Australian comics display

Australian comics display
An enticing display of comics from the Library's collection
23 December 2014

There are four display cabinets outside the Asian Collections Reading Room on the third floor of the National Library of Australia. Back in September, my colleague Deb and I were asked to create October/November’s display of Asian Ghosts and Monsters due to our love of the horror genre.

Monsters and mythical beasts display

Monsters and Mythical Beasts display (October-November 2014)

Deb wrote a wonderful blog post to go with the event, which you can read here if you missed it the first time around.

Alas, the Asian Ghosts and Monsters display is no more. In the last week of November, we cleared our beloved display away. But no tears from me, as it has been replaced by another one of my passions. December/January’s display highlights the Library’s collection of Asian and Australian comics. As there was one display cabinet going spare, and we had done such a good job last time, Deb and I were invited to create the Australian comics section of the display with the assistance of our colleague Ros.

The afternoon we were advised of this, we began calling up Australian comics in earnest from the Library’s collection. There are so many wonderful items but there’s only limited space in one display cabinet so we had to restrain ourselves.

The following day, Deb and Ros were busy so it was left to me to start pulling together the items for display. Due to my involvement with cataloguing the John Ryan Comic Collection and growing passion about retro comics in general, I relished the thought of being left alone with this new project for one day, and enthusiastically grabbed the challenge with both hands and ran with it like a cheeky puppy who has nicked a string of sausages from a butcher’s shop.

In one day, I went through all the comics we had called up, selected a mix of retro and modern titles, wrote most of the captions, and made some cover scans to print out and display. The following morning with advice and assistance from Deb and Ros, our window was finished in record time:

Australian comics display

Australian comics display (December 2014-January 2015)

In no particular order, I’ll go through each title featured in the picture above, giving my reasons for their selection, including a brief history.

Cover of The Pink Elephant Ring

Cover of The Pink Elephant Ring (ca. 1944)

The Pink Elephant Ring by Will Donald
The first title that sprang to mind on learning about this project, was Will Donald’s The Pink Elephant Ring. It was the first title that really grabbed my attention when I began with the John Ryan Comic Collection. I was so glad to find we had a copy in the general collection for use in this display, as it was really important to me that it was included. I have already written about this title in detail in a previous blog post, which you can read here.

Cover of Kokey Koala and His Magic Button

Cover of Kokey Koala and his magic button (no. 36, 1947 series)

Kokey Koala and his magic button by Noel Cook
When the reins of the John Ryan Comic Collection were being handed over to me, one of the titles I remember catching a glimpse of, was Kokey Koala and His Magic Button. It has remained in the back of my mind ever since, as I have been wondering about the properties of that magic button, but hadn’t had a chance to follow it up until now. Besides, how much more Australian can you get than a koala? It’s the perfect reason for the inclusion of this title in the display!

Kokey Koala and His Magic Button was drawn by New Zealand comic artist Noel Cook (1896-1981), who emigrated to Australia in the 1920s. It was published in Sydney by Offset Printing from 1947 to 1955. As the title suggests, this series was about a koala whose shirt button gave him super powers. Whenever the situation called for it, Kokey would press the magic button on his jacket, and it would give him whatever power he needed at the time, to get him through a particular situation. Powers included speed, strength, preventing bullying, problem solving, and the ability to fly. My favourite power of Kokey’s, was when he turned a hunter into the hunted, as illustrated below:

An example of Kokey Koala's powers

An example of Kokey Koala's powers (from no. 1, 1947 series)

Kokey Koala was a very popular title with children during his heyday, with his easy to follow storylines, humour, corny jokes and interesting editorials, such as, 'Dear Boys and Girls. Well, I’ve been to the South Pole, and now I am sure that it is surrounded by miles and miles of ICE CREAM!'

Cover of The Potts Annual

Cover of The Potts Annual

The Potts Annual by Jim Russell
The comic characters, the Potts, originally started life off as You and Me, created by American-born Australian comic artist, Stan Cross (1888-1977). The comic was taken over in 1939 by Australian comic artist Jim Russell (1909-2001), who re-named it The Potts (or Mr & Mrs Pott, depending on your source of information) and altered the tone of the strip.

