New Zealand Trip Journal:
Day One: Comic Chat. Melbourne-Auckland. Tuesday, March 11.
I begin the day with three hours of sleep. The night before there was a farewell party on my behalf at the Stork Hotel. Which carried on to the International Bar. Which carried on to a noisy, boisterous cab ride home. Which carried on to my housemates getting another cab ride to the all-night bottle-o on Chapel Street and getting a "goon". Which carried on to them staying up all night while I tried to sleep.
Yesterday had been about as much fun as you could have sober. I didn't want to suffer on the plane, and had lots of last-minute things to take care of. Boxes to tape up and mail, things to give to people, stuff
like that. And while I really regretted to go, I'd always had leaving hanging over my head. I'd finished Grad school and teaching college, and while I had a few local job possibilities, none panned out. To jump immigration hurdles it’d cost a bundle, and with my student visa running out, it's time to go. I'm actually kind of relieved to have some sort of closure.
I crawled out of bed and called for a taxi. My inebriated housemates Michael and Kieran were there, also former housemate Greg, and wanted to ride (40 minutes in rush hour traffic) with me to the airport. While I appreciated the gesture, I knew I would have to kill them after the first ten minutes. So I said my goodbyes there in Malvern, outside the house I'd lived in for two years.
I loaded in my stuff and took off. There was a quick stop at the Post Office, to send $A150 in files and comics to the States via seamail. All told, I'd spent maybe $A300 on postage in the last week.
The ride to the airport is a familiar one, I'd been the airport jockey for a conference at school a year ago. It's hard to belive I'm leaving. During the ride I notice I have a sunburn and lots of little abrasions from all the weeding and gardening we've been doing during the last two days. We'd made a frantic effort to get the house up to snuff for the landlord. Last time my roomies moved out he'd lit into them for minor degredations the house had suffered. this time I wanted to make sure that I got my bond back and that things would be cool, so Michael and Kieran could keep the place. Sure enough, he rocks up an hour early and is all smiles. (He’s got a cousin around the corner and I suspect that he was there since earlier in the day, peeping on our efforts amusedly.) At least the house is shiny and clean like a Spray n' Wipe commercial.
Quick caffeine break, then I navigate through the usual airport hassles to the plane. Wanted to do a little sketching, but I forgot and packed my sketchbook in one of the suitcases I'd checked in. Ah well.
I riffle through my pockets for a pen and find some notes for interview questions in my pocket. Missed a few folks, I've done about ten interviews before I left, mostly of bands and comic people I dig. (Chris Smith, Barbara Kerr (Ms. 45), Cave Clan, Choozy, Clint Cure, Morgan Evans, International Trash, Sleepy Township.) Hopefully I can do a few more in New Zealand.
Can't understand why people complain about airline meals. There they are, doing something people have dreamed of for milennia, and then what do they do? Piss and moan about the food. Go figure.
I try unsuccessfully to nap on the plane. I read an in-flight magazine bit about Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess.
There's a great article on Borges in the Australian review of books. And I've got other stuff to read too: two New Zealand minicomics that zinester Jane Curtis (Losergirl http://digitarts.va.com.au/losergurrl/) has sent me. I've got one issue of Nice Gravy (#7) by Indira Neville, and apparently she runs a little publishing group called Oats Comics in Hamilton. Her comic is simple, but playful and fun. I particularly like the cut-out glasses on the back cover. ("Cut out, place on your face and run around in your underwear!") You can get it via P.O. Box 1320, Dunedin, New Zealand. No cover price. (After I'm back from NZ I find they have a website, at http://www.freeyellow.com/members3/oatz/)
I've also got Toki Wilson's comic, the eponymous Toki. It's pretty chunky with lots of different strips. Comics about fruitbats, aliens, thoughts on the death of Curt Cobain, short wordless bits, short wordy bits. Shows plenty of potential for a first effort. (Toki Wilson, 37 Blacks Road, Dunedin, New Zealand.) I'll have to see if I can track these two down.
Unfortunately I haven't been able to get any phone numbers from Jane, so I've mailed 'em information about where I'll be staying in NZ. I'll see if they get in touch.
I've also managed to get some tips from Dillon Naylor's http://www.hydraatelier.com/popculturemain.htm housemate from NZ, Mike Cole. He's given me phone numbers and addresses for a few folks, one of whom, Kelly Sheehan, also has been a good source of info. Thanks to Kelly, I've got a lot of suggestions and phone numbers.
I get into Auckland Airport. I'm feelin' dog tired. I wait through lines for immigration and luggage. They have a little stand with free tea that perks me up.
I take my luggage to the luggage storage place, which will hold mine for roughly a week. I've got five pieces - a briefcase, a small and large backpack, and two suitcases. I'm loaded down, since I'm taking all my gear back to the States. They charge me $NZ96 which seems a lot, until I remember the exchange rate: about 58 cents American for one NZ dollar.
I take a shuttle into town. More $. Man, am I spending money today. There's a farm with rusting machinery right outside the airport. You wouldn't see that in many Western countries. Beats a strip mall.
Auckland looks nice, apparently recovering from the power outages. There's a humming diesel generator on every street.
A few days before I left I was chatting on the phone about my plans. “Better bring a flashlight,” my friend Bianca jibed. I was clueless. “Why?”
“There are power outages there.” So what, a few brownouts, I figured. I hadn’t been watching the news and she had to explain that it was the whole downtown.
A few weeks before I left, Auckland had a catastrophic failure of its power grid, plunging much of the city into darkness. The power system had been privatized a few years back and the new entity, "Mercury Power", had been trying to make itself an attractive acquisition for a foreign buyer.
In the hottest summer in years, the four (decades old) main cables supplying Central Auckland's power failed, one after another. In a delicious bit of irony, the part affected was the central business district, arguably the people who stood most to benefit from privatization.
Now the citizens are baying for blood, and new revelations about the dodgy company are reported daily in the newspapers. As I pulled up outside Auckland City Backpackers there was another huge piece of generating apparatus sitting on the pavement, thick cables snaking inside the building.
I registered and got a bunk in a shared room, with six people. Baggage, shuttle, hostel…spend spend spend. The hostel's a pretty big place, and I chose it cause it has a number of advantages. In-house travel agency. Storage service. Internet. http://www.acb.co.nz/acb.html Café. Bar. Laundry. Centrally located.
There is one disadvantage, to be revealed several paragraphs later.
I call my pal Liz in Dunedin. She's my main reason for coming here; she's invited me to stay at her place. She's a Southeast Asian studies academic like me. (What, you don’t think I make a living doing stuff for the small press now do you?) We arrange plans to hook up tomorrow, but I'm on the late side, and the travel agency is closed. Dang.
Comrade Clint Cure (Wang) http://www.inJapan.net/members/Kelvin/QRay.html had corresponded with a local cartoonist, Ant Sang (Filth) in the past and suggested I get in touch. I'd given him and his cartoonist housemate, Alex, a ring back in Melbourne. They were keen to hear more about some Australian small press stuff.
So I call Ant and Alex and arrange to meet up. They're night owls so we plan to meet around ten PM.
On my way out I notice an internet kiosk. "Orb". They have a "comic chat" feature, which looks quite familiar - yes, the drawings featured are by Jim Woodring! Cool man. http://www.jimwoodring.com/
You have a conversation in real time, with other online folks, as one of the characters he's designed. This must be part of the work I’d heard he was doing for Microsoft. (I haven't tried this, but if you want, you can
have a go at http://www.eu.microsoft.com/ie/chat)
I step out for some much overdue food, lugging a briefcase full of comics. I try to obey my unspoken vow to avoid McDonalds, Burger King and the like. I'm lucky this time. I find a cool, cheap Japanese place. It's more for Japanese diners, I think - the bookshelf full of manga tells me that. I have some hot Miso soup and burn my tongue. I never learn.
The TV's on a local syndicated MTV show, which plays lots of bands I've never heard of. This is a good example of ‘glocalization’ – international corporations adapting and invading local culture. Fer example, Burger King making Satay Burgers. You certainly don’t need MTV to put together an NZ video show, but the brand name is instantly recognizable.
One video is "Joy of Sex", by Chris Knox, and it's a reminder to me to check out some more of NZ's local culture. I'd seen him once, back in Melbourne. He was cool, even drew a cartoon in my sketchbook.
After about a half hour of wandering around darkened streets, with my Lonely Planet book as guide, I find where Ant and Alex live. It's just over the freeway across from a graveyard, in an area of mostly boarded up shops. I find the entrance in a little courtyard, ring the bell and I'm invited on up. At this point it's about ten thirty at night - really about twelve thirty for me.
Ant and Alex have a nice studio pad with musical gear and comics strewn all over. Very much the pop culture haven the Malvern house used to look like. I've got a briefcase full of Australian minicomics and I lay it on them. I'm planning on going down to the South Island for a few days, and don't have room for all the comics I've got. Figured they'd dig it, and they're appreciative.
Alex has been doing a weekly strip for Fix, one of the free gig guide type papers in Auckland: Largely Critical, with some collaboration/co-starring by Ant. It's patterned after the "Critics at Large" strips Evan Dorkin and Kyle Baker did (collected in Dark Horse's Instant Piano). Patterned after? It's very close, at the beginning, though it gradually develops a more original style and tone. http://www.houseoffun.com/
It's fun to read, with heaps of goss on the Auckland scene. It's a week to week chronicle of bands and events as well as Alex (mostly) and Ant's (somewhat) lives. Alex's desperation and pathos is fun to watch - Kyle and Evan are a little more secure in themselves. Heck, they actually make money for their comics.
