Tony Renouf Interview Part Three

Tony Renouf explores some Treacle precursors in Egypt.

Part three of talking to cartoonist Tony Renouf about his work in the New Zealand comics scene during the nineties and what he's up to now.

Tony Renouf tumblr:

Tony Renouf Blog Bored in a Record Shop

Read Tony Renouf Interview Part One

Read Tony Renouf Interview Part Two

Matt Emery: Can you tell me about the follow up to the Treacle anthologies, Ummph?

Tony Renouf: Ummph was the A5 photocopied follow on from Treacle. Same core group of contributors...less running after not so keen folk...3 issues I think...really only put out because I wouldn't let the publishing go. Probably sold less than 25-30 copies of each issue. I really couldn't say any more unless I had them in front of me...had a bit of a poke around and can't find they'll remain bit of a mystery till one of us goes down and looks at the "Tony Renouf Collection" at the Hocken library (yep - got an archival collection named after me!)

Emery: I recall you mentioning traveling at some point after Treacle. Did you live abroad?

Renouf: Yes I lived abroad twice...once in Jersey, Channel Islands (my place of birth) for 8 months and this last time for about 2 and bit years In Dorset,U.K...(returned approx 5 years ago). First sojourn was during a "fallow" period but the time in Dorset got me going again.

Tony Renouf process drawings

Treacle #2

Emery: You've written about losing interest in drawing in the 1990's, what brought you back to the drawing board?

Renouf: I looked in my "archive" and the last finished piece in there is a reprise of the comics comics comics thing you love so well dated 2000. Didn't have time to check but I think the very last pieces I did around then were a group of topical strips for a friend who was trying to rejuvenate a small town newspaper he was being the design guy for. His editor said no thank you, his readership couldn't handle a new crossword writer and a new comic strip all at the same time. I love tight deadlines and convinced myself that I couldn't create without a mad target to aim for. I couldn't afford to publish any more anthologies. I was too far away from the publishing houses to pick up any illustration work. (As if any of them would give me money for my "individual-style"....) No deadline, no venue, no money.... I got more involved in music stuff through my job at Echo Records...specifically spinning reggae tunes on big speakers....I just shrugged my shoulders and did other good friend Dee did a single frame cartoon of my drawing board with words "Tony used to draw here" and attached it to said board.....

Several years passed and I found myself on the other side of the world, sitting at my cousin Phil's kitchen table with a travel journal in front of me. A travel journal that I'd been obsessively jotting down my days doings every day for 10 months...and it occurred to me that I could jam out a strip every day if I tried. It would only take 5 or ten minutes and I already had the habit of scrawling in the book.....Phil & family are a bunch of very artistic/intelligent/funny folk and general conversation always devolved into some form of word play or ridiculous logic.

At the same time I'd picked up a night shift job in a sheet metal factory and had been given a notebook to write machine settings in...which was eventually near full of Yoof & Arty and Mrs. Axelgrinder shenanigans. Pretty much a similar situation to the plastics factory I worked in at night in Hamilton in the early 80's. Nice repetitive work. You can let your mind wander but this time I knew what to do with the ideas...still have approx' 75 pages of that stuff to commit to paper but newer ideas keep getting in the way!!! All the UK drawn stuff can be seen in the "UK toons" category on the blog. There is nothing like process work to free the mind for aimless wandering. I returned to finished art work some time in 2008 and for the last 2 1/2 years- post cig' quitting - I've been producing at least 3 pages of finished stupidity a week. Writing shit loads as well and still trying to find time to plot & draw all the ideas in that factory notebook.... (cue link to blog).... I find myself just doing it to please me and some close associates, I'm back to practicing a hobby that has provided me with countless hours of not getting in to trouble. No pressure to perform or earn or organise others. It's my craft for me and if the general populace take any notice, it's a bonus.

If a cheque arrives it's a miracle....

Tony Renouf: "The window display for "Only Fool & 'Toonists" a workshop I organised for the Dunedin Fringe Festival...create a page in a day...26 participants including some of the Funtime crew from ChCh."

Emery: Do you have a favorite part of the comic making process? A least favorite part?

Renouf: A favourite part of the process...Hmmm...It's a toss up between the final dark line that goes on the page before I date it and spray it with fixative and pushing the "publish" button on my blog platform....(Have I gone on&on&on about how liberated I feel now that I have transcended the printed format??...Well, let me tell you...)...I'm still in love with the whole process I guess and now that I can publish in full colour without having to think twice about cost, I'm picking I shall be enamoured of it for quite some time to come Nothing I draw ever comes out the way I was picturing it in my mind and colour has so much to do with that. The finished article is always a pleasant surprise!!!

