River Digital message group) was actually a bit more like that phone call from the photocopy receptionist. At first I probably broke a lot of protocols, this was the first online community I'd ever joined. There was a poster who seemed to try to undermine things I said quite a lot at the beginning which I found confusing and not all that nice. After a while though things seemed to settle into a kind of pattern where there would occasionally arise some topic of heat, most typically either a conversation about starting yet another anthology comic and how it should be done and all that, or else a flame war of bitter childish hurtful rivalry. This is actually not a totally fair representation of the BRD, there were some very vital and riveting conversations not always about but usually about comics, and there were a lot of interesting people. 

The best posts were newbies informing us all (time and time again) of their great original plan to make a comic themselves and then approach their local dairy to stock it, thereby creating, single handed, a new zealand comics industry. It was hard to respond to these people without being cynical, but somehow it was much harder not to respond. Just telling them that it was a good idea and to go on and do it never seemed to get them very far. In the end I developed a kind of form letter response explaining that there were local anthologies they could submit to, that making comics is hard graft but worth it, and that their enthusiasm was commendable (at least that's what I think I said now).

When the BRD was good it was very good, but it was a bit of a nonstarter in other ways. I think it would have been (and perhaps still could be) better for the members to have founded a webcomic anthology so that the comments thread had something productive to bud from. A platform for all the newbies to jump in straight away, and the same platform for the jam-like comic ideas to have been instantly started off without any further organisation than starting a new comic thread. Hindsight's 20/20.

To be fair the brd is quite old and probably predated most user friendly comics blog interfaces. In fact I can remember the red letter day when LarsCawley announced that we could post images (a definite plus for a comics community).

Actually Simon adams, Nic Sando, David Bradbury and I did set off doing a comic-jam as a result of our membership at BRD. We emailed each other the pages (off BRD) and it went on for a fair while, it was quite a cool way to make a comic. It may have been brought to an end a bit too abruptly though, and that might be why it has never seen print or posting (to my knowledge) anywhere.

Kiwiman is one of the few indigenous New Zealand superhero characters, New Zealand cartoonists typically pursue other genres, can you talk about the genesis of Kiwiman and what interests you about the superhero genre?
KIWIMAN GENESIS: ORIGIN ISSUE - Simon Adams and I were working at the same call centre for a while and so we had a bit of time to talk about comics. Simon, I think, broached the subject of a New Zealand comics Universe and what that would look like. Also we discussed the fact that no one had really produced a large New Zealand super hero continuity, that we knew of.
After making a few enthusiastic but probably deeply incomplete lists of NZ characters (including Ches and Dale the cheese cockies who are not strictly speaking comic characters) we gravitated towards a New Zealand Super Hero Universe. We made lists and sketches of characters, and this occupied us for a bit. Kiwiman came from this period of research.

I drew up a ridiculous super hero that was a national self-deprecation. However the concept seemed to have some innate worth, partly in terms of a kitsch value, but mostly in terms of addressing important ecological concerns. The super hero genre per se leaves me pretty un-entertained. Some of the art in S.H. books is good, but rarely am I impressed or distracted enough by the story to keep reading. For example I tried to read 'Hush' (a Batman “story arc” with art by Jim Lee and story by someone I found too boring to even remember their name) and I just couldn't sustain a complete read. I find the concept of North American superhero comics as a playbox of toylike characters that a writer is allowed to borrow and play with does not encourage interesting or believable characterisation.

Super heroes may be an adventure genre but if there's no real people with real emotions and lives to be risked it all plays like a carbon copy of itself over and over again with ill defined motives for everyone concerned. Also a lot of the dialogue is empty of human contact or reads wooden like bad actors. That puts me off too.

I'd like to mention 'the Mawpawk' by Laurence Clark and Kevin Jenkinson here, which I think was a very well made comic. I was aware of this character before making Kiwiman, but I wasn't thinking of the Mawpawk at the time and it was not a direct inspiration. However, they share a lot of genre's; Super Hero, comedy, political satire and caricatures.
Anyway with Kiwiman and the other characters from that “universe” it's not a direct result of wanting to make superhero comics. The only reason that there are any Kiwiman comics is because I have a lot of comics I want to make and I felt I had to choose one project to get on with and dedicate some time to instead of bouncing round several ideas whenever the inspiration hit and never achieving any final results.

