Friday, December 19, 2008

The White Suit

There's me and Dur-e Dara, her regaling the crowd at the Tango8 launch with great words about the vital importance of love, and of food, and of comics in Australia, preparatory to an improvised beer-glass-and-spoon percussion piece which would officially launch the book into the world.

And there it is, the face that launched 1000 comics.  And the suit that he did it in.


Thanks to Arts Victoria for the funding.  Thanks to Anita Bacic for the cover.  Thanks to Jen Jewel Brown for the publicity.  And thanks to Justin Caleo for the book design.

And most of all, thanks to the 70 contributors for entrusting their work to Cardigan Comics.


It really IS a great book.  But don't take my word for it.  Buy a copy and read it for yourself.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

'Tango8: Love and Food' - Launched!

Well well well: last night, Wednesday 17 December 2008, in a packed bar upon Lygon Street in East Brunswick ('Mr Wilkinson', 295 Brunswick Street to be precise), we launched the most recent issue of the Giant Australian Romance Comics Anthology.

Tango8: Love and Food

A goodly bunch of the 70 contributors were there, and as usual at a launch I met quite a few of them face to face for the first time (Simon Barnard, Brendan Halyday, Richard Butler, fine comic book makers all).  Much champagne was drunk, a bit of speechifying was done (thank you to Dur-e Dara, who officially launched the book) and a sense of joy and celebration filled the bar, as did we.

So now the book is out, and well and truly launched: you can grab a copy from our Melbourne stockists, listed on our website, or indeed direct from the site.

Thank you particularly to the following people, who I didn't credit in my speech as I should've: Adrienne Leith and John Retallick, super vendors of 144 copies of Tango8; Mary Anne and Salvatore Caleo for my new white suit (pictures to follow), and most of all, with great love, to Susan Bamford Caleo for making the making of the book possible in so many little and large ways.

Monday, October 6, 2008

And there we go!

There's the wonderful Jo Waite, curator of the exhibition 'Ugly, Drunk and Stupid' that she, and I, and Matt, and Susan, and Rose, and Joseph, and Georgia, and Zebedee, took down yesterday at the Town Hall Gallery at the Hawthorn Town Hall.  And next to her is Mr Smiley, who Jo drew and was our exhibition mascot.

Mardi Nowak, who's the curator of the space and a great booster for local zine and comics culture, took a whole bunch of photos of the exhibition, and of the 'Ugly Draw-Off' comics jam that we held on Saturday arvo after I gave a talk about the Ugly Tradition in comics art, focussing on Basil Wolverton, Ralph Steadman and Peter Bagge: a great discussion, much drawing, and, yes, sherry drinking ensued.

Thanks Mardi!  See you at next year's Fringe comics exhibition, eh?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ugly, Drunk and Stupid? Us too!

Hey!  Who's that arriving this evening at the launch of the exhibition 'Ugly, Drunk and Stupid', part of the 2008 Melbourne Fringe Festival?

Why, it's none other than Jo Waite, the actual curator of the exhibition, photographed by Bernard Caleo, the virtual curator.

(Not an hour later, a real ugly, drunk and/or stupid person will sway up to the gallery, smash into one of the windows and then weave away into the night...)

The exhibition features grotesque portraits and comic strips by Melbourne comic book makers: Andrew Weldon, Jo Waite, Michael P Fikaris, David Blumenstein, Kirrily Schell, Neale Blanden, Mandy Ord, Tim Molloy, Bernard Caleo, Sarah Howell and Tolley.

It's on at the Town Hall Gallery at the Hawthorn Town Hall and runs until Sunday 5 October.  On Saturday 4 October there will be a talk at 2pm about the 'ugly' tradition in comic book art and then from 3pm there will be an 'ugly draw-off', a comic jam at which you can draw an ugly mug onto a beer coaster.

Just as you've always wanted to.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Radio Days!

Last night on 'The Comic Spot' (last Thursday of every month, 3CR, 855 on your Melbourne AM dial or streamed), John Retallick (proud skipper of the good ship Comic Spot) and I (inept bosun) spoke for a good half hour with one of our comic book heroes, Eddie Campbell.

