Monday, June 9, 2014

Some thoughts on the whole Australian comics thing...

The following is thought-streamed- If I had time to re-read and edit, I would. But I don’t. So hopefully there’s a kernel of sense in here somewhere.

So there’s this debate raging on Facebook, which I was asked to take a look and perhaps weigh in on by a good mate of mine, and comic buddy Tristan Jones. Now usually, I’m so freakin’ busy these days with my lecturing/DVA/Day jobs/Comics/Training/Team AUS TKD commitments, I barely social media at all. Hell, 1am visits to the gym, just to try and stay in fighting fitness range, in the new normal.
 But, I’ve been mulling over it all day and thought I would throw my thoughts in, to not only support much of what has been said, but also touch on aspects which I actually discuss in my current thesis for my Doctoral research. It covers a number of massive topics and the comments raised initially by comic creator and good mate Dean Rankine, despite creating a lot of controversy and opinions, isn’t a new one. Apart from the fact that I’ve chatted before about it with Tristan and another mate and comic creator Doug Holgate, it’s stuff that’s bounced around quite a bit; but I guess not brought up to the extent and with the credited people weighing in on it like it currently has been. It’s been touched on in various panels around the place (hence Dean’s starting words) and actually, on a panel recently at Adelaide OZ Comic –con with Dean, myself and writer mate Ryan K Lindsay, we were asked the same thing, and gave certainly, the same sorts of answers.

For those not knowing what the hell I’m talking about (and let’s face it, that’s not too often) here’s Dean’s initial snowball:

When I'm at cons and we do those 'Aussies in Comics' panels a question that is invariably asked is, 'Why don't Australian comics get the recognition they deserve'? Or 'How come we don't have a comic book industry'? Or a variation of the above. Because I've got inking to do and I'm a massive procrastinator I would like to offer the following perspectives (that please feel free to ignore).

- This is going to sound provocative but a lot of Australian comics are a bit SHIT. If you compare them to the books on the shelves at a comic book store (indie publications or not) they are NOT as good. Of course people are going to buy the other books with their comic book dollar.

- Remember the 'greed is good' mantra from Wall Street. May I suggest to you, 'SHIT is good'. Making shit comics is an absolute must because making shit comics is how we learn to make good comics. I'm constantly looking back at my old work and thinking, 'Man, that is SHIT'! But that's how I improved. And no doubt I'll look back at the work I'm doing today and think how shit it is. Because that's the battle we fight as creative people.

- I think when we talk about Australian comics not succeeding we are asking the wrong question. It's not 'us' (as a country) verses 'them' (as a country). Are there people making shit comics in the U.S? Of course there are!

- Why can't we have a publisher like the 'big two'? Because I believe they are leftovers from another time that I don't think will repeat itself. They have decades and decades of iconic characters and stories to draw on (get it? Draw!). Which I think in this day and age it would be impossible to mimic. And (besides the cash) why would you want to? An IMAGE model would definitely be more sustainable. Which is bit shit if you're a creator who likes a steady pay cheque.

That's all I have to say. I'm going to eat some lunch.

Hahaha, starts a fire and backs away ;P

I was going to say a lot of stuff to address all the more important points raised, but since there’s over 280 comments (some great, some nonsense, some wishful thinking, much off topic), and a new bunch of edits have arrived for this academic writing, I think I know what’s more important for my long term comic making and teaching future, right? ;P

Seriously though, a couple of quick thoughts:

Dean’s point about making sh** comics is spot on. I have often said I hate every earlier comic because I have done it to learn from it. It’s not my “magnum opus”, and it’s not going to be the work that defines me. Heck, I have been fortunate enough to have reviews and advice from some of the biggest names in American, British and Australian comics; their opinion matters to me because it comes from a trained eye of experience and knowledge. I would not have been able to learn from them without attempting in the first place (having the comics I feel are “sh**”), and attempting to apply their advice. I’ve also have been fortunate enough to have projects in the making, working with writers and editors who I have admired, which aren’t Soldier-related, but will bring satisfaction nevertheless. Satisfaction in the illustration and story-telling that is.  This is my personal goal. I’m a realist. Part of the reason I believe that debates like this rage  online is because many comic makers in our “cottage” industry are unfortunately not.

