Word Balloons: An Anzac Tale and The Anzac Legend


Australasian Comic reviews by Philip Bentley.

Australasian cartoonists and publishers interested in being reviewed contact Philip here.

An Anzac Tale (Working Dog Press, 2013)

The Anzac Legend (Wotsleft Books, 2014)

Given the countdown to April 25, 2015 it is not surprising there has been a run of Gallipoli-related books of late. Comic creators have also heeded the call with these two works the first of what I believe to be a ‘gathering storm’.

An Anzac Tale, which came out in 2013, is by the Adelaide-based creative team of children’s author Ruth Starke and artist Greg Holfeld. They are also the team behind the Captain Congo adventures, of which there have been three Tintin-sized books since 2008. Tintin is a fair comparison as the good captain is a pre-WWII adventurer involved in similar sorts of scrapes – although there is a significant difference in that the captain is an anthropomorphic gorilla!

The anthropomorphic quality carriers over to An Anzac Tale where various Australian marsupials participate in the Anzac landing. As a children’s book it is of necessity a simplified affair, but that doesn’t prevent it from being engaging. Indeed one of its strengths is the emotional response it is able to summon up in the reader. Another is the artwork. Eschewing the flat colour of Captain Congo Holfeld here employs a lush wash effect that is both stylish and evocative, and adds much to the work’s appeal.

Dave Dye’s The Anzac Legend takes a different approach. A former soldier, Dye sets out to recreate and explain the first phase (10 days) of the Gallipoli campaign using copious research that included two visits to the site. At around 200pp it doesn’t scrimp on detail, which may be as much a hindrance as help for the general reader. In and of itself this isn’t a problem given the position the campaign, rightly or wrongly, occupies in the national consciousness, but the way in which the story is told doesn’t do itself any favours.

As a narrative there is a procedural quality to the text that tends to render its voice into something of a monotone. Further, the lack of any breaks, such as chapters or subheadings, gives the reader little opportunity to pause from the unrelenting surge forward. To add to this, Dye has chosen to follow, in parallel, the movements of 20 odd detachments of soldiers as they edged their way inland. Whilst a not unreasonable strategy it does leave the reader floundering to remember the previous actions of so many disparate groups. Dye states that he feels it gives an idea of the chaotic nature of the early stages of the conflict and indeed it does, but at the expense of overall clarity.

On the plus side is the artwork which displays an impressive use of line work and a style rooted in artists and cartoonists of the mid-twentieth century. Despite its more realistic look there still seems to be echoes of great Australian cartoonists such as Carl Lyon and Stan Cross and even illustrators as far back as Norman Lindsay. Whilst it may be too old-fashioned for some it seems to me to be an appropriate style for the subject matter.

So while the end results are mixed it is still an impressive work for someone who hadn’t previously produced a comic. And it is true that even with the failings noted above by the end of the book I certainly had a far better understanding of the Gallipoli experience, if not a totally clear picture. If you are military minded and enjoy a fine-detailed look at a specific battle you may well enjoy it. Someone looking for a more basic overview may be better elsewhere.

2014 in Review: Dave Dye

What have been your personal cartooning/comics highlights of 2014?
Publishing my graphic history The Anzac Legend and also my comic Amazing Tales #1; both of which I've received encouraging feedback on.

What are some of the comics you've enjoyed in 2014?
I've read and enjoyed a number of Australian and New Zealand comics this year; these include Bobby N's Digested series, Andrez Bergen and Matt Kyme's Tales to Admonish series, and also Black and White, Craig Bruyn's From Above, Sorab del Rio's Zombie Cities, James Davidson's Moa Volume One, Bruce Mutard's The Silence, Toby Morris' Dreamboat Dreamboat, Pat Grant's Blue, Gary Chaloner's The Undertaker Morton Stone and Keith McDougall's The Many Faces of George Grosz.

What is something non-comics that you have enjoyed in 2014?  
I always enjoy my golf, it's my weekly exercise. I try to get two 18 hole rounds in a week. My golf course is on the Murray River and it's beautiful down there. It's a way of getting back to nature after spending a lot of time at the drawing table. By "getting back to nature" you can take that literally as I spend a lot of time in the rough looking for my lost ball. The course has all the usual wildlife - roos, goannas, snakes, and heaps of kookaburras who find a lot to laugh at while I'm slogging and hacking my way around.

What are you looking forward to in 2015?
Nat Karmichael has invited me to provide a story for Issue 4 of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie OIOIOI! which will be on sale in April 2015. Other than that - more of the same; that is drawing and writing. I have started making notes for the second volume of The Anzac Legend so that will be developed into a draft, and start work on a few pages, and I also plan to have Amazing Tales #2 ready for print next year.

Wots Left Books

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