Eddie is a Scot who has lived in Brisbane for about 15 years and who, over the past 25 years, has had a most remarkable career in the comic book field. He was part of the very vibrant British 'Small Press' scene in the 1980s, illustrated the big Jack the Ripper book 'From Hell', written by Alan Moore in the 1990s, has run his own publishing company out of the front room of his Brisbane house - it was called, unsurprisingly, 'Eddie Campbell Comics' - and over the past three years he has had 3 books published through First Second Books, the comic book imprint of Macmillan.  The most recent of these is 'The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard', written with Dan Best and illustrated in Eddie's 'fully painted comics' style.  (He likened this to working with an full orchestra after having been part of a quartet (that is, working in black ink) for many years).

We also talked about the upcoming release of 'The Life Size Alec Omnibus', a 640 page book coming out from Top Shelf next year which will collect Eddie's autobiographical comics (his fictional self in the stories is 'Alec MacGarry'), for which he is justly renowned.


This morning Jo Waite (sometime first mate on The Comic Spot) and I were in at the ABC studios on Southbank to talk with the JJJ Breakfast people (Robbie, Marieke and the Doctor) about making comics, 'One-Sock the Lovesick Devil' (mini-comic by by Jo Waite), 'Tango' (romance comics anthology edited by me) and most pressingly, 'Ugly, Drunk and Stupid', the comic book exhibition that Jo is curating for this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Perversely perhaps, radio is a good medium for discussing comics I reckon.  Somehow you can convey the excitement of reading and making comics by handing the books around in the studio, and referring to them as you speak about 'em.  Also, there's something about comics, when you read them, capturing a maker's 'voice', which radio complements beautifully by allowing you to hear their actual voice.

I think.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"By the shroud of Gargunza!"

Below: me as Liz Moran, wife of Mike Moran, 
Miracleman's alter ego (wig kourtesy Eva Burghardt)

Above: the closing night (Saturday 12 July) crowd at the recent season of mine and Bruce Woolley's stage adaptation of Alan Moore, Gary Leach and Alan Davis' 1980s superhero comic book 'Miracleman'.  As you can see, there was a packed-to-the-gunnels crowd up on the third floor of The Croft Institute in old Melbourne Towne.

We had an excellent time with our eight night season, and we were extremely fortunate to have a critic attend on the second night who has a background both in theatre and in comics, and who went on to write an excellent review on his 12 hour train trip back to Sydney, which you can read here.

And of course once the title is out there in interweb land it's picked up by a Miracleman-starved comic book readership...

And then we were delightfully blogged by Nicki Greenberg!

So, a great registration of our show out here in the world of the digital.

One of the hugely satisfying things about the venue, apart from it being a great shape for our show (about 3 metres wide by about 10 metres deep) and the people there being lovely (thanks Adam, Steven, Bridget, Becky and Anne) was the location.  In the midst of Chinatown, The Croft Institute backs onto what was once the Hoyts Cinema Centre, now no longer a cinema and in fact the whole huge cavernous building is being gutted and made into...what? An indoor Quidditch stadium?  But, that was where I first saw 'Star Wars', 31 years ago. As it is a common reference for Bruce and I, there was something very neat about performing our show in such proximity to a historic/sacred site.

Watch this space for details about the next Miracleman season, winging its way to a festival near you!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wireless Comics - Drawn Out (June)

Last Thursday, June 19, I was on Richard Watts' weekly arts review/discussion program on 3RRR, 'Smartarts'. I've got a spot on the show, once a month, where I get to talk with Richard about local and international comic book and graphic novel news, and this was my second go.

In May we spoke about the current boom in Australian graphic novels: 'The Sacrifice' by Bruce Mutard, 'The Great Gatsby' graphic adaptation by Nicki Greenberg, Mandy Ord's 'Rooftops' and Shaun Tan's 'The Sacrifice'. We also chatted about Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's 'The Black Dossier', a comic book from overseas, which I had just begun. This last I wanted to use in juxtaposition to the Australian releases, all of which have strong storytelling at their heart, whereas 'The Black Dossier', in my opinion, was a postmodern exercise. Richard's perceptive, and more generous label was 'metafiction', and having by now completed the book, I would agree with him. However. Having skipped through those current greats of Australian 'book comics', in the first show, my brother Luke's comment later that day was: "Have you left yourself anything to talk about next month?"