I doubt very much I will make a decent living given the way I draw, but something is better than nothing, right? And I have had the good fortune and fortitude to study, research and work my way up to lecturing in drawing, storytelling visually, and sequential art to hundreds of students at the Queensland College of Art, knowing that a future in drawing comics solely for a living is a gig that not many people have in this country. Those that do have worked their butts off to get to that stage; I know this, as I’m close friends with quite a few, have read their multiple pitch and script documents; some published with ‘The Big two”, some with others, some passed on not because of quality, but because of the nature of the business, the economic climate, the “editor shuffle” that occurs more and more frequently, and a myriad of other factors that aren’t just “is the comic good or not”. But that’s the game.

Comics walk that fine line between “Art” and “commodity” and debates like this blur the lines a little in relation to the fact that not only are the individual creators not defined on where they stand on the issue in relation to what and why they create, but also in relation to whether we have an industry or not (a “scene” is the common phrase), or if a lot of activity in recent years warrants a possible “industry” coming into being. Some people say we all have to join hands and sing in unisen in order for all this to occur. I think, like any workplace, not all of us are going to get on, have different goals/perceptions/mindsets/temperaments which means a united front may not be the only solution. Hell, if you ask me, a large company with a world-class PR and marketing team, and a CEO who loves making comics and doesn’t mind pissing away millions of dollars in product, campaigns and distribution networks is probably still going to struggle to get any sort of self-sustaining industry started here. Comics are grass-roots products. In this nation brought up on sports and sparse population areas (unlike the more centralized, and much larger markets for the US and Europe), it’s a stretch to change the mindset of “comics are kid’s stuff”.
It’s hard. Egos for the sake of egos, an invisible and small market, and no distribution/primary comic producing businesses/public awareness means it ain’t happening .

I did touch on recently in my thesis- this was written around the start of the year, and the thing about comics here is that the activity occurs almost daily, and in pockets: I was never going to be able to mention every faction/creator/project across the country- nor do I apologise for it. Rather, it was written as context for my reasoning behind my comic making in the first place, and where it sits in the community. Whether any of the other creators pay attention to my comics at all is not my concern; but if readers have enjoyed it (enough to warrant a following at conventions and non-traditional comic reading audiences thankfully) and editors and admired creators find quality in it (hence my recent undertakings), then I’m happy they (the comics) have done their job.  (Read this at the end if you could be bothered).

Oh, one point Tristan raised was to do with Australian comics and cultural cringe, which I spoke with Tristan about. Why is it that Australians are embarrassed about our national identity? And I’m not talking what movies and TV have marketed us as, I’m talking us as Australians and our nature? Because that’s what it seems to boil down to. The comment was made to say that anything Australian has a negative connotation and built-in cultural cringe. I can assure you that my aim to have Australian characters, historical points and concerns in my series was not pushed ironically, or as a method or novelty to gain tourist dollars. Rather, it was attempt to make a character that I wished as a young person I could have watched/read about in my action/adventure comics and films. As someone who has fought in 4 world championships and won medals wearing my country on my sleeve, I can assure you that I don’t take this nation lightly; when your fighting/representing your country in a foreign locale, it’s hard not to be proud. And hell, no other country worries about this sort of thing. To go back to comics, do you think the American or the Europeans, or the Japanese worry about whether they are an industry or not, what sort of stories they should tell etc.? Sure, if you want to market internationally, you might have to make your story “universally appealing”, but does that mean you have to erase your cultural identity in the story? I argue, “Not if the story and illustration is good”. Good stories always find a place; how you get it out there is another matter entirely.

At the end of the day, as a creator of comics here, there’s a few things I keep in mind when producing the work:

1.     Am I enjoying the comic I’m creating?
2.     Is it the best story and illustration I can do?
3.     Will others want to read this?

That’s it. Simple. Everyone is going to have an opinion- some very valid and helpful, some with a personal axe to grind, or a massive ego to get around. Or, you may just be ignored, in which case you just march on anyways. That’s the nature of any community, let alone an art-based one, or where perceived money and “status” is involved.  I love the words of Alex Toth in this matter overall (in his critique of Steve Rude’s work in the 1980’s). I’m thinking of tattooing the last paragraph to my back :

No old pro, no teacher, no school, no book, no how-to film/casette will EVER teach YOU as well as you can and must. But they help you to think!

To DO that, you must be AWARE! Not smug, or complacent, or cocky, or relaxed about how good you are! You've used 10% of your THINKING skills thus far — you've got 90% left! For the rest of your career and life! HOW MUCH of it will you USE?

