26 Apr

Hey! This is a positive and joyous and celebratory post about New Zealand Comics, an Indira rant but not as we know it. 

For the last five or so years, when I’ve said or written ‘NZ Comics’ I have often felt compelled, as illustrated, to use inverted commas. When I do this the term becomes a proper noun; the name for - what I feel is - a reductive, incorrect and publicly promoted comics discourse that touts only a particular style of comics made by a particular group of people as worthy of the moniker. And as I always explain, it is not the comic-makers I am dissing (because many of them are truly great people) but the discourse that surrounds them. 

Occasionally though I use the term without the inverted commas, and when I do this it becomes an appellative noun; covering ALL of those within the NZ comics scene, including those underrepresented, disenfranchised, forgotten, not noticed and exploring the medium in unusual and exciting ways. 

As many of you have probably noticed, I spend a lot of time battling ‘NZ Comics’ and championing NZ Comics. Much of this been via quite grumpy ‘NZ Comic’ critiques, in written, oral and comics form. But now I think I’ve gone as far as I can go with that approach. I also think it is no longer as necessary as it once was and that happily, the discourse seems to have changed. This post is a celebration of the NZ Comics ascent! It is by no means an extensive list of all the current cool goings-on but rather just some things I see that support my claim. And in no particular order, here they are: 

  • The Three Words Facebook community: originally started as a means to manage and support the Three Words publication, this page has morphed into a place for the exploration of (mostly) gender diversity, power, the arts and of course, comics. It has over four hundred members of all kinds, soooooo many more than were involved in the book. It is a thriving community and illustrates the interest in comics as part of the wider world.

  • The digitizing of Broadsheet: Broadsheet is a national treasure and was one the leading voices of the women’s movement from 1972 to 1997. It was also filled with comics. While the magazine has long been a part of lesbian and feminist histories, it has largely been ignored or unnoticed by those of NZ comics. But now all the issues are available online and there is no excuse.

  • NZ histories: Two important comic books - The Adventures of Tupaia, with pictures by Mat Tait; and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, illustrated by Toby Morris – have been published. These are essential and accessible explorations of national history, story, identity and culture, and represent a growing recognition of the need to make visible these things. They are also kick-arse teaching and learning resources particularly in the context of the new NZ Aotearoa Histories Curriculum.

  • Community: NZ comic bastions Funtime and Bristle Corp continue to celebrate the proud tradition and fundamental importance of the comics community. Both regularly release anthologies that showcase and celebrate all kinds of comics by all kinds of people.

  • Mapura Studios: Diverse artists at Mapura Studios are utterly, consistently and gloriously blowing apart traditional comics approaches and manifestations. The highly personal works are made within the context of the Mapura Cartooning Group, “…a collaborative and empowering space for the creation & sharing of an expanded comic art form. It…tells the stories of its participants and give them a real presence and voice in the world”. Their work is powerful and compelling and beautiful and mind-bending and my favourite.

  • Political cartooning: Emma Cook, has joined the traditionally male bastion of political cartooning. She joins Anna Crichton and Sharon Murdoch, and the work of all three is supremely and appropriately scathing, sensitive, silly and sad.

  • Women in the mainstream: there are a bunch of ‘new’ women working in the NZ comics mainstream. High profile artists include Giselle Clarkson and Tara Black. Sarah Laing and her thoughtful and beautifully rendered work remain the kaitiaki in this space.

  • Fine art comics: comics designed for gallery walls and physical spaces instead of magazines or books are everywhere! All are different and all eschew traditional definitions of the medium. Makers include Ducklingmonster/Beth Dawson, Vincent Eclipse Neil, Thom Burton, Clayton Noone and most famously Susan Te Kahurangi King. They all rule.

  • The rise of the didactic comic: hidden away in hospital waiting rooms, classrooms, the seat pockets of airplanes and the Citizens Advice Bureau, comics that provide information and aim to teach things have always been pretty niche. But now there is the Side Eye! A widely-read, widely-praised regular comic by Toby Morris and various experts that looks really cool and explains things accurately and clearly.

  • Comic of the month: Toby Morris is also responsible for the introduction of the Spinoff’s Comic of the Month. I cannot describe this feature’s purpose any better than he does, “… one-off comic stories by a rotating cast of different creators, with a mix of established and newer artists and a mix of styles and genres”. He is also he says, “… a believer in a very broad definition of what a “comic” is”. YAY.

  • International success: Richard Fairgray and Michael Mulipola crush it overseas while remaining true to themselves as comic-makers. They are also great people.

  • Sonic Comic: this is a truly rad one-off thing that HAS to be included in this celebratory list. Edited by Beth Dawson, Chris Cudby and me, it's an anthology that (finally) explores the long-standing NZ tradition of comic-artists who make music/musicians who make comics, and features a series of pieces containing both visual and sound elements. Listen to the comic! Read the music!

  • Reading for pleasure: despite the mountains of international evidence highlighting the multiple and long-standing benefits of reading for pleasure it is only recently that the concept has gained traction in NZ. Within this discourse comics are seen as a particularly effective way to hook children and young people into reading, and correspondingly the comics in the National Library of NZ’s Schools Collection are flying out the door!

  • Sam Orchard: the person tasked with capturing all of the above, and a whole bunch of other stuff, is the recently appointed Alexander Turnbull Library Research Librarian Cartoons, Sam Orchard. Sam is showing himself to be both expansive and meticulous in his vision and mahi and is probably the biggest and best thing to happen to NZ Comics in forever.

In addition to all of the above ‘big’ things. I have experienced some smaller, more personal comics joy. These are some of the nice things happening to me: 

  • Competent boy comics: it seems I named a comics genre. And it seems this name has become part of the NZ comics lexicon. I have a legacy!

  • I am proud of my comics: recently I dug out a pile of sketchbooks from under my bed and I through them have been revisiting my comics life. Until doing this I did not really realise just how many comics I have made, nor how relentless I have been in pursuing a particular vision, nor how fucken funny I am, nor how energetic and interesting my drawing is. These have been the most wonderful revelations.

  • Compliments: some quite hurtful things happened to me under the ‘NZ Comics’ regime. Because I am tough I have never really talked about  these. But I am not always tough (and nowhere near as tough as that bullet-proof cartoon version of myself) and I did cry that time someone illustrated an Indira interview with a comic by my brother; and that time my brother and both my ex-husbands were invited to be in a comics exhibition and I wasn’t. But actually now I say fuck these anomalies! Not only have I learned that I love my comics, I have learned that a bunch of other people do too and they have told me they do and why. And it feels excellent.

  • Friends: Some of the people who like my comics have become my friends and many of these people also make comics and the whole situation is lovely.

Indira Neville, little miss NZ comics sunshine. Who would have thought?

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