Yes indeedy I had. And not only that, after asking for a title for the segment on air at the end of May's show, Richard immediately took a call from listener Robert Glavich who suggested 'Drawn Out'. And even though we got other, very good suggestions, this was the one that took my fancy. In its creation, a comic book is thought out, sometimes written and/or sketched out, but crucially it is... drawn out. Then there's also the sense of duration that that the phrase imparts, again crucial for a time-depicting artform. Finally there's the sense that 'the arrival' (if you will) of Australian comics has been a long time coming. It's been drawn out.

So that's 'Drawn Out', on the third Thursday of every month, at 9.30 am on 3RRR, 102.7 on your FM dial, with Bernard Caleo reporting to Richard Watts.

In the June show, I opened by talking about J. Marc Schmidt's 'Eating Steve', released by SLG Publishing in December 2007. This is a very entertaining zom-rom-com by Schmidt, who has also contributed stories over the years to Tango, the romance comics anthology that I put together. It's a bit smaller than A5, in the format that I'm beginning to think of as (see next post) 'manga size'. Jon is from Sydney, and spends a lot of time overseas in Asia teaching English. His cartooning is beautifully clear, his dialogue well timed and funny, and his characters well observed. And this book is about a cute girl, Jill, who is moved to munch on her boyfriend's grey matter, and the consequences of that. It's not, shall we say, a move forward for the relationship. But it's a great little graphic novella.

The next book under the comicoscope was 'Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday', written by Alex Cox, the writer/director of cult classic film 'Repo Man'. This book comic is the sequel to that 1984 punk- powered movie. Originally written as a screenplay in 1994 by Cox, it has been in Hollywood purgatory for more than a decade, but in a great move, Perth comic book publishing house Gestalt Comics secured the rights and engaged two local comic bookers to illustrate it - pencils and inks by Chris Bones and colour and textures by Justin Randall. This is a slick, accomplished, full colour publication with great production values, and the story is as incoherent, dreamlike and surreal as I remember the original film being. A great ride.

Other publications we discussed were: 'Word Balloons' the only print magazine discussing Australian comics, put out by Philip Bentley, this issue (number 7) featuring an interview with Nicki ('Great Gatsby') Greenberg; 'Going Down Swinging' the Melbourne poetry/stories/comics anthology, this issue (number 26) featuring comics by Daniel ('The Crumpleton Experiments') Reed and Paul Oslo Davis: and finally from overseas, Charles Burns' incredible work of suburban teenage horror, 'Black Hole', which I borrowed from my local library and I'm glad to be taking back, so excellently disturbing is it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Return of Miracleman

Two men, two wigs, a doll, a guitar... it can only mean one thing. That's right, the stage adaptation of the comic book 'Miracleman' is back in town. Bruce Woolley is fresh from Berlin, and Bernard Caleo is fresh from turning 40, and they're doing a re-vamped, amped-up version of their two man show with more amplitude than ever before!

So much amplitude, in fact, that it's already been blogged quite excellently by Kevin Patrick (with a Miracleman comic book history appended!) here.

Miracleman: the two man show
adapted and performed by Bruce Woolley and Bernard Caleo
from the comic book written by Alan Moore and drawn by Gary Leach and Alan Davis
at The Croft Institute, Croft Alley, Melbourne CBD
(off Paynes Place, off Little Bourke Street, between Exhibition and Russell Streets)

Wednesday July 2 - Saturday July 12
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 6.30pm

Tickets $20/15

Seating very limited, book here

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Movies that ate my BRAINS!

When the new Cardigan Comics site is (James Earl Jones voice) "fully operational", there will be a page called 'The Movies that ate my BRAINS!'. This page will feature the faux movie posters that I sketch in between putting on films at the two picture theatres that I work at: the Sun Theatre in Yarraville and the Westgarth Theatre in, well, Westgarth. Both of them beautiful Art Deco ladies from the 'Dream Palace' era of movies in Melbourne.

