Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Andrea Bresciani - Australian Artist on the World Stage

Andrea Bresciani - 1966
The following interview with Andrea Bresciani (1923-2006) was recorded by Giuseppe Trovato in February 1997. It was first published in Italy by ANAFI (National Association of Friends of Comics and Illustration) in their quarterly fanzine, Fumetto, No.25, March 1998, and appeared as part of a 20-page insert devoted to the work of Andrea Bresciani.

The English translation of this interview was prepared by Vittorio and Giuseppe Trovato, in Melbourne, Australia, August 2007. With Vittorio and Giuseppe's permission, I subsequently prepared this English-language version for the website in October 2007, adding background notes where necessary, in order to put Bresciani's life and work in its proper historical context. This annotated, English-language version remained online at, until the site's closure in October 2013. Further notes and samples of Bresciani's artwork have been added to this updated version for Comics Down Under.

Giuseppe Trovato (GT): Mr. Bresciani, your career in the comic book world has many dark spots. We lose track of you in the 1950s, after the success of Tony Falco and Geky Dor. Shall we start with your date and place of birth?

Andrea Bresciani (AB): I was born on 29 January, 1923, in Tolmino, located in the province of Gorizia, which was later ceded to Yugoslavia.

NOTEAndrea Bresciani was born on January 27, 1923, but due to a mistaken transcription on his Australian passport, it was recorded as January 29, 1923 (It was Andrea’s wish to use only the second date of birth and, out of respect for his wishes, this has been done for the purposes of this interview).

Although his surname suggests Italian ancestry, Andrea Bresciani was born into a Slovenian family – his Slovenian name was Dušan Brešan. The town of his birth, Tolmin, was originally part of Slovenia, but, with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War (1914-18), large tracts of Slovenian territory were ceded to Italy. As a result, Tolmin became known as Tolmino, and formed part of the Italian province of Gorizia.

GT: Did you have any formal artistic training?

AB: No, none.

GT: Was your passion for comics inspired by the work of other artists?

AB: No, I worked for an architect, where I designed furniture. I didn’t attend any drawing classes, nobody taught me. After the war, there was not much money. I worked in Milano, but I lived in Pavia.

One day, on the train, somebody left behind a comic magazine. I started to read it, out of curiosity. That was the first time I saw a comic book. Then I started thinking: “If I could draw comic books, I could earn some extra money!”

Every night, returning from work, I started drawing. After three months, I took my best drawings and went to see a publisher in Milano and asked his opinion of my work. Luckily, when I went to see this publisher, his artist had just resigned. When a comic series [was] started, the publisher is supplied with ten episodes in advance, in case the artist gets sick, etc. – a supply of ten weeks is reasonable. But this publisher was at the end of the last two weeks [of work], and if he did not find another artist … So, after three months of personal experiments, I found full-time work as a comic artist.

NOTE: Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Italy hosted a vibrant comic-book publishing industry, issuing both translated reprints of imported comics (particularly American), and locally-produced comics.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Benito Mussolini’s fascist government banned American comics (fearing their corrupting influence), but Italian publishers continued to produce unauthorized "pirate" editions of American comic strips, as well as original Italian comics.

The post-war years saw the new format of “piccolo” comics – small, pocket-sized magazines, usually numbering less than 20 pages – became immensely popular in Italy, and elsewhere in Europe. Two of Bresciani's best-known comic books from this period, Tony Falco and Geky Dor, were examples of “piccolo” comics.

GT: Do you remember which comic strip that was? Perhaps they were some episodes of Saetta? (Published by Edizioni Alpe).

AB: Yes, I think so, yes. But my memories are very confused.

GT: Did you also draw episodes of the humorous comic strip, Poldo?

AB: I did so many things that I do not remember. You showed me the collection of Tony Falco, but I have forgotten everything. Truly, you are awakening the past.

NOTE: Tony Falco was created by the Italian writer Andrea Lavezollo, and starred the eponymous hero, an Italian engineer working in Egypt. The comic was published from December 1948 to November 1949, with each issue featuring a self-contained contained episode. The entire series was published in a facsimile edition by ANAFI in 1975.

Tony Falco, No.9 (A. Bresciani) - 1948
GT: What do you remember of the late 1940s-early 1950s, when you drew Tony Falco?

AB: For me, it was a job. I liked drawing for money and for fun. This is all; I do not know what else to add.

GT: Still, for [comic strip writer] Andrea Lavezzolo [1905-1981] you drew Geky Dor.

AB: Geky Dor… [Sighs]. It was a job like any other. I worked for a living.

NOTE: Geky Dor was another comic-book series created by Andrea Lavezollo, this time starring a young boy turned amateur detective, in order to exonerate his father, who had been wrongly accused of murder. Geky Dor was accompanied by an old tramp, Salvatore, and the duo were often rescued from danger by a mysterious figure, known only as "il fantasma" (The Ghost). Geky Dor was originally published from November 1949 to April 1950.