Kiwiman won out because I had just discovered the Maui's Dolphin and wanted to do something to help them. Maui's Dolphin are a subspecies of the Hector's Dolphin that live off the West Coast of New Zealand. There are estimated to be only fifty left. At the time I wrote and drew the first Kiwiman story the estimate was about one hundred Maui's Dolphins. I wanted to raise awareness of the problems the Maui's Dolphin's are having.

Using my concern as motivation helped me to overcome a lot of problems, mainly my lack of confidence and skill, and motivated me in getting out a really sustained effort.
The original comics were serialised in Auckland anthology comic New Ground published by Jeremy Bishop, owner of Arkham City Comics. From that effort I started the webcomic which has kept me working on comics through tough times.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mark One Turns 25

For a brief moment in the nineties I had access to two comic shops within cycling distance of my home. After establishing their first store in Auckland the Mark One franchise set up stores across New Zealand including my hometown Napier and the nearby Hastings. Sadly at one point the franchises all switched to operating independently with Chris Lander's Mark One Comics in Hamilton left as the sole store under the Mark One brand.  My local stores disappeared after the boom years in the nineties and my interest in comics dropped off.  In the mid 2000's I moved to Hamilton on a whim and after a few curious visits to Mark One I rekindled my interest in comics.

A highlight of every week was picking up a pile of comics on Friday and then lounging on our mansion porch (yeah, we had a mansion) on the banks of the mighty Waikato River and thumbing through all the four colour goodness that I thought I had grown out of. I remember picking up Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's brilliant Street Angel and the Palmiotti and Gray relaunch of my childhood favourite Jonah Hex amongst a regular stream of goodies. It was probably finding John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra chronicling Judge Dredd's origins in 2000AD that convinced me I needed to recommit to my childhood obsession. Chris was great for indulging my requests to order oddities from the Previews catalogue and things like, "Can you please not put sticky price tags on my Phantom comics?". Chris was great too for selling the tawdry comics I started making in Hamilton, "Here's a pile of hand stapled dick jokes I photocopied in an educational facility that I snuck into at 1am last night." It's really all Chris Lander's fault.

The following article appeared on the Mark One FB page and appears here courtesy of Tony Stevens.

Mark One Turns 25 by Tony Stevens

Superman puffs out his expansive chest triumphantly. To his left Batman glares menacingly, his shadowy costume a complete contrast to Supe’s provocative red and blue.

I take a few steps further and encounter Hellboy sporting his distinctive red stumps where two demonic horns should be. His giant stone hand protrudes from a scruffy leather coat filled with magical charms, amulets and protective trinkets.  A quick scan of the room reveals that I’m surrounded by aliens, predators, detectives, space cops, mutants, underwater monarchs, zombies and even the odd crew member the U.S.S. Enterprise.  Larger than life figures boast flowing velvet capes and proudly wear their underwear externally while more than a couple of billionaire playboys wear their egos and genius in the form of high-tech armoured battlesuits.  These are my heroes and there’s a special place in Hamilton where I can go to find them all in one place, not in the flesh but on the covers of a mighty array of comics, graphic novels, fantastical tomes and all manner of pop culture goodness.

That place is Mark One and I think it’s the coolest shop in the city.

Every Friday I pay a visit, intent on spending a good chunk of my wage on a rapidly growing collection of graphic novels.  I usually spend a few minutes inspecting the new releases on my routine trip but today I’m here to interview Mark One owner, Chris Lander, about his shop’s twenty-fifth birthday.

Chris has been enraptured with the graphic medium since he was eight when an issue of 2000AD, the post-apocalyptic story of future cop Judge Dredd, arrived via post in a little rolled tube.  His tastes have extended since then and he’s confident he can find a comic to please even the most persistent cynic.

“It’s just reading,” he says almost in defiance of the myriad stereotypes.

“It’s not a statement about you unless the statement is hey I can read.”

“Mark One isn’t a fan club; you don’t have to be a paid-up member of the costume brigade to come in here. I really do see us as just a specialised book store.

“The whole comic collecting side of it (as an investment) exists – but it’s just an aspect of it. They really are just good stories.” Celebrations for the twenty-fifth milestone kick off on Saturday, May 3, and will tie in with the international event Free Comic Book Day, where Chris will give away thousands of free comics to readers’ young and old alike.  The event has been swiftly gathering steam since American retailers birthed the concept in 2002. New Zealand audiences have been slower to catch on, however in the past two years hordes of Hamiltonians have assembled on Victoria Street to get their free comics.

