Australasian Comic reviews by Philip Bentley
Oi Oi Oi ! #1 (ComicOz, 2014)
Dailies #4 (Silent Army, 2014)
When local comic production spluttered into life again in the 1980s after a lull of around 20 years, non-themed anthologies were the initial mode of choice. From Inkspots to Fox Comics and on to Ozcomics and Cyclone, anthologies were seen as a way to showcase the greatest number of creators in the shortest amount of space. However all of these publications struggled to reach their market which wasn’t that big to begin with. Newsagent distribution proved an expensive and wasteful procedure, while local comic shops (and their patrons) were fairly disinterested.
Since those times we have had the brief ‘golden summer’ of the 1990s, when local comics seemed to gain some sort of foothold only to lose it just as quickly. Later in the decade Deevee, a non-themed anthology, sustained itself for just under 20 issues, primarily through overseas sales, by anchoring itself with a creator with international clout (Eddie Campbell). Deevee, though, was the last of its kind. Since then the preference has been for themed anthologies or single story books. The received wisdom has been that anthologies, whether themed or not, do not sell that well despite them being popular with creators for providing an outlet.
So it is interesting that over the past few years a few significant non-themed anthologies have re-emerged. I welcome this as personally I feel this mode has a lot to offer. The two above come at it from different directions, so a comparison is revealing.
Nat Karmichael’s Oi Oi Oi! seems a throwback to the 1980s with its emphasis on its Australian roots and newsstand distribution. In other ways it has gone beyond these times by proposing a quarterly schedule and paying contributors. But that some element of the 1980s is present may not be that surprising given Karmichael also made a contribution to anthologies in that decade by being involved with The Australian Comics Group (one issue, 1982). Later he published a magazine reprinting the newspaper strip Air Hawk (six issues, 1980's-1990), with a softcover collection in 2011 and a second volume in hardcover of Air Hawk in 2013. He followed it up this year with one of another newspaper strip, Monty Wedd's Ned Kelly.
Since the cessation of Tango in 2009 local comic aficionados have lamented the absence of a substantial anthology to showcase the burgeoning talents this country has been producing. So Karmichael is to be congratulated at having a go at providing it. The results though are mixed. From a perspective of the work alone Karmichael has been wise enough to largely use established creators so there are no duds to be found. That said, to me, the book is largely lacking any inner cohesion. Now I admit this is a fairly abstract element and there are no rules about how you achieve it, but for me the best anthologies have any inner synergy where the works spark off one another to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. For me this element is absent here.
It’s true a number of the works do address some element of Australiana, but otherwise they have little in common visually or thematically. Cartooning flights of fancy from Rob Feldman and Glenn Le Lievre are juxtaposed with more dramatic works, such as a tale set in 1930s Tasmania by Tony Thorne (making a welcome return to the printed page after a gap of 20 odd years), and one of Steve Carter and Antoinette Ryder’s patented fantasy adventures (considerably toned down from their usual fare). These are leavened with an amusing slice of life tale by Dillon Naylor, a thought-provoking commentary on the medium by Bruce Mutard and the first nine pages of Joshua Santospirito’s renowned graphic novel Long Weekend in Alice Springs. All of these would be acceptable on their own but here just seem to be taking the work in too many directions at once.
Karmichael may have felt that bringing together as wide a collection of styles and stories as possible would help his cause. I’m not sure if this is the case. It depends what purchasing criteria his potential readers use. It’s true that some people use an ‘opt in’ approach where if they see a few works they like they will buy the book regardless of there being some that they don’t. But others use the opposite approach and won’t buy anything that contains a number of strips that don’t appeal.
But again I am not sure what market Karmichael is aiming for. The comic reading community in this country seem more diverse than ever and I’m not sure that many would purchase an Australian comic purely because it is an Australian comic. Judging from his cover, contents and editorial, though, Karmichael may have set his sights at a general readership above and beyond those who identify with being comic fans. This is a big ask given that while comics may no longer be a pariah medium in this country there is still a general indifference to the medium. I have observed some greater interest amongst the literati and Gen Y but I wouldn’t have thought these would have been ones to be particularly swayed by an emphasis on Australiana.
Certainly from the perspective of the general market I would have to query the inclusion of Mutard’s strip – probably too self-referential – Carter and Ryder’s – even toned down possibly too violent – and Santospirito’s which reads like what it is – the beginning of a much longer work.
But I do welcome the book’s existence and wish it a long life, even if I fear that like most of its ilk in this country its tenure will be brief.
The Silent Army occupy what they call the experimental end of the comic scene in this country, in particular Melbourne. Having begun in the early 2000s, from roots in the 1990s, they have some history in the medium and over the years have published approaching 30 different works. Originally a loose collective these days the major organising appears to have fallen to Michael Fikaris, who has been responsible for this journal, four issues of which have been published since 2012.
Originally non-themed this issue takes as its theme Melbourne, although this is pretty loosely interpreted in many cases. Over the 64 pages a variety of artists, both new and established, ply their trade in approximately one page per contributor. Some provide illustrations rather than strips and there are other oddities like strips in untranslated Indonesian.
This brevity does limit the amount of depth contributors can reach so perhaps it is not surprising that the most successful strips, for me, come from established creators such as Jase Harper, Andrew Weldon, Tim Molloy, Mandy Ord and David Blumenstein. Other worthwhile contributions come from a couple of older creators making welcome returns, at least to my eyes, Amber Carvan and Stratu.
Most of these works could be loosely termed ‘undergroundy’ or perhaps ‘indie’ is a better description as there isn’t much here that could be called taboo. How much is ‘experimental’ is debatable, but one man’s experiment is another’s confusion. In my eyes, though, experimentation can be as much to do with the story as with the art. Interestingly, in this regard, I would actually say that Oi Oi Oi ! contains works that are more experimental, or at least novel, in terms of story. Mutard’s exegesis on the comic form certainly fits the bill and how many other works have been set in 1930s Tasmania or prehistoric Australia?
But despite the ephemeral nature of much of this I still would say there is a greater amount of cohesion than is found in Oi Oi Oi! Most of these artists appear to be on the same page creatively and partaking of a similar mindset. Thus it is unfortunate that this is apparently the last Dailies for the foreseeable future as Michael Fikaris wishes to put his energies elsewhere.