THE STORY OF COWTOWN COMICS
My first encounter with comics were the Australian Disney reprints that were always lying around my house, mostly Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories by legendary writer/artist Carl Barks. (A huge influence on my writing to this day) My Dad and uncle were comic book fans and were most likely buying them for a nostalgic kick themselves, i suspect. As I began to amass a pile of these things, i noticed it was never enough and i deperately needed more of them and soon the collector bug had bitten hard and i was rummaging through the closets of friends from school and younger cousins, constantly harrasing them for their stash of comics. I'd wake up before dawn and bike miles to Sunday markets to go through old cardboard boxes of junk looking for a fix. Pretty soon I was trying to draw them, too.
i soon added Tintin into my diet, because it was right there in the school library but never really dug Asterix that much. (i appreciate it more now but still, just love those Tintin books) My uncle used to drop off comics for my dad (and in turn me) and this was mostly Disney and 'Planet Comic' reprints, but one day he left this strange black and white 70's horror mag called 'Eerie' full of terrifying images; Killer robots, drug crazed madmen, monsters, gangsters, demons and vampires. I couldn't believe my eyes. I didn't know they made things like this. Naturally I read it a hundred times and wanted more. The horror motifs crept into my 'cartoony' style and kind of stuck.
For some reason, I by-passed superheroes almost all together. They never really interested me much. Probably just as well. An exception might be Batman and The Spirit because they were more like shadowy detective stories.
Other early influences are Peanuts, the DC and Charlton 'mystery' comic artists of the 70's, the work of Wally Wood, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby's Marvel monster stories, British illustrators Embleton (Wicked Wanda) and Dan Lawrence (The Trigan Empire) and anything by Berni Wrightson.
Eventually, I met other like-minded souls and we were that bunch of kids that every school had; sitting under a tree each lunchtime talking about Dr. Who and Dr. Doom and the like. I was constantly drawing at all times and filling up pad after pad with characters and stories. I began by copying faces and figures and redrawing them into stories of my own design - black biro straight onto newsprint type paper and coloured with textas.
Around the early 80's, as i was starting high school, the characters of Da 'n' Dill started to emerge. Dill being a radioactive duck and Da, a stranded blue alien, both with violent tendencies. The entire premise of the comic at that time was the stalking of a geeky guy with glasses known as Ian. It was pretty stupid teenage absurdism, but was a big hit with other teenagers and fun to do, so I didn't stop. Hundreds of pages were spent documenting their misadventures and eventually I started to group them into books, draw covers and make one-off comics. Theses things circulated the school and, amazingly, always came back in one piece. This is my formal training :)
I somehow found out about a comics anthology called Fox Comics, one of the only things like that going at that time, and tried out for it. The guys there were good to me and I got my first published pages in there but i could clearly see they had high aims and ambitions for this magazine and i was wanting to draw nutty supernatural funny animals. i never really clicked and soon drifted but met a lot of great people and got some great experience. Greg Gates, in particular, gave me a lot of good advice and broadened my tastes quite a bit with his amazing collection of books.
As comic shops started to appear it was possible to get all sorts of weird and wonderful things beyond the junk on the newsstands and soon i was knee deep in The Spirit, Love and Rockets, etc. as well as old Heavy Metal mags, euro comics, undergrounds. This caused me to take stuff more seriously and i started experimenting with brushes, pens and good paper. Friends of mine were doing likewise and I decided to print up some of our results, a mini -sized comic called Frankie Laine's Comics and Stories. Completely nutty stuff but done with a conviction and energy that I don't think i could ever muster again.
Four more of these comics followed and then I approached a showbag company with the idea of creating comics especially for them. The comics i had printed impressed him enough and i wrote and drew two 32 page comics over that summer. For one of them I used the Da 'n' Dill characters but toned-down, somewhat. I hardly expected anything to become of this deal and almost had a heart attack when a sizable royalty cheque and dozens of fan letters showed up in the mail. I continued this sweet ride for almost ten years and as result there were almost a million copies of my comics printed and stuffed in showbags. I was actually sub-hiring others for a while and it looked like a mini industry could emerge but, sure enough, the company went under, taking the project down with it. Nice while it lasted.
During this time i was cashed up enough to try comics through newsagents. My thinking was that I could use the showbag comics as a platform to launch identifiable titles onto the stands. It didn't really work. I also secured permission to create a Martin/Molloy comic, based on the then very popular Tony Martin, mick Molloy radio show. It was a huge sucess, being one of the few Aust. comics to make serious sales, but after the third issue the program ended and therefore the comic. Still... nice while it lasted.
Another project was a comic based on a bunch of share-housing bohemians called Pop Culture and Two Minute Noodles. This resulted in several issues, often including guest art from the great pool of talent we have here but... ultimately, I couldn't shape it the way I really wanted. I wanted to do a long, complex bitter-sweet comic story about these characters but all i could manage was short skits. I hope to come back to the characters at some point.
At the turn of the century, kids magazines stared to pop up that included comics so, taking along my showbag comics I demonstrated to K-Zone magazine that I could suit that market and they tried me out. (No kids mags were taking local content at that point, so I'm proud to have helped turn the tide there) Early issues were coloured versions of some of the Da 'n' Dill showbag comic stories and then later, new stories. After a while I introduced a new female character because of the all male Da 'n' Dill strip. Batrisha The Vampire Girl proved to be even more popular and they took it instead of Da 'n' Dill and is still running four years later. Da 'n' Dill were moved to the comics supplement in the Sydney Sun Herald and are also still running as a gag strip.