“Last year we had 60-70 people queuing out the door. I opened the shop and it surged. I had to jump out of the way and I got trapped in the corner while this never ending torrent of people came through,” Chris said. Luckily Iron Man was on hand to keep the crowd pacified.

The ‘specialty’ bookstore had already been around for five years before Chris, 25, walked in to interview for a full-time position in 1994. The original owners Mark and Tania Paul had at that time established a network of Mark One franchises across New Zealand and two in Australia. The Pauls and their business partners were on the cusp of settling a deal to launch a store in the US, but a board-room scuffle and successive legal challenges derailed any plans for world domination, leaving the Hamilton store the lone survivor once the dust had settled.  Chris stayed on as manager and he and wife Rachel bought the business in 2000. Though when they took the keys he had to sell some of his personal collection to pay a month’s rent up front, including a rare convention special of Sandman #50 by renowned writer Neil Gaiman.  Despite the rent being well in hand now Chris maintains there is no treasure trove at home  – his collection is at the shop and it’s all for sale.

“I get a buzz out of introducing someone to a good read.  If somebody comes in and asks for a book it’s no good at home, it’s got to be here. “Besides when my kids got old enough to pull out my comics the safest place for them was at the shop.” Chris and Rachel’s youngest Ben, 6, thinks every family owns their own comic shop and is a big fan of everybody’s favourite neighbourhood Spiderman. Jamie’s a big fan of Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, while his mother is more partial to Iron Man thanks to the suave performance of Robert Downey Jr – and Chris? “Who is your favourite superhero?” I ask. It’s obvious he has mused on this issue more than once. Chris looks torn, grappling with multiple possible responses. He begins mouthing “Bat-“ but stops himself and says, “Hellboy.” “I really love Batman but…Hellboy is really everything I love about working here. The comic has bubblegum elements, you know fighting against the evil Nazis, but there is substance to that bubblegum. There’s a tonne of mythology to it, Russian, Celtic and even Christian – there’s just so much in there and it’s just a fun read.”

Fun is the ultimate goal for Chris and he hopes for his customers too – the joy of reading a good story. He maintains that comics aren’t just “captioned pictures” and can point to a number of works considered literary masterpieces. He literally does point to a few tomes I can see from where we’re standing by the counter. I can see Saga by Brian K. Vaughan,Locke & Key by Joe Hill, and obscured from my vision Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns. He rattles off a few more titles, almost all of them produced by ‘indie’ publishers. I’m surprised at how little the ‘big two’ come up our discussion – when people think comics they usually point to powerhouse publishers Marvel and DC, who are responsible for the likes of X-Men, Avengers, Batman, and The Justice League.

He assures me Marvel and DC are still producing great comics, but says recently it’s the independent titles that have grabbed the industry by the scruff and given it a good shake.

“I actually do think today is a golden era in comics.

 “I was managing the store in the early 90s when (customers purchased) X-Men and nothing else (but now) there is such variety. “Comics are now being produced for so many different markets whereas in the past they were being written for kids knowing that they also had an older audience.” Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead is one such indie title that has stormed pop culture in recent years. Ever since it was released in 2003 Dead has been dominating the graphic novel market, not to mention spinning off a spectacularly successful TV show. It’s a black and white comic boasting themes of extinction, isolation, and societal deterioration, with a generous helping of blood and guts – definitely not one for kids.

Audiences have mutated as significantly as their comics since Mark One came on to the scene. When Chris started his career the industry was embroiled in a “speculator” boom where collectors rabidly snapped up multiple copies of titles, hoping their value would skyrocket over time.

“We’ve ridden fads like chatter-rings and Yu-Gi-Oh, but I’ve never seen a boom like the one I walked into. “You’d order a stupid load of something in and you still sell out. There were even firms in the US where you could pay a certain amount of money and they would purchase and even choose your comics for you and then store them in a vault, and you were apprised of its value every so often. It wasn’t happening to quite the same scale (in NZ) but it was still pretty crazy.” That historical priority of monetary value over a good yarn is the reason Chris is so adamant that Mark One is pitched at readers. The true value of a comic, he says, is the story, “otherwise what’s the point?” The speculator boom marked the glory days for comic book stores, but when the bubble burst a year later shops around the world began to sink, including many in the Mark One chain. Cue the legal arm-wrestle between franchise big-wigs. But Chris, mystified that his pay check kept rolling in, continued working. The closest he got to the skirmish was a phone call from Mark Paul warning him of attempts by stakeholders to change locks on the various Mark One stores. He was instructed to stand sentinel over the Hamilton shop until the corporate espionage had run its course.

