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#349: A Week of Goodbyes, A Special Early Sketchbook, & Gavin Aung Than
+ Morris still hasn't noticed we've been gone for 2 weeks...
The day I landed in Australia last week for my dad’s funeral was the last day Ginger Meggs ran in the Sun Herald: the paper it first appeared in back in 1921.
This puts to an end the appearance of comics in Aussie Sunday newspapers after over 100 years. It is, as ever, a short-sighted cost-cutting move that will only give the already dwindling readership even less of a reason to subscribe.
The Australian Prime Minister weighed in yesterday:
When asked about the decision to drop the comics, the Australian PM was asked in a National interview what he thought:
Prime Minister: Well, this is just another step in the decline of modern media. …It will upset a lot of people I reckon.
Sammy J: It has on the text line. It’s something people grew up with.
Prime Minister: I’m sure that that’s the case. I certainly grew up reading Ginger Meggs and Hagar the Horrible.
The worst part wasn’t the dropping of the strips
—which, as the Australian Cartoonists Association points out, has now ended the comic-making careers of working cartoonists— but the fact that despite asking for two decades, we were never invited to join the horoscopes, puzzles and crosswords and celebrity gossip onto the apps or website.
The final strip in the Sun Herald paid tribute to the artists who produced Ginger over the past 102 years:
We didn’t get to follow our readers online. We were left to languish in the print edition, and as of Sunday, vanish altogether.
When I was phoned by Dave Braithwaite, Head of Editorial Operations for Nine’s Metro Publishing, to tell me they’d be killing off Ginger Meggs, (and fellow Aussie comic strip Bushy Tales) I insisted they explore any and all options to get them to move onto the website/apps.
This way, it isn’t “The End” but a “New Chapter” — a Good News story. The request was summarily ignored, once again. The opportunity to sustain the generations-long relationship with readers, and to build a relationship with new ones, was declined.
For some reason, posting an image each day was just too insurmountable a challenge to figure out for the 10+ editors that have sat in the chair in my 16 years working on the strip.
Not only have our daily strips been completely gutted by News Corp, but our only remaining Sunday newspaper clients, Nine Media/Rural Press/Fairfax have also terminated all comics contracts. The pages will now be filled with Harvey Norman ads and cheap puzzles.
Legacy Comics Meet 21st Century Audiences
Over the years I have tried to innovate to find a new audience for Ginger Meggs; first with Tumblr, then Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. We created an online app over 10 years ago (iMeggsie) where people could read the strip scrolling vertically on their phones or 1st Gen Apple Watch.
(We retired iMeggsie once Instagram became more ubiquitous)
We made creative newsletters, built a new website with competitions, downloads, games and giveaways, made appearances at major Comic-cons every year, produced an animated online trailer, a hardcover book with Penguin, and several other major marketing campaigns including strategic alliances with existing brands like Redheads matches, The Royal Australian Mint, Wacom, and Australia Post.
We introduced diverse new characters to the strip, bringing a wider variety of life experiences and representations for our young readers to identify with. We updated language, slang, references, technologies and tools, modern conventions and trends. This is a one-man show, so adding this work to the already arduous job of writing and drawing the strip was challenging, to say the least.
Watch the NFSA’s celebration of Ginger’s 100th, including a fantastic video of the original creator, Jimmy Bancks drawing Ginger, Mike, and Tony.
The hardcover book (which included the new characters) was produced with the original creator’s great grand-nephew, Tristan Bancks, who is already a successful kids author in his own right. (below)
Sadly, none of the extensive work done to build the legacy print brand into a successful online entity yielded the engagement needed to grow the audience in a meaningful way.
The feedback from fellow comic creators working on legacy strips over the years has been of similar frustration: strips that didn't begin natively online have more trouble getting any traction with a new audience online (without an enormous marketing budget, or a total reboot of the property).
A sad day for cartooning.
It has been a privilege to be part of the 102-year Ginger Meggs legacy. His next chapter will be an animated series, which we announced on his 100th birthday (below). I have not been invited to be part of that process, but I wish the creator’s family well. I hope it becomes the next “Bluey.”
GoComics will be the home for Ginger’s final storyline under my pen in the coming months.