Ant shows me the last issue of Filth , which is the all "Black Sheep" issue, finishing up a long-running storyline. Cool, good to see he’s sticking with it. He hasn't been doing much else by way of comics since then but has been thinking about doing another one recently.
I'd reviewed earlier issues for Comics Edge back in Oz. Off the top of my head, I remember it for its stylized, expressive take on youth culture issues. Like any semiautobiominicomic (say that three times fast) it could get a little self-indulgent, but at its best _Filth_ had some good moments. Like the story in #1 about how to correctly take a poop. Or the conversation - alienated youth with alienated rockstar - with Kurt Cobain's ghost. That was a tricky one to do, pulled off nicely. And Ant's style is very nice, clean inking, good, angular linework. Reminds me just a little of early Bob Fingerman. (Largely Critical, no cover price, Filth, $4.00 NZ cover price. Alex Beart/Ant Sang, P.O. Box 105019, Auckland, New Zealand.)
In addition to all this, both artists are in a comic compilation, Mainstream, put out by the Art and Design School of the Auckland Institute of Technology. They give me two issues. It's standard format - if you didn't know any better seeing it on the stands you'd think it was – well - a mainstream comic.
It's late. I bid farewell and head back down Queen Street, trying to navigate using the little map in my Lonely Planet book. I sit down for a minute. Two big drunk Maori guys come up and sit down on either side of me.
"Hey, you a Christian, mate?" one asks.
Erm, I tell him noncomittally that I’m kind of agnostic.
Picking up on the accent, "How long you been in the country?"
That blows him out. "Eight hours.." he repeats, stunned. "Whoa. Eight hours." Like it's incomprehensible.
I tell him I gotta get back to my hostel. He's still flipped out, "Uh, yeah, seeya mate."
I get back to my dorm room and crash. There's a disco next door. Unfortunately they don't have good taste in music, it's "Bye Bye American Pie." I could sleep easier listening to G.G. Allin. I don't get to sleep until four in the morning. Why couldn't the power be out across the street, for Chrissakes?
NZ Trip Journal Day Two: Savages. Auckland-Christchurch. Thursday, March 12.
Didn't sleep well, got up early. Went to the travel centre on the hostel's ground floor and checked regarding flight times for Christchurch.
I'm really groggy. I haven't had a good night's sleep in over a week. I stumble out in search of real breakfast food. I get a bagel with fresh NZ lox, mmm.
I browse the NZ Herald.
"The Government's "Hands Off" response to the Mercury Energy debacle - while ideologically correct - runs the risk of bringing New Zealand's economic reform into disrepute."
Gotta love that free press. I wonder if the paper’s Murdoch – owned?
I stop at a bookstore on the way back. A whole host of local authors here, many of whom I’ll never get to read.
Finally awake, back at the hostel, I make arrangements to fly to Christchurch. I'm not real keen on buying heaps of plane tickets, but I've got to get down to Dunedin. Fortunately I've got the bond back from my place in Melbourne. That's pretty much what I'm traveling on. I wish I had one of those international student hostel cards though - that could save me a bit of money in buying tickets.
Off to the airport again - I think I'm gonna get familiar with this place. I try to get my laptop out of storage but they need a day's advance notification. Dang. Could have used that down in Dunedin.
I push my stuff on a cart over to the Domestic Terminal. Waiting for my plane, I wander into the giftshop and stumble onto something really cool. It's a hardcover graphic novel, Maui, an abbreviated collection of Maori tales. I snap it up for plane reading. Cool!
The Maui artist has a style reminiscent of Mike Mignola, and ably adapts these classic mythic stories. The only complaint I have is that it could be longer. I'll bet I don't see this this book in any actual comic shop here.
The flight attendants serve snacks - more salmon. I feel a little nauseous, from the plane, not the food. Outside the window, the sheep look like maggots for a second.
I deplane in Christchurch and grab my backpack. I take a shuttle out to the University of Canterbury to meet Liz. She's of American origin, a religious studies student specializing in Theravada Buddhism & folk religion. I haven't seen her in about a year, but it's just like old times when she walks up. I heft my backpack over to her office and chill out there while she meets with her supervisor.
Then we go to the school travel agency and check on plane reservations. Liz lives in Dunedin, further down on the South Island. She splits her week in half, flying up for class and then coming back down. It seems to work. I first found it hard to believe that she'd commute by flying, but all told it's cheaper than the time and money involved in driving. I get a ticket for Dunedin. We try to get it at a student rate but my lack of an international student travel card means it costs a little more. I've just gotta get one of those things, it's gonna cost me if I don't.
The Religious Studies department is having a barbecue so we head on over. Free food! We chat and catch up. Liz is getting ready for the yearly conference of the American Association of Asian Scholars, and is a little apprehensive about preparing her paper. I tell her about an idea for a paper for an upcoming book on weird religion she's involved with. She's positive and encouraging.
We take the bus through central Christchurch to her friend's place, where she lives when in town. Her friend's husband is preparing for a conference too, he's a botanist or ecologist or something. I think that
ecological issues in this area of the world are a little more obvious - the European invasion, cultural and biological, was a little more recent. For example, I was surprised to learn on this trip that deer had been imported to NZ - it's hotly debated whether they should be removed, hunted or simply left alone. Then there's the issue of rabbits, which have caused much trouble to native fauna when introduced in NZ and Oz. http://www.maf.govt.nz/MAFnet/index/rcdindex.html
Liz's friend is another American -- they're just all over the place. She's got a nice place and is welcoming. Tonight she's a bit apprehensive because her daughter is out seeing a rock band, The Savages. Privately, I think that's a pretty positive and constructive thing to do, but parents will worry, I guess.
As we're beginning to crash out her daughter returns. Turns out the band wasn't called The Savages - it was Aussie hipster antichrists Savage Garden.
Day Three: "Superman and Green Lantern" Christchurch - Dunedin. Friday,
About six hours of sleep. I'm feeling weak, I'm definitely coming down with a cold. Liz and I head out, have breakfast in town. She wants to get to work on her conference paper. She's having part of it emailed to her by her co-writer in France, and she wants to make sure that it reads well.
We part ways; she goes to campus, I head off to explore Christchurch. I visit the Post Office and write a few postcards.
There's a band playing in the city square. Lots of little food stalls and arts & crafts booths. I look for The Wizard, a famous eccentric public figure who makes pronouncements there, but he's not around
today. Another strange figure does appear - an abnormally tall woman dressed in a sort of medieval outfit wearing white face paint. There's gotta be two people under that dress. The Japanese tourists go nuts taking pictures.
Well, first things first. Off to the comics stores. I want to distribute some of my comics, and see if I can complete my assemblage of the New Zealand comic Pickle.
The first one is Heroes for Sale. They have one issue of Pickle, and it's one I don't have. Points for that. No, I don't need any gaming dice, thanks. They don't take self-published comics. http://www.heroes4sale.co.nz
Comics Compulsion, nearby, is a lot more together. It's got a lot of rack space devoted to comics. (181 Manchester Street, Christchurch. (03) 379-7866)
There I'm pleased to glom on to some minis by Adam Jamieson. Blink is a dream comic, he's got a bit of a Paul Pope influence but he's using material undeniably his own. I like his brushwork. I'd say it's on a par with Jesse Reklaw's stuff. (http://www.nonDairy.com/) I find three issues from 1997, I notice he planned to do his comic fortnightly. That's pretty impressive, I wonder if he lived up to his claim.
#1 finds a surreal art gallery, a midnight picnic with Tom Waits, childhood insecurities and some dream sketches by fellow cartoonist Timothy Kidd.
#2 Has a moment of retribution, urban addiction paranoia, plus contributions by Karl Wills and Peter Johnstone.
#3 is one long dream, with appearances by "Shirley MacLaine" and Clint Eastwood. The conclusion is the cover, in a charming sort of circularity.
I wonder what he's been doing since then. (Blink has a cover price of $3.00 NZ, from Adam Jamieson, P.O. Box 5722, Wellesley Street, Auckland, NZ.)
I ask the manager if he takes small press comics on consignment. He's politely negative; he buys small press outright if he thinks it'll sell, but rarely picks up a title. Small press doesn't sell, he says, plus they "squeeze out" other items if he carries too much.
Yeah buddy, squeezing out all those back issues of the superhero comics you overordered? On the way out I look at the boxes and boxes of mostly unsold Marvel and DC comics. Oh well, the shop’s surviving and carrying a diverse range…can’t ask for much more in these times.
I tell you, alternative comics can get over anywhere except a comics shop. Walking down the street I see a wall plastered with posters for an upcoming musical gig. They've appropriated an image of Adrian
Tomine. Rather, I should say, it is Tomine's image. Rock on, dude.
It's time for lunch. I sit down, have a bite, and rest. My stomach is a little upset. I read my issue of Pickle. Suddenly I realize it's an hour later - I'm really tired. I've got a sore throat. My tongue is still burnt. I could go for a nap. I think I have a fever. I force myself to get up and wander about a bit. I eat a Hawkes Bay Delicious Red Apple.
I think about a story I've been polishing for over a year. How am I going to get any work done if I keep living at the pace I do?
