Later today - it is 5.30 in the morning as I type this - my Family are having a "20 Years of Remembrance" Ceremony (whatever that is!) at St Michael's Church (The Abbey Place on the Caboolture-Bribie Island Road) for my Father who passed away suddenly 20 years ago today. We were a pretty dysfunctional family on that occasion, so I suppose my Mother and siblings feel they have to have a sort-of 'Anniversary Funeral Service' for him now that we are all getting along. I had been invited to give a speech, but I have declined. I said my 'farewells' to him when I produced a Booklet and 3 x Compact Discs of recordings (based on a 1988 taped interview I did with him) in 2010.
It's not that I wish to disrespect my Father, or not to honour him: it just doesn't feel right at the moment - and I believe I said everything I wanted to say in that Booklet. And after all, I am going to the Ceremony, and I am having (private) memories of him (right now, for example, when I should be sleeping)....
Among all the Memories of my Father, the one that has had the most influence on the person I am today is of the Father who provided me with the joys of reading comics, even in the days before I could read. He used to bring home comics from work for all of us, all throughout my childhood. From Jack and Jill, I enjoyed the nonsense of having Harold Hare's weekly adventures read to me, along with Wee Willie Winkie. There were magazines called Playhour and Teddy Bear. Later on came Treasure (I used to enjoy the adventures of Princess Marigold, often feeling sorry for The Wizard who ultimately ended up in the bad books!), Tiger, Lion, and Look and Learn. How could I forget: The Beano, The Dandy, Victor...
My Father, perhaps noticing I enjoyed reading even my siblings' comics, took out a weekly subscription for me for Ranger and then Valiant (which I loved).... Jack Justice, Kelly's Eye, Mytek the Mighty, The Last Boys in the World (my favourite series - which I don't think I ever read the ending of....), The House of Dolmann, The Steel Claw ... what a wonderful comic!!
I devoured everything that came into the house, to the point my Father went to the local Red Cross Shop (what was then the precursor to the modern day Opportunity Shop) and it seemed he bought everything he could for his family! The Phantom, Smash!, Pow! (two British comics that introduced the Marvel characters to our household - it was my Mother who first began reading Spidernan!), Princess Tina, Bunty, Judy (I didn't care if they were girls' comics - some of the artwork was sensational!), the Commando Comics, my brother's Wizzer & Chips and his Buster comics.... And in the late 1960s my Father began bringing home second-hand Marvel comics that people had donated (Ditko's Spiderman #25 was one of the first I read).... The only problem I found with the Marvel's was 1) the stories were usually continued (and it was difficult to find consecutive issues), and, 2) they came out too infrequently - every month!! I was far too impatient, so the English weeklies were more to my liking at the time.
And this is only one aspect, one living Legacy that my Father provided for me and that endures inside me today. (There are more, but I shall leave off discussing them now...!) So, it is with some sadness I shall (again) say Good-Bye to a Man who gave me so much when he left us all so suddenly 20 years ago today...
But with every Sad Memory that this day brings, there is another Joy and a Happy Memory associated with this day. Today also marks the 50th Anniversary of John Dixon's first daily Air Hawk adventure. On May 11th 1963 (also a Saturday) the above introduction ran on the Brisbane Courier-Mail's front page. I have reproduced a copy of the first strip from that date (see below), which also ran in the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian newspapers on this date.
Reproducing this strip has not been easy. Although fifty years ago may not seem a long time, I must tell you that much of the original artwork to the early Air Hawk strips is not to be found. And even some of the newspaper proofs of the strip are not available. (I shall write about this in more detail in an upcoming volume of John's Air Hawk works.) In fact, of the forty-one Sunday adventures, John has only six newspaper proofs available and no original artwork. The daily strip fares a little better, although only four adventures of the first twenty adventures (there were eighty daily adventures in total) are available as newspaper proofs, with no original artwork to be found. I have reproduced this very first daily from the archives of the Queensland Library's collection of newspapers (in this case, I accessed The Courier-Mail). Which is all the more reason why we Australians need to treasure our comic book and comic strip heritage and preserve them for posterity, and the reason for Comicoz' existence.
