Thursday, December 30, 2010

Vale, Ralph McLean 1957 - 2010

Today in the hot sun at La Mama theatre in Carlton we farewelled a true member of Fitzroyalty, Ralph McLean. I have got to know Ralph over the past couple of years doing comics reviews on 'Yartz', the weekly arts programme that he began in 2000 for the community television station Channel 31. On Saturday afternoons a group of folks would arrive at his bedsit in Little Gore Street in Fitzroy and through a haze of cigarette smoke and snappy dialogue, Ralph would pull together a review and interview show about the arts in Melbourne.

There were some euphonious eulogists today - the service was delivered by Liz Jones, the grand wazoo of La Mama, and above, Francis Italiano, these days of Perth but once upon a time, and for eight years, Ralph's partner, spoke warmly of his time with Ralph. When some people would refer to Francis as Ralph's 'handbag' (ie when Ralph brought him along to shows), Ralph would correct them:

"He's not a handbag. He's a mink stole."

Above, on the left, Misha Adair, who spoke on behalf of the Yartzers, with Ralph's principles of 'making stuff' mysteriously appearing on his pin-striped suit. On the right, Scott Gooding, who had organised an extravaganza of 'Yartz' footage that screened on a monitor inside La Mama, which you could go and see before and after the service. Nice work, Scott.

Hermione Gilchrist also spoke beautifully about Ralph, and has blogged about him, with 'Yartz' footage embedded, here.

After the service and a beer with Mary Anne, who is my mum and one of the 'Yartz' theatre reporters, I cycled off through Fitzroy to community radio station 3CR on Smith Street in Collingwood, where I met John Retallick and Jo Waite and together we went to air with the last 2010 show of The Comic Spot. It was the round-up of the year, which has been a pretty remarkable one for Australian comic books.

After the show, we repaired to the Union Club Hotel, Ralph's local and the site of his wake, which was still going, where we drank traditional post-show G&Ts and laughed traditional post-show laffs.

Huzzah for community broadcasting, and huzzah for you, Ralph McLean, and all that you gave to the arts in Melbourne.

It was an honour to know you and work with you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Comics by Pigeons!

This Monday just gone, I was at the amphitheatre at the Footscray Community Arts Centre for the launch of a remarkable new book.

'Pigeons: Stories in the Post Vol.2' is a collection of 21 stories by grade five students from Footscray City Primary School. In the making of these stories, each student has been matched with an author and in each case the two have collaborated on the work VIA AN EXCHANGE OF LETTERS.

Yes, paper. Envelopes. Stamps. You know the drill. Or ask your grandma. She'll know.

Lachlan Carter and Jenna Williams are the two enchanted genii behind Pigeons, and they have channelled the greatness of Dave Eggars' 826 Valencia and created their own version of a literacy/reading/writing/fun project, and a damn fine one it is that they have sculpted.

Last year's Pigeons book was all words, which was great, but for this year's, comics flew onto the page too, increasing the all-round brilliance of the publication by 123%, rounded up. Local comic book makers Mirranda Burton, Jen Breach and I each worked with a student, so that 3 of the 21 stories, or 14.3% of the book, is... comics. Shareholders, we will be working to increase that percentage in the years to come but I am sure you will agree, it is a 14% increase on last year. That's all growth!

My Pigeons partner was Jonathan Wu, who I met for the first time on Monday night at the launch, and who is set to make many more great and piercingly funny comics, should he choose that over a career in astrophysics. I hope he does. Below: two panels from page 4 of 'Odie & the Exploding Toilet', which we both worked on. That's Mr Rock ad Mr Blowtish in panel 1.

I enjoin you to purchase a copy of 'Pigeons: Stories in the Post Vol.2' and support the brilliant work by the Pigeons.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

2011 approacheth, as does Cardigan Comics Magazine

The above sobriquet bestowed upon me by the esteemed Peter Bodin, Esquire.

A fez, a pipe, a dressing gown and slippers: that's my preferred get-up for the new year.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kamishibai in North Melbourne

Tonight begins a great experiment conducted by Jo Waite and I, with the willing collaboration of three other great comic book people: Ben Hutchings, Sarah Howell and Chris Downes.

All four of the abovenamed are producing a kamishibai (or 'paper theatre') story (a series of pictures which tell a tale) and they are being exhibited in the window of Kids in Berlin (472 Victoria Street North Melbourne) as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010. They will be there from Tuesday 28 September to Sunday 10 October.

This is the fourth Fringe comics exhibition which Jo has curated and I have produced.

(above image by Jo Waite)

On each of the Tuesday nights (today the opening 28 September, October 5 and 12), from 6 - 8pm, I will perform each of the stories and hand out Japanese lollies.

Come along!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mandy Ord and Dillon Naylor exhibition!

