Tara Black recorded this at the Manawatu Writers’ Festival this past weekend. Copyright Tara Black, all rights reserved.
Available now in bookshops nationwide. Kate De Goldi will be at VicBooks in Kelburn this NZ Bookshop Day, at 2pm, talking about Annual.
As you open the Gecko Annual, you know you have something special in your hands. The endpapers are literally works of art – if a print of these exist, let me know, Gecko! The contents by Dylan Horrocks is an entirely unique way of approaching a contents page. I could ramble about the beauty of the contents ad nauseum, but instead of going through each story and page, I’m going to give you 10 good reasons to get a copy of Annual.
My favourite part of every Annual was always the cartoons, and the cartoon strips. ‘Bad Luck Zebra’ is a little bit of genius; ‘Holiday’, by Jonathan King is baffling and awesome; and ‘Parsley Magic’ takes some classic fairy tales and rewrites them. That was my 6-year-old’s favourite.
Editors Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris have ensured that the viewpoints put across in this collection are diverse and interesting, and the content is top-notch.
- Wonderful, quirky illustrations
You can’t go too far wrong when you’ve got side illustrations by Gavin Bishop, Sarah Wilkins, Giselle Clarkson, and Sarah Laing; and lots of fantastic artists I hadn’t previously heard of.
- How to look at art
Unexpectedly, these were some of my favourite sections. Nobody ever talked to me about how to look at art at school; still less shared choice aspects of NZ life through it.
- Old favourites, with new voices
Another story in the world of Fontania, from Barbara Else. Meanwhile, an adventure journal from Gavin Mouldey introduces an adventure tale I’d love to see continued elsewhere – and so would my 6-year-old son.
- How to write & illustrate
Paul Beavis can do very little wrong in my books, so it will be no surprise to find that I loved this short illustrated Monster-based section, telling young people how to create their own lead character and write and illustrate their own story.
- The unexpected
A piece of satire from Steve Braunias, a (very apt) song from Samuel Scott, a sad tale from Damien Wilkins, spot the similarities, the Rhyme Ninja… I love the Rhyme Ninja.
- New words
Kirsten McDougall’s ‘A Box of Birds’ was a trail of excitement for young Dan, as he asked the meaning of each new word as I read it! Such good words.
- Crafts from Fifi
My favourite craftsperson. I will say though, most of us would not be able to paint a lord and lady bottle person quite as elegantly as Fifi does! (I will undoubtedly be required to prove this at some point, I’ll post a pic if I have to.)
- A website to go with it
www.annualannual.com tells us how it came to be, all about the contributors (so the bios aren’t taking up all that space in the action-packed Annual), and the history of annuals.
And of course, did I mention that the editors are our beloved Kate De Goldi, and School Journal long-time editor Susan Paris? No? Well they are, and that is fantastic. I look forward to this becoming an annual institution.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris
Published by Gecko Press
Available in bookstores nationwide.
First, a disclaimer. I haven’t read a great number of long comics by New Zealanders or otherwise. I have read Hicksville though, and it was one of the most intriguing pieces of fiction I have ever read. I follow Dylan Horrocks as a commentator on comics and social issues, enjoy seeing him speak, and once coaxed him to come along to a Speed Date a Writer session to speak to students about drawing comics, back when I worked at the new Zealand Book Council.
This is a tremendous piece of work. A work of genius, almost. Horrocks takes the disappointments of his life, his depression, his writers block and his unhinged creativity and creates something quite different from anything else out there. Part memoir, part awkward fantasy, part historical romp – all parts forming a brilliant whole.
Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen began online, with Horrocks bringing out a page every so often, as the muses struck him. It still carries on there, with the most recent page I saw being apt to this review – the main characters laid out under a multitude of books – which he remarked on Twitter as being an ‘ode to librarians and booksellers.’ Parts of it can be described as NSFW (not safe for work), but they are important, as what the book deals with is fantasies. Fantasies and what moral responsibility we hold for our own fantasies (and by extension what right we have to judge others’ fantasies).