There is also a 'comic strip essay' that I will one day do, to be called: 'The Projectionist Theory of Cinema'. When showing films is your job, it really changes your way (and by that I mean your method) of seeing them.

But however you look at the new Indy film, I would suggest that everyone sees the same thing.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sim and Tan

No, I haven't converted this blog to a personals column and that title is not a misspelled self-description. Even though I have turned 40 since last posting (the excuse I will use if quizzed about the length of time in between posts), there has been no change to the pallid man-about-town complexion that I have always happily worn.

But there's plenty to report, so let's get cracking:

This evening, I and my family were at Readings in Carlton for the launch of Shaun Tan's new book from Allen & Unwin (one always feels the need to preface those last three words with 'the good folks at'. Because they are.)

This book is not strictly (or even loosely) 'comics': it is a collection of illustrated stories. But I want to write about it here, in this 'thoughts about comics in Australia' blog, for a couple of reasons:

1 given the success both local and international of 'The Arrival', Shaun Tan has put 'serious comics from Australia' on the global radar. "What Shaun did next" should be of interest to comic bookers. One of the great things about the success of 'The Arrival' is that Tan was not known as a maker of graphic novels/book comics before that point. 'The Arrival' is something of a departure in form, if not in content/theme for him. Primarily he is known as a maker of picture books, although for him this does not mean children's books. As he said tonight, he makes books '... not for children, but I try not to exclude them."

2 'Tales from Outer Suburbia' is another book from Allen & Unwin (those good folk) which continues the story of their commitment to a 'graphic story' line. Again, although TOS is not in itself comics, Shaun Tan's post-'Arrival' reputation means, I reckon, that readers will be seeing/reading the stories with 'comics' lenses in their glasses. And so there's a nice two-way street where Shaun Tan is directing the traffic: in one direction come comics-heads like myself for whom his work stretches and breaks fondly-held definitions of what comics 'are' and 'aren't' - it forces us to recognise family similarities with other forms of illustrated writing. And in the other direction come readers for whom 'The Arrival' introduced a deployment of the frame-by-frame narrative technique in an unfamiliar, deeply affecting way. Shaun blows his whistle *bleeeep!* they get comics, then *bleeep!* I get picture books. Smiles all round, and the road rage meter drops ten points.

Other than Shaun's speech, which he peppered with comments from letters that children have written to him over the years in response to his books, the other great treat of the night was the launch speech, from illustration master Ron Brooks, who looks a bit like this:

Ron had come from Tasmania across Bass Strait (he rowed, apparently) to launch Shaun's book, and I was delighted that he had. Not only did his speech extoll the virtues of Shaun Tan's 27 under par ( I think I have that right) minigolf game. Not only did Ron acknowledge Shaun's poetic skill in both the writing and drawing arenas. But also, after the launch, Ron Brooks signed our family copy of 'The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek', a book that he illustrated and Jenny Wagner wrote and which was published in 1975 by Penguin Books. I was seven then, and it was the perfect book for me. Still is.

Wrap up: a great privilege to hear two Australian masters of illustration and story talk on the same night. I recommend both 'Tales from Outer Suburbia' and 'The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek to you all.

Okay, better get some sequential narrative in here or the natives will get restless. Wednesday saw me sidle into 'Classic Comics' in the city and pick up this comic:

Yes, this is Canadian Dave Sim's ongoing comic book apr├Ęs his monsterpiece 'Cerebus', and it's another frankly astounding project. If we can rely on Sim for anything, it is to confound expectation utterly, while not seeming to do so out of wilful perversity. This book is, at face/cover value, a parody of fashion magazines, (One recalls that the 6,000 page, 26 year 'Cerebus' project began as a sword-and-sorcery comics parody) featuring lots and lots of exquisitely rendered pictures of women dressed in haute couture. But really, it seems to me that in 'glamourpuss', Dave's out to explore two interlinked aspects of comics themselves:

Technique Dave Sim has always been interested in the physical culture of making comics, the nibs (Hunt Crowquill), the brushes (sable), the ink (Indian) and the ways that these are deployed to make sequential pictures. Of course every comic artist is interested in this, but Dave's keen on discussing it, in writing about it. In 'Cerebus' this was part of the editorial, but in 'glamourpuss' it's in the text.