Last night I did a launch talk at the Town Hall Gallery in Booroondara (corner of Burwood and Glenferrie Roads Hawthorn) for THIS:

Yes, folks, a comics exhibition of work by Dillon Naylor and Mandy Ord! Superbo!

It's on until Sat 25 September and on Saturday 11 from 2 - 3pm Mandy and Dillon will be there, 'in conversation' as they say, in amongst the works on the walls, which for both of them goes back quite a long way in their cartooning and comic book making lives.

It's a great exhibition and I would say an important one, a tandem retrospective of two of the most assured stylists in the Australian comic book making world. As I said in the speech, our Dark Prince and our First Lady of Noir.

I didn't take any photographs, but Bobby N did.

And Mardi Nowak, the curator at the gallery, has info about the exhibition here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Big Blandowski - the end of the tour - Traralgon, Sale, Bairnsdale

So here's the set-up at Traralgon Library, where, with the assistance of librarian Noeline, we presented to three groups from Kosiusko Street Primary School, in three different places. First I did the show in the space behind the borrowing desk, then Rebecca led the drawing exercise in the activity space in the above photo, then I did the show again in their storytelling space, which was a brilliant area for it.

It was at the beginning of the second show that one kid, trying to guess who Blandowski was from the picture of the bearded man in front of him, yelled out: "It's God!"

At the Princeton Motor Inn in Sale, where we stayed for two nights, there was a significant variation in the approach to room decoration. Here, the designs were painted (maybe stencilled?) direct onto the wall. I liked it. (Note self-referential and post-modern presence of photographer in this shot)

Although by this stage of the tour I am getting a bit sick of the sight of naked brick. At least these ones were painted.

Our first gig in Sale was to meet up with Susan Taylor, who had driven from the Department of Sustainability and Environment in Yarram to meet us at O'Neill's, a restaurant in a house. Lovely. We swapped her our Blandowski story for her tale of the Corner Inlet waders, such as the Godwit pictured above, and other Shadridae, including the mellifluously named Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, and the Red-necked Stint. Between three plates of 'roo and a bottle of Glenmaggie Shiraz, a good night was had, you bet.

As you can plainly see.

Next day at the Gippland Art Gallery in Sale, Louise the Education person there helped us set up in our room and we had some great visitors turn up, watch the show, and draw pictures.

Above: Rebecca in a quite moment.

This morning we drove to Bairnsdale for breakfast, and blow me down if Will Patten, also from the museum, doesn't dash out of a shop calling 'Hey!' He's on a Gippsland tour as well this week, doing community consultations for the redevelopment of the Bunjilaka Gallery at Melbourne Museum. So good to see him, full of enthusiasm and good cheer.

We pull into the East Gippland Art Gallery and Elaine the curator there helps us to set up, finding us some plinths for the animals for this, their 'last stand' of this tour.

Me doing the penultimate show - no, my beard hasn't fallen off, this is one of the 'narrator' parts of the show. In fact it's the mo that's been doing some leaping from the upper lip this week. Le mo juste? Mais non!

Bec and the animals at the end of the day - come on, let's get this stuff stowed away so we can get to our motel and drop gear and get to the Bairnsdale RSL for a darn fine curry laksa and a little Blandowski and great presentation by Johnno and Steve from the Bairnsdale DSE about the Southern Ark Project, which protects East Gippsland's biodiversity through fox control.

Above, Steve delivering and Johnno looking back at the camera.

Steve explaining about hairtubes while the Long-footed Potoroo looks on, entranced.

I was more taken when, trying to illustrate how many carnivores, not just foxes, rely upon Ring Tail Possums as food, Steve referred to them as 'the potatoes of the marsupial world'.

Well, that's it - three weeks on the road in country Victoria as Wilhelm von Blandowski. Now here I am, last night of the tour, in a very nice room at the Bairnsdale Motel. And tomorrow I see my family.

And look: no bricks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Above: a smile, a look, some bared teeth. Bernard Caleo, Shaun Tan and Neil Gaiman at the 'Evolution of an Idea' panel at the GRAPHIC festival up at the Sydney Opera House, August 7 and 8. You have to imagine Eddie Campbell to the right of Mister Gaiman.

Hey, there's some good photos from GRAPHIC here.

And the Sydney Opera House has posted some video from the festival here.

Wilhelm von Blandowski - interlude

This arvo Rebecca and I drove into Sale and there was time, as there often is, for a bit of a sit down after checking into our hotel (tonight, The Princeton Motor Lodge).

Ahh, you know?

Soon, though, it occurred to me that the first page of the Blandowski Paperpoint presentation ('Performance today at 11.30 & 1.30') had been getting a bit tatty.