Forget all the fandom bullshit and kudos and hype and convention groupies' adulation — and be true to yourself and your long road ahead to the top, or to wherever you want to go — and don't let ego stop you from LEARNING to do BETTER, BEST!

At the end of the day, my two cents to other creators is forget labels, just find your niche, do what what you love, always learn, seek advice from those with the knowledge, always attempt to improve, be humble, have perspective, don’t care what the naysayers and trolls say, and enjoy.

Because if you don’t, why bother?


(Note: I do discuss Australian comics from a Superhero/action adventure sense in the next chapter, as that where my concerns were in the genesis of ‘The Soldier legacy’, but I think these draft thoughts are enough to stop myself from having to repeat my rationale, or my general “take” on current things):

1-3: Australian Comics: Past and Present in General:
Comic books were one of the most popular, and yet most despised, forms of popular culture in Australia. Yet despite their often tumultuous history, the fascinating stories behind comic books in this country have largely gone unrecorded. Overlooked by academics, the history of Australian comics has been largely documented by generations of fans, who have compiled informal histories of comic-book characters, their creators and publishers. Without their tireless efforts, our knowledge of this vibrant medium would be all the poorer. (Second Shore 2013)

Australian’s comic book market is far different to the seemingly structured, big-business model that the US market shows. A “cottage industry” currently exists here and the unofficial debate on whether the current Australian comics activity is an “industry” or a “scene” still rages on among readers, students and creators  online, on convention panels, and in private conversation (Beardy and the Geek 2013).Though the overwhelming majority of Australian comic output come from hobbyists, or  creators expressing a creative output separate to their everyday jobs/study, there are some publishers attempting a more commercial output of works with limited page rates make notable attempts, and some success. However,  these creators and small boutique style publishers are against a somewhat unsustainable environment dominated by American imports, fandom of well-established American characters, no major distribution network, no regularity of locally produced work, commercial advertisement backing, major publisher backing of local talent, and  cultural differences in the comic book reading habits of children and teenagers growing up.

Generally, the Australian comics market has and continues to be dominated by the American market (Burrows and Stone 1994, 1). There was a period in the early 1940s to late 1950s where, due to World War 2, local comics were solidly produced, and a fledgling industry was created due to an embargo on American imports of print material entering the country (Ryan 1979, 154, 158). When this embargo was lifted however, and the large amount of cheap inputs flooded the market again (as well as local printers simply doing reprint editions of American content), the comics industry faltered (Ryan 1979, 210). This, along with the heavy public outcry against comic books and its “links” to juvenile delinquency (much like the senate hearings and outcry in the US during the 1950s), created a stigma against them (hence the “despised” label in the ‘Second Shore’ quote at the beginning of this topic (Ryan 1979, 210)). What was documented in John Ryan’s Panel by Panel was a comic ‘scene’ that has virtually limped on in waves since (until the book’s time of writing in 1979), and the same can be said for its present incarnation.

The comics ‘scene’, which could be described as pockets of creators around the country (whether under the rare occurrence of being with an independent publisher, a collective group of like-minded creators or just the solo artist, for instance), continues to push on in waves of peak and lull periods, and though it seems to be in a state of creative prosperity (thanks to a number of artist and creators of varying abilities producing material on various fronts), Australian comics are still a somewhat ‘invisible’ art form (Patrick 2010) to the general public. Every so often, an Australian comic manages to slightly pierce the Australian general public consciousness (only if albeit briefly in most cases) thanks to events such as the various pop culture conventions around the country (Supanova held in six major cities, Oz Comic-Con, and Armageddon Melbourne, for instance), the "GRAPHIC" annual event at the Sydney Opera house, various local government and school initiatives, State library comic book making workshop initiatives (Such as the SLQ Storylab: Comic Workshops in January 2014 (SLQ 2014),“Free Comic Book Day” events (Held annually worldwide on the first Saturday of May), and small comic book launches in local communities.