Tradition He is upfront about trying to imbibe the styles of the 'photo-realist' newspaper comic strip men of the mid twentieth century - Alex Raymond, Stan Drake, Al Williamson, Neal Adams. As well as drawing the magazine models in the photo-realist style that he has gleaned from these greats, the book also has direct copies of frames from their comic strips that Dave has re- drawn and inked. He has a lot to say about the declining quality of the reproduction of these strips, by which means detail has been lost over the years as they have been reprinted.

Technique and tradition. These two aspects of course are central to any artform. In Australia, what would be the equivalent of 'glamourpuss'? Doing a book in Norman Lindsay's style say, or Phil May's, while discussing how they managed to achieve the very effects that the pictures, re-drawn by the current day author/artist, are illustrating.

'glamourpuss' is a comic book about comics, and at times smells a bit like an exercise - one wonders how long it can be sustained, but as I said at the outset, it's Sim's specialty to second-guess and to wrongfoot his audience. And his wicked sense of humour is still intact.

(above: self-portait of 'evil genius' Dave Sim from 'glamourpuss' #1. Cop those canines!)

Where will he take it? Impossible to say. Will I keep reading it? Affirmative, Mister Sim.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Age gets festooned with comics talk and folk

Open last Saturday's paper, all 15 kilos of it, and it's choc-a-block with comic book folk: there, on page 7: Neil Gaiman's in Melbourne to talk at a children's book conference (Shaun Tan will speak at it too) and en route, he'll Johnny Appleseed some 'comics is grand' talk.

And there, on page 12 of the A2 section, an article about a book about doodling, but the main picture is of Mandy Ord and her ink-stained hands! You read about 'em here, a couple of posts ago...

The above is a detail of Simon Schluter's photo.

And then on page 27, a short review of Bruce Mutard's 'The Sacrifice' by Owen Richardson. I can't find a link to this at the moment, but it got me pretty steamed, I can tell you. Richardson starts with some good points about comics/graphic novels in general, and then mounts a fair description of Bruce's book in particular (although saying that "... the pictures are in the tradition of the exact verisimititude of the Tintin books..." is spectacularly wide of the mark), but finishes the review (and that's the business end, after all) with a summation which is quite dismissive of 'The Sacrifice'. It's unearned, either by book or by reviewer, and I dispute it.

As I say, the smell of this review has hung around me like a dead possum under the floorboards - I will clearly need to deal with it in another post.

But just to tie this one off to say that 3 fair-sized mentions of comics and their creators in the weekend paper seems just about right to me, and it is what I will be expecting from here on in.

Problems with Money (#1 in a series)

This, after hearing John Carroll being interviewed on Radio National last week about difficulties associated with supported chairs at universities: how does this financing deform research, findings, ideas etcetera?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

'The Arrival' at The Arts Centre

This morning Zebedee my younger son, Mary Anne my mother and I trained it into the city to visit Collected Works Bookshop, where we talked to Kris Hemensley, who runs the shop with his wife Retta. It is always a pleasure to speak with either of them, and Collected Works is one of the reasons that one would live in Melbourne.

Then we headed south along Swanston Street, passing Young and Jackson's Hotel, Flinders Street Station, and crossed the Yarra Yarra River using Princes Bridge. It was like being in a comic book about Melbourne. Somehow, I'd discovered that there was an exhibition of the artwork from Shaun Tan's mesmerising silent book comic, 'The Arrival', outside The Studio, a small theatre at The Arts Centre. And there it was.

What I hadn't realised was that the theatre show of 'The Arrival', featuring actors, projections, moving sets and puppets, was also on, and we arrived just in time to see hordes of school children march into the Studio to watch it. We didn't have the tickets or the time to see the show, but a very kindly usher turned on the television monitoring system so that we could get an idea of what the show was like. It looked GREAT. And when I find a link to the theatre company who produced it, I will post it here.

(Thank you Scott Wright: name of the company is Spare Parts.)