Sadly, there are many gaps in our knowledge of Bresciani’s work for Italian publishers during the immediate post-war period. He drew many stories anonymously (a common policy enforced by publishers at the time), or he used to sign his artwork as "BRADUAN". While exact records do not exist, it appears that, between 1945-50, he did draw some episodes for the weekly comic book, Albi Dell’Intrepido (Intrepid Comic Books), for the publisher, Universo.

GT: After the 1950s, we lose all trace of you.
Geky Dor, No.1 (A. Bresciani) -  1949

AB: I migrated to Australia.

GT: Why Australia? [Was it a] work agreement?

AB: No. I had heard how much comic books were in vogue in America, how much they earned, what was involved. As my town had become part of Yugoslavia, I gained the right to emigrate as a refugee. It would have cost me nothing to go to America. 

NOTE: Some further historical background is necessary in order to understand Bresciani’s personal circumstances after the war. Towards the end of the First World War, the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs was formed in 1918. Renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929, it struggled to remain neutral in the face of Nazi Germany’s rise to power, but was unable to repel the German invasion of April 1941. Andrea’s mother took him and his two sisters, Bozena ("Natalia") and Vera, to northern Italy at the outbreak of the Second World War, where they adopted the Italian name "Bresciani".

Bresciani’s Slovenian homeland was divided up between the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Nazi-occupied Hungary) and remained an occupied nation until it was liberated in May 1945.

After the war, Slovenia became a constituent republic of the larger Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Over 15,000 ethnic Italians were expelled from Slovenia in 1946-47, once the Communists assumed power. Many of these refugees fled back into northern Italy.

Albi dell'Intrepido, No.116 (A. Bresciani), 1948
AB: I was given a list of jobs available in America – but there was no demand for artists! I was advised that I could not fill any of the listed categories. “I am an artist”, I said. I was asked to find myself a contract. I sent my artwork to five publishers, three of which expressed interest – Fawcett being one of them and they wanted me to come to America. 

With contract in hand, I went to the office to complete the paperwork. They asked me about my citizenship. “I am Italian,” I said. “That is a pity, [because] our quota of Italians to America is now closed. Why not try Australia?”

Australia? Australia? Who ever heard of it!? “Look,” they told me, “it is a rapidly advancing country, with many things to do.” I asked for information [and thought to myself] ‘well, I will go to Australia, it will cost me nothing, I will get a [free] trip, if it doesn’t work out, we will go back to Italy.’ So, I came to Australia [with my mother and two sisters.]

NOTE: Beginning in 1947, the Commonwealth of Australia initiated a massive assisted migration program, to boost Australia’s population (then numbering over 7.5 million) and assist in postwar reconstruction. New migrants (along with wartime refugees) were initially housed in quarantine centers and government-run hostels located around Australia. Migrants carried out work under government direction, until they could secure permanent employment. Approximately 1.68 million new migrants settled in Australia from 1947 to 1960.

GT: Did you disembark in Melbourne or Sydney?

AB: No, we arrived in Perth [Western Australia], and then we drove to the government hostel in Northam, not far from Perth. We had an agreement with the government of two years’ work. We had to accept one of the jobs available. At the hostel, I kept drawing. From Northam, I often went to Perth with my precious bundle of cartoons. I visited an advertising agency and showed them my artwork – they immediately gave me a contract for work, freeing myself from the agreement with the government.

I heard about Sydney, where life was much better, with more possibility for work and a better future for a comic strip artist. So, I moved to Sydney and started working for Atlas Publications. It was 1951.

NOTE: Atlas Publications was the brainchild of Jack Bellew, the former Editor-in-Chief of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper (then owned by Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press). Bellew relocated to Melbourne in the mid-1940s, where he formed his new publishing venture with his former Consolidated Press colleagues, George Warnecke and Clive Turnbull. The popularity of its first comic book, Captain Atom (drawn by Arthur Mather), allowed Atlas Publications to expand its comic book range and branch out into mainstream magazine publishing throughout the 1950s. 

In addition to his comic book work, Bresciani also provided interior artwork for the company’s other publications, such as Squire, a men’s magazine. Although Bresciani worked for the company while living in Sydney, Atlas Publications was based in Clifton Hill, Melbourne.

AB: I illustrated front covers of various comic books published by Atlas. One comic I remember well was Sergeant Pat of the Radio Patrol, for which I drew a complete story. Radio Patrol was an American series, written by Eddie Sullivan and drawn by Charles Schmidt. Atlas published its own stories of Sergeant Pat under license. The official artist was the Czech-born Yaroslav Horak, who was already famous for such comics as Skyman, Ray Thorpe, Jet Fury [and] Brenda Starr.