I am still dedicated to preserving works (like Air Hawk) for future generations, and even if this may mean reproducing strips from the newspapers files found in Libraries that is better than reprinting nothing at all. If nothing is preserved, our comic strip history disappears. This joy of Comics (both in strip or periodical format) that my Father has passed on to me, is a legacy I intend to pass on to future Australians who may simply enjoy reading them (as I did) or who may develop a passion for the medium...
From Brisbane's Courier-Mail....page 3
The Bunker Cartoon Gallery Inc. in beautiful Coffs Harbour has just announced May the 12th as the opening date for their 25th Annual Cartoon Award.
There are two Sections: the International Section (with the topic of 'Cycling') and an Australian Section (with 'Joys of Aging' the topic for the local cartoonists). The Prize for Cartoon of the Year (and other Prizes) has been increased to $5,000. That is certainly a reason to get drawing!
If you need more details, skip over to the web-site by clicking here or by doing it yourself at the email address at the bottom of this paragraph. The Australian Cartoonists' Association is planning its Annual Workshop and Awards Night to coincide with the announcement of the Rotary Cartoon Awards Winner (announced on Friday October 26th), so if you would like to meet some of the professional cartoonists who work in Australia, this will be the place to be in the last weekend in October! Find more details here: http://www.rotarycartoonawards.com/
Just thought that if there were any Readers of this Blog interested in sending Jim Shepherd's family a Message of Condolence that I should supply an address...
Here is the address I used:
Judith Shepherd, Senior Editor
Frew Publications Pty Ltd
160 Castlereagh Street
New South Wales
I have just finished another stint of night duty. In my occupation – for those who don’t know, I work as a Clinical Nurse in the Psychiatric Emergency Centre at Brisbane’s largest public Hospital – I am expected to work a set
number of night shifts in every four week block.
Although I can carry out my duties and function reasonably well during the night, I don’t think it does much for my private, personal life. Once I get home, I sleep restlessly for long periods. I occasionally wake up for a glass of water, or talk to my long-suffering wife Carlene (who says her
sleep pattern is also disrupted during this time). Before I know it, it’s time to grab a bite to eat, and then it’s back to work I go…
Normal life just goes out the window. I don’t go out anywhere, Saturday’s newspapers are not read until Tuesday or Wednesday, bills are left unpaid, the garden and lawn is left to grow wild, our dogs are unsure if they should bark at
the postman and risk being yelled at to ‘Keep Quiet!’
, our children (and grandchildren) are not rung and must feel they are being ignored (they are), my computer remains switched off and all emails are left unanswered and this Comicoz
web-page-come-Blog remains idle….
Returning to the Real World this morning, and that means being reading emails and taking phone calls again, I see that Life – and indeed Death – has been happening while I have been in that other world.… I have only just learnt the sad news: Jim Shepherd
died suddenly on April 15th, and was buried last Tuesday (April 23rd). (Many thanks to Kevin Patrick
for sharing this information in his Comics Down Under Blog
For those who come in late*, Jim has been Publisher of the Australian comic book, The Phantom
since 1987. Of course, The Phantom
has been around much longer than that. Written and created by Lee Falk
, and first published as a comic strip distributed by King Features Syndicate
in early 1936, The Phantom
costumed heroes like Superman
In their earliest incarnation, comic books or funny papers were periodicals that simply reprinted the newspaper comic strips of the day. As in the USA, there were many Australian publishers who sought to exploit this new entertainment medium.
* Old Jungle Saying
Sydney-based Frew Publications’
acquired the comic book rights to The Phantom
comic strip in 1948, and has published the character continually since that time. The company was founded by four businessmen: Ron Forsyth
, Jim Rishardson
, Jack Eisen
and Peter Watson
being the collective initials of all their surnames), and is now Australia’s longest-running comics company.
Some consider Frew’s Golden Era to be when it was producing all-new Australian comics written and draw by local talent in the 1950s and early 1960s, including Catman by John Dixon (before he had successfully marketed his Sunday Air Hawk newspaper strip), Sir Falcon, The Phantom Ranger and The Shadow.