The Potts Annual was published in Melbourne by The Sun News-Pictorial (Herald and Weekly Times) from 1952 to 1960. The Potts Annual covered the hilarious everyday moments of a typical Aussie family, hence its inclusion in this display. What I particularly love about this comic strip, is that a lot of the humour within is still relevant in this modern day and age.

A strip from The Potts Annual

A strip from The Potts Annual

Cover of Saltbush Bill

Cover of Saltbush Bill : cartoon fun on the farm (no. 30)

Saltbush Bill by Eric Jolliffe
Saltbush Bill was published in Sydney by Associated Newspapers from 1944 to 1970. Saltbush Bill was drawn by comic artist Eric Jolliffe (1907-2001), who emigrated from England to Australia when he was just four years old. Saltbush Bill contains wonderful scenes from outback farming life delivered in a true blue Aussie humour style. Eric Jolliffe received the Stanley Award for Excellence in Black and White Illustration, which must’ve been a feather in his cap after his teachers at the East Sydney Technical College said he lacked talent.

Cover of Skippy

Cover of Skippy : the Bush Kangaroo (no. 1, 1970)

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo written and illustrated by Keith Chatto
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo is an Australian icon, especially for children (and adults) growing up in the late 60s/early 70s. I cannot see how we could have a display of Australian comics without including this title.

The comic book series was written and illustrated by Australian comic artist, Keith Chatto (1924-1992), with the exception of issue number six, which was drawn by A. Cubi, and published in New South Wales by Junior Readers Press from 1970 to 1971.

Keith Chatto's Skippy

Keith Chatto's Skippy (no. 4, 1970)

A. Cubi's Skippy

A. Cubi's Skippy (no. 6, 1971)

I particularly enjoyed reading The Skippy Club Magazine included in issue number six of this series. Unfortunately it is missing from the general collection’s copy, but the copy in the manuscripts collection includes it. It talked about a major competition, where three children stood the chance of winning a visit to meet Skippy in her home in Waratah Park, Sydney. Along with that experience, they also won $20 of Skippy themed merchandise: a board game, “Skippy smile cream toothpaste”, a Driclad Skippy poncho, a set of Skippy bathroom pals, a Skippy LP/vinyl record, a Skippy t-shirt, and a Skippy face washer. Gee, $20 could get you a lot in those days! And on top of all that, the whole deal was televised. I wonder if this recorded event exists in an archive somewhere?

Cover of Decay (December 2010)

Cover of Decay : Australian horror and sci-fi anthology (no. 5, December 2010)

Decay is a modern Australian horror comic currently being published in South Australia by DARK OZ Productions. It features comics, art and stories by well-known and unknown Australian creators, with the occasional international guest. Scottish born Australian artist Alister Lockhart created the amazing cover above, of a priest being dragged through the floorboards by zombie children.

Decay also covers horror-related events being held across the country, such as conventions and zombie walks.

Cover of Wizard Comics

Cover of an issue of Wizard Comics illustrated by Moira Bertram (ca. 1940s)

Moira Bertram
In a male-dominated profession at the time, Australian Moira Bertram was one of very few highly successful female comic artists during the 1940s and 1950s. When Moira was 14 and still in high school, she had her first comic strip published, called Jo and Her Magic Cloak, about a Broadway dancer who owned a magic cloak that would take her anywhere. Moira told the publisher that she was 16, for fear that she would be turned down if they knew she was only 14.

Excerpt of Moira Bertram's work from Triumph Comics

Excerpt of Moira Bertram's work from an issue of Triumph Comics (1946 series)

While Moira’s work as a 14 year old is very impressive, I absolutely adore two of her self-published titles, The Red Prince (published around 1947) and Red Finnegan (published around 1949). They are fully coloured wonderful striking works of art, and are held in the Library’s secure Manuscripts collection.

Cover of Silver Flash and His Frog-Men

Cover of Silver Flash and His Frog-Men (no. 8, 1950s)

Silver Flash and His Frog-Men by Virgil Gavan Reilly
Silver Flash and His Frog-Men was created by Australian comic artist Virgil Gavan Reilly (1892-1974), and was published in Sydney by Invincible Press from 1950 to 1955. It is considered to be his best known comic book series. 

In issue number eight, Captain Silver Flash and his frog-men have their hands full battling an army of weedmen and their queen, 'squadrons of giant swordfish', and 'evil genius Vulcan, Lord of Volcanoes', who tries poisoning the Captain, but unintentionally takes the poison himself, and turns into a dwarf. I could go on to quote the phrase, 'Stranger things have happened at sea', but all this is taking place there to begin with!