Sgt Pat of The Radio Patrol, No.75 (A. Bresciani) 
NOTE: The first 30-40 issues of Atlas Publications’ Sergeant Pat comic book contained reprints of the original American newspaper strip, before the comic was initially passed on to Yaroslav Horak, followed by Bresciani, and then onto Arthur Mather. Yaroslav Horak’s principal work for Atlas Publications during this period was The Lone Wolf (a western series originally created by Keith Chatto) and Brenda, a locally-drawn edition of the American comic strip, Brenda Starr.

AB: [After working for Atlas, I drew] a very popular comic strip series, Frontiers of Science.

GT: Did you draw the whole saga of Frontiers of Science?

AB: Yes, over approximately 12 years, one strip per day, five days per week. The scientific text was provided by Professor Stuart Butler, from the University of Sydney, while the comic strip script was written by Robert Raymond. I am trying to locate the original comic strip artwork and offer them for sale to some collectors.

Frontiers of Science (A. Bresciani) - circa early 1960s
NOTEFrontiers of Science was indisputably one of Australia's most successful 
comic-strip exports. Each week-long sequence was devoted to a specific topic, explored through five consecutive daily episodes. The series was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in 1961, and subsequently appeared in most other capital city daily newspapers throughout Australia. 

Frontiers of Science was syndicated to newspapers throughout the United States and Canada by The Los Angeles Times, and was sold to Editors Press Service (now trading as Atlantic Syndication), which translated and sold the comic strip to newspaper clients in Europe, South America, and Asia.The comic strip concluded in 1982, following the death of Stuart Butler.

AB: Around the 1960s, the Australian comic-book industry was at the end of its glorious era. A pity to say, but it was true. One of the last comic books I remember doing was drawing a few episodes of Smoky Dawson for KG Murray Publishing, around 1960. Smoky Dawson was originally a daily strip drawn by Albert De Vine for the Sydney Sun [newspaper]. In my spare time, I did illustrations for AdamMan, and Pocket Man, published by KG Murray.
The Adventures of Smoky Dawson, Nos.10 & 11 (A. Bresciani) - circa 1960

NOTE: Smoky Dawson (Herbert Henry Brown, 1913-2008) was a popular Australian country & western singer and performer, who starred in a popular radio serial, The Adventures of Smoky Dawson, broadcast throughout Australia from 1952-1962. 

Following the closure of Atlas Publications in 1957, Bresciani worked as a freelance illustrator for Horwitz Publications (Sydney, Australia), where he painted numerous covers for their pulp-fiction "Western" novelette series, including Wyatt Earp and Todd Conrad.
Wyatt Earp, No.1 (A. Bresciani), 1959

GT: After you established yourself in Australia, did you go back to Italy?

AB: I migrated to Australia in 1950. So… [SIGHS], my first marriage broke down! When I remarried, we went to Spain for our honeymoon, where we lived for two-and-a-half years.

GT: While living in Spain, did you draw any comic strips?

AB: Yes, I did something for Brughera Publishing. Juan Brughera established his publishing company, El Gato Negro, in 1910 and eventually launched his first humor magazine, Pulgaricto, in 1921, which featured comic strips. His sons, Pantaleon and Francisco, changed the company’s name to Editorial Brughera in 1939, and began publishing comic books in 1947, eventually dominating the Spanish comics market until the early 1980s.

GT: From Spain, did you return to Italy?

AB: No. I stayed in Europe until around 1980-81.

NOTE: During his stay in Europe, Bresciani once again illustrated stories for the Italian comic, Albi Dell’Intrepido, including such stories as Il Sosia (The Double) and La Notte in Cui Nacque Lenny (The Night when Lenny was Born), between 1976-77. Examples of Bresciani's work for various European publishers during this period can be viewed online at  the Comic Cargo Team blog.
Mister Smog (A. Bresciani)

GT: You told me of your stay in Germany. Did you do any work for local publishers there?

AB: No, not for a publisher. It was a bank which published a children’s magazine, which taught them how to save money. I established my residency in Monaco Di Baviera [West Germany], but frequently I went to Trieste, Italy, where I lived with one of my cousins. After living away from Trieste for some time, I telephoned [my cousin] to see if there were any letters for me. My cousin said, yes, there was a letter from Genoa. “From Genoa? But I do not know anyone there!” I told myself. My cousin could not see properly, but she managed to give me a name and a telephone number. The name was unknown; I cannot recall it even now…

I rang the number and I told him “I am Bresciani.” “Bresciani? Do you know that we have been looking for you for years? I have to come and interview you.” I told him, “Look, I am in Germany, in Monaco.” He replied “It doesn’t matter, we will come to Germany.”