But there are others - and I am going to stick my neck out here and include myself in that number - who feel that Frew’s Golden Era began in 1987, when Jim Shepherd took over the reigns of the Company….
Jim’s run on The Phantom began from Issue #876. By then it was the only remaining comic magazine in Frew’s stable. After an absence of many years, Jim ensured that the Frew logo was re-instated on the cover of The Phantom, and a regular letters' page gave the readers a sense of community (from Issue #917 in 1988 onward). However, with access to Frew’s library of back
issues, Jim made a discovery that was to best influence his company’s future editorial policy: past comics had failed to reprint stories in full – adventures in the past had been cut and edited to simply fit the format of what had been a 32 page comic. Phantom fans – from Issue #910 A onward – were treated to brand-new reprinting of some of the classic older adventures in their entirety. And Jim felt if that meant expanding the page count, so be it!
I visited Jim Shepherd’s Sydney office in 1989 – it was either during my visit to oversee the printing of the Autumn-Winter Fourth Issue of John Dixon’s Air Hawk Magazine or during the week of the Australian Black and White Artists’ Club’s Award Night later that year (time has clouded the exact reason and I am not in a position to check my filing cabinet) – and I was invited into his office. It was then that I met Jim for the first time in person. We had a lengthy conversation and he gave me some invaluable publishing tips. (He never saw Comicoz as a rival: more that we were both publishers in a genre that the marketplace had forgotten and that we were both passionate about.)
I found Jim to be a very friendly man. He spoke of older days, and of his other passions – journalism and boxing in particular. Jim was sure about his and Frew’s place in The Phantom’s publishing history, but not in a big-headed kind of way. He was not really up to speed with what was going on in the local or overseas comics industry; and just seemed to be content to focus the spotlight on his personal comic hero – Lee Falk! He disclosed to me that, much as he liked The Phantom, his favourite Lee Falk character was actually Mandrake the Magician! So, a little time later (in about 1990, from memory), I was not surprised to see Frew, under Jim’s stewardship, publish a Mandrake comic book run…
Jim and I spoke about other commonalities – we both were publishing comics that were licensed from third parties. He disclosed that he was still not satisfied about The Phantom… He spoke about his desire to see a locally produced Phantom adventure published. He told me that he had written a script that King Features had approved, and was seeking an artist to illustrate the adventure.
At that time Comicoz had already co-produced an Air Hawk comic with Cyclone Comics (Air Hawk Summer Special #3, in the summer of 1988). During those days, I used to come down from Brisbane and stay on Gary Chaloner’s lounge room floor. As a result, I was in contact with the other members of the Cyclone gang. This collective met informally at a local inner-Sydney pub with some of the others in the local comics scene, calling themselves (for reasons that was never explained to me) The Yugel Club. Name-dropping time: it was at The Yugel Club that I first met David De Vries, Glenn Lumsden, Tad Pietrzykowski, Steve Carter, as well as the occasionally present and always wonderfully eccentric Bodine Amerikah. It was there I established a rapport with – perhaps because we were both from Brisbane – and saw the then-developing artwork of one Jason Paulos.
I informed Gary Chaloner about Jim’s artistic needs for his
Phantom story, and I do recall that Gary actually showed me – on a
later visit to Sydney – his wonderful Ray Moore-inspired artwork that he had submitted to Jim Shepherd. I wonder if Gary still has these originals he worked on for Jim? As history now records, Gary did not get the
gig; Jim’s story ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ (first published in the 1990 Phantom, Issue #951A) was illustrated by Australian comic-legend, Keith Chatto. Jim and Keith thus became the first Australians to write and illustrate a Phantom story. They worked together on a couple more occasions on other original Phantom adventures in the Australian comic (#962 and #1000). And somewhat ironically, former Cyclone Comics and Yugel Club Members Dave de Vries and Glenn Lumsden ended up writing and illustrating a Phantom mini-series for Marvel Comics in 1995. Another Australian, Glenn Ford, illustrated Jim’s last Phantom adventure in Issue #1131 in 1996.