A good portion of the comic centres on a (fictional) comic from the 1950s called The King of Mars. The cartoonist creator who wrote it deliberately as a fantasy; specifically, as his fantasy, to live in – the women were waiting for the ‘cartoonist god king’. Zabel sneezes on this comic while riding on a bus after giving a talk at a literature conference in Christchurch, and suddenly finds himself menaced by a roaring monster. Luckily, he has a kick-ass anime heroine called Miki, and her jet-boots, to help him out of that spot of trouble (‘tumbling tuataras’ and all). But where she leads him is even more bewildering to poor Sam, as our hapless hero is mistaken for the god king himself, and carnal temptations ensue.
As the comic carries on we are taken, via Miki’s comic collection, through other comics that allow their readers to enter them using the ‘breath of life’, as they were also drawn by the magic pen. Zabel is morally anxious on behalf of both himself and the comic book creators, and at one point has to inform the cartoonist of The King of Mars, Evan Rice, what he has done by creating his cartoon. ‘You made it real the moment you started drawing with the magic pen. And besides – even a comic book can shape the real world, contributing to the culture, encouraging attitudes and assumptions, presenting an image of women as little more than generic erotic playthings for men to use and abuse as we wish…’ Another moment sees them step into a cartoon on the back of a postcard sent to a soldier in the war by his father – a cartoon that saved them by being real.
Horrocks says a lot with this comic. He makes a feminist statement, he comments on the way comics are used by their creators and their syndicates (‘Eternal’, we’re looking at you) to put across societal norms, and he examines the morality requirements of fiction. It is the most soul-searching comic I have had the pleasure of reading, and I hope to see a lot more from Horrocks in the future. Perhaps a redux of Pickle is up next – it is clearly something Horrocks is proud of having drawn.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen
by Dylan Horrocks
Published by VUP
The Politics of Indignation
The Politics of Indignation featured Australian writer Richard King, author of On Offence, in conversation with journalist Finlay Macdonald (right) about our culture of offence-taking, particularly in the media and politics. It was a lively, fascinating discussion that I really enjoyed.
King’s thesis is that the act of publicly taking offence has become a toxic presence in our democracy, shutting down valuable arguments where it should be the start of the debate. He spoke about how offence-taking has become part of our political currency, with politicians being rewarded for being seen to be offended with extra media coverage and headlines.
The reason we have freedom of speech, says King, is to protect the search for truth. And it is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend. He spoke scathingly about how a sense of victimhood has become part of our cultural self-awareness, where ‘me being offended’ is automatically ‘your problem’. King also criticised the act of being offended on behalf of others, the way the middle classes can be patronisingly protective of “the marginalised”.
There was an interesting discussion of the place of satire: the act of being deliberately offensive in a humorous manner in order to make a serious point. It reminded me of the conversation yesterday between satirist Steve Braunias and The Civilian’s Ben Uffindell. Both Uffindell and Macdonald made the point that satire in New Zealand is difficult because too many people don’t get it. Macdonald said this means that journalists get tired of being misunderstood and simply stop using satire – and this has the effect of “making us all so bloody pious”.
Of course, these days, no discussion of offence is complete without mentioning Twitter. King bemoaned the fact that Twitter, which was originally touted as being the great, international conversation-enabler, has instead become a place where vital debate is shut down. “140 characters is enough to convey strength of feeling, but not reasoned argument.”
This was a fascinating session and really got me thinking about how feelings of offence affect my own behaviour. Good on King for bringing up a topic that we all need to consider.
Capes and Tights was my last session at the 2014 WORD Christchurch Writers Festival, and it was a wonderful note to end on: lively fun with an infectious passion for books and story.
Cartoonist Dylan Horrocks (right) chaired a panel discussion on superhero comics with filmmaker Jonathan King, author Karen Healey and philosopher Damon Young. All four spoke with humour and real feeling about their love for superhero comics, and the different ways they had read them at different stages of their lives. For example, Young spoke movingly about being an angry teen wanting to see his own rage reflected in the characters, needing to see vengeance as noble.
No discussion of superhero comics is complete without an examination of violence. King pointed out that, since 9/11, US superhero films tend to show seriousness by having entire city blocks destroyed and people and rubble covered in dust. Young spoke about how articulate violence in comics can express character and play a valuable role in storytelling.