....And my least favourite gotta be "plotting". Taking the raw ideas, more often than not a barely legible scrawl as the idea spews forth, trying to get it down on paper before my good friend Dee says something and the idea is gone. Sometimes supported by some v. patchy illustrations...And organising them into a cohesive series of panels. What words are spoken where plus stage directions, then counting up the frames and deciding how many pages and how they'll be laid out. Fine once I've started doing it but a real heel-dragger for me.

Treacle #4

Tony Renouf Interview Part Two

Tony Renouf: "The launch drunkenness for issue 4. Back row l-r...dunno, The Steamer, Anthony Behrens, Ross Campbell, Donald Ferns, Ken Gorrie, sprog of Gorrie, Morris Brown. Middle l-r...dunno (but he was mates with Paul Potiki and did lotsa Dr. Who fan club stuff) Tracy Osbourne, Glen Ross, Jane Gorrie, Front l-r...the guy who used real blood to illustrate his cartoon about using real blood to finish an exam when you run out ink...he committed suicide 3-4 months later, Paul Potiki."

Way back in last month I posted the first part of a three parter interview with Dunedin Cartoonist Tony Renouf, here's part two with the concluding part making an appearance this week.

Tony has recently started a tumblr:

Read Tony Renouf Interview Part One

Matt Emery: One of my formative comics experiences was picking up Treacle #1 in the early 90's, I think from a comic shop in Auckland, I found other New Zealand anthologies, Razor, Scratch, and the last issue of Jesus on a Stick around the same time. Can you talk a bit about the genesis of Treacle? I'm guessing you were taking your cues from those earlier anthologies?

Tony Renouf: Formative?...I think you can get an ointment for that....hmmm...Treacle was definitely inspired by my experiences of being part of the Jesus on a Stick/Razor things and Dunedin's own Larrikin. I was starting to meet more and more folk who were interested in cartooning and we all needed a venue for our work. I think by that stage I was already organising a whole page in the Critic (OUSA newspaper) with three (or was it four?...Four I think 'cos we got $5 each per was the $25 per week photo development money from the Critic budget!) other 'toonists so was looking to the anthology thing so we could include more folk. Once I'd got the ball rolling I started annoying everyone I knew who could hold a pencil to "Fill the space". I'd already published my own minis and worked in the printing industry for some time (both pre & post press) because I wanted the basic skills to produce a publication by hook or by crook .

When I started putting together Treacle I could not only format my pages with trim marks etc all mounted ready for plate making but I knew how much beer for how many could bind & trim them on commercial machinery without losing a limb...voila... Treacle...boxes & boxes of printed matter that no-one was really that interested in buying.

I guess I fell over on the distribution side of things writing letters, receiving answers then sending stuff out....all pre-intraweb ...and the local market was hard. Everyone thought it was a fabulous idea but nobody wanted to part with cash for them. Eventually I could no longer afford to  keep throwing money in the hole. (No nice cushy grants from the arts council in them days). We downsized to A5 for Ummph! Then I buggered off overseas for awhile. Publishing took a back seat when I got back as my next job was at Echo records, I started to focus more on music and cartooning took a back seat but I'm a bit proud that i managed to get close to 50 people (rough guesstimate only!) from the ages of ten thru to 64 (again, figures conjured from failing memory!)  into print across 5 issues of Treacle.

Treacle #3

Emery: How did you meet Chris Stapp? He's always struck me as one of NZ's most under appreciated cartoonists. Perhaps he's more well known for his other "contributions to the arts" I loved his early ‘Jamie Hewlett style’, and the later cut throat humour strips he did for gig guides.

Renouf: Can't say I have any firm memories of Chris...big fella...walks with a limp...speaks with a faux eastern European accent ...smells like skateboard axle grease....right? I think we probably got introduced thru mutual acquaintances in bands or Radio One or a combination of the two...and it was one of those "oh cool, you can draw, here's the deadlines ring me when you're done" relationships...not sure...I can remember fuming when he "won" the only lucrative cartoon illustration game in town, the OUSA Orientation poster. It was the year after I so badly dropped the ball - I'd had great idea but it just looked worse & worse & worse the more I worked on it and had no other option than to submit it. It sucked, big time & I never got asked back because Chris put his hand up & he is fuckin' brilliant isn't he? Is he still drawing?? (he should be)...or did his career in music & television drag him away from his pens???

Emery: Who was the 64 year old cartoonist in Treacle?