After that, it will go into repeats. Andrews McMeel has been like an adopted family for Meggsie these past 20+ years and has always supported and protected the legacy. Josh Peres is a formidable editor. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful. (Anyone who wrangles cartoonists on a daily basis deserves a medal.)
A Surprise Find
When I was waiting for my $5.95 coffee in Perth, I wandered into the second-hand bookshop next door to see what they had on the shelves. I was surprised to find the very first book I ever read at the age of 9…
Truth be told, I actually only read it after I got an “F” on my book report for not reading it. (I made up my report based on the cover and the teacher saw right through my crafty ruse.) Once I did start flipping through it, I never stopped. To this day, I still have that copy from the Lymburner Primary School Library. (Sorry!)
Seven West Media does still have a modest comics page (corner of a page) in The West Australian (in Perth), and a two-page comics lift out in the Saturday edition. It is the last daily newspaper in Australia to have one. They will be running repeats with a West-Aussie twist.
The West is the first Australian newspaper I read the daily comics in as a kid. It seems it will be the last.
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I realise I kind of glazed over the fact that I was back in Australia to say goodbye to my Dad. I’m not particularly ready to put any words together about that just yet. I thought maybe a nice thing to do would be to share something a little different…
In going through my Dad’s things, my sister and I discovered he’d kept a big collection of all our embarrassing early drawings. (My sister was also a good scribbler as a kid!)
I was a cartoonist from the moment I popped into the world. I spent roughly 98% of my childhood drawing. (The other 2% I was spent thinking about things to draw.) I’d create my own cartoon characters, and copied existing ones like Spider-man out of comic books, MAD, and off the TV. My particular favourites were Ren & Stimpy and The Simpsons. I would vanish into the page for days on end trying to reverse engineer those lines.
These are a few drawings from ages 9 through 14:
I lit the plastic end of a Bic clear-barrel black pen on fire and dipped the molten goop onto the paper to create bullet holes. My mother was just thrilled.
My first digital drawing on MS Paint…
If you enjoy my work, there’s a hefty chance you might like the people I enjoy too. Each week I share a new person who tickles my fancy.
This week’s person is…
On my trip back to Perth I had a small 1-hour window away from the family to see my old cartooning pals for a quick catch-up. One of which was the very talented (and insanely hard-working) cartoonist and author, Gavin Aung Than.
I have enormous respect for anyone who leaves the safety of a salaried job to take the plunge and pursue their dream job. I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting a handful of people who did this and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, and Gavin Aung Than is one of them.
Gavin left the safety of a full-time position as a designer and sold his house to pursue his dream of being a cartoonist, and he went on to have his book debut on the New York Times Best-Sellers list.
His latest book is an absolute killer of a concept, and once again he’s working insanely hard to get the word out and share the book with the world:
(The following is a brief cliffs notes version of his story. More at his website.)
My first exposure to Gavin’s work was when I was a young scribbler in Perth. I saw his work in The Sunday Times, the only Sunday paper in town. Gavin worked for News Ltd. as a designer, but he also had a comic that ran in the paper called Dan and Pete, the artwork of which was really impressive— and the jokes were just as good.
Years later we both moved from Perth to Melbourne. It wasn’t until we were there that we got to know each other through the Australian Cartoonists’ Association, and by around 2012 he mentioned to me that he had the support of his partner to make the ballsy decision to sell his house to fund his new online endeavour: Zen Pencils.
Brian Fies once said, “Words and pictures combined are more powerful than either one standing alone”, and in this case, it really rings true. Gavin started sifting through some of his favourite sayings, passages, stories, and quotes from the likes of everyone from Einstein to Roosevelt, to Malala Yousafzai and began turning their words into comics. He did this without an editor, and always checked the copyright on any of the work first.
Some were single-panel compositions, some were sequential art, but every one of them was done with Gavin’s trademark line economy and expert colour treatment, with just enough texture to draw in the eye, but nothing too flashy as to distract from the message behind the quote. For some of them he would do two versions; one single image to share on social, and another with sequential comic art for people to read in full.
Until next time,
While we’re away, Morris is staying with Uncle Paulie and enjoying Starbucks pup cups with his best friend, @MarbellatheFrenchie