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.