Renouf: Ooooo....The 64 yr old was the staff artist at the Otago Daily Times. His name escapes me ( you might have to refer to the relevant copy of Treacle for that!) but he had been published or had a concept accepted by some UK publishing outfit only to have the idea and the glory snatched away from him by his collaborator. He'd take great pride in showing you the stuff he'd completed (he kept it on a shelf next to his drawing table) and then launch into a rant about his missed (stolen) opportunity. Have a funny feeling the booze took him out shortly after he retired.

Tony Renouf: "Road trip to attend a comics workshop in Christchurch organised by the Funtime crew...L-R Me, The Steamer, Colin Andrews (dick), Morris Brown."

Emery: Where else were your cartoons featuring during the period Treacle was published?

Renouf: When Treacle was coming out I was also doing the strip thing in the Critic with some of the usual suspects from the pages of Treacle, Glenn Ross, Anthony Behrens, Paul Potiki, Morris Brown and (possibly) everybody's least favourite (but very talented) sponging, fuckwit - Colin Andrews can't say if I was contributing to anything else at the time. The weekly strip thing ate up a whole mess of time.

Tony Renouf: "Outside said Christchurch workshop...very early...very hung over...l-r wassaname from Christchurch, Ross Campbell, Glen Ross, The Steamer."

Scan 532.jpg

Glen Ross drawing in Christchurch

Ross Campbell drawing in Christchurch

Emery: Were you in touch with other cartoonists around the country during this period?

Renouf: Lotsa folk, I established, built & stocked the NZ comics shelf at Bag End Books. So I was was soliciting copies of everything I could get a hold of to keep it nice and full. So all the Razor crew, Ant Sang, Peter Johnston from Nightcaps...Um...the guy that did the anarchy/rat comics...wrapped in's moments like these that I wish I hadn't chucked all my NZ comics into a box and donated them to the Hocken Library).

Emery: Do you recall what the print runs of Treacle were?

Renouf: Treacle print runs would have run to 200 - 250. But the lads on the presses always ran extras...and I mean a lot of extras!!! Silly really because we never sold more than 60 or 70 of the bloody things!!....(wish I'd kept them now...might make a few sales on the back of this article!! Call 'em collectable...double the cover price)... (retire in the Bahamas).

Emery: Did you get much feedback from readers during Treacle's lifespan?

Renouf: No feedback that I can recall. Usual, "Wow! This is great everyone will buy this!".... and plaudits within the local "industry" for the print quality/lay out etc... And I guess that's one reason I gave it away. Everyone liked it but not enough people could support it financially to make it viable Even stuff like the strips in Critic became a real chore because they started to complain about some of the content in a completely read out of context of the whole kinda way. $5 a week for 4 hrs work (and that didn't include the cut & paste of the art work to a page format or the running around to collect/deliver!!)....Fuck that shit for a game of soldiers!!

Emery: Where there any cartoonists that you weren't previously acquainted with that particularly impressed you from the Treacle contributors?

Renouf: No contributor stood out for me - I love them all. The good, the bad, the truly awful...They were expressing themselves in a format that I love and in some (most?!?) circumstances a format that I'd cajoled them into trying out! Fill the space or I'll hound you until you've filled the space.

Treacle #5

2014 in Review: Tony Renouf

What have been your personal cartooning/comics highlights of 2014?

....Hitting my straps (again)...two fresh cartoons a week (up to 4 A4 "pages" long some of 'em)...writing so much I can't stay on top of what I want to draw...(fuck this day job!)...revelling in the freedom that publishing on line's changing the way I write/design pages/think about my finished art....very liberating...and all coloured in with colouring in pencils!!!

What are some of the comics you've enjoyed in 2014?

...Mainly stuff I run across in my blog platform provider...Sarah Laing...Hat&Fat...Over the many lovely little random illustrations and sequential odds & ends...and a couple of collections hat Spencer loaned me...esp' the complete Don Martin...he is a god....apologies to the larger cartooning/comics community....I spend all my money on records/food & lamp oil for my drawing board....

What is something non-comics that you have enjoyed in 2014?

...Finally fronting up the bucks for a leather bound complete HP Lovecraft....and discovering the warpo toys Lovecraft figures on Kickstarter....mmm...tentacly...

...(and owning a record shop as my "real" job for a fifth glorious year of near poverty!)....

What are you looking forward to in 2015?

...celebrating 30 years as an underground cartoonist/publisher (off & on than off)....shit, has it been that long?....(yes, Tony....yes it has)....finally penetrating the awful mess that is my sketch book far enough to unlock the "return to the planet of the chicken-things" sequence...(45 fucking pages away at last calculation...who's dumb ass rule was it that they had to draw everything the wrote?!??)...

Bored in a Record Shop