There are some notables: The ‘scene’ owes partly to the success of higher profile creators producing work not only for the international companies, but also local work. Not including Frew publications , and some book publishers like Allen & Unwin , there are only a small handful of independent publishers producing locally-made material for an Australian audience, and only a couple reaching audiences outside of the country. In recent years, independent businesses such as Gestalt Publishing, have been slowly growing in terms of wider national distribution channels, individual investment of time and money from the co-owners Wolfgang Byslma and Skye Ogden, small government subsidized initiatives (Australian Council of the Arts (Arts Hub 2013) and the profile of their creators (such as Tom Taylor, Colin Wilson, Shaun Tan, Nicola Scott, Christian Read et al.). A mid 2013 two-part ‘Artscape’ documentary series produced by the ABC highlighted Gestalt’s first foray into the international market via their trip to San Diego Comic-Con in 2011, helped highlight their “existence” to a mainstream audience, supporting online sales of their books (Artscape 2013). Their recent deal with pop culture distributor ‘Madman Entertainment’, and a UK-based distributor, the upcoming Animated series, based on their book series The Deep, and books like Changing Ways being translated for the French market shows promise to an Australian publisher producing Australian comic work (Freya 2013).“Underground” comic-style publisher ‘Milkshadow Books’, helmed by James Andre, has also recently made a distribution deal with ‘Madman’.  ‘Black House Comics’, a publishing arm of a printing company in Sydney, have a few internationally-published creators in their stable (including Marvel/DC/Boom! Studio and prose writer Christopher Sequeira, Artist W. Chew Chan, and Jason Paulos), and have had their titles distributed via Australian Newsagents and specialty stores, although have downturned their output in recent years to only a handful of titles and continue to publish graphic novels and prose for convention, bookstore and online consumption. . Notably, Black House Comics featured as part of the 2011/2012 Youi Insurance TV campaign where their titles appeared as background features of a comic book store-themed advert, heavily involving the studio work of this thesis (‘The Soldier Legacy’) (Giles 2011, Johnston 2011).

Other independent publishers operating in recent years that have been noted by various “Australian comics (fan) media” and presence include FEC comics, Ashcan comics, and other solo creators who publish sporadically. Most fit the category of solo self-publishers, small groups of like-minded creators and fringe artists, producing anthologies and creator-owned titles that vary in quality from professional (generally by professionals/freelancers working on side-projects between paid work/day jobs) to the majority being novices and amateurs. As Wolfgang Bylsma of Gestalt Publishing notes:

There are publishers like Milk Shadow Books and Black House Comics, (and) I think we all help to create the impression of their [sic] being an Australian industry, but I don’t think we’re established enough to call it an industry yet. There are very few people who are working full time in comics in Australia.(Arts Hub 2013)

Given these characteristics, there are a number of aspects that therefore make the Australian ‘scene’ different to the American market. As opposed to the small businesses and ‘indie’ publishers being the bigger presence in Australia, in America, the comics industry is driven by large entertainment companies or internationally distributed publishers.  Because of the lack of dominant industry forces and market drive in Australia, there is no dominant genre. Also, for better or worse, apart from the bigger publishers, the majority of books/comics released into the public eye suffer from little to no editorial scrutiny. Writers and artists are free to produce material in whatever style or genre they wish, and whatever message or story they wish to convey to their audience. This makes the majority of produced work on the scene to be more of an artistic endeavour than that of trying to gain/maintain a substantial market share for significant financial gain. Even the production of comic books is different to the American industry: studios and the “assembly-line” approach was the early model of the American books—such as Lloyd Jacquet, Eisner & Iger, Harvey et al. that Joe Simon describes in Joe Simon: My Life in Comics (Simon 2011)—as opposed to the Australian industry, which employed individual artists to be responsible for the entire production, not being aware of how the “comic shop” system functioned in New York (Ryan 1979, 158). Seventy years on, this is not unlike the small self-publishers and hobbyists in Australia today. Distribution, traditional forms of marketing, overall budget, and print runs are all areas that suffer from this lack of industry. Furthermore, the audience for Australian comic book material is just as fractured and diverse as the various city and state-based ‘scenes’ and creators themselves. As one source notes:
Australia’s home-grown products since the 1960s have largely been limited to quirky, satirical material, like ‘Iron Outlaw’, and to a burgeoning range of small, independent titles with low circulations. (Burrows and Stone 1994, 1)

The ‘selling’ of product, production, marketing and the like, generally falls on the creators of the work, allowing for the opportunity to speak directly to the fans/audience; not only at the various pop culture conventions around the country (which is essentially the primary channel of exposure and sales for virtually all the publisher/creators on the ‘scene’) but also via social media/word of mouth. This nature of the scene, and the reduction of print costs as technological advancements improve, also allows virtually anyone to enter the ‘market’ and, with longevity and an appealing product, grow and maintain a niche audience (provided they are able to afford the costs associated with convention table space, insurance, printing, distribution—e.g. mail outs, and often accommodation and travel expenses to get across the country to the events). This isn’t always in the interest of producing local content though, with many local artists simply being “pin up artists”; not publishing original work, but producing illustration “fan art” prints based on licensed properties, and selling at a limited number. Often this can be more lucrative than the sales of the books themselves, depending on the popularity or the “notoriety” of the illustrator (and not unlike the US scene, although on a much smaller scale) (McLauchlin 2014). In recent years, there has been a rise in the ‘guest status’ of more prosperous and popular of the locally producing creators being spotlighted at conventions, along with the international creators and pop culture convention guests. Perhaps this is an answer to the tastes and growing awareness of the Australian comic creators among convention organisers, fellow exhibitors and convention attendees alike (due to the creators either making headways into the American market, or being able to reach a large enough niche with their professional work at the domestic level), or simply an attempt by the organisers to support the scene locally. This has been my experience with organisations such as OZ Comic-Con in 2012/2013/2014 with a long list of local comic creators, and being a guest of Supanova pop culture expo in 2012 and 2013 tour in various Australian cities (Supanova 2012).

The actual selling and distribution is something that seems to be an ongoing issue with the scene over the years, but again, with technological advances in printing and associated costs in this being more affordable for small press print runs, the onus falls then on the creative team (or individual) to produce an appealing product and not only maintain a presence, but continue to produce. Today, such can be circumvented through crowd funding websites/word-of-mouth initiatives, such as ‘Pozibles’, ‘Indiegogo’, ‘Kickstarter Australia’, or web comic releases. Again, the onus is on the creator (and often with the help of friends, and friends of friends) to spread the word on a project (it helps if more people are involved in the production, such as an anthology) in order to raise funds,  the product has an appeal in art or theme/story to warrant current and further support (or at least enough people to want to read it to get it over the funding line), or a side project that gains support because of the profile or track record of the artist (Examples of works produced by local crowd funding in 2012–13 include The Beginnings Anthology, Sebastian Hawks: Creature Hunter, The Circus, Blow the Cartridge, Jon Sommariva’s Art Book Osmosis Chills, The Vagabond, The Space Pyrates Collected Edition, Ink Tales anthology, Home Brewed Vampire Bullets #1 anthology, and Zombie Cities.). Much like the growth in the American direct market  during the 1980s (Dallas 2013, 10-12), this level of reach and distribution allows more local creators to gain exposure for their work, albeit speaking to the similar/overlapping audience, which can be at times, disengaged until convention periods. Baden Kirgan from Black House Comics comments:

The size of the [Australian] market is the limitation. Comics are surprisingly expensive to produce, with a lot more people involved. You need good volumes to make good money. In a market like America a mid-tier book can sell 10,000–50,000 copies easily, quantities which are just beyond any realistic expectations here. Any publisher here who wants to succeed commercially needs to publish in the US—not necessarily from day one but any business plan that doesn’t include US distribution is doomed to fail.(Sandall 2010)

The audience, or more correctly, the market here does not have a financial presence to support a full-fledged industry. America is different in that the art form, product (and even the superhero genre) was developed there and was a strong part of the culture; it had the ability to flourish and prosper early, particularly during the war era. There was a demand, the supply and financial backing to support the industry, and in particular to the superhero genre and WW2, 60s comics were able to become cemented and grow as a section of America’s popular culture. This is partly due to the changing trends in audience tastes, the appearance of the teenager as a driving force of the American post-war economy, and the shift in the type of stories and characters that appealed to a college student audience, fighting to be heard and demanding change in society (Howe 2012, 56). The senate inquiries into the supposed link between comic books and juvenile delinquency in the early 1950s was not enough to eradicate comic books, and the “Silver Age” of comics bolstered the superhero genre as the dominant genre in the industry since. The comics audiences began to decline by the end of the 1970s, but the direct market and growth of specialty stores allowed companies to distribute and earn money from a different source than the newsstand without having their product returned due to no sales (Dallas 2013, 9). Though comic book audiences in the US have been in steady decline in recent years (perhaps due to the competition with other forms of media and entertainment (video games, the internet etc.), and the dominance of the Superhero perhaps not having the same impact as they once did, the top selling comic books still sell in the millions per year, and are internationally distributed. Also, the genre has had a boost via transmedia adaptations such as animation, live action films, games, merchandise, toys, books and magazine coverage.