Jim Shepherd’s publishing term at Frew Publications ensures his place in the History of Australian Comics, and I would like to acknowledge and honour his contribution here. With his passing, though, I am left with the question (that I am unable to answer at this point in time): Wherefore now for Frew?
Although this must be a stressful time for Jim’s wife Judith and family, I am hoping that, once they have had time to grieve, they may consider assuming the role as interim Publisher – or even appointing a temporary Editor – to continue the Phantom comic. There are those who have had some experience in the area (whether they are available and/or have the inclination may be a different story): Gary Chaloner, Lindsay Foyle (who ably edited The Bulletin for a while), Jason Paulos, Kevin Patrick, Cefn Ridout…. just to name a few.
For all of the short-comings of Frew, and there were some - but these do not need to be discussed here at this time - there may be a greater sadness associated with the passing of Jim Shephed. If The Phantom is allowed to fade into comic book history due to the passing of it Publisher Jim Shepherd, we lose our last remaining link to the Golden Age of Australian Comics. And as a result, I somehow feel all Australians lose a historical link to this sometimes neglected form of popular culture....
Here is an early draft for the cover of the upcoming NED KELLY book. Please feel free to comment and (constructively) criticise to let us know your thoughts....
There are not too many Aussie Comics that make the Issue Twelve mark these days, so I think it is worth highlighting and acknowledging such a creative milestone when a locally produced comic not only reaches such a pinnacle, but when praise for said book is also highly deserving. Burger Force is just that comic,
Written, Directed and Produced by Jackie Ryan, Burger Force has been irregularly and independently published since September 2009 (with a Thirteenth Issue due to be released sometime after Easter 2013). Jackie sums up the story (that she first began writing in 1999) better than I can: "Located beneath the Burger Berserker Takeaway, undercover operatives set aside thick shakes and fries to thwart live-dancers, nefarious dating agency schemes and cock-rockers gone (even more) wrong. Into this strange world wanders an even stranger Mercury, a hapless young man with an unusual and unwanted talent. The Burger Team is tasked with discovering whether Mercury can help save the world as they know it or if that world needs saving from Mercury."
Burger Force is regulation comic-book size and most of the issues produced so far are a full 28 pages in length on high-quality, glossy white paper stock. While the internal pages are printed in black and white, the covers sport a wonderful array of minimalistic use of colour displayed in a highly stylised manner (see left for an example). Twenty-two pages of each issue are filled with the storyline and artwork. The art has clearly been taken from photographs of people and places in Jackie's neighbourhood and illustrated from these photographs. The Burger Force website (which you can access here) http://www.burgerforce.com/ openly admits the comic uses "people and and locations that have been 'comified' [sic] through a combination of software and retouching". In no way does this make the production look amateurish - in fact, just the opposite: I find the artwork, combined with the storyline, gives it a modern edgy feel. The remaining four pages of each of the magazines not filled with the story is editorial content, and the retail price of $4.99 is really Great Value. If your local comic shop does not carry this book, then orders can be placed on line at the website (click here). Comicoz has no commercial interest or relationship with Jackie Ryan, and she has not in any way bribed me to say all of these really nice words about her work, Burger Force. I Highly Recommend this comic series.
A stint of night duty (where I do nothing but work and sleep) coupled with a computer glitch...crash...what-ever you want to call it, has prevented me from taking Ned Kelly, Air Hawk and Rob Feldman's Masterpiece any further in recent days. And, I must confess, I have also been side-tracked reading some great new Aussie comics. You see, I am fast discovering that much Australasian product is NOT available in the newsagencies. Much Good Stuff (and some ordinary work too) is available on the internet.
It does help if your server is working, and now that my computer is going again, I can point you in the direction of some of the Really Good Stuff. If you are one of the few people who has not read John Dixon, Air Hawk and the Flying Doctor (and if you are reading this Blog and you have not - Shame!), then I would like to share this link with you. For some more cracking good reads and more information about Pikitia Press Click Here
. If those sites do not completely satisfy you, you are a difficult person to please! But more of the Really Good Stuff is also available at Milk Shadow Books, and you can find more about them by Clicking Here. That should tide you over until at least until Easter! Just in time for you to tune back here, to see what is doing here at Comicoz....