I thought it was all a joke. Since I often travelled to Italy, we agreed that I would call them. So I did and we met at the Principe train station in Genoa. When they came, there were three of them. I cannot recall what we said and which magazine they were interviewing [me] for. I do recall, however, that in Italy they held annual comic exhibitions and begged me to participate in one. Each year they gave a trophy to the best artist – and one of these trophies was being kept by them for me, as they were unable to find me. But, since I was always on the move, I could not attend the exhibition and receive the trophy – I think it is still waiting for me in Italy! I remained in Europe, from 1976 until approximately 1981, when I returned to Sydney.

NOTE: The aforementioned interviewers were Gian Mario Traverso and his son, Carlo, who met Bresciani on 4 June, 1981. The interview, titled “Emergono Dal Limbo” [They Emerge from Limbo] was not published until years later, when it appeared in the December 1998 edition of Fumetto. The trophy referred to by Bresciani was “La Targa Di Fumettoamicizia” (Comic Friendship Plate) which was presented by the International [Comic] Fair of Genoa.

GT: Frontiers of Science was your last comic strip work. What else did you do?

AB: I did men’s and women’s fashion design. I had an office and an advertising agency with a Frenchman, John Tish, who also drew political cartoons for a newspaper. Then I moved away and we lost touch. We met again after ten years and celebrated with a lunch. Tish asked me if I have ever been inside an animated cartoon studio. “No, never,” I said. “Next time, come to lunch half-an-hour earlier and I will take you into the studio. We make animated cartoons for Hanna-Barbera.”

I went along and it was like entering a new world! I was fascinated. I went back to my office, called my workers together and said: “You know the work … there are plenty of clients … the studio is yours! I go now to enter another world!”

So, I left all that for animated cartoons! I started working there around 1970, before going to Spain for my honeymoon. We worked for Hanna-Barbera in an independent studio. Only later did Hanna-Barbera open their studio in Sydney.

NOTE: During the 1970s and 1980s, the American animation production company, Hanna-Barbera, opened a string of international production studios in Europe, South America and Asia. Hanna-Barbera’s Australian animation studio was established in Sydney in 1972 and branched out into animated TV commercial production in 1974. Hanna-Barbera’s Australian operations were eventually bought out by Walt Disney’s Australian subsidiary in 1989 (Disney subsequently closed its Australian animation studio in 2005).

GT: You mentioned that you stayed in the Philippines.

AB: Yes, I moved to Manila around 1981. The Sydney studio of animated cartoons sent me there to open another studio. In Manila, we worked for the American company, Marvel [Productions]. I remember the TV series we did – Defenders of the Earth. It featured the comic strip heroes Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and Lothar, The Phantom and Ming, Tyrant of the planet Mongo.
The other two [animated] series I remember were Robin Hood and Swiss Family Robinson. I was the artistic director in charge.

NOTE: Bresciani’s other animated film credits from this period include The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972); 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1985); Alice through the Looking Glass (1987); Hiawatha (1988); The Corsican Brothers (1989); and Otherzone (1998).
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
(Burbank Films Australia, 1985)

GT: Australia was not your personal choice, but a destination decided by fate, even though you dreamed of living in America. Do you have any regrets?

AB: No, I do not mourn. I take life as it comes, positively.

GT: Professionally and artistically. Sydney would have offered you more job opportunities – so, why did you move to Melbourne when you returned to Australia?

AB: My sisters, my son and my ex-wife lived in Melbourne. I preferred to be close to them.

GT: Have you ever thought of restarting your comic book activities?

AB: No! I don’t believe that such activities would earn [me] a living in Australia today. At my age, one can no longer dream!

Towards the end of his career, Andrea Bresciani pursued other creative passions, such as sculpture. He specialized in creating dynamic sculptures of horses, sometimes with an American Indian theme. He received orders for up to 250 of these figures from Japan, France, and the United States, but as he was unable to meet such high-volume demands for these figures, he ceased making them. However, he left his family an exquisite collection of statuettes.

Andrea Bresciani, circa 1990s
Bresciani was a modest man who demonstrated an exceptional, natural ability in both his comic book illustrations and all his creative endeavors. He always said, with pride: “The little I have learnt, I have learnt by myself.”

Andrea Bresciani passed away on February 7, 2006 at his home during his afternoon “siesta”. He enjoyed every drop of his life; not only did he enjoy travelling and fine food, but loved hang-gliding, which was his favorite sport. He died happily, as if he were dreaming of flying to freedom. 

A modified version of Giuseppe Trovato’s original interview with Andrea Bresciani was published in the Australian edition of the Italian-language newspaper, Il Globo, on March 2, 2005 (Melbourne) Other articles on Andrea Bresciani by Giuseppe Trovato include: ‘Addio, Andrea Bresciani’ (Farewell, Andrea Bresciani), Fumeto, March 2006, and Il Globo (Melbourne), April 21, 2006; ‘Tony Falco (In Memory of Andrea Bresciani)’, Il Globo (Melbourne), March 27, 2007.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Antipodean Currents: The Evolution of Comics in Australia and New Zealand

Fatty Finn's Comic - Australia, late 1940s
In 2012, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a then-forthcoming publication, titled A Global History of Comics, to be edited by Canadian comics scholar, Bart Beaty, and published by Cambridge University Press. I was asked to write a chapter which charted the history of comic strips and comic magazines in Australia and New Zealand, from the mid-1800s, to the present day. However, I only had 5,000 words or so at my disposal, and could include maybe two illustrations to accompany the text.