A strip from Silver Flash and His Frog-Men

A strip from Silver Flash and His Frog-Men (no. 8, 1950s)

Cover of the Xmas 1952 Ginger Meggs Annual

Cover of the Christmas 1952 Ginger Meggs Annual

Ginger Meggs Annual by Jimmy Bancks
Ginger Meggs was created by Australian comic artist Jimmy Bancks (1889-1952). The character started life as Us Fellers in 1921, and was eventually developed by Bancks into Ginger Meggs, one of Australia’s most popular comics which followed the everyday goings on of a cheeky red-haired scallywag.

A strip from the Xmas 1952 Ginger Meggs Annual

A strip from the Christmas 1952 Ginger Meggs Annual

The Ginger Meggs Annual was published in Sydney by Shakespeare Head Press during the 1950s.

Cover of Dexter Down Under

Cover of Dexter Down Under (no. 5, 2014)

Dexter Down Under written by Jeff Lindsay, illustrated by Dalibor Talajić
While Dexter is an American creation about a blood spatter pattern analyst for the Miami Police Department who leads a secret life as a serial killer, the second series of the comic of the same name is set in Australia. Dexter Down Under is written by Jeff Lindsay, the pen name of crime novelist Jeffry P. Freundlich, and illustrated by Croatian comic artist and photographer, Dalibor Talajić.

My colleague Julie wrote a blog post about issues one and two of Dexter Down Under back in May, which you can re-visit here. The Library now holds all five issues of Dexter Down Under, not just the first two as reported in the blog post.

 Hyfus and Tilaweed

Cover of Elf-Fin : Hyfus and Tilaweed (no. 1, 2013)

Elf-Fin Hyfus & Tilaweed by Julie Ditrich and Jozef Szekeres
This is one of Deb’s favourites and she describes it as 'A gorgeously illustrated tale of love, intrigue and adventure set against a cataclysmic event known as the Shuddering. The creators of this tale have been working together, as creators and publishers, since 1992 when they formed their own indie publishing company Black Mermaid Productions. Soon after, the company was contracted to create and write a spin-off series for Elf-Quest, a popular American indie comic title.'

 the landing

Cover of Gallipoli : the Landing (no. 1, 2012)

Gallipoli: the Landing by Hugh Dolan and Mal Gardiner
As a perfect tie-in to the Library’s new Keepsakes exhibition, Ros thought this comic was a 'must'. She describes it as: 'Hugh Dolan is a retired Royal Australian Air Force intelligence officer, and now a writer. Mal Gardiner is a retired Royal Australian Navy officer, who developed his drawing talent at sea. Their skills come together to offer an alternative view of the Gallipoli landing, using their unique insight, as well as referencing official reports, terrain maps and the personal diaries of two ANZAC soldiers.'

So if you’re visiting the National Library of Australia in December or January and have some spare time on your hands, please come up to the third floor and take a look at the display on Asian and Australian Comics in the cabinets outside the Asian Reading Room. If you miss out, visit our reading rooms to browse the series mentioned above.

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Why isn't there any copies of Jollifes work on display he has written numerous comics one being Witchy Tribe. Im disappointed in the library failing to display this work
Thanks for your comment Chris. I would have loved to display more Australian material, however we only had a limited amount of space available and the display covered both Asian and Australian comics so we could only select a very small number. The Library has hundreds of Australian comics dating from the 1920s to the present day so we tried to highlight just a few of the less well-known items. Like you, I also love Jolliffe’s work and can assure you that the Library does hold copies of Witchetty’s tribe and other works by Jolliffe I’d be very interested to know your other Australian favourites.
I wonder if anyone knows the name of a newspaper comic cartoon strip from about the late 1950's about a colony of crabs, living in a pond and they could see a pair of eyes in their sky, comments were made by the crabs about (the sky or their universe) they eyes were from a dog peering into the pond. I not sure but think it was a weekly publication?
I realise I'm a little late to the party here, but it's great to see the National Library showcasing this often overlooked aspect of our popular culture!
It's never too late to leave a comment on these posts, Cristian, as I check back periodically for this very reason! Glad to hear you're enjoying the Library's efforts of bringing comics back into the spotlight!