Here is the first new comic to hit the news-stands in 2013!
Well, I suppose technically, the first was 'The Phantom' and I don't mean to be disrespectful, Jim, but I suppose we - I? - tend to take The Phantom for granted at times. So, maybe I had better be a little more accurate: here is the first all new, all original, all Australian comic to hit the news-stands in 2013!
I found my copy within the Aeroplane magazines, but am pleased I saw it! There are so few Aussie comics on the news-stands that this is a cause for celebration. I am not clear when the issue came out (the Copyright is listed as 2012). Hugh's Editorial on Page 1 speaks of 'The Battle of Australia' being the third title in the series (this being the second) and that the third comic 'will be released in February 2013'. I had meant to review the First Issue, with the creative team giving me permission to use images from that Edition for that purpose some months ago, but our moving home got in the way of my being able to do so. So, better late than never...
Issue 1 (with the cover reproduced at left), Gallipoli: The Landing was based on a non-fiction book written by 'Squadron Leader Hugh Dolan' and has used 'original source documents: army orders, battalion diaries, soldiers’ letters and personal diaries'. Artist Mal Gardiner, we are told, was a member of the Australian Defence Force, and apparently used original photographs from 1915 to ensure the machinery detailed were accurate. The comic is magazine size, with a colour cover and 100+ black and white pages inside. The comic retails for $9.95 and copies can still be obtained on line (Click here for details).
The Second Issue is similar to Issue 1 insofar as it presents Australian history in comic book format. (The Second, as you can see from the illustration above, is called 'Kokoda: That Bloody Track'.) Writer Hugh Dolan describes both books as being 'factual comics': and in the more recent edition he has taken great
lengths to report 'conversations, actions and events witnessed by soldiers' and this extends to including the English,
Japanese, Pidgin and Motu languages of the participants. This does give some authenticity to the scripts. However, I'm not entirely sure whether Hugh single-handedly wrote the script for the second comic (Kokoda); the cover gives credit to both Hugh Dolan and David Howell. However, Kokoda's credit page states that David is that battle's expert. (Perhaps it was co-written by both gents? The Copyright is listed as belonging to Hugh, adding to my confusion.)
The artwork in Kokoda is by an unknown (to me) artist, Tea Seroya (according to the cover). I know nothing else about the artist, because nothing else in this volume tells me any more about him/her. The Second Issue has far better paper stock and in wrapped around a sturdy cover: it is almost a paperback rather than 'comic' which may have been the reason I discovered it by accident away from the comic-section of the newsagents. Kokoda is about the same size as Gallipoli, retails for the same amount ($9.95) and - let's give it a big cheer - it is printed in full colour throughout. (When was the last Aussie comic seen in full colour on the newsstands?? Sherlock Holmes by Black House, from memory.) On the down-side, it runs for only 47 pages and is ... "to be continued".
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Some of the artwork interior from GALLIPOLI: The Landing...
So overall, what did I think? To be honest (as I must), one thing I look for in a comic - even an historic one - is the gelling of script and artwork. In this case, in both Issue One and Two, it just did not happen. The artwork in particular looked stiff, although I thought Mal Gardiner's (from Issue One) was reasonably detailed to keep me interested. I know from my own experience, that it is difficult to sell a comic from the news-stands, and it is an awful job having to work out a reasonable price that the average comic book reader is willing to pay (given that the newsagent and distributor both take a 25% cut). One has to calculate profit margins (if any) and be willing to lose a lot of money unless you can market the product well. Even marketing these in schools may be a 'hard sell' given the overall disappointing quality of the comics. I thought the cover price, taking into account the artwork and script not working particularly well together, made both editions overpriced.
However, the idea (history being made into comics) is a good one. (I'm not likely to say otherwise with Ned Kelly in the wings, am I?!) I did buy the issue, I thought the print job on the Second Issue was a great leap forward, and I do wish the creative team well for their next venture. I do commend them for getting another comic on the stands; I only wish the end result could have been more pleasing to read.