I was very struck by Healey’s thesis that all comics are fanfiction (she has written her PhD on this topic). All comics are built on characters, situations, stories and artwork that have come before them – there is no definitive first story or ‘right’ version. I was also interested to learn that, in this context, ‘canon’ means ‘having the official masthead’ (eg. of DC Comics or Marvel).
Horrocks asked all the participants what superpower they’d have if they could: Healey said invincibility, Young said telekinesis, and King chose the ability to fly. Horrocks said he’d had invisibility, and spoke very poignantly about his idea of his invisible self continuing after his death, observing the world.
The session ended with Horrocks inviting Rachael King, one of the WORD organisers, to come and receive a very well deserved round of applause. Horrocks praised WORD 2014 for being the year’s best literary festival – bring on 2016!
by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher
Back in 2000, kiwi cartoonist Dylan Horrocks was living the dream − working on the biggest characters on the planet, including Batman and Batgirl. But along the way he became jaded and disillusioned. He lost his artistic voice somewhere in the malaise of corporate mediocrity.Things got worse. He was trapped in the money/income cycle, supporting his young family. That led to eventually being fired from DC and a long bout of depression and isolation from the industry.
Sixteen years on from the publication of Hicksville and Pickle, he’s finally preparing to return to the stuff he does best with the planned publication of a new graphic novel Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen due out later this year. In the meantime readers can whet their appetite with a selection of his Incomplete Works.
Hicksville (published in 1998) was a very personal account of small time ‘Kiwi-land’ in the mind of the artist living in the reality of a small town dreaming of bigger and better. Ironic then, that Horrocks made the big time, only to want to downsize back to what he knows: the struggle to make it big and break out. Put another way, Horrocks’ work is like a Morrissey song − happy being miserable.
The collection of unfinished works is a sort of taster for what could of been. That said, each short vignette seems to the untrained reader to be complete enough. Essentially, they cover a highly productive period between 1986 and 2012 when Horrocks was trying to find and re-find his voice in comics. You can see him toying with the familiar themes of melancholy cartoonists, levitating women, bizarre characters in top hats and even a couple of proto-superheroes looking for their four colour newsprint destinations. As always, his work is personal, self-deprecating and explorative. He tries out illustrative poetry, intricate rendering and more ‘messier’ styles.
I can’t help being a little impressed by Horrock’s bravery in returning to his roots. Success for him it seems is to step down, not up. Incomplete Works is an interesting journey, well worth the ticket price − even if graphic novels are not your thing. Who knows, after reading this, you may end up purchasing the ten-trip.
Reviewed by Tim Gruar
by Dylan Horrocks
Published by Victoria University Press
My first Writers Week event today (Monday) was Comicsville, a panel discussion at the Hannah Playhouse on New Zealand comics. It was chaired by Dylan Horrocks and featured Adrian Kinnaird, Jonathan King and Robyn Kenealy; cartoonists all. I also spotted Alison Bechdel in the audience, and later saw that she had tweeted a drawing she’d done of Horrocks.
As with Sunday’s session with Bechdel, it was slightly strange to have a discussion about comics without having any of them on display, but conversation was lively nonetheless. I was particularly glad to be continuing my trend of discovering interesting female authors: today’s ‘find’ is Kenealy (right). Deeply involved in the fan community, she spoke intelligently and with academic insight about the place of fan-fiction and the nature of self-publishing, very hot topics in the publishing world today. Normally, being drawn to an intriguing new author, I would immediately go and buy the book, but she said very openly that she is not trying to make money from comics and only self-publishes, mostly online. You can find her work here and here.
The book that was available for sale, though, is the new and very colourful From Earth’s End by Kinnaird (left). It’s a history of New Zealand comics and a snapshot of Kiwi cartoonists today. Flicking through my copy, I was immediately struck by the dearth of women: apart from Kenealy, apparently we pretty much just have Sarah Laing, and that’s about it. Surely that can’t be right? What about Li Chen, for example? (Closer study reveals that Chen is mentioned on page 88, but is not one of the thirty cartoonists with their own dedicated chapter.)