As a Australian comic trying to reach an audience within the Superhero genre, this 50-70 years of development, generational audiences and worldwide popularity of the American characters not only makes it difficult to compete directly against the generally more-professional looking, slick product being pumped out at a regular pace by multi-national companies, but also to persuade the average Australian comic reader to put down their favourite “Batman”, and try something local. Thankfully, the readers seem to follow a number of titles, with various appreciations amongst a range of genres. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the scene, its diverse locales, direct-to-the-reader selling (via conventions, mail orders, online), and overwhelming non-existent distribution (often on a consignment basis to a handful of sympathetic stores willing to stock the product), it is virtually impossible to get any accuracy in sales figures. But, from observation, it is safe to assume that the top selling titles in Australian comics would likely be in the several hundred, if not more in Gestalt’s case. Black House Comics would most certainly have reached a high number with its ‘Dark Detective: Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Eeek’ and ‘After the World’ titles, purely due to the newsagent distribution ( “some books we do short runs of 100 or so but the major titles are more than 2000 and less than 50,000” (Sandall 2010)). Gestalt has a number of distribution channels, with Madman opening up the broad market for them earlier in 2012, and a partnership with Turnaround Publisher services, opening up the UK in 2014 (Turnaround 2014, 2). It is difficult to get an accurate beat on individual independent title sales as normally in the US, this information is presented by the distributors, and not the companies themselves. Trying to acquire this information from a business proves difficult. Many creators are often either unwilling to share this sort of information freely or openly as fear for degrading the value of the sales they have managed to achieve, or use the number of sales per unit as a bragging tool. A creator may state they “sold out” at a recent convention, but how many books did they begin with? This information is not available to the public; as generally speaking, it operates as a "cash in hand" market.

While this segment has stayed in the realms of print, it would be short-sighted to not mention the emergence of the digital market. Though much more dominate in the American industry, particularly with the large selling comic book publishers like Marvel and DC having their own apps for iPads, iPhones etc., digital day and date releases to coincide with the print releases, digital only content, this is certainly something that will have a future impact on the Australian scene in terms of output locally. However, unlike the companies like DC, who have their own “Digital comics division”, again the onus is on the creator/s to investigate a digital conversion of their product/distribution. PDF file format releases are not uncommon from a number of local creators (available via their website for cheap download, or via a comic book-based “hub” for digital downloads, such as ‘Cloud 9’, ‘Comixology’ or ‘Graphically’), and although one or two groups in small press attempt ‘compact disc’ only releases of their product, the issue is the iPad/iPhone audience has no ability to view the content in this manner. It seems the print book/issue sales outweigh the sales of digital comics produced locally, if only by the fact that the dominate sales model for local books is “face to face” and “comic store presence” of the item. The irony too, is that it seems acceptable to accept a US digital product, mainly due to the source of it (DC, Marvel, Image etc.), however, "legitimacy" in an Australian product in the eyes of the average reader is gained generally when the product exists in a physical form (such as 'Space Pyrates' from Brisbane creators Mathew Hoddy and Caitlin Major, Cameron Davis’s ‘Blow the Cartridge’ comic strips, 'The Legend of the Spacelord MoFo' by Pat McNamara and David G. Williams, ‘Kranburn’ by Ben Michael Byrne, ‘That Bulletproof Kid’ by Matt Kyme and Arthur Strickland; these works existed as web comics/webisodes before becoming print/DVD. Similar can be said for the ‘Neomad’ interactive iPad comics, which Gestalt (in conjunction with Big hART) published into book form in 2013.

Though an observation I have noticed through functioning within the scene for a few years, this is also the industry trend coming out of the USA. ‘Inside Pop Culture’ (ICv2) stated in a recent article (Nov 2013) that digital sales growth (although very strong for the last 3 years in the US) had slowed, as the graphic novel format sales grew positively for the first time since 2008 (ICv2 2013). This was attributed to the improvement of content of  better-selling ‘big two’ collections being made for TPBs, movie and TV tie-ins, programs like ‘The Walking Dead’ and well-written series like Marvel Superhero title ‘Hawkeye’, and Image Comic creator-owned title ‘Saga’.