I sit and draw the city's Memorial Arch in my sketchbook. Two girls at a nearby café are being boisterous and noisy. Later I realize that they were trying to get my attention. Yep, I'm out of it. Insert chorus of Babylon Zoo's "Spaceman" here.
I walk down by the river bank. It's quite charming, grassy and lined with trees. A nice spot for contemplation. Gondoliers pass by with boats of tourists.
I head back to the square. I get a large orange juice. I feel like crap. An old guy who looks like the old digger stereotype comes up to me and tells me that I look "handsome". I wait for the pitch but he walks off. Some days you've just got it, I guess.
There's a caravan park called the Amber Park Caravan Park, which I want to take a picture of for Milk Bar’s editorial staff, but it's a bit out of the way. I put it on the agenda for the return trip.
I arrive back on campus to meet Liz a little on the early side, so I kill some time in the bookshop. I buy the book He Died With a Felafel in His Hand, John Birmingham's opus about Australian share house life. The cover is a classic shot: a bar of soap with some short and curlies stuck on it. I'd wanted to get this before I'd left for America, it's a lucky score. I meet up with Liz and retrieve my backpack from her office. Then it's off to the airport and separate flights to Dunedin. I read Felafel on the plane.
At the baggage claim I grab my stuff. My backpack is starting to fall apart, I notice - fortunately I'm not doing any real trekking on this trip. I meet up with Liz's husband Ed and their daughter Polly at the
baggage claim. Ed's tall, mellow and bearded, and Polly's young and energetic - ten, I think. Sleep deprived, running all over the place…How did I get to feel so old and tired? Batteries, I think. They run down over time.
The airport's located a ways out of town. We travel through rolling green hills to the city proper. Dunedin's actually quite spread out, one of the largest cities there is in terms of size, though not population. Liz doesn't think Dunedin is a "real city", like Christchurch. Polly quizzes me if I like Hanson or the Spice Girls. She's negatory on the first, thumbs up on the latter.
Dunedin's population is mostly students attending the four colleges in the area. They've acquired a generic derogatory term: 'scarfies'. Ed works for the largest school, the University of Otago. He's American - he and Liz emigrated together.
We have pizza at Liz's place, a charming house on the slope of a hill. It's in a student neighborhood, and I'm told sometimes it can be a bit noisy. I drag out some photos and bring them up to date on what I've
been doing in Oz. It's good to catch up. I meet Kitty, another of their kids.
A family friend, Inez, arrives, and we head out to a local venue. On the way they point out the Octagon, the city's center, bordered by a church, an art gallery, a number or restaurants, and much more. I’ll bet the punks hang out there. Old buildings and young people go hand-in-hand.
The Arc is a sort of nonprofit bar/coffeehouse/artspace. It's quite nice. It's got a little something for everybody - computers in one corner, a stage in the back. If I was a student here I'd be digging this place.
Inez introduces me to one of tonight's performers, Demarnia, who's having some licorice root tea 'cause it's good for the throat. I take a tip and get some to medicate my own still-sore throat.
Demarnia is the first performer, under the appellation Cloudgirl since the members of her regular band Cloudboy aren’t here tonight. She plays and sings on a table surrounded by the audience, illuminated by the glow of her Macintosh. She's got a heap of electronic equipment but in spite of that the music is quirky and enjoyable. I'm charmed by her cool and mildly creepy cover of Donovan's Sunshine Superman.
Mestar is up next. Apparently some of the members got their chops in a Celtic band before this, though I'd never know it if I hadn't been told. It's a home crowd, which means they start moshing when there's only fifteen people standing up. It's cute. The boys play straight ahead long hair distortion pedal crowd surfing head banging rock which wouldn't be out of place in Portland or Seattle. It's poppy, peppy and enjoyable. http://www.coffee.co.nz/mestar/
The crowd was loving it and Liz's daughter Polly was bopping away. Me? I was slumped against the wall, sitting with the rest of the old folks. My throat's better, the licorice root tea seemed to be working, but I'm pretty tired.
We head out from the gig a little early for home. My room has two big windows right up against the bed, a cool panoramic view of the city lights fading off into the distant hills.
Man, I can taste that sleep.
Day Four: Edinburgh South. Dunedin - Saturday, March 14th. Party Time.
Okay, so it's Saturday in Dunedin. I should go out and do something: walk around, check out bands, snoop for comics, look at landmarks, scope out the place. I won't be back here (if ever) for years. Dunedin is known for its music, its culture - it's the Athens, Georgia/Austin, Texas/Chapel Hill, North Carolina of the southern hemisphere, from what I'm told. What I do of course is collapse and hang out at Liz's house. I'm beat from constant travel and lack of sleep. I sleep for about ten hours and wake up, have breakfast, and chill out. It's a quiet overcast day.
I squint at some of the comics that Ant and Alex have given me. _Mainstream_ is an art-school anthology with the usual range running the gamut from lameass superhero/fantasy to genuine talent.
In the latter category, #1 finds some nice Siencewicz-eque art by Paul Rogers, Ant's tale of a friend who passed away and Pui Shan Li's manga stylings. Alex does a story featuring someone who looks and acts an awful lot like John Constantine. ($4.95 NZ from Tuatara Press, P.O. Box 105019, Auckland NZ.)
#2 is an 80 page special and opens with Simon Rattray's "The Fumigator" - a fun, professional looking parody of tough guy comics. Pui Shan Li shows the world through "Cat's Eyes", Saret Em provides a commentary on form in "The Canvas." Ant's "Little Buddha Boy VS. The Hopping Ghosts & The Angry Heart!" is great Kung-Fu philosophical fun. ($6.95 NZ from Tuatara.)
I do some laundry.
All three of the school age kids have a party that night.
-The oldest kid, Eliot, wants to appropriate the family sound system
for a party that night. After some discussion it's agreed that they
will rent some equipment which he will pay off by working for his Dad.
- Polly is going to a dance her school is having with a boys' school.
Liz and Polly head to the mall to get a dress.
- And Kitty is going to a slumber party at a friend's.
Ed and Liz take Kitty to her party. I come along and we take in Lookout Point on the way back. (The hill has some more impressive name, but I forget. If you want facts and objectivity, read a guidebook.)
Ed tells me a little about his and Liz's struggle to emigrate to NZ. For maybe two years they'd extended their visas thirty days at a time. Some of the kids were born then, it must have been a bureaucratic challenge.
Lookout Point is awesome, I wish I'd brought along my camera. The hill is topped by a statue, and there's a wedding party there, taking pictures. You can see the whole panorama of the bay down below, the town spread out like an atlas map. Its design has been patterned after Edinburgh (regardless of indigenous NZ geography). It's quite spread out, but that adds to its charm.
Ed tells how this used to be a popular Southern Hemisphere port, with its large sheltered bay. That status was eighty-sixed pretty much when the Panama Canal opened up, allowing a shorter route. Now the area is coming to be favored by cruise ships.
There are even surfers here, he tells me. I'm surprised. "Really? The water must be so cold."
"Yeah, they use double wetsuits."
Back at the house, Polly takes off for her party. Over dinner, Ed concludes the story of immigration adventures.
I use a calling card and ring Tony Renouf, a local anesthesiologist - er, anthologist. A comics dude. He works at a record store in town, Echo. I make plans to drop in and see him tomorrow. I also try to
find a number for Toki Wilson but there's no luck.
Polly comes back from her party and she's stoked - she's danced with some forty-odd boys. She'll be a terror when she gets older.
I look at some of Liz's books before I go to sleep. I've got to copy down some of her titles. I've got to just read more books. I've got to think about when to take French. I've got to look into scholarships. I've got to send out more thesis copies.
I've got to get some sleep. At least I have clean clothes for tomorrow.
Day Five: Students and slackers. Dunedin - Sunday, March 15th. Do comics rule or what?
Another ten hour sleep. Polly knocks on the door with some coffee and I drag my groggy self out of bed. I'm feeling a bit better. It's great kicking around here, being a lazy bum.
Liz and Ed go to church. Liz is a little worried 'cause she still hasn't been emailed the second part of her collaborative paper - and she's flying off to the States to present it next weekend.
Inez pops by to say hello and drops off two CDs: One of Chris Knox's (Seizure, with some classic tunes - one featured in the recent film Topless Women Talk About Their Lives
http://www.loud.net.au/noise/display_stories/1-90000/601-900/display_stories_756.html also try that cinema zine. ) and Arc: Music of Dunedin. Cool, she saved me thirty, forty bucks. I feel good that I'll get at least a token exposure to some of the stuff here - a snapshot's better than nothing.
Eliot returns from his party and is put to work with his Dad - no sleep for the weary.
I step out in the afternoon to see if I can catch up with the aforementioned comic guy Tony Renouf. It's a bright day, a little on the cool side - it was shorts weather in Auckland, but down here I need a coat.
Unfortunately the record shop is closed. Tony did mention an art exhibition at "Fuel" Café, so I step in and admire the framed comic art on the walls.
They're exhibiting work by two artists, Glenn Ross and Colin Andrews. Glenn has a distinctive style - thick line weight, heavy on the inks - for his naturalistic stories. They have an almost-yet-not-quite true quality - they're not all real, but they could have happened.
Colin Andrews' "Lewis" is a Buddy Bradleyesque character starring in tales of Antipodean ne’er-do-well life. His 'bigfoot' caricature style is nicely detailed - if he'd had the good sense to be born in the States he'd be well known in the small press.