Being a word geek, I was particularly interested to learn from Horrocks that ‘graphic’ comes from a word meaning both to draw and to write; and that comics in te reo Maori are pakiwaituhi, which similarly indicates a story both drawn and written. This came up after a very lively discussion of the term ‘graphic novel’, which apparently has become a posh, literary term for comics generally – a rather back-handed compliment, as it implies comics need euphemising.
Overall, I left feeling that New Zealand comics are in an interesting and fruitful state, with digital publishing reaching new audiences unbounded by geography or paper distribution. Lots to look forward to.
A Rosie Glow, featuring Graeme Simsion (with a little bit of Catton comparison)
My third Writers Week event today (Monday) was A Rosie Glow; Lynn Freeman in conversation with Graeme Simsion, author of the New York Times bestselling novel, The Rosie Project. Unlike previous sessions, this felt very much like a standard author talk pitched explicitly towards increasing book sales.
And indeed Simsion admitted that, since publication, his life has become one long publicity tour – full credit to him for still seeming engaged and genuinely pleased to talk to fans. The fact that this was the second time that Freeman had interviewed him on this topic, though, unfortunately intensified the feeling of stale, recycled material.
It was perhaps a rather cruel and unusual act of scheduling to put Simsion’s talk on the Embassy Theatre stage immediately before Eleanor Catton’s extraordinary New Zealand Book Council lecture (entitled “Paradox and change in fiction”). In many ways, Simsion’s and Catton’s lives could be seen as parallel: they are both relatively new Australasian authors who have rapidly become life-changingly famous and, based on the success of one novel, are both now able to be full-time professional writers. But of course they are very different people.
Simsion spoke a lot about his protagonist, Don Tillman, and how he has a Twitter account in which he tweets in Tillman’s voice, and how there is a Tillman sequel planned. Catton didn’t mention The Luminaries or any of her characters at all, and instead spoke with calm but ferocious intelligence about huge ideas, ranging from the way fiction requires both ingenuity and insight in order to succeed, to the nature of space and time in narrative.
Simsion appeared happy to basically keep writing the same book until its popularity ran out – and, indeed, since it obviously ain’t broke, this is a perfectly cromulent strategy. Catton displayed a dizzying intellectual ravenousness that seemed to eat up subjects ranging widely within her chosen field of literature and beyond. When a member of the audience asked when she plans to publish a book of essays, she responded simply “soon”.
Once again I have ended a day of Writers Week events inspired and buzzing. Bring on tomorrow!
by Elizabeth Heritage, on behalf of Booksellers NZ
This is available in bookstores now.
When I was growing up in the 1970’s I read a lot of comics. Every Wednesday, I tottered down to the dairy to buy a copy of Whizzer and Chips, which was only 3 months behind its newsstand release in the UK. Later, I became obsessed with Commando and War Picture Library comics; their artwork intricate and compelling; the action, explosive! With an occasional Phantom and the Beano my education was complete. By 10yrs I knew all about WWI & II, English Cockney Rhyming Slang and even had a rudimentary understanding, and distaste, for the Thacherite politics that Britain gripped the country at that time, thanks to the very rude Viz comics. Tintin and Asterix supplied in both English and French ensured my European exposure was upheld. And of course, there was the flood of Marvel and DC titles from America.
All this guaranteed I knew all about the Northern hemisphere, but it wasn’t until University that my awareness of local culture and history really awakened. Cartoonists like Tim Bollinger, publishing his twisted little cultural sideswipes in Salient, challenged my sheltered beliefs and perceptions. Bollinger was prolific and went on to become an editor and contributor to the stoner mag White Fungus. He also and wrote and researched extensively and enthusiastically about the history of New Zealand comics. And then there was Tom Scott in the Listener and Chris Knox in the student rags and on music covers.
Yet in the early 80’s proper comics, and indeed graphic art in general, had faded away for me. There’s no doubt that a strong tradition of editorial cartoons has existed in Aotearoa since the early settlers first grumbled in the press. But where was the rich and diverse writing in pictures that had already evolved in print? Where were our versions of Tintin, or Captain America or Maus?
Well, it turns out that there was a thriving undercurrent of artistic fervour bubbling under the surface. It was dry-humoured, subversive and savant in nature. And it had been there all along. But it was an existence that was never taken seriously, or remembered with any reverence or fondness. It wasn’t taught in schools or exhibited in museums, at least not until lately. Unless cartoons were linked to politics, or historical events, they were forgotten.