The exhibition is only on until Sunday May 5 - it features digital prints and original pencil art from 'The Arrival'. Of course, to see the work this way, out of the 'flow' of the narrative, is instructive as I found that I was looking at the pictures as 'finished art', rather than 'ongoing art', a topic which surfaced in the discussion with Mandy Ord on last weeks 'Comic Spot'. (see last post)

Above is the sketch that I made from the monitor displaying the show: that's not 3 characters at the front, by the way, but two shadows from the main character. And there's his creature/pet in the right hand window - in the show it was coloured blue. The audience really was spilling all the way down onto the stage. One of the most amazing things, from my attenuated view, was the use of projections of images from the book, on the three main flats and the ramp, to create all sorts of spaces and scales. The flats were made of screens that could be drawn up, across, down. I loved that.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The return of 'The Comic Spot'

Look! Up in the sky! It's the smog! No, it's... The Comic Spot!

Yes, Melbourne's favourite comic book radio show is back on air...

John Retallick, the main mover and shaker, has returned to the studio with Jo Waite and Bernard Caleo, his faithful chorus, and a new timeslot for 'The Comic Spot':

last Thursday of every month, 5 -6pm, on 3CR, 855 on your AM dial.

On Thursday 24 April we talked to the splendiferous, black-ink-stain-handed Mandy Ord (a funny story that was, too) about her book comic/graphic novel 'Rooftops' in the context of the rest of her comic book career, and her plans for the future. Very exciting stuff.

Next 'Comic Spot', Thursday 29 May, will be with Philip Bentley of 'Word Balloons' and 'Passionate Nomads' fame, and Bruce Mutard, whose book comic 'The Sacrifice' was launched the night before last (see post below).

Ah, Melbourne! You're such a happening comic book town!

Photo of Jo, Bernard and John is kourtesy of Mandy Ord and her kamera.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Launch of Bruce Mutard's 'The Sacrifice'

It happened on Wednesday night at Readings in Carlton, which was significant because the climactic, the penultimate, the key chapter of the book takes place on the 23rd of April as well - just 66 years ago, in 1942. And what a chapter it is - logging in at 56 pages, one-fifth of the book, it alone is as long as some graphic novels/book comics/call 'em what you will. 'The Sacrifice' - it's a big book, a big beautiful book, and you should all go out and get one now.

There was a good gang there: Jo Waite, Spiros Xenos, John Retallick, Tolley, Greg Gates, Philip Bentley, Mandy Ord, Kirrily Schell, Kevin Patrick, Colin Wilson, Jodie Webster, Jenny Nestor, Erica Wagner, Clint Cure, Bruce's mum Val, my mum Mary Anne, Angelo Madrid, Dillon Naylor, Neves Kitoko, Jenny Sabine, Zeljko Radic, Susan Bamford Caleo, Joseph Bamford Caleo and Zebedee Bamford Caleo, Luke Caleo, Tim Caleo, Salvatore Caleo and Daniel Hollywood. And there were others - but at least I think I've got all the Caleos by name...

I was dressed a la Robert Wells, the main character from the book, and after Andrew from Readings introduced us, Bruce and I brewed up a pot of tea live on stage, as a way of referring to the endless cups of tea drunk in the book. While it brewed, I talked about the new 'wave' of publishing of 'book comics' by local book publishers, then about Bruce, then he came up and poured the teas which proceeded to cool over the next 20 minutes as we conducted a damn fine question-and-answer session about the book.

Then three calls of 'huzzah!' and the book was launched.

Susan was performing her show, 'Lolo and Lulu's review' that night, and needed to get there to sound-check and perform by 9pm, and I was minding the boys, so's I needed to hustle pretty quickly - clean up my tea things, tuck my lads under my arms, and be off, Brown (little Robert Lowell reference there), which was a great pity as there were folks there whom I could have talked to for some pleasant hours, but suppers needed to be supped and baths bathed. The call of the mild.

But I left Bruce signing books there at the Readings back counter, which is as it should be. Bonne chance, 'The Sacrifice': may you find your audience, and prosper, and ain't it grand to be looking forward to the next installment in the trilogy: 'The Fight'.

Photo of Bruce and Bernard taken by Readings' Andrew McDonald - also see the Readings blog entry: