SRB: Five Comics that Changed My Life
Five Comics that Changed My Life
By Tim Bollinger for the Scoop Review of Books
I'm not one for justifying comic books as worthy literature on the grounds that they are now "graphic novels" and have an adult audience. Just about all my favourite comic books I fell in love with when I was a child. Here's a few of my favourites.
The Adventures of Tintin by
These timeless novellas capture, for me, everything that comics are capable of being – funny characters and absorbing visual narratives, accessible to many age groups, full of twists and cliff-hangers that keep the reader turning the pages, with stories grounded in social and political meaning that remain durable over time. Their technique and craft disguise an inspirational beauty that is sometimes overlooked. Favourites include King Ottakar's Sceptre, The Calculus Affair, Tintin in Tibet, The Castifiore Emerald and Flight 714. Read them before the flurry of marketing hype and, Lord spare us, film-look-alike paraphernalia that seems likely to accompany the soon-to-be-launched digital film trilogy (see further below).
Hergé was from a small country (Belgium), but his artistic influence was such that it spurred French language comics (or BD) to become the ground-breaking artform that it is today. Although no new Tintin adventure has been produced for more than forty years, Hergé's legacy remains relevant, not least because of the number of imitators his work inspires. The French language website Tintin est Vivant, contains links to the many Tintin emulations, parodies, and pastiches created by great artists and fans alike since the author's death.
Such imitations are known to engender the wrath of those who now police the Tintin franchise, namely London 'Tintin Shop' owner, Nick Rodwell and Hergé's widow, Fanny Remi (now married to Rodwell). This leads to discussions about the ownership of the Tintin 'brand' (ie: who's making money out of the film etc.). There are those who question the manner in which Hergé's creative legacy is, and is not, allowed to be used, a subject which has been debated extensively in the European media (and the courtroom), and is the subject of a 1996 book by Hugue Dayez - Tintin et les Héritiers.
Another interesting book is Hergé et les Bigotudos, which describes the evolution of a Tintin story, in this case 1976's Tintin and the Picaros, which began life in 1963 and morphed into 1968's Flight 714 only to remerge as a completely different story in the 1970s. Again, only to be found in the French language, this is a fascinating document of Hergé's creative process. A full bibliography (including these titles) is available here.
Tintin in Film
Hergé has a long legacy of usurpers trying to exploit his work on film, and I'm yet to be convinced that Spielberg and Jackson's silly money will add anything except to the pockets of the current owners of the 'Tintin' brand. A couple of French live action films in the early 1960s, Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece and Tintin and the Blue Oranges are now available for the first time in this country (with subtitles) either for rental or purchase from Aro Street Video. Hergé was directly involved in the production of these films, and I think they capture something of the essence of the original comics.
Carl Barks was the anonymous creator of the early duck stories written for the Walt Disney comic book franchise between 1943 and the late 1960s. During that time, this middle-aged and somewhat world-weary cartoonist, who had already spent a lifetime in hard-working jobs, from rivet driver on a rail gang to farming chickens, gave a truly human voice to the Disney ducks. Through a series of fable-like adventures, full of colourful imagery and language that drew on both the artist's personal experience and his interest in the exotic (although he had never travelled outside the U.S.A.), Barks told thinly veiled object lessons about politics, capitalism, greed, lust, stupidity and the absurdities of post-war popular culture.
In the process he invented an array of characters for the Walt Disney stable that he would never be allowed to own himself, including Scrooge McDuck, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose and his lightbulb helper and Donald's lucky cousin, Gladstone Gander. Throughout his comic writing career, none of Barks's fans were given access to the author's identity, his fan mail was intercepted and his original artwork remained unreturned to the artist (often destroyed at the printers). Barks recalls that he used to pick up copies for himself at the local newspaper stand at his home in Santa Barbara.
When I was growing up in the
1960s and 70s, the Disney comics that you could get in this
part of the world were particularly well printed (on a fine
gravure press, designed for postage stamp production) by
W.G.Publications Pty. Ltd. of 149 Castlereagh Street,
Sydney. Completists precede us. You can check out the whole
back catalogue here
the Donald stories and here for the Uncle Scrooge ones.
Carl Bark Links
Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay
Winsor McCay is one of the most prolific and innovative comic artists and writers ever. McCay practically invented modern day comics, along with its sister artform the animated cartoon film. His work still looks fresh more than 100 years after its debut in the pages of American daily newspapers at the turn of last century. He was one of the first comic artists to use frames and page layout, to enhance the visual narrative of his stories. McCay's pages positively burst with ideas and innovations, many of which have seldom been repeated. His pioneering work in comics naturally led into his experiments with the moving image, decades before 'Steamboat Willie'. A few clips of McCay's animation work are available on You Tube:
Back in the days when the New Zealand Listener still tried to be a magazine that genuinely served its community (instead of the formatting prescriptions of overseas marketing and accountancy phonies), many New Zealand cartoonists found an independent voice within its pages.
In the late 1980s when TV (and programming information) was still in the process of being deregulated, Trace Hodgson was given space within the magazine's pages to branch out from his regular political cartoon into an extended comic story called Shafts of Strife. S.O.S. became a touchstone for the local comics community - an example of original New Zealand comics published in the mainstream New Zealand media.
The story is political thriller crossed with surrealist alien fantasy. The title of the strip comes from a line in the New Zealand national anthem. Reproductions of the whole series are now available online, thanks to New Zealand ex-pat Roger Langridge's Hotel Fred website.
Adolf/Buddha/Phoenix/Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka
I first 'discovered' this giant of Japanese manga around the time of his death, entirely unreported in the New Zealand media, in 1989. The breadth of Tezuka's subject matter (the life of Buddha, kid's adventure stories, girls' comics, adult women's comics, historical, experimental art-house etc.) point to the sheer quantity of his work and the extent of his influence in his home country, Japan, where he is known as the "God of Comics".
Tezuka graduated with a medical degree but, rather than become a physician, chose to dedicate his life to drawing comics and animating cartoon films for children. In this way, he believed, he could make a greater contribution to humanity. It might be said that he succeeded. As a result of his pioneering work, the artist almost single-handedly gave birth to the post-war Japanese comic book (manga) and cartoon animation (anime) industries, whose global cultural influence has been profound.
Among Tezuka's most significant works is 'Phoenix', a 12-volume narrative that spans millions of years and alternates between the distant future and the distant past, converging on the present at the (never completed) ending of the epic series.
Tezuka is also known for having effectively had his Kimba the White Lion story borrowed wholesale (and unattributed) by Walt Disney for 1994's Lion King movie. (Here's the full story.)
You can find out more about the artist, and
life and his work at the official Tezuka website.
Frederik L. Schodt is one of the most ardent documentors of Tezuka's work in the English language. His website is here.
And finally a brief English language article about Tezuka.
Tim Bollinger is a Wellington comic artist, writer and reviewer.