Tony Renouf Interview Part One

One Man and an Anthology: Tony Renouf and display of the first issue of Dunedin anthology Treacle.

The comic above is one of my favourite comic pages of all time. I found it in a New Zealand comics fanzine as an impressionable teen and for better or worse it has encapsulated a lot of my life. Renouf's Treacle along with Corn Stone and Dylan Horrock's Razor, Jonathan King's Scratch, and Chris Knox's Jesus on a Stick were all influential New Zealand comic anthologies that cultivated my early interest in making and publishing comics. I never got to read any of the further issues of Treacle other than the first one but like a lot of New Zealand anthologies I presumed it wound down after a few issues with cartoonists going on to other things like most sensible people do.

A few years ago I was pleasantly surprised to see Treacle Editor Tony Renouf resurface with a blog, Bored in a Record Shop, where he has been consistently filing new comics alongside older works. I approached Tony about doing an interview late last year and over a couple months we batted emails back and forth. After a break of a few months I've finally got around to editing it. Dunedin and Christchurch alongside provincial New Zealand comics scenes get a bit of short shrift in coverage anywhere so it's been very interesting to talk to Tony about his own background with comics and the Dunedin scene of the 1980's and 1990's.

Treacle #1

Matt Emery: Where were you living when you first encountered comics and what were they? How old were you?

Tony Renouf: My folks emigrated to New Zealand from Jersey, Channel Islands in 1967  I would have been 4 when we arrived. My first experience of comics would have been at age 5. I've no recollection of the reason why, but Mum started my brother and I on English weeklies Beano for me & BoBo Bunnie for my bro (which I also read, a mutual truce/swap meet thing which lasted into our teenage years when we ditched fighting over the ownership of comics for posturing in front of girls).

Emery: What part of New Zealand did you move to? Do you remember the point you started buying comics yourself? Did you draw as a child? When did you draw your first comic?

Renouf: ....Oh...we moved to Gordonton just outside of Hamilton, in the Waikato. My first conscious choice of comic was asking Mum if I could ditch the Beano and get the new and flashy looking Cor! Cor! started in 1970, I would have been 7. I think I was enamoured of the free gifts they were offering with the first few issues. We didn't get pocket monies, we got comics (yay mum!) and that decision led to many other changes of weekly comics.  The Newsagent at Davies Corner in Fairfield,Hamilton...just checked google's a medical centre now...that was our "local" as I grew up. I got to choose what I was reading. We were always allowed to choose what we read.

I remember buying a Cracked magazine, unsupervised, on a holiday in Whitianga maybe in '74/'75. It was the first thing I really bought with my own monies (xmas loot). It was confiscated and perused for adult themes and subversive ideals by my folks and returned. Mad mag' was pretty hot with the kids who were a year or so older than me but I'd had access thru mates who had older bro's and was fascinated by the parodies etc. Cracked wasn't as good but it's what I got my hands on first and transferred my ingrained English weekly loyalty (am I off piste yet?...back to the questions...)...or am I jumping ahead...maybe it was the year that the local shop (It was a real country store when we first arrived...nails in wooden bins...pigeon hole post office...) had a rack of Marvel super hero drek and Mum was doing the books at the garage next door so we got to hang out in Gordonton village  and buy one copy of all the titles they had...Thor is the only one I can really picture in my minds eye.

The last comic Renouf drew in 1991: "….oh, that’s right…looking at my archive I noticed that this cartoon was the last that I completed in 1991…I  stopped  drawing ….I think my enthusiasm wained because it didn’t feel like my “art” was going anywhere and it most definitely wasn’t going to feed me…."

I drew a lot as a kid. Mum encouraged us to amuse ourselves with pencils & paper. Country kids can be a little isolated, you can't just nip round the corner to a mates. It's bike ride or a car trip away, it's draw or fight with your kid brother and you can only fight with that little shit for so long before you get separated and sent somewhere to amuse yourself, by yourself.... right?. I was kinda the class illustrator, best with a pencil, it was how I won friends and influenced people. I can't remember ever attempting anything sequential till I moved to Dunedin in '85 but did a lot of school book defacing with word balloons and my school projects were also very well turned out. I wrote  tons of stories all thru primary/intermediate (one school for country kids) very active imagination, again I think the isolation helped (or was that solitary confinement, see :- fighting with bro'....)

Emery: Who were the first cartoonists you met in Dunedin? Were you aware of others making comics in New Zealand at the time?

Renouf: I came to Dunedin in late 1984 with the intention of forming a band with a mate who was coming down to Uni' and being a cartoonist. In about 1981/82, after a break from comics of a couple of 3 years (puberty!),  I'd started getting 2000ad on a weekly basis again and had also discovered the Bijou book of Funnies compendium of US underground cartoonists at Pauls University book shop on Victoria St. My first inkling that comics didn't have to be all about superheroes or white (?) jungle savages, Crumb, Shelton etc...mmmm...I'd been carrying a note book around for awhile whilst I was still in Hamilhole...largely using it to write "songs", angsty punk rock poetry & doodle in, but nothing particularly sequential was going into it.

The first cartoonist I met was Bruce fact Bruce was the first cartoonist I'd met ever...(I won't count meeting Ronken, the Waikato Times political cartoonist at a school fair when I was maybe I was unable to speak to him at all because of AWE... !...) Bruce helped me get my cartoons into Critic, the Otago University Student Newspaper. I was vaguely aware of Bob Scotts "every secret thing" fanzine/comic but didn't really meet anyone else who aspired to draw comics for quite some time after that. I picked up Razor at the Uni book shop (Dunedin)...but I think I was in Chris Knox's Jesus On A Stick's all a bit blurry for me.

I should probably mention that I had no clue whatsoever how to put together comics when I first arrived down here, even at a strip level and got very few pointers from those around me, apart from the dimensions I had to fill!...(which probably led to my publishing catch cry of, "Just fill the space!"). My first "published" cartoon (waiter there's a skinhead in my soup) was actually photocopied and individually taped on poster spots around town like a band poster run. We even got stopped by the cops who asked us what our band was called, "It's not a band officer, its a cartoon" says I, handing a copy through the open window. Hur! Hur! says the cop and hands it over to his driver...Hur! Hur! says the driver, they sent us on our way after explaining that it was illegal to post bills, (but it's not a bill officer...). Years later I was recounting this story at the table of a Uni' Prof' who'd invited my good friend Dee (the long suffering) and her workmates and partners up to his for a feed. The partner who was a cop (and a quiet broody one at that) piped up and said the cartoon in question had graced the station notice board until it was too faded to read!! After a few months of sifting about I secured a position at Budget print...a 3rd generation family run print shop...with the express purpose of furthering my knowledge of how to make comics....what was the question?...

"A self portrait/bio thing from shortly after the Treacle/Umph phase."

Bored in a Record Shop