The two have collaborated on a comic called Gulp! Extra points to Colin for his Wolverton cover riff. (Gulp! - Glenn Ross/Colin Andrews - $3.00 NZ, C/O Fuel Café, 21 Frederick Street, Dunedin, NZ. (03) 477-2575.)
I'm stoked to see the Café selling the comic so I ask if I can give them some copies of QuickDraw to sell. I'm referred to the manager, Scott Muir, who's holding court at a booth in the back. He's intrigued by the idea of selling another comic and is happy to see mine. The exhibition has been good in terms of feedback and customer traffic, and he's pondering doing another. He gives me a free coffee (do comics rule or what?) and I give him some copies of my various publications to sell. While I can't say I distribute internationally with clockwork regularity, it's always good to have another comics-friendly shop on the list. I also get a number for Colin Andrews. I call and find out that he's working at First Church, a historic building here.
I trudge back up the hill. I notice some of those silvery Nitrous Oxide cartridges scattered on the pavement. Someone's, um, making a lot of whipped cream? Definitely a student neighborhood. At least it ain’t crack vials.
Liz and I chat some more that evening. She shows me a slew of fascinating books, I'm impressed by one in particular on temple design.
Liz also gives me a valuable tip on the UMI thesis service, which can get you a copy of any MA or Ph.D thesis registered with the service. She also suggests a few valuable journals to keep up with.
We listen to the Arc CD and Moana and the Moahunters among others, on her CD changer. Maori Rap! Like Aussie rap, the novelty value is undeniable.
The sore throat is back. I conk out.
Day Six: South Park; South Island. Dunedin - Monday, March 16th.
It's a bright sunny Monday and the kids are all set for school in their uniforms. When I first came to this side of the world I thought I lived in a heavily Catholic area - only private (and usually religious at that) school kids wear uniforms in the States.
Eliot tells me that some of the kids from school get to test chocolate at the Cadbury plant in town. Sounds like a good gig. Come to think of it, I've noticed a few brands I didn't even see in Australia in these NZ stores.
The phone rings. Someone asks for "Eeed." It takes me a while to realize that they're asking for "Ed", who’s just headed out for work. It's the only time on the trip that the NZ accent throws me. Those who accentuate trans-Tasman linguistic differences can tend to exaggerate, I think.
I look at some of Liz's hard-to-find books on Buddhism and Southeast Asia. While doing so, I tape the CDs Inez lent me. I scope out the Alastair Galbraith track on the Arc compilation. I’m a little curious since he met with such a hero's welcome when I saw him in Melbourne. I think his stuff is classified as ‘free noise’ but I’m not a music critic. http://www.coffee.co.nz/cd/
I step out to Echo Records and meet Tony Renouf. He's an affable fellow, tall, thirtyish. He takes a short break and gives me a big stack of comics to look at. He's done an anthology of mostly Dunedin folks called Umph. Hmm, all these sound-effect like titles. Umph! Gulp! We make plans to meet at Fuel later. (Echo Records, 343 George Street, P.O. Box 6368, Dunedin, New Zealand. (03) 477-9451)
Walking down George Street, I see a wooden Tintin bust at an import store called Yaks and Yetis. I'm told it's from Thailand. I'm compelled to take a picture of it.
I walk around the Octagon and take more pictures. I manage to navigate to First Church, where Colin Andrews should be working. There's a heap of workmen doing renovations, but no luck. He doesn't seem to be there.
More exchange with Liz. I wonder if I should continue my thesis research under the rubric of Art History, Creative Writing, Religious Studies, or Southeast Asian Studies.
I go down George Street to meet Tony. Along the way I stop at nearby _Bag End Books_, a local comic shop. Tony recommended it, and he used to maintain an NZ comics shelf there.
"Do you have any issues of _Pickle_?"
"It's a comic by a New Zealander." And I'm still missing an issue or two.
"Do you have any New Zealand comics?"
Yay globalization. Yay free trade.
Of course, Fuel Café is right next door. The comic shop doesn't have local comics, but a café does. You can find good comics anywhere but in a comic shop.
I meet Tony at the Albert Arms, his local. Glenn Ross is there, and Morrie Brown is there too - both Umph contributors. Genn's a young fella, Morrie's a bit older.
From what I can gather, Tony's been instrumental in organizing things in Dunedin - exhibitions, anthologies, comic jams. He says he's been avoiding that role for two years, but I can see his resolve weakening as I whip out my Australian comics. We spend about an hour and there's plenty of interest and enthusiasm all around as I show ‘em why my friends have been up to.
I get some food 'cause I'm hungry. Miraculously we manage not to get any beer or food on the comics.
Tony's put together quite a lot in the past few years. I ask him how he manages to get all these people to contribute to his stuff. "Standover tactics, mate," he tells me. (A standover man is a role harking back to Australia's criminal past. A standover man is a criminal who preys on other criminals, extorting the location of their loot by, well, beating and 'standing over' them 'til they confess. The modern equivalent would be, say, Chopper Read.) http://www.smh.com.au/daily/content/970719/national/national2.html
The attitude to comics in Dunedin is more one of ambivalence than disinterest, Tony says. It's hard to tell what sort of reaction you'll get. Five-oh once rolled up on him when he and some friends were putting up posters for a comic launch. After some tense moments the cops busted out laughing, and the poster remained on the Police Station bulletin board for four months.
Tony invites us all back to his place in the hills outside of town. I’m a little reluctant at first, but I don’t take much convincing. We taxi on out. On the way I can't help but think of the connections I make with comics: I just met this guy today and he's treating me like a long-lost relative. I'm getting better and better at sniffing out the comics people in every town I go to.
On the way, Glenn tells us that he's looking to get back to the countryside. He finds even Dunedin too big, and wants to get out to where he can hear himself think. He's a soft-spoken fella, kinda husky - another quiet cartoonist.
Tony's house is a cozy little place stuffed with comics and artifacts of pop culture. The house itself is postwar public housing that was privatized fairly recently, like just about everything else in NZ. He
introduces us to his partner. Tony's father-in-law (partner's Dad, I guess - whatever) comes over and we hide out in Tony’s study. There we share some choof while Tony drags out even more comics. I try to keep up.
I'm particularly taken with an anthology that had different interpretations on "Jack and the Beanstalk", from nearly everyone in the NZ small press scene. It accompanied an exhibition of NZ comics put on
by Karl Wills, and it's got little profiles in the back, great for someone who's getting up to speed like me. That's right, Karl Wills was the one who was profiled in the last Hate I’d read.
I also dig an all-Maori strip Tony's done. I tell Tony and the others that they're welcome to send me some comics to sell at the summer conventions I'll be visiting in the States. Tony's already brainstorming some effort to do especially for that. http://www2.comic-con.org/comiccon/
Tony also provides suggestions on various bits of NZ culture, like Peter Jackson's films, which I always seem to miss. Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, The Frighteners.
My nose is running like a faucet - I'm getting a cold for sure. Hey, it's time for South Park. I didn't have a TV in Oz so I watch it here for the first time. It's great, of course. http://www.juice97.com.south.html
Tony's partner drives us all home, which is really nice. I ask if he and Morrie and Glenn have any words for the North Island comics folks. He pauses for a minute. "Tell them they can't hold a candle to us!” Tony says, referring to the power outages.
Back at Liz's place they're sitting around in the parlor. I chat with Eliot a bit about my past Djing career. The kids are doing their homework so I bring down some papers of my own to sort out.
I talk with Ed about the state of the world. We both have lots of apprehensions about the future. I think it's eminently rational to move to a quiet place like this to raise your kids. Too bad they can't adopt.
Irish Coffee Action
Day Seven: Millennialism and Dowsing. Dunedin - Tuesday, March 17th.
"Gonna have to leave soon" I tell Kitty in the A.M. as the kids get ready for school. "If I stay any longer I'll have to start pulling my weight around here."
I'd planned to leave today but got swayed into staying on - Liz & Co. are having a Saint Patrick's day party tonight.
Liz has finally received the second part of her paper from France via e-mail. She gets cracking on getting it in shape for presentation.
I've got to get my tickets and tie up last minute business. I go to the travel agency and inquire about plane tickets. Then I go down to the Octagon where they sell train tickets. Hey, that's not too far from
First Church. I get a train ticket from the folks at the Info Centre who are dressed up in 19th century period costume. I try to use my Australian student ID card to get a discount, but no dice. I need one of those international student cards, or at least a local student card. Dang.
I go over to First Church again to see if I can say hello to Colin Andrews, one of the cartoonists exhibited at Fuel Cafe. I encounter the same workmen and like yesterday, no Colin. This time, though, I'm smart and I check at the church office. It turns out he's painting the church all right - but it's a miniature one in the basement that he's working on. It's about as tall as I am, I guess for children to play in.
Colin is friendly and positive, and enthused about learning more about Australian comics. He has an idea for a song for my Quickdraw musical compilation.
With yet another new address and a hearty handshake I'm off. I get my plane ticket on the way back to Liz's house. No student discount there either.
I make some copies of papers Liz has regarding Buddhist millennial prophecies. Fascinating stuff. I really should get them some flowers or some token gift. They've only put me up for four days. I try to think of something but I'm stumped. Maybe I can give them a place to stay on their next world tour.
Liz needs supplies for the party so I'm out again for a head of cabbage and 2 pints of whipping cream.