It was a tough assignment, not least because it came my way just as I was immersed in researching and writing my PhD thesis on The Phantom, at the time. But the opportunity to contribute a chapter to a prestigious project like this was too good to refuse, so I took the plunge, and committed myself to writing the chapter. Looking back, however, I clearly bit off more than I could chew, and I submitted my chapter long after the original submissions deadline had passed - it was one of the few times I've done that in my writing career, but that doesn't make it any less painful to admit it.

Crash Carson of the Future -  New Zealand, 1940s
My chapter was titled "Antipodean Currents: The Evolution of Comics in Australia and New Zealand". I pitched it towards an educated lay readership, who presumably knew little or nothing about the topic, but might nevertheless be curious to learn about the development of comic art in these two countries. This was exceedingly difficult to write, as I had to leave so much stuff out, in addition to brushing up on my knowledge of more recent trends on New Zealand comics from the 1990s and early 2000s. 

I was reasonably satisfied with the finished chapter, as I felt it accomplished my relatively modest aims, of guiding unfamiliar readers through the history of Australasian comic art. But it was never to see print, because I subsequently learned that Cambridge University Press had abandoned the project.

Inkspots - Australia, 1983
The article has sat on my computer hard drive ever since, but two years later, I've decided to dust it off, make some minor corrections and additions to the text, and have uploaded it to my profile page. I've also used this opportunity to add plenty of colour illustrations to the article, as well (However, I've reproduced on this blog post images of selected Australian & New Zealand comics which I didn't include in the revised and updated version of my chapter) . 

You can download my book chapter for free, but you have to sign-up to join the website, and log-in to do so. If interested readers would like to obtain a copy with going via, they can email via the address given elsewhere on this blog.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Vale - Alexander Stitt (1937-2016)

Alexander Stitt (OAM), the acclaimed Australian animator, graphic designer, and painter, died this week. He was best known for his television commercials, most notably the government-sponsored "Life.Be in it" health campaign, which he created in collaboration with advertising director/producer Philip Adams, and jingle writer, Peter Best. The advertisements, which starred the beer-bellied, Aussie couch potato known as Norm, were screened on Australian television from 1975-1990, and remain one of the most famous advertising campaigns of that era.

Stitt's career began in the mid-1950s, when he designed eye-catching record sleeves for the Australian subsidiary of the World Record Club (UK), which specialized in packaging classical and jazz records for mail-order customers. He became a sought-after graphic designer, who created memorable posters for many classic Australian films of the 1970s, including The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), and Careful, He Might Hear You (1983). Stitt also created a series of animated television commercials for the Christian Television Association, which were screened on Australian television networks, in compliance with government regulations stipulating that commercial broadcasters must include a percentage of religious content in their programming.

Sadly, one of his most ambitious works remains largely unseen by the Australian public. Stitt wrote, directed and designed the feature-length animated film, Grendel, Grendel, Grendel (1981), based on American author John Gardner's 1971 novel, Grendel, which was in turn inspired by the epic poem, Beowulf. However, the film - which included British actor Peter Ustinov in the title role - was not supported by a wide theatrical release, in Australia or abroad. The film was later re-released on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment (Australia).

Stitt produced his visual memoir, Stitt Autobiographics, which was co-written and edited by his partner, Paddy Stitt, and published by Hardie Grant Books (Melbourne, Australia) in 2011. He staged a solo exhibition of computer-generated art, titled The Flower Show, held at the Port Jackson Press Print Room in Collingwood, Melbourne, in 2014. Stitt was subsequently appointed a Member in the general division of the Order of Australia (OAM) in June 2016.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Adam - The Magazine for (Real) Australian Men

My interest in the history of Australian comic books has led me to investigate other forms of popular Australian print media, such as "pulp-fiction" magazines and novelettes, paperback novels, and men's magazines. There was considerable cross-pollination between these three distinctive forms of Australian print culture, not least because some of Australia's largest publishing companies of the 1950s and 1960s were actively involved in all three areas.

Ken G. Murray, circa 1950s
Chief amongst them was K.G. Murray Publishing Company, which had enjoyed huge success with its ground-breaking Australian men's magazine, Man. Launched in 1936, Man was modelled after America's Esquire magazine, and became a surprising success, appearing as it did during the height of the Great Depression. The magazine was the brainchild of its entrepreneurial publisher, Kenneth G. Murray (pictured), and its editor, Frank Sydney Greenop, who joined the magazine in 1937. It was especially popular with Australian servicemen during World War Two, with circulation reportedly nearing 100,000 shortly after the war.