This is not intending to make the assumption that the Australian digital products are of a low quality. They are not; there are though, a number of odds against the digital item at present. Saying this, the market of digital vs. print is so volatile as previously mentioned, that this discussion could be outdated by the time it reaches print. Firstly, the unsure environment of the American versions (O’Rourke 2012), the distribution/market size of the print comic being as it is on the local scene, the more successful comic medium at present locally still being the print graphic novel format (as the conventions are still the primary “meeting ground” for creators and their consumers). The Americans in recent months have also had independent, digital-only companies start up (such as ‘Madefire’), using high profile comic creators, and still the confusion and unsure nature of reaching a market and actually making money is an uncertain notion. However, this is changing daily, such as ‘Madefire’s recent partnership with DC Comics, IDW, Boom! and Dark Horse, to making digital motion comics; this certainly shows an investment in the concept of digital comics and expanding markets as technology becomes more mainstream and accessible (Ching 2013).  Although the market for digital comics is slowing (as per the analysis of 2013 by the ICv2 white paper, tracking print and digital trends), there is still growth in all three channels of distribution: digital, comic stores, and book channels (ICv2 2013). In Australia, this feels similar; but on a much smaller scale, primarily due to the nature of our “scene” verses the US industry as discussed. In regards to digital, many creators, from amateur to professional, are using the digital comic option purely because it is easier to get the product “out” considering more and more creators create their work digitally in the first place (or incorporate a digital work hybrid process in their comic making), and the costs associated with printing, postage, associated costs of bringing the physical product to a convention, are eliminated. A growing range of independent Australian creators have submitted their work up on the digital comic distribution website ‘Comixology’ (including Paul Bedford/Henry Pop’s ‘The List’ and Matthew Nicholls/Lee Taylor’s ‘Collateral-Dear John’) and Gestalt have their range there too.  The recent ‘Home Brewed Vampire Bullets #1’ promoted their anthology of professional Australian creator works by releasing a digital-only #0 issue, ‘Sebastian Hawks: Creature Hunter’ (by former ‘Ghostbuster’ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ writer Tristan Jones, based on a character created by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean (Gestalt 2014)) released a digital-only short story for the patient supporters of their crowd-funding campaign, and children’s comic and graphic novel illustrator Doug Holgate just released online the first installmentof ‘Maralinga 1956’ with writer Jen Breech in December 2013 (MacDonald 2013).

New books are constantly testing the waters from different pockets in Australia, with Melbourne being the most active area; from dedicated comics and cartooning studio collectives (Squishface Studio), creator monthly meet ups (this occurs in Sydney, ACT and Brisbane too, but Melbourne boasts a much larger mix of veteran professionals, current pros, novices, amateurs and Australian comic fans and friends alike), and a higher concentration of activity overall (Whether due to a higher concentration of pop culture-related events on in that city, an artistic culture, a higher concentration of comic specialty stores that are pro-Australian content; I could speculate all day, but not the point of this research). Recent events revolving around comics/featuring comics for example, are annual events (such as Supanova, OZ Comic-Con, Melbourne Armageddon Expo, ‘Big Arse’, ‘Skinny Arse’ Indie Comic launches) or frequent periods of local creators, collectives, and friends getting together to “launch” their next issues of comic books together, usually with the help of local comic book stores such as ‘All Star Comics’, and/or promoted by locally-based “Pop Culture Podcasts” such as NonCanonical, Whatcha or ‘Geek Speak (for example). These events fit in with the growth in shows in recent years from not only Supanova (launching into Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth within the last two years), but also the emergence of Oz Comic-Con (beginning in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne, and launching into Sydney and Brisbane in 2014), and their newly announced partnership with ReedPop, the largest producer of pop culture events in the world (New York Comic Con, C2E2 et al.) (Moran 2014). This trend is reflective of the growth in comic shows in the US  in 2013 and 2014, both in cities and attendance (Blake 2013).The Australian “scene” is diverse in the goals of the creators; from a pure artistic pursuit, to satire, to social community, to those attempting to enter markets overseas, or kick-start one here. It can often be, as stated by the Comic Book Artist interviewer and Joe Kubert , an intense labour for little return at times:

“Comic Book Artist [Interviewer]:Comic book creating is a very intensive labour, and oftentimes, the return is not really there for the amount of effort put into it.
Joe Kubert: All true, all true.” (cited in Cooke 2002, 20).

So, it is again the onus of the comic book artists and writers in Australia to find their way in relation to what drives them to pursue comic books in this environment to begin with.