I get back and people are starting to drift in for the party, a diverse assemblage of Liz and Ed’s pals. I have some of the Irish coffee - it's not bad. Eliot is enjoying mixing and making it back in the kitchen.
I meet a woman who dabbles in local history. I'm told that NZ had similar liquor laws to Australia - they didn't repeal the "Six O'clock Shout" until 1967. Basically, the bars were only open for an hour after
most men got off work (no respectable women would be seen in bars, of course.) After it was repealed? Well, it was still pretty bad, lotsa drunk driving.
And since Dunedin had a sizeable Scots population, the drink of choice in the past was often Gin. This worked well with the local diet; something in the chemical structure of the drink helps it break down the fatty tissue in mutton.
I meet a fella from Liz's church who had sent me an inquisitive note about dowsing and landmines via email. He's used his "third eye" to find lost objects in his garage, and had some ideas about using dowsing in mine detection, when Liz mentioned my involvement in a landmines research group. I've actually met a few dowsers in the past; when I was working during summer break at UC Santa Cruz, I was employed by the Conference Center, which would host meeting of various groups at the school. Business training, Astrophysicists, Leadership Training – and Dowsing. They'd walk around campus with their sticks and tools, looking for water, gold or whatever piqued their interest. Not sure I'd want to risk my life on these methods, but it's fun to chew over the ideas – see what sort of belief system they're based on.
I chat with Ed and discover that we'd both hiked the same mountains in earlier days: San Gorgonio, San Jacinto. The party begins to die down.
I thank Inez for her CDs. "That's money you've saved me," I tell her.
"That's money you've taken out of the local economy!" she chides. Whoops.
Inez and I listen to Liz explain a Buddhist myth that I'm completely blanking on now. I lean on Liz to work on the screenplay idea we'd talked about.
The Irish Coffee keeps me up a bit but I eventually sleep.
Day Eight: Panicked Panel Beater. Dunedin-Christchurch-Auckland.
Wednesday, March 18th.
I say goodbye to the kids as they take off for school. Eliot gives me a little fern - apparently it's another NZ emblem.
Ed is going to work and Liz suggests we go down with him. Down at the University of Otago in town he's got a sophisticated computer setup for making ID cards. I'm like, "I wonder if I can get a student discount on my plane tickets!" "Maybe I can use it as a way to get discount photocopies!" I'm always thinking of a useful angle. They were thinking more of a souvenir.
Liz has recently had her hair done by Inez but kept the little streak of gray. I'm glad she kept it, it looks nice.
On the campus I notice lots of signs in English/Maori. I've been seeing 'em in other places on this trip too. It's interesting – Maori culture is much more present and visible here than say, Aboriginal culture in Australia. Certainly more than Native American culture in the States.
I get an ID card made. Cool. I hope Ed can extend his franchise to other schools or uses.
Liz and I head out to the train station. It's huge, a classic old Victorian building. Were they expecting a lot of train traffic or what? At the time it was built, Liz tells me, gold rush money and ship traffic gave Dunedin some pretty high hopes. Then the Panama Canal was built and local industry took a downturn.
We've got a little time to kill so Liz takes me by an exhibition at a photo shop. It's of Valentines' Day photos. Ed had warned me about this one. Lots of people did cutesy little efforts; Inez's photo is of
a sheep's heart being held up to the camera by a model. I think it would be a great design for a card. Although I’m hard-pressed to think of what sentiment it would be for.
We go to the art gallery in the Octagon. In keeping with yesterday's Buddhist stuff, there's an exhibition of postmodern paranoia: Pre-Millennial, featuring the work of Ronnie van Hout and Mike
Van Hout uses plastic army figures to depict scenes from a UFO invasion: military evacuation, makeshift checkpoints, poisoned water, dead bodies in unusual settings.
Stevenson provides advertising and art classics with hidden messages written in fluorescent ink. My favorite was the picture of Jeff Koons with 666 written on his forehead. The show program is designed to look like a tract from door to door missionaries.
It's time to go. I thank Liz for everything - I really can't thank her enough. She's given me a place to stay and a lot of her time; I've probably given her a cold.
I get on the train and it takes off. I'll bet she gets back to her conference paper.
The guy sitting in front of me is talking to himself, the woman across the aisle, and anyone else who makes eye contact with him. I guess it could be worse, I could be someone like that. Someday I will, perhaps. He starts to quiet down after a while.
Through a veil of mist I see lush forested hills and the sea. If there's any dominant images I'll retain of NZ, it'd be clouds and trees. It's a lot more cool and green than arid Australia.
I'm feeling kinda out of it. Hope I'm not getting sick again. I keep myself hydrated by drinking several cans of L&P, a NZ lemon pop drink.
I pull out my ever-growing stack of New Zealand comics. A sizeable chunk of them are the ones I got from Tony, he's quite prolific as an artist and an anthologist. His own work is in a basic caricature style
with carefully ruled lines. There's a number of repeating characters:
· Sedgewick, a disgusting little boy with a teddy bear,
· Peetar Rabid, a degenerate foaming-at-the-mouth mammal,
· And OyOy, a capricious killer created in collaboration with the also-prolific Cornelius Stone.
Many of these folks can be seen in Tony's recent collection, Free to a Good Home, which also contains the strip he did for the Small Press Expo book. (Actually, that's how I got in contact with him, from his address in that comic. Don't nobody say it's a waste of time doing stuff like that!) I've also got various short bits and one-offs he's done.
Perhaps my favorite bit is Tony's Peetar Rabid one pager 'Excess is a Lifestyle'. Peetar steps out of a building labeled 'Moderation', proclaiming, "Everything All at Once!" and proceeds to back up his
maxim in each successive panel. Eating. Rooting. Drinking. Smoking. Playing music. Ingesting substances. The last shot is of his gravestone: "Everything all at once - for a limited time." I can empathize, I just don't know when to say No. I'm not being a wild man but I'm definitely moving a bit too fast.
Another favorite is Tony's anecdotal "Never tell anybody you've stopped drinking." I don't know about New Zealanders, but I'd swear on a stack of comics this high that Aussies look hurt when you pass up a beer.
Anthologies: Tony's edited Treacle, a collection of Dunedin toons. Five were done; A4 size with one-color covers.
"I edited number one without reading it." Tony told me. "I wanted to read it for the first time like those who bought it, so I collected the art and compiled it without looking too closely, then sent it off to the printer." Did he like it? There were one or two strips that he thought were a little immature, but he enjoyed his experiment. (The editing was more hands-on in future issues.)
I enjoy Chris Stapp's "Grandaddy Afro" strip, in the first issue, though his Hewlett/Glyn Dillon style is a bit too derivative in this one.
#2 Has "Redneck Weird", rural apocrypha by Glenn Ross. There's also more Chris Stapp - looking just a little more original in his tale of hangover cures. Kirsten March makes her debut with her childlike yet
moving style. One or two other strips I liked, but there's no credits in this issue.
#3 includes the charming "Stillborn Dreams" by Glenn Ross, a child's view of a grandfather's suicide. We also find another fable from Kirsten March, a piece on animal testing by Tony Renouf, plus "Burns to
be Wild" (about the Robert Burns statue in Dunedin's Octagon) by Peter Johnstone. Cute.
#4 Has more of the usual suspects. Tony continues his animal testing comedy, Glenn Ross contributes an existential tale, plus Anthony Behrens's "Titanus": Mecha-Godzilla in terms of defense weapons policy. Behrens has an interesting style, reminding me just a little of Kaz.
Treacle #5 is a product of a one-day comics drawing workshop at the 1995 Dunedin Fringe Festival. 26 folks contributed, including Tony, Glenn Ross, Colin Andrews, Adam Jamieson, Toki Wilson, and a few others who didn't sign their names clearly. As happens with this sort of thing, there are one or two unknowns who are great, and don't appear anywhere else ever again.
Treacle is succeeded shortly after by an A5 size black and white anthology which Tony started in '95, _Umph!--_ ("the sound you make when reading a comic").
#1 has Tony's Peetar Rabid, plus (among others) a rapidly developing Glenn Ross, Toki Wilson. We find Colin Andrews' slacker character Lewis cunningly stealing beer from underage kids. "The Steamer" contributes a weirdly prescient strip that evokes the current power crisis in "When the New Right Take Over Everything". ("If we borrow an economic concept and devalue the energy section of the equation by, say, 40% - we can have enough watts for everybody at a only a fraction of the energy requirement!") Also of note is "Alice in Manga-land" by Paul Potiki.
For #2 Tony contributes a fine comic about French Nuclear testing - something that still raises hackles in this part of the world. There's a naturalistic Glenn Ross strip, "Lost in the Fog". Colin Andrews goes for the jugular with "Lewis Fucks a Dog", including a gallery of dead cartoon dogs hit by cars - Snowy, Snoopy, the dog from Footrot Flats, I think - not for the squeamish. Also some Toki Wilson, the energetic "Monster from the Deep".
#3 leads off with a surreal cover by Morrie Brown. Glenn Ross outlines "Nine Steps to Transcendental Bliss". Colin Andrews steps up to the podium with "So you want to be a cartoonist", a cautionary tale. Tony explains the concept of "Abductotherapy", while Toki Wilson provides some short strips. Also, Stephan Neville's warped writing and textured rendering make a debut. Tony was quite enthused about him, but I wasn't able to get in touch with him either.