Adam, Vol.2, No.1, March 1947
Adam, billed as "The New Magazine for Men" ,was K.G. Murray's first new publication of the post-war era, making its debut in April 1946. The magazine initially focused on short stories, emphasising action and adventure, from Australian and overseas authors. These stories were illustrated by many of the artists who worked on Man magazine, and its spin-off publications, such as Man Junior (l937), and Pocket Man (1954). Adam also featured single-panel joke cartoons, again supplied by a combination of  local and overseas artists; Vernon Hayles drew a colour double-spread cartoon featuring a wry, modern-day interpretation of Adam and Eve, which became a regular feature during the magazine's first year of publication.

Adam, Vol.7, No.1, July 1949
The editorial span of Adam grew to include factual articles, initially focusing on Australian sports history and contemporary sports stars, but later included "real life" adventure stories, along with sensational "true crime" reports, many of which were penned by the prolific Australian pulp paperback author, James Holledge (1922-1998). By the early 1950s, the covers of Adam ran the subheading "Adventure - Sport - Humour", a combination which underpinned the magazine's focus for decades to come.

Adam is best-remembered for its exciting, action-packed cover illustrations, many of which were illustrated by the doyens of Australian comic book art, including Peter Chapman, Phil Belbin, and Hart Amos, to name but a few. The covers alternated between noir-style crime tableaux, men battling the elements, or fending off wild creatures in exotic locales, ranging from tropical jungles to the deep blue seas. 
Adam, Vol.10, No.1, March 1954
Dramatic images featuring rugged, handsome men, and beautiful women, often caught in violent struggles with one another, or evading certain death, were the mainstays of Adam's eye-catching covers.

The austere production values of the magazine's early years steadily gave way to glossy interior pages, and full-colour cartoons during the 1950s and early 1960s. Adam, along with K.G. Murray's other men's magazines, featured ever-more daring "girlie" pin-ups, as the bikini-clad starlets of the 1950s and 1960s gave way to semi-naked female models by the early 1970s, appearing in provocative shoots that wouldn't have looked out of place in Playboy magazine.

Adam, Vol.47, No.2, July 1969
For years, I'd assumed that Adam had ceased publication following Consolidated Press' acquisition of K.G. Murray Publications in the early 1970s, which led to the cancellation of Man magazine in 1974. However, the Pulp International website has reproduced covers and selected contents from issues of Adam published as late as 1978. Clearly the magazine's racy combination of "Fact - Fiction - Humour" held readers' attention, despite intense competition from television and cinema. This formula ensured that Adam outlasted its companion titles from the K.G. Murray Publishing Company, such as Man, Pocket Man, Cavalcade and Man Junior, all of which had by that time vanished from Australian newsstands. Adam was, if you'll forgive the pun, the last man standing in the Australian men's magazine category.

(Photograph of Kenneth G. Murray courtesy of Perisher Historical Society; Cover images of Adam magazine courtesy of Rare Book Collection, Monash University Library.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Who Controlled Australia's Comic Book Industry?

My previous blog post on Comics Down Under briefly mentioned an article by Rex Chiplin, appearing in the Tribune newspaper on 11 November 1953, which attacked the Transport Publishing Company (later Horwitz Publications) for peddling comics and novels which traded in "corpses, assault and battery with a larding of sex". Chiplin's article, titled 'I Spent a Week in a Literary Sewer', was a two-pronged attack against violent and pornographic American publications freely circulating in Australia newsstands and bookstalls, and the Australian businessmen who were "reaping the profits from this muck".

Rex Chiplin was, at this time, the Canberra correspondent for Tribune, published by the Communist Party of Australia (Central Committee). He was peripherally involved in the so-called 'Petrov Affair', the headline-grabbing defection of Soviet diplomat Vladimir Petrov, who requested political asylum for himself and his wife, Evdokia, in Australian in April 1954.

The rising tide of American popular culture, along with the political influence of Australia's media monopolies, troubled many Left-wing commentators in Australia throughout the 1950s. Chiplin's undeniably partisan report drew explicit links between these dual concerns, couched in the rhetoric of class warfare. Combing the records of the New South Wales Registrar-General's office, Chiplin declared:

"It came as no surprise to find among the directors of the publishing firms such occupations as solicitor, chartered accountant and company director; nor was it a surprise that [their] addresses ranged from Rose Bay to Killara, Pymble and other so-called exclusive suburbs".

Chiplin roundly condemned 'girlie' magazines, pulp-fiction novels and comic books alike as a flood of "pornography, sex, sadism, brutality and illiteracy". In its way, Chiplin's article also captured the cultural anxieties shared by many Australians about their children's exposure to this relatively shocking new wave of American comic magazines, which were reprinted under licence in Australia.