According to Paul, Chris’ loyalty during this time is a big part of why the Hamilton shop survived when others collapsed. “Chris always struck me as an honest, hardworking guy with real integrity,” said Paul. “Chris’ loyalty (during the dispute) made it a priority for us to retain ownership of the Hamilton store, once the dust had settled. “This enabled us to eventually sell the business to Chris and Rachel, and we couldn’t be happier about that.”
Without Chris, Hamiltonians would be stuck ordering our comics from Amazon instead purchasing them from a local store we can call our own. No other retailers dabbling in the pop culture market have been able to match Mark One’s local popularity. 

Chris tells me about one of their early competitors Card Crazy, a shop opened in Centre Place by a Mark One alumnus at the height of the trading card craze. “Card Crazy?” a customer asks. He appears in his late thirties and certainly doesn’t strike me as the stereotypical comic book “geek”. “That’s going back a while,” he continues. Chris nods in agreement, and remarks on his own long innings. “Yeah you’ve been here since I was a kid,” the customer replies . “And you’ve got the customer base to prove it.”

This little exchange is a perfect example of the mutual loyalty that has kept the Hamilton store running for twenty-five years, almost unheard of in the turbulent industry. And he’s not the only customer to share nostalgic sentiments about their favourite shop during our interview. Another Mark One veteran, a seasoned gentleman Chris refers to as ‘Robin’, arrives at the counter a few minutes later and reminisces on shopping there pre-Chris, when he could get an issue of 2000AD for $0.30 (it’s now roughly $7.50). As Robin leaves I’m struck by how much foot traffic the shop has had since I walked in. I’ve been talking to Chris for close to two hours now and in that time close to 20 customers have come and gone. I’m anxious to get my own fix of comic books so I tell Chris I just have one question left for him.

What makes Hamilton such a good place to sell comic books? It’s a good uni town, he tells me. “We use to have to put extra staff on student loan draw down day when that was happening.” Cautious business decisions, avoiding fads and keeping within their capacity are all cited as other reasons for the shop’s longevity, but the biggest thing he tells me is, of course, the customers. “We’ve just got a great bunch of supporters that want to see us do well. “If you look after them they look after you – and I think MK1 is well looked after.”
I take my journalist hat off and check the new releases to see if any of my anticipated DC New 52 or Marvel Now! volumes are in stock. Nothing grabs me immediately so I turn my gaze to the back catalogue. I normally bounce back and forth between Mark One’s nicely laid out sections multiple times before making a decision – similar to a kid in a candy shop.
During these laps my eye catches a glimpse of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. Whedon is also the director of Marvel’s cash factory The Avengers and I’ve heard his X-Men run is exemplary. I tuck volume 1 under my arm and continue browsing.

I recently finished reading Warren Ellis’ collected work on Planetary, a fantastic story of super-powered archaeologists charged with excavating the hidden history of the planet. I lament the closure of my journey with Planetary to Chris, who is a big Warren Ellis fan. He suggests I take a look at another of the author’s comics, Transmetropolitan.
I decide to give it a go and whip out my eftpos card to finalize the purchase. The card reader displays the price – $49.99 – the price of Astonishing X-Men on its own (volume 1 collects 12 issues). “Chris you forgot to add Transmetropolitan to the bill,” I say. “No it’s on the house.” That’s Chris – it’s almost as if he gets as much pleasure from exposing readers to the joy of comics as he does securing a purchase for his bank account. Though free comics are not the norm – except on Free Comic Book Day.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Maurice Bramley Scientific Thriller Covers

I've been posting New Zealand/Australian cartoonist/illustrator Maurice Bramley's painted Scientific Thriller covers on Te Pikitia tumblr. Here's a selection for folk that may have missed them.

Maurice Bramley covers for Scientific Thriller novels circa 1948-1949. As with other illustration work , Bramley often used his own photos as well as photos of actors and celebrities as reference for characters in his illustrations.