So I thought I'd re-draw and re-letter it for the last two days of the tour, and the new picture ended up looking like this:

Both of them are versions of the classic Blandowski self-portrait, which you can see here. Neither of them really captures him, which is 1) a little bit disappointing and 2) fine. As a maker of comic books, I enjoy (but REALLY. I really enjoy) play with representation. As a maker of theatre, I really enjoy playing historical figures because of the degree of interpretation it invites - that is, people who have seen Blandowski on this tour have really been seeing my Blandowski.

Although in terms of the 'real' Blandowski, I hope that the performance ignites interest in him and that people leave it with another name, another fragment of a piece, of the story of Victoria that we all carry around as a backdrop to our lives. The story of where we are. The story of how we came to be.

Before this all gets too deep, check out this 3 minutes of audio of an interview I did as Wilhelm on Mildura ABC radio with Louise Ray a couple of weeks ago. Oh, yes, it's a pretty funny accent, ze Prussian one...

And here is the very exciting news about the publication of Blandowski's book of illustrations of Australia. The illustrations are actually by Gustav Mutzel, who made them under Blandowski's directions after he had returned to Europe. Blandowski then photographed the illustrations and stuck the photos in albums, as I understand it, in order to self-publish a small number of the book 'Australien in 142 Photographishen Abbildunggen'. A zine, effectively.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Blandowski Expedition: Wangaratta, Wodonga, Morwell

This post will take us from the end of week two into the beginning of week three of 'The Art of Scientific Observation' road tour, celebrating weeks scientifical and years biodiverserific. Above, Thursday moning. Puggle the Museum Victoria Discovery Program van has its nose pointed towards Jaycee Island (36°33'18"south, 145°59'14"east if you're that way inclined) on Lake Benalla.

David and I drive to Wangaratta and set up in the Gallery there. In the morning we see lovely locals and visitors, and in the afternoon Valerie Crosse brings in a class of Visual Communication seondary students from Cathedral College across the road. They are great...

...but clearly, Wilhelm is in one of his moods.

That afternoon, David and I stroll the promenades of Wangaratta, and the banks of the Ovens River, which is full to the brim and over. As is usual when with David, we see some great birds, and when it rains, briskly, there is as intense a rainbow as I have ever seen, brilliant against the grey and massy clouds. We do not, however, see the above bird, the Regent Honeyeater, but we do sight Sarah Kelly, from the Department of Sustainability and the Environment, who speaks that evening about the release of Regent Honeyeaters bred in captivity at Toronga Zoo in Sydney and released in Chiltern in Victoria. Below, Sarah demonstates the technology used to track the birds.

That night David I and motor up the Hume past Chiltern (we will drop in to sample their baked goods on the morrow) to stay at the Blazing Stump Motel, and in the morning to set up at the Art Space Wodonga, which is a really lovely room, open to the Wodonga Libray. In the morning we do the show for a group of mums and pre-school kids (the show 'Wilhelm von Blandowski: a curious man' becomes the show 'Thanks, Bill!'), in the afternoon for a class from a local secondary school. Both groups really enjoy the drawing too. The curator of the Art Space, Helen Carter, and gallery helper Cary are great folks and make us very welcome even though they have an exhibition opening that night.

Below: the last pack-up of the week. A man, a van, a space.

Today, Monday 23 August (how about that election hey?), Rebecca Featherstone and I head out east into the Latrobe Valley and the Latrobe Regional Gallery, which is quite a place. The morning show was performed for the ladies of the Morwell Art Group and a class of grade 3/4 students and it went down a treat. Everybody drew, too!

It was great to meet Julie, the education officer at the gallery, who gives us a tour and then takes our picture!

The set


Leaving Morwell to come to Traralgon for tonight, we stop for fuel and at the service station I see one of those yellow plastic warning signs adorned with this:

Caution: men melting.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blandowski: Echuca, Shepparton, Benalla

One wakes up in a hotel room with the light fanging in across the ceiling. Let's have some breakfast in the sun, David, and then hit the Murray.

Ah, thar she flows. Somewhere close was the junction of the Murray and Campaspe Rivers, but I couldn't find it before the time came to be on the road in order to get to the Shepparton Library. We had a great time there, particularly with the two classes from Izik College. Below, David. And no, I haven't been showing pictures of the kids because if you take a photo that shows a child's face you need to have their permission. And I didn't.

In fact, I don't have David's permission. Must talk to him about that. But I think the thumbs up indicate a 'yes'.

After finishing up at the library (and boy oh boy, does the Gallery around the corner have a good cafe? Yes, it does) we drive up the road and have a wander along the Goulburn. I see a fox.

The following day is yesterday, and we hurtle through rain to get to Benalla Art Gallery, where we are visited by a couple of groups of students from Benalla East Primary, who are great - really lively!