But Chiplin's article is also fascinating because it identifies the owners behind many of Australia's leading comic-book publishers, and reveals unexpected proprietary links between the industry's leading publishing firms.

"AMERICAN-AUSTRALASIAN MAGAZINE PTY. LTD. of 3-5 York Street, Sydney, is responsible for IT and PEEP magazine ... Directors of American-Australian Magazine are E.G. Horsham of Killara, R.A. Armour of Lindfield, and F.W. Catts of Wahroonga - all North Shore pukkah sahibs ...

Through Horsham and Catts there is a direct link with NEW CENTURY PRESS PTY. LTD., also of 3-5 York Street Sydney, which is almost entirely owned by the Catts family and Catts Estates. F.W. Catts, Horsham, and Rebecca Rachel Catts (Roseville) are directors. New Century publishes MANHUNT, by arrangement with Flying Eagle Publications, New York. Manhunt is all-American - in the worse sense."

According to the AusReprints website, New Century Press was previously known as The Co-operator Ltd. Changing its name to New Century Press in 1918, the company published a diverse range of general interest and humour magazines, and actively published comic books, both under its own banner and on behalf of other Australian companies, from the 1950s through to the 1970s.

"War Battles, Warfront and Navy Combat are three comics published by RED CIRCLE PRESS, controlled by Commercial Advertising Company, 149 Castlereagh Street. Commercial's directors are J.C. Bailey (Lane Cove), Julian Rose (Rose Bay), Louis Rose (Bondi), Edwin B. Scribner (Lindfield), and H.W. Shirley (Castlecrag).

As well as gore and sudden death, Commercial Advertising also has interests in sex - or "gorgeous gals", as another publication, Festival, puts it. Festival is published by Barmor Publications from Commercial Advertising's address. Directors of Barmor are C.H. Young, of 21 Belltrees, Onslow Avenue, Elizabeth Bay, and H.W. Shirley."

Charles H. Young was also the director of Young's Merchandising Company, which published several Australian-drawn comics, such as Yarmak - Jungle King Comic (by Stanley Pitt & Reginald Pitt), Davy Crockett - Frontier Scout, The Panther and The Raven - the latter three titles being written and illustrated by Paul Wheelahan. Young's Merchandising ceased trading after the death of its director, Charles Young, in 1963.

Chiplin continues:

"October [1953] saw a new entrant in the pornography stakes - NIGHT AND DAY magazine. It's the property of Halho Corporation, New York, and published in Australia by the BLUE DIAMOND PUBLISHING COMPANY, 15 Park Street, Sydney ... Ronald Edward Kendall Forsyth, of 51a Bradleys Head, Mosman, is boss of Blue Diamond.

Forsyth, with L.J. Richardson, also runs FREW PUBLICATIONS from the same Park Street address. Frew runs a choice line of comics, including Battleground. The issue we have is devoted to the war in Korea - hate propaganda and lies of the worst type."

Frew Publications is, of course, best known for The Phantom comic magazine, which has been published continuously since September 1948, making it the world's longest-running Phantom comic-book series. Blue Diamond was, according to AusReprints, one of several business/trading names employed the company throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Frew Publications was acquired by former Sydney sports broadcaster and publisher, Jim Shepherd (1993-2013), in the late 1980s, and was later purchased by former Phantom artist, Glenn Ford, and Rene White, proprietor of The Phantom's Vault (an online retailer specialising in licensed Phantom merchandise) in 2016.

Chiplin continues:

"The H. JOHN EDWARDS PUBLISHING CO. of 14 Bond Street, Sydney, goes in for variety, but the net result is the same. Edwards publish Jumbo, Rangers and Wings comics, Action Comics, and Action Detective Magazine. Big boss is H.W.J.V. Edwards of Lane Cove, and co-directors are R.M. Somerville of Lane Cove, and H.S. Smith of Roseville.

Rangers peddles the lie that Soviet MIGs are fighting in Indo-China and that Soviet airmen and troops are also there. It is published on licence from Fiction House Inc., New York. Jumbo Comics features a female Tarzan whose chest measurement would preclude her from standing near enough to a tree to climb it. WINGS is the usual Korea hokum, all dressed up to glorify war.

Action Detective Stories is good wholesome literature for homicidal maniacs and similar unfortunates. Opening page is a drawing of a nude girl and an automatic pistol; the closing two pages feature an all-in fight between two nude girls."

The glorification of war, and the demonization of Soviet and Chinese Communist forces in Korean War-era comics flowing from the United States, were of equal concern to not just the Communist Party of Australia, but also to left-aligned trade union organisations in Australia throughout the 1950s (The Queensland Trade and Labor Council was especially vocal in its opposition to the sale of American comics in Australia at this time.)

