I'm often amazed by how often I'm asked the question: "What kind of comics does New Zealand create?" I never get asked that question. Amazing, eh?
I happened to be in the Netherlands not that long ago, and stumbled into a "Strip Shop". Nope, not a "Strip Club", I'm old enough to tell the difference between the two! Nope, this was a shop that sold comics, newspapers and magazines. "Big Deal," say you. "They have comic shops in most countries these days."
True, true. But impressively, over half of the shop (and well over half the total number of shelf inches) was dedicated to comics from the Netherlands, written in Netherlandese. On my return to New Zealand, and a much overdue (and consequently rather pricey) trip to the comic shop, after grabbing my heavy bundle of regular issues, I also took a moment and checked out what our local comic creative community had to offer.
The answer is - more than I guessed, but less than I'd like. Simon Morse and Sean Berry offer a couple of issues of "Toolbox", dating back to 2001. That's a tidy little color laser-copied effort running to 30 pages or so, featuring some nice art (but not quite enough story). There's a dozen or so B&W photo-copied bits and pieces of varying quality from tidy to trash - I'll check them out in the near future.
But there's also a couple of A5 anthology titles with nice glossy color covers and a collection of interesting looking B&W material inside. The first one I grabbed was "Officer Pup #2". At 80 pages, this second anthology features contributions from a whole army of different NZ writers and cartoonists. Number one was similar, though only running 56 pages.
From the outside, the presentation is nice and sharp. Attractive cover, quality binding, nice paper. I'm not being shallow by discussing the visual appearance of the book - if the production is achieve the primary goal of introducing more people to New Zealand's comic talent, then providing good shelf appeal and a sense of value-for-money is important.
Inside, there's a mix of contributions. There's plenty of editorial articles talking about the short but gutsy history of Kiwi comics, including previous anthologies and good reference sources. There's also articles about who's who how in the local scene, and advice on how to get involved. But naturally, the bulk of the volume is dedicated to showcasing active NZ talent.
In summary, it looks like the New Zealand comics scene is still basically struggling for survival. But guys like Toby Morris (Editor of Officer Pup) are kicking pretty damned hard, and Officer Pup is exactly the kind of quality anthology that can help make a difference. There's a hell of a long way to go, but this is definitely a hefty step in the right direction. So, if you're a NZ comics fan, then make an effort to get a hold of Officer Pup.
Currently, we seem to get one every year or so. But word is there might be another one Feb/Mar 2005. Doubtless, the more the interest, the more often we'll see an issue. So go ask for it at your local comic shop, and go find out what else is happening on the local scene. You could very well be pleasantly surprised.
Next Month: New Ground #1 & #2!