In his literally graphic introduction Adrian Kinnaird explains that “until recently they (comics) were content to exist as a cultural outsider… patiently waiting for readers to discover their hidden depths and storytelling potential”. His book is a rich and extensive curatorial effort uncovering not only our now forgotten early artists but the more recent award winning, internationally recognised creators as well.
Kinnaird reminds us of the early pioneers like Noel Cook and D. Price, who was responsible for our own local version of the Katzenjamer Kids – The Tee Wee’s Adventures. I was also surprised to learn of the vast array of comics published locally, especially up until the 1950’s when censorship took hold and fear that the genre was corrupting young minds. I was blissfully unaware of the thriving industry in the 1940’s that produced immensely popular titles such as Supreme and Crash Carson. Censorship pretty much wiped that out. Like waves on a sandy beach, the industry just dissolved away.
Then enter the 1960’s, with our own local subversives who emulated Robert Crumb. Colin Wilson, for example, swung between the psychedelic and twisted to the impressive fantasy art similar to Boris and the pages of Heavy Metal.
Then there was a new wave, running off the underground music scene nurtured by punk and Flying Nun – Chris Knox, not content to just make music on an 8 track in his bedroom chose to serve up Jesus on a Stick! And they kept coming. Tim Bollinger (of course) and Chris Slane – who may have been responsible for our first true graphic novel: Maui. And there was Dylan Horrocks, who created Pickle and the Hicksville series and Simon Morse, who like me, was one of Wellington’s first comic book shop brats. We bought all the big names – Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin, et al – and in Morse’s case, redefined them in local terms.
Not content to be just a chronological history, Kinnaird also includes introspective features, including a section devoted to one of the genre’s greatest archetypes, Dick Frizzell. He rounds off the final chapters with an ‘in studio visit’ with Ant Sang (Shaolin Burning) and a ‘master class’ with Jonathan King, who takes us through the creative process that took Black Sheep from a simple four panel story concept to a feature length film. The relationship between film and comics in later years has made the careers of many Kiwis – including Weta artist Greg Broadmore (Dr Grorbot) whose brilliant hyper-retro art work steals enthusiastically from the golden age of Buck Rogers.
Making this extra special is the generous abundance of full length facsimiles of artist’s works. It would be hard to talk about the incredible art and research in Chris Grosz’s tale of pioneer warrior Kimble Bent without some clear examples of his work. Alongside these generous reprints (some in their entirety or close to it) is a detailed, but accessible biography of the artist. This is essential, as it would be hard to appreciate the impact of Martin Edmond, whose work crosses over into clothing and commercial tattoo work for example, if you didn’t have the full picture.
I guess if I had a quibble, it would be the size of the book, which whilst a good approximation of a stock standard Marvel or DC product, makes the reading of some of the reprints a little hard on the eyes. But that’s really minor compared to the immense research and wealth of knowledge Kinnaird has amassed.
Graphic novels are now very much the accepted norm in our libraries, with entire walls of shelving dedicated to the genre, even space in the Dewey System. Many mainstream movies begin as comics, especially those with social comment or a level of fantasy than can only be expressed as a combination of visuals and words. Kinnaird almost deliberately avoids editorial and portrait cartoons. These have been well covered by books like AK Grant’s The Unauthorised Version. He wants to tell the bigger and more advanced picture. It’s also a global story, as comic conventions, such as Armageddon (here in NZ) and ComicCon (in the US) become part of the mainstream events landscape.
What is the future for NZ Comics? Kinnaird foresees that it will be bright, interactive and, as always, a little bit bleeding edge. This is a fantastic book, and I use that word in its comic book ‘sense’ and in my own. The level of research, the full prints of stories or sequences, and the respect Kinnaird clearly has for his topic and the artists who work in the genre is very clear. He knows his stuff and it shows. Comics are for everyone, Kinnaird argues, not just to be read by the dwellers of damp boy-caves and grimy flats. I can imagine this to be just a slice of an infinite conversation that is finally being held in full daylight. Long may it continue!
Reviewed by Tim Gruar
From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics
by Adrian Kinnaird
Published by Random House