As mentioned previously, Chiplin then turns his attention to the output of the Transport Publishing Company, before pointing out that Transport Publishing's various comics and pulp novels are printed by John Fairfax and Sons, proprietors of the Sydney Morning Herald, and now controllers of Associated Newspapers - "which brings muck publication right into the upper brackets of [media] monopoly."

Chiplin continues:

"[Sydney Morning] Herald publications include CAVALIER magazine, one of the worst samples of pornography and degeneracy on the market. First issue of Cavalier features 'I Lived with 31 Men on an Island', 'Candid Camera Hunt Among Strip Teasers' are other "cultural" delights. Later issues have been on the same gutter level.

The Fairfax trail then leads to PRESIDENT PRESS, publisher of Battle Comics, another glorification of murder and violence. President Press is an Associated Newspapers affiliate. Associated Newspapers are publishers of The Sun, Woman, Pix, People, etc., recently acquired by the Herald."

But Chiplin saves his harshest rebuke for Consolidated Press (then owned by Sir Frank Packer), which he claimed was "way out in front in the pornography stakes", and was responsible for publishing "a host of crime, sex and violence comics", in addition to its Sydney newspapers (The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph), and its flagship magazine, The Australian Women's Weekly.

Chiplin continues:

"Directly and through affiliates, Consolidated Press ... [also publish] the Phantom and Star paper-covered novels. Phantoms and Stars are direct reprints, lurid covers and all, of American gutter novelettes which are churned out by the score in 'pulp factories'".

The provenance of the 1950s Australian editions of the Phantom Books series has been an enduring mystery to Australian pulp-fiction novel collectors for some years (I, for one, erroneously assumed for many years that Phantom Books, and the associated Phantom Suspense-Mystery Magazine, were actually issued by Frew Publications, publishers of The Phantom).

The AusReprints website indicates that the Phantom Books series was reprinted in Australia by The Original Novels Foundation, which operated from the same address as the Magazine Management group (149 Castlereagh Street, Sydney). While it is not clear whether Magazine Management either owned, or was somehow affiliated with, The Original Novels Foundation, the AusReprints website does note that the Phantom Classics paperback series (which commenced publication around 1956) was distributed by the Hyde Distributing Company, which was, in turn, owned by Consolidated Press.

On a related note, it appears that the Art Deco-era Grand United Building, situated at 147-153 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, housed several Australian comic-book publishers during the 1950s.

These linkages between publishers, printers and distributors, according to Chiplin, formed the basis of Australia's comic-book industry, and the allied pulp-fiction novel and "girlie" magazine market in the 1950s: "Directors and shareholders in the Herald, Associated Newspapers, and Consolidated Press are a cross-section of the wealthiest monopolists in Australia".

Chiplin concluded his "dreadful recital" with reference to American Crime Magazine, "published by CLEVELAND PUBLISHING COMPANY, whose directors are publisher J.P. Atkins, and solicitor V.T. Davis." He adds that  "'Such Tender Flesh' and 'Hit Me Hard, Baby' are two of the three stories in this lurid-covered magazine".

The Cleveland Publishing Company went onto publish the highly popular pulp-novel series, Larry Kent (I Hate Crime), based on the Australian radio serial of the same name, and became best known for its long-running series of Western pulp novelettes, which were published under various imprints throughout the 1950s and 1960s (Many of these featured cover illustrations by Stanley Pitt, while another former Australian comic-book artist, Paul Wheelahan, went onto write hundreds of Western novels for Cleveland from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s). The Cleveland Publishing Company continues to reissue its "classic" Western novels, and occasional new titles, which are distributed through newsagents throughout Australia - it is arguably one of the few "golden age" pulp-novel publishing companies dating from the 1950s which is still in business.

Bemoaning the reluctance Australian state governments to police the sale of American-style comic books, sleazy paperbacks and pornographic magazines, Chiplin makes the following impassioned plea:

"State governments could act to-morrow to stop the sale of this kind of muck - if they wanted to.

They will only "want to", if we, the people, the educators, the battling Australian artists and writers, the organised working class, the vast majority of worried men and women who want their children to grow into healthy adults in a peaceful world insist upon a ban."

Chiplin's wish did, of course, come true, as the growing public outcry against violent and salacious American-style comic books gathered force by the mid-1950s, prompting several Australian state governments to pass (or amend) legislation designed to prohibit the sale of "objectionable" literature (such as comic magazines) within their respective jurisdiction. This topic is briefly discussed in a previous Comics Down Under post, "Australian Comics - A 1960 Snapshot".

Chiplin was subsequently appointed Moscow correspondent for Tribune, and eventually left the Soviet Union in 1963 after a two-year posting. Upon returning to Australia, he resigned from the Communist Party of Australia in April 1963, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Tribune continued to be published by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia until 1991.

(Image credits: Yarmak - Jungle King Comic courtesy of Grand Comics Database; American Crime Magazine and Manhunt courtesy of Galactic Central; all other images courtesy of AusReprints).