Okay, so clearly there's people without whom this whole 'Art of Scientific Observation' tour would never have happened, and a couple of them turn up at Benalla. No pressure. (This better be good) One is Vera Gin, from Scienceworks, who arrives with Michelle Saunders, also from Scienceworks. Vera and Sarah Edwards applied for the initial funding for the tour, from Questacon, in Canberra. Also turning up at Benalla was Geoff Crane, from Questacon!

He takes the photo below, of me in Wilhelm mode:

Finishing up, we load the gear into Puggle, the Discovery Program van, as rain continues to plash into Lake Benalla.

And onto the trolleys.

And onto David. (Hey Bernard, care to lend a hand here?)

The evening's biodiversity talk takes place at this very lovely hotel:

And is delivered by Ray Thomas, of The Regent Honeyeater Project, and he speaks to us about his incredible habitat regeneration work which has involved planting - with much farmer and volunteer generosity- stands of box-ironbark, yellow box and white box trees, whose nectar the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater loves.

Above, from left: David, Geof, Vera, Ray, Michelle and Rob, from the commitee of the Regent Honeyeater project - he's a farmer upon whose land some of the planting has been done.

A lovely night - and great food!

As David and I prepare to return to 'The Top of the Town' motel for the night, a question occurs to us:


Monday, August 16, 2010

Blandowski - week 1 ends, week 2 starts

Oh, that's right.

I forgot to say in the previous post that there is another element to Museum Victoria's 'The Art of Scientific Observation' regional tour, and that is at night, in pubs (sounds okay eh?), where we continue to celebrate The International Year of Biodiversity and National Science Week by hooking up with people in that part of Victoria who are doing work in the area of biodiversity. On Monday night last, in Ballarat, we met Emma and Janelle who work at Sovereign Hill's working farm, Narmbool.

Below, around the table, from left: Tim Sullivan Deputy CEO and Museums Director at Sovereign Hill; Emma and Janelle from Narmbool; Shane, a local teacher; and Amy Briese, my Week One travelling companion and fellow Museum Victoria person (she also works for Zoos Victoria at the Werribee Open Range Zoo). Emma and Janelle talked about the programs they offer at Narmbool, Shane talked about his experience incorporating animals into his classroom teaching, and Amy talked about her work at the zoo. My main contact with animals is with ones who are dead or extinct (one of the things I love about working at a museum) and all this talk about live animals and what they can teach live humans was amazing to me.

Okay so let's zip forward to Thursday where we drove from Mildura to the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery where we we very soon met Barry, with his amazing Folio Society edition ofa book of plates by an early star of scientific illustration, Maria Sibylla Merian (April 2, 1647 – January 13, 1717)

which weighed about as much as I do. And I'm no featherweight. Beautiful, eh?

Here's our set-up in the gallery at Swan Hill, which is right next to the Murray River and the Pioneer Settlement.

As we drove away towards Bendigo, we passed Lake Boga, full after many years of dryness. It was significant for us because Blandowski stopped there in early 1857, on his way up to his famed camp Mondellimin, west of Mildura on the Murray. I use a drawing of a Crested Wedge Bill in the show, the original of which was drawn by Blandowski at Lake Boga, so it was great to see the lake looking so healthy.

And so full of bird life. Hello, maggie...

Ah, the open road. The McIvor Highway.

Ah, the Shamrock Hotel in Bendigo, and the view out of the window of the Billy Heffernan Suite by night...

...and by day...

And a view of the hotel itself, foregrounded by the building which is being made into a new socal history centre for Bendigo. (This drawing from the top of the Poppet Head tower in Rosalind (aka Fruit Bat) Park)

We set up in the Bendigo Art Gallery on Friday, and it is a grand building. In the foregound, drawing the magpie, is Margot, who works there and who was great. The painting behind the man's head is called 'Gentlemen..the Queen!' and features a lot of chaps in Edwardian red uniforms toasting their monarch. Work it into the show? You bet! (thanks to Georgie Meyer for pointing it out to me...)

Below, Amy and one of our great Bendigo illustrators.

Bendigo was our last stop last week, and yesterday Monday 16 August was our first day of Week #2. Below, setting up at the Kyabram Fauna Park.

On the left, Rhonda from Campaspe Shire who'd done a great job organising school groups to come along - from St. Patrick's Tongala in the morning (60 students), and Nanneella Estate Primary in the arvo (30 students). It was great to present the drawing program and the show to school groups - they were very enthusisatic!

On the right, that's David Holmes, my travelling companion for this week and a very very nice fellow.

Below: David going into a too-much-Blue-Castello-cheese-for-afternoon-tea catatonia, from which a cup of tea managed to rescue him. Outside Rooms 7 and 8 at the Echuca Hotel.

Last night, in a cellar at the Shamrock Hotel in Echuca, Nickee Freeman from the Department of Primary Industries gives a talk about Biodiversity and Land Management. David is later heard to mutter that it felt like we were part of a Resistance meeting...

C'est vrai, mon ami.