The Australian comic industry suffered a recent blow, with several long running strips being unceremoniously killed off by News Corp Australia’s highest selling newspapers. Previously, the biggest metropolitan papers in Australia got to choose what made up their comics page. However, in an effort to save money, News Corp replaced these strips with one national page.
Expensive locally produced comics like Swamp, Beyond the Black Stump and Staria (which has been running since the 80s) have been replaced by cheap syndications from overseas, such as Fred Bassett, The Phantom and Garfield.
"The newspapers have been struggling for a while,” says Ginger Meggs cartoonist, Jason Chatfield. “They’re looking to cut costs and every time newspapers look to cut costs they look to the comics page."
“The value of local content seems to have been completely ignored,” he says. “That’s not to say that it’s their fault, that they can’t afford it, it’s just a real shame that that’s happened because they’re extraordinary strips and they’re being produced right here in Australia and less people get to see them now."
David Blumenstein is one of the founding members of Squishface Studio, Australia’s first open comic studio. Seven local comic artists work collaboratively, run workshops and teach classes. But even Blumenstein is unsure how to make money from illustrating in Australia.
"I have no idea, as far as I can tell somebody has to die,” Blumenstein says. “There’s fewer and fewer newspaper strips and fewer and fewer people who can do that sort of thing.”
More commonly, modern cartoonists build a following online and then making money selling merchandise related to their artwork. However the rich history of the Australian comic strips remains under threat.
"There are going to be other ways to make money as a cartoonist in the 21st century,” Chatfield says. “But we don’t know what they are yet.”
“In the same way that the kids reading them don’t know what their job is going to be yet, we don’t know what our job is going to be yet."
The daily adventures of local suburban characters no longer gets exposed to a wide newspaper audience and even Chatfield's comic, "Ginger Meggs" which has been running for 92 years, and is translated and published in 34 countries, could be at risk.
But Chatfield believes the future of Australian comics is still bright. "[As] one of the youngest working cartoonists in Australia, I have to err on the side of positivity and optimism,” he says. “The only way really to predict the future is to create it and try things.”
“I try everything with cartoons and hopefully something sticks."
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