Some comics just fade away
The Pacific Pictorial Comic's short life preserved at the Library
7 October 2014
Some comics become an instant success, enjoying great popular appeal and lasting for decades. Others may slowly develop a devoted cult following and inspire clubs, fanzines, and blogs. Sadly, there also comics that begin with high-hopes but last only a brief time and soon fade into obscurity. For the National Library of Australia, it is particularly important that this latter category is collected and preserved as there may be few copies retained elsewhere, and they provide an important insight into the culture and publishing history of the time.
For the first few decades of the twentieth century, comic fans in Australia were largely limited to a diet of US and UK produced material. However, during the 1940s, there was a surge in the production of Australian comics fuelled by wartime restrictions on imports from overseas. As well as the usual superheroes, action men and cowboys, some of these Australian comics featured local themes, settings and characters specifically aimed at an Australian audience. A few also aspired to be wholesome or 'uplifting' in addition to their pure entertainment value - an attempt to harness the popularity of comics for an educational purpose.
An interesting example of this genre is the Pacific Pictorial Comic produced by Arthur Lyall Lush, a commercial artist, at Lush Studios in Adelaide from 1947-1948.
Lush Studios was registered in Adelaide in 1933 as a commercial art and signwriting business, formed by the artists Arthur Lyall Lush, Leonard Eric Goldsmith, Lorna Mary Woolcock and Leslie Cocks. Their artwork appeared in newspaper advertisements during this period, and the Adelaide Wheel & Rim Works was one of their clients.
The Pacific Pictorial Comic was one of several children's books and comics published by Lush Studios. Only 8 issues of the Pacific Pictorial Comic were ever produced – which indicates a somewhat less than enthusiastic readership. Perhaps the well-intentioned aspiration that the comic would be a means of promoting attitudes of generosity, happiness and harmony amongst the young readership just wasn't as engaging as Lush had hoped.
Pacific Pictorial was aimed at both an Australian and New Zealand audience, and the strips include a variety of characters and settings from the region, as well as more general comic themes such as the 'nutty professor' and the enterprising young lad. The depiction of indigenous characters as either naive and innocent, or noble and close to nature, was fairly typical for the 1940s.
There were several strips in each issue of Pacific Pictorial:
- Discovery - text by Flexmore Hudson and illustrated by Arthur Lush and others. It was intended to provide an enjoyable and attractive method of learning about the history of Pacific peoples, but tended to be rather didactic in tone. Flexmore Hudson was in fact quite well-known as a poet and teacher. He was also a member of the Jindyworobak movement, a group which aimed to promote the use of Australian themes in literature and to move away from the influence of the UK and US. With this background and as an Adelaide resident (Flexmore moved there with his family at age 11), it was not surprising that he should be asked by Arthur Lush to assist with the text of Discovery.
- Pogl and Namja and the dragon goanna - by Rosamund Stokes. A charmingly drawn strip, featured on the cover of the first issue, that told the adventures of two indigenous children who lived on a mission in Central Australia.
- Professor Bluntbrain : meddler of science - by Des Conrades. This was described as “a character whose nonsense will satisfy the child’s desire for humour”. A touch patronising, but indicative of the attitude of the publisher in trying to strike a balance between the amusing and the educational.
- Fun at Cockatoo Island - by Rosamund Stokes. An animal story set on an imaginary island between Australia and New Zealand featuring the Australasian menagerie of Katie Kiwi, Bob Rabbit, Patti Platypus, Walter Wallaby, Jack the Kookaburra and Albert the Dingo.
Two other strips included in some issues were Bobby Brent : the news boy - by Des Conrades and The adventures of Frank the scout - by Arthur Lush.
While it never became the popular success that Arthur Lush had intended, and by the final issue in 1948 was reduced to around half the size of the first issue, Pacific Pictorial Comic was one of the few early Australian comics to be produced outside the Sydney/Melbourne nexus. It is an interesting example of less well-known comic art of the time, and the recognition by some educators that comics should not be derided but treated as legitimate reading matter.
The rather 'improving' tone of the Pacific Pictorial Comic is not surprising as Arthur Lush was a Christian minister as well as an illustrator and artist. Lush and his wife Jean left Australia in January 1952 to take up an appointment at Kings Inc., a Christian education institution in Seattle, Washington. He continued to be involved in Christian ministries in Seattle for the rest of his life, while also working there as an artist and art teacher. He died in June 1996 in Edmonds, Washington.
Final issue of Pacific Pictorial Comic