All of the anthologies and comics that Tony's done are notable in that they have an ISSN (International serial number). He's done this to make his comics internationally registered, and also has them archived at the National Library. Apparently all you have to do is send three copies to the Library and they'll give you a number. It's an interesting approach: Zine World won't review you if you have an ISBN, yet these are definitely small press in terms of print run and content. Tony sees the numbers as a toehold for getting more notice and insuring that his books won't fade away.
Anyway, Treacle/Umph!--_ can be gotten from Tony Renouf at 39A Willis Street, Dunedin, New Zealand. $4.00 NZ cover price for Umph!--_, No cover price I can find on Treacle.
I can see a few of similarities between Tony and me: we're both put together anthologies, we both do this on top of our day jobs, we both have a simple, basic style. I think that's a common denominator with
organizers - their own art is less developed 'cause they're often doing everything else besides drawing. While I think organizing can be as much of a skill and talent as drawing, I wonder if I really want that to
be my role.
And while on this train of thought, the train I’m on whizzes past a sign for car repairs: "PANEL BEATER". I think of Tony Renouf's "standover tactics" - maybe that's what we are. Panel Beaters. In terms of extortion or perhaps a more derogative masturbatory sense. Dang, I should have gotten a picture of that.
We reach the Christchurch station around sundown. I hop on an airport shuttle and the driver asks me if I mind going out of my way. As the sun sets I end up going way out to Sumner, an outlying suburb of
Christchurch with an absolutely gorgeous sea view. Wow.
I get to talking with a musician guy who's a Vertigo junkie and give him some of my comics. Just as we're discussing Jim Woodring we pass a sort of sculpture with a crescent head, like one of Jim's recurring
I get to Christchurch airport eventually, and have some food in the only place that's open - the "Cheers" bar, based on the TV series. Yay globalization. I try to play "Rapper's Delight" on the jukebox but it curiously refuses my request.
I've got a little time to kill - Liz had suggested I see the Antarctic Centre. There's a set of blue painted footprints - human and penguin – that lead from the terminal to the Centre. I step carefully on each footprint as I follow the path.
I'm expecting something very touristy but it's really quite fascinating. The New Zealand scientists working in Antarctica are supplied from Christchurch, and they've got all kinds of displays and features about the work they do there. There's a snowcrawler, a room with real snow where visitors are invited to put on boots and trek through, and lots of photos and films. Of course, I arrive just a few minutes before closing but I manage to get a look. http://www.iceberg.co.nz/
I hop on the plane and the person next to me asks me if I have the flu. The in-flight magazine has a feature on one of the character actors from Hercules. Hey, it turns out one of the Split Enz guys is now the chief set designer for the show. Huh. http://www.frenz.com/splitenz/bios/enz-amg.html
Flying always puts me in a contemplative mood, above the cares of the world. I think about the heaps of minicomics I have from Australia and the many more that I have at home. If only I could get them in a smaller, more permanent format. Like a CD-Rom. I should get some techie with a CD burner to scan them in, make a special copy for me. Then instead of having boxes of this stuff I'd just have a CD. That'd be great.
Hmmm - If Heavy Metal and Doonesbury can have their own CD-Roms, why not minicomics? It might be a good way to resell them, if you managed to get everybody's permission. It'd be a good way to encapsulate small press history. I’m not sure if I’d want to pay cover price for all the small press stuff I want to read, but I would pay market price for a CD-Rom full to the brim with minicomics. Maybe a project for the future.
This is my frame of mind as I'm getting off the plane in Auckland. They're starting to close down the domestic terminal. My backpack comes through and the top flap is open, some of the clothes are strewn around. Shit. My carefully compiled stack of Australian mini-comics is gone!
No Stateside reviews. No goodies to show people. No chances of making copies or doing a website. I'll have to write each person individually to get their comics again. I'm feeling really upset, almost physically ill. These are the real artifacts and keepsakes of my last two years.
I go to the check-in desk and ask them to check for the lost stuff in my luggage. They call the luggage handlers in Christchurch and - Yes! - they have my stuff. The comics were wrapped in a towel and it’s sitting on one of the conveyor belts. I'll have to come in tomorrow morning to get it though. Whew.
I'm starting to feel really familiar with this airport. I get a shuttle ride to Auckland City Backpackers. I dump my pack and collapse. Forgot about the disco next door though - keeps me up until about two in the
Subject: New Zealand Trip Journal Day Nine: I do laundry
North Island, Part Two
Day Nine: Half a Week Away. Auckland. Thursday, March 19th.
Searching for a place for breakfast I spot Pop Culture, a comic shop that several folks suggested I check out. It's just a few streets away from my hostel. (23 High Street, Auckland, NZ. (377-5227) It's got a fairly good selection, nice and diverse. http://www.popculture.co.nz
I buy a James Kochalka book http://www.indyworld.com/kochalka and a mini that's an anthology title, See Saw. Hey, it's got Adam Jamieson in it! So that's what he's been up to since Blink.
I take the bus to the airport. It takes a roundabout route - takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there. The bus driver is apologetic, I'm queasy. I'm feeling really lethargic and tired. I have to sit down and have some coffee once I arrive at the airport, my home away from home. I feel like an old man.
The Australian comics are retrieved. Today is a good day. I trod over to the International Terminal. I'm getting pretty used to this place by now. I should probably get a shuttle over, take it slow but it's such a nice day.
I retrieve my laptop from the luggage storage folks. I copy a few copies - on disc - of my thesis. I then leave them at the Information counter for Liz to pick up the next day. Then she can take them to the
Asian Studies conference she's going to and distribute them. I suppose I could just mail them to people, but it's cooler to do it this way, just 'cause I can. Whoo, I'm such a high-tech dude. Somebody write me
up in Wired.
I take the bus back. Almost another hour. Yeah, I'm getting more queasy. I should have taken a shuttle rather than another interminable bus ride.
I get back late in the afternoon. I manage to make it over to the other comics shop, Ground Zero. I'm quite pleased. I'd have to say it's the best comics shop -that I've seen, that is - in the country. It's got a great, diverse selection. Many things I would buy if I wasn't poor and traveling light. (Ground Zero, Shop 12, Mid City complex, Auckland, New Zealand. Phone 307-0215, fax 303-1073.)
Perhaps the most eye-catching bit there was the Acme Novelty Library point of purchase cardboard display rack, a stunning bit of cardboard confectionery that I wish I had for my own home. http://www.hotwired.com/serial/9520/index2a.html
I see a new issue of DeeVee out. There's photos in the back of some awards the creators are winning. That's something that really oughta be done in Oz (and maybe NZ): some sort of yearly mini-comics awards thing. It would provide a useful short list of some of the more popular books and names, at the very least.
The highlight is the well-stocked selection of NZ minicomics. Some are years old, but there are several new ones. I pick up, among others, Timothy Kidd's Half a World Away. I just get one issue, but I'm impressed by his understated storytelling and fairly realistic figure drawing. It's a tale of alienation in a rural environment, from what I can make out. Unfortunately, this visitor who came from half a world
away in part to find stuff like this is stymied - there's no address! That kinda complicates things, and in half a week, well, I'll be away. (Okay, later I find an address. Half a World Away has a cover price of $3.00 NZ, from Timothy Kidd, P.O. Box 5722, Wellesley Street, Auckland, NZ.)
There's so many other titles at the shop, I try to limit myself to what's recent that turns my crank. I don't think I'm gonna have time to see and understand it all.
I return to the hostel and sort out my gear. Time to do some laundry.
I go to Ichiban again and read manga and have some miso soup. (It's not too far from the corner of Albert & Swanson in central Auckland.)
Still a lot of generators around. There are construction workers tearing up what must be underground power lines, working night and day.
I jot down a few notes on the trip in my journal. I go to the bar upstairs to get some orange juice. It's full of tanned young travelers trading adventure stories and chatting each other up in broken English.
There's a big crowd in front of the hostel TV. Honestly, do you go to another country to watch TV? I don't think so. So I should go out, but I'm feeling a little nauseous. Off to dreamland.
The disco keeps me up again. I keep coughing and waking up in a cold sweat. Sore throat too. The five other occupants of my room must love me something fierce.
Day Ten: Feverish. Auckland. (North Island) Friday, March 20th.
I wake up in the late morning. I'm feeling tired and weak, really
I call Ant and ask him where to get cheap copies. I need to make a heap of them before I return to the States. He gives me a few suggestions and I head out - I'm glad I'm downtown - except for that irritating disco, everything I need's nearby.
I buy cold medicine. I need drugs.
I do some laundry.
I make copies, moving very slowly, until closing time: my own comics and those of a few friends.
It's not very wise to do this now; I've got a fever, but nothing'll be open on Saturday. Poor me. Sick and alone in a strange town. I want to go home but I can't for the life of me figure where that is. Portland, my past Stateside home? Melbourne, where I recently lived? LA, where my family lives?
I can't eat at Ichiban every night so I go to a Chinese place and have some vegetable noodle soup. It’s okay – actually a little too tasty for bland vegies. I suspect MSG.
I've got a bad cough but I manage to go to sleep. I wake up at about four AM in a cold sweat.
I try gargling with Listerine but my sore throat hurts pretty bad. I go downstairs. Maybe I can go across the street to the disco and get some earplugs.
The desk guy downstairs has some, and gives them to me out of sheer pity. I must look like hell. I can finally sleep.
Subject: More Phleghm
Day Eleven: Preparing for Armageddon. Auckland. (North Island) Saturday,
I wake up, cough up some phleghm and go out.
I have a croissant and coffee in the park and read about the power outage in the magazine North and South. I save the article for later reference.
A guy asks me if I want to buy some weed, but I decline - antihistamines are my drug of choice today.
I'm feeling a bit better. I dunno about all this traveling - how can you not catch a plane? (Especially when you’re on my budget.) How can you ignore rare opportunities you may never have again? And it's all at the expense of my health.
I'm lucky enough to find an open photocopy shop! I make more copies of comics for the convention that's happening tomorrow. Finally I'm ready. I'd thought the show ("ARMAGEDDON" featuring "Captain America": Mark Waid (Captain New Zealand, anybody?) and "Baron Zemo": Kurt Busiek) would be both Saturday and Sunday but Ant has told me the Comics segment (Comics n' Cards, a sign of the end times if there ever was one) would be Sunday. Hmmm - ominous Buddhist scripture photocopies I'd made in Dunedin, "Pre-Millennial" exhibition, now "Armageddon" convention. Yep, definite theme going on here.
At a café I discover a comic: Strumming Teeth. One-color cover, free. It's paid for by ads, distributed around Auckland, and is up to its 21st issue (can that be true?). Andy Conlan's style alternates between caricature and a more realistic look, but his life drawing skills need more work.
There's brief-one pagers, mostly about relationships, and a continuing serial, "Mausoleum", with a creature that looks much like The Mask. The underlying themes are those of awkwardness and people's capability to be cruel to each other. ("I can't stop pushing old men into urinals.") Obviously this guy's been reading Brunetti, Newgarden and Clowes. (P.O. Box 105-278, Auckland NZ.)
I've always been curious about whether accepting ads would work for mini-comics, if one was sufficiently organized. It seems that it's been shown to be viable, in this product – and in a market that is not kind to locally produced comics. http://www.titan.co.nz/fodder/
Alex was pretty negative about this one in his collected Largely Critical. ("I tried to cheer myself up by burning Strumming Teeth_but even that didn't bring me out of my melancholy - what the hell are
they made of anyway? It takes half a bottle of petrol to burn a copy!" "They're held together by hate!")
I begin to walk over to Ant and Alex's to retrieve my briefcase full of comics. Turns out downtown is having a festival of some sort today. There's a stage being set up, the theme seems to be the revitalization
of downtown. Oh great, the Danish pop band Aqua (hit single "Barbie Girl")is playing. Time to move along.
I leave some copies of QuickDraw at music store Real Groovy on Queen Street. I mean to invoice but a) I'm tired and b) the usual guy who manages that stuff isn't there. So I just give them the comics and hope
for the best. I'm on a mission, dammit. I will not be stopped.
There's a music magazine put out by the store as well. http://home.xtra.co.nz/hosts/realgroove/static/rg_info.html
Walking up the street, a woman in a fairy outfit smiles and points her wand at me. For a moment I think I'm hallucinating, then realize the get-up's for the festival.
When I meet up with Ant and Alex, the latter is excitedly auditioning for a band, Tadpole. I chat with Ant about some of the comics. It's good to yak but I can't take up their whole afternoon. Plus I'm feeling pretty tired. Ant offeres a ride to the convention tomorrow. Mighty nice of him.
There's a graveyard on the walk back from their apartment. Lots of cool old gravestones, moss encrusted. Too bad someone had to build an overpass so near it. I'll bet the local Goths must dig this place. I take some photos.
I trudge back downtown, late afternoon. The festival is over and city workers are cleaning up. The street barricades are still up, though, so heaps of skater kids are going nuts, zipping all over the place. They're having a blast. You don't need to import a bubblegum pop band from another country to have fun - sometimes all you need is an empty bit of asphalt.
I leave some copies of my comics at Ground Zero – the store manager isn’t in today, so again, I just give 'em to 'em.
I buy cold medicine stuff at a drugstore. I also get a lottery ticket because I like the ticket design and want to use the logo for a cartoon or something later. I win two bucks! It's a good sign.
Feeling feverish again. At least I'll be able to recover at my folks' place when I get back - don't wanna crash and burn though.
A German girl in my dorm room takes interest in the comics as I'm sorting them out. My three years of High School German aren't much help, but we manage to chat a bit. I always see Germans in hostels, for
some reason. Usually reading Tom Clancy.
At about ten pm I realize I'm missing something. I'd been meaning to do some interviews tomorrow, I had a tape set aside, and of course I've lost it. I ask the guy at the desk downstairs if there's anyplace I can
buy a tape at this late hour. He thinks for a minute, then rummages in box of cassettes and gives me a tape of really bad slow jams. "Just take it" he says, "I hate this one." Saved again!
I actually manage to sleep a bit, though I'm getting a pretty bad cough. The drugs are a help, but I need something stronger. Or maybe just a week of rest.
Day Twelve: Armageddon. Auckland (North Island) Sunday, March 22nd.
I stumble out of bed and gulp down a croissant. Ant and Alex show up right on time, and we head off to pick up Cornelius Stone.
In the plethora of backpaper information at the hostel I've spotted a "Black Sheep" hostel in Queenstown, on the West Coast. I give the brochure to Ant and inquire if his "Black Sheep" character has retired and started his own business.
I complain about the place next door that is blasting music. They had a cover band last night, some of the music seeped through: Gloria Estefan, Alanis Morissette.
"Oh yeah, 'Park in the Bar'."
"Bloody Park in the Bar."
"Corn" is a thirtyish (dare I say fortyish?) thin blond fella, unassuming and friendly. You wouldn't know to look at him that he's a titan of NZ comics. He hasn't been doing much comics work lately, apparently focusing on some film projects. He's got some boxes of old comics to sell.
We pull into the Alexandra Convention Centre parking lot and load out. We set up inside the venue with other sundry sellers of comics and stuff. Incongruously, there's an energy drink promotional stand next to us. What were they thinking?
There aren't too many small pressers there. We sit and hang reading each others' stuff. I wonder if the Oatz Comics folks are going to make it over from Hamilton. It's a shame I haven't been able to get in contact with them.
Alex is hung over and not shy to admit it. "Yuppie!" he accuses as I boot up my laptop. I show him and a few others some Australian comics stuff I've got stored. http://www.grafted.net/8D/
Despite their relative nearness, I'm starting to realize there's not a lot of Trans-Tasman comics communication. Most of the stuff I show people is new to them.
I'm still feeling kinda feverish. For liquids, I drink an endless stream of L&Ps.
We're soon joined by Adam Jamieson and Dylan Horrocks. Adam is quiet but friendly, and has most of his earlier comics for sale. His latest work is in See Saw, a collaboration with two others: Sophie McMillan and Timothy Kidd. I'd gotten the first issue the other day; here's the second.
In #1 Timothy Kidd's feature "Encyclopedia of Crimes Foretold", includes some recurring characters of his, Jose and Rosa, and in the second installment, a fable about a chimera. We're also introduced to Adam's slickly drawn "Hortz", a horselike creature thrashing out questions of identity and purpose. Man that description sounds dull, let me try again. Hortz argues and interacts with other woodland creatures, sometimes stoic and stubborn, often childlike. The one page strips are simple, fun and visually appealing. Finally, Sophie's "Nameless Romance" is a short vignette of illusion and reality in the life of a stuntman.
#2 includes the second part of Sophie's continuing adaptation of Sartre's The Reprive - done more as a joke than in a serious sense. I think it goes against the grain of what Classics Illustrated tries - this strip really makes a case for Sartre's unreadability.
Another episode of "Encyclopedia of Crimes Foretold" sees a voyeuristic ghost peering through windows of space and time. Adam includes four "Hortz" stories, where we find the creature is a bit of a loner, trying to understand and sort out his life.
All the contributors of See Saw are pretty talented. Get wise and get it. ($4.00 NZ, P.O. Box 5722, Wellesley Street, Auckland, New Zealand.)
Dylan is wearing a zig-zag shirt much like Charlie Brown's. I think I've mentioned before, he's the creator of Pickle. (http://www.blackeye.com/) I've been scouring NZ to complete my collection so I can interview him.
Dylan's excited to see the Australian stuff and we have one of those rapid-fire conversations common to comics aficionados. He introduces me to Darren Schroeder, a fella who's compiled a register of NZ comics. http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~chayne/comix/nzcomreg.html
People start to drift in. Their attention is mainly taken up by cards and superhero comics stuff. The star attraction, the Captain America scribe does his signing and the people line up attentively. We've got a good vantage point to watch.
"Man, I'd write Spider-Man in a minute." Alex says wistfully.
"Sure you could," I counter, "but look at the clothes they wear." Gesturing at the writer and the fans. "Could you do the clothes?" Alex shudders inside his leather jacket.
People start drifting by and I sell a few comics. Enough to pay for the L&Ps, at least. Maybe I should try the energy drink at the stand next door. They're not getting any attention at all.
I'm still pretty sick. I hope I'm not giving this to everybody I meet, like a jet-setting Typhoid Mary. What if I've given the plague to all the comics folks I've been meeting? The horror.
I ask Dylan about the interview and he's into it. I dig out my list of questions and tape recorder; we decide to do it in about an hour.
I chat a bit with Adam. Dylan says he's reminiscent of Paul Pope in terms of style, but he's a nicer guy, "The Anti-Pope". Wasn't that term in Revelations or something? Definite millennial theme for the last few days. Or maybe I'm just feverish and hallucinating.
Dylan shows me a booklet collecting Tove Jansson's newspaper comics.
They were only published in England, I think, and I'm stunned. She's one of my all-time favorite cartoonists, I was raised on her stuff. http://www.io.com/~fazia/Moomin2.html
I show Dylan another obscure comic. My friend Amber found it when cleaning out her library at the development agency she works for. It's about food pricing, done in the 1970s by one of America's great underground cartoonists, Spain. (And damned if I can remember the title now - something like "the food pricing scandal".) In Pickle Dylan had an imaginary library of undiscovered comics masterpieces - I feel like we've got two more right here.
Alex tells me he's joined the band he was auditioning for, Tadpole. They're gonna go on a trip to Australia at some point. I tell him he's got to check in with my homeboys in Melbourne. He keeps going on about how music is more rewarding than comics: his weekly strip "Largely Critical" has garnered him more notoriety than roots. It's a tough angle to argue with - learn three chords and you're ready to go on stage.
Draw three lines and you're still sitting in your room by yourself.
We take a break to judge a fan art contest. Timothy Kidd and Sophie McMillan show up. I get a look at their solo comics, respectively Illuminata and Interlude Pie. I can see I've made a mistake in not getting all five issues of Half a World Away. Timothy's style is great, and Sophie's is also fairly realistic and shows a good degree of gentle humor - reminds me just a tad of Jenny Zervakis (Strange Growths).
Interlude Pie is a loose assemblage of stories, characteristically experimental. There are at least two repeating characters, Otto and Poppy, native to Jangle Rock. I've got numbers four through six. #4 is A6 in size and consists of short one or two page character-based vignettes. Losing a hat, buying a book, anecdotes and fables. It's a fun mixture.
#5 is back to A5 size and could be called the TV issue. Otto and Sophie click through the same channels, as they watch TV in separate places, linked by the monadic unity of centralized broadcasting. Plus the Interlude Pie Sweepstakes.
#6 we see a bit of experimentation with zipatone. This one finds Otto in the big city and being scammed. The thieves mean no bodily harm, though, and even sing to Otto as he is sleeping. (I think this is the best example of the playful nature of Sophie's stuff.) We then find that Jangle rock is in peril from a zoological oddity. All issues feature variations in size, storytelling and format. Looks like she's testing her voice, seeing what she can do.
No cover price. (7 Northland Street, Grey Lynn, Auckland, New Zealand. I'm fairly sure Timothy can be reached through this address as well.)
What I like about Kidd's work is that he shows you his story and allows you to make the connections. His storytelling is quite sophisticated for one so young. The central character is obviously a stand-in for the author, as is the similar-looking one in his more recent work, Illumina. It's clearly an interior environment that's being depicted in his work. He seems to have been experimenting in this Half a World...it looks like he's using pens, brushes, even ballpoint.
I particularly enjoyed his new story Illumina...two issues so far, the first told entirely in a fictitious language. (And forty pages too!) Angels. Mermaids. Aliens. Lots of fun storytelling bits.
#1 finds the protagonist abducted by aliens, after which he is rescued by a mermaid. Taken into the care of a family in a small fishing village, he begins to recover from his ordeal. He is searched for by an angel, with whom he seems to have a mutual past. The aliens show up to interfere again, eventually leaving the two reunited but in distress, to be rescued again by the mermaid and her aquatic brood.
The best bits of storytelling language in the story are, well, about language. The angel's affinity with winged creatures allows her to listen to a bird's chirpy exclamations, a collage of overlapping speech balloons with pictures inside. When the mermaid combs her hair and sings, siren-like, in a language unknown to us, we see the sinuous speech balloon wind like an exhalation under the chins of those it affects. This is good stuff with a mythic bent.
The nominal protagonists of the second issue spend most of it asleep! They wash up in a small town, where a whole new cast of characters is introduced. I sense perhaps a little Gilbert Hernandez influence here. I like how we're eased into the rhythms of the lives these people lead. No panel borders in this issue - the lives of the people here bleed into each other. We meet Rosa and Hector, who take in the sleeping angel (now losing her feathers) and lost boy. (No cover price, try Timothy Kidd, P.O. Box 5722, Wellesley Street, Auckland, NZ.)
I get a moment to interview Dylan and we talk for what stretches out to be a good forty-five minutes. He's fun to chat with - fascinated with practically everything related to comics, possessing a contagious enthusiasm. I get the background story on Pickle as well as his other efforts, like the Hicksville graphic novel. He's done some locally published strips and in explaining their content shares some of his
opinions on NZ politics and culture.
Dylan's also got a number of future projects he's thinking of, now that Pickle is drawing to a close. In addition to all this, he's teaching a course on comics -- I try to pin him down on his definition of comics, something he's given a lot of thought to. That part alone's a good ten minutes at least. I could have taken up heaps more of his time but that would be a bit selfish. He gives a plug for the See Saw creators – whom he thinks are doing their best work in their own books.
When it's done I think I've got a pretty good interview on tape – the more I think about it though, the more I realize that I wasn't so much asking him interview questions; rather I was asking him questions about comics issues I'm curious about, that his work addresses. Hopefully that will still be an interesting read when I transcribe it.
I'm given a new mini, Chrysalis. It's an okay first effort, with a cute two pager, "The Goth Killers". I trade some comics with Sophie and Timothy. Turns out that they've just gotten married. Cool, they'll be an unstoppable comics couple.
Corn gives me a whopping stack of comics - Knuckles the Malevolent Nun, Family of Sex (heard about this one in Melbourne), and many more.
I'm not sure if I can give him adequate goodies for exchange, but I give him the best of what I have remaining.
People are starting to leave. It's time to wrap up. I start packing and giving away the few comics that are left. I've sold more than I thought I would. Ant's sold a few for me while I'm gone, bless him. Now I can go back to the hostel and rest.
We pile back into Ant's car and head out. The sun is setting. One of Alex’s friends points out graffiti as we travel through the city, describing who's done it and why. "The guy who did this piece was arrested in Australia - the Judge put him on a plane to Auckland and said he didn't want to see him again." There's a little bit for a story in there, how seemingly obscure things we see daily can have hidden, decodable meanings.
Ordinarily I'd ask if anyone was up for a beer but the Typhoid Mary of the indie comics world is feeling feverish. We drop off Corn and I'm next. I thank the boys for all their help. Then I go up to my room and collapse.
After about two hours of sleep I wake up and go to the hostel's restaurant to find some food.
I've got copies of Razor, UFO and Family of Sex. I leaf through them in a sleepy haze.
Family of Sex #2 (1990) has lots of short non sequitur bits drawn in comic strip format, generally drawn by Cornelius ("New Zealand comics' great survivor") from photo reference. I've seen the title in some zine compendium from years ago - it's not one you'd forget.
#3 (1990) adds some new bits to the mix: real fumettis and guest artists, as well as guest characters. In short, mixing things up a little more. We find short pieces by Dylan Horrocks and Tony Renouf, while Roger Langridge deserves a special mention for his story "Desk", a 24 hour comic. It's a true tale of Langridge's childhood as a "big poofy girl's blouse" dealing with tough kids at school, a nice stand-alone bit.
Razor is an NZ anthology, and contains work by many folks - Stone, Langridge, Horrocks and many more. #5 (1987) has a long collaboration between Dylan and Cornelius, a moody personal bit with anthropomorphic characters.
#9 contains two long strips, the final one a jam by seemingly everyone in the known universe. It's "the last Joe Dole story", with lots of digs about NZ politics and also starring the character Tisco George, whom many may have seen in Pickle. While it's uneven like many jams, it's fun to see so many different cartoonists being playful and loose.
Razor #11 is an all-Knuckles edition, featuring Knuckles the Malevolent Nun. Hmm...summer 1993. This must have been just before the strip got picked up by Fantagraphics. I find this some of the more accessible of Cornelius' stuff, simply 'cause it's played strictly for laughs. (Of course, I'd imagine he's tired of being known just for that feature.)
Slightly more recent is another anthology helmed by Cornelius, UFO #1 ($5.95 NZ, 1995). There's a great Lisa Noble strip, "One Way Jesus". I'm also impressed with Barry Linton's work, both on his own and with Cornelius in "Jazzmen 3". There's a short strip by Dylan, and some fine work ("Dirt") by David Mitchell, a sort of surreal serial killer bit. Aha! His work was also in Treacle and Jesus on a Stick. I believe Tony Renouf told me that he was a musician on the side. His stuff is detailed and moody, I wonder what he's up to nowadays. Karl Wills contributes "Figaro", a wordless fable of weird chimeric creatures – and now that I'm starting to become more familiar with his style, I seem to recall he's done one of the one-pagers in the last Treacle as well. Things are starting to make a little more sense. His work is very accessible - polished and slick yet sick. (Most of these don't have cover prices - to inquire write to Cornelius Stone, 61 Mt Eden Road, Eden Tce, Auckland, NZ.)
I read these and have a big salad (gotta get those greens) and a huge glass of orange juice. Hey they’re playing Barb Wire on TV. Probably 'cause of Temuera Morrison more than anything I'll bet. I go crash out to the siren strains of Park in the Bar’s overamplified music.
Day Thirteen: "Mr. Charisma".
Auckland (North Island)
Monday, March 23rd.
I wake up and cough up more phlegm. I hope I haven't kept the people in my dorm room awake - though I certainly wasn't as loud as the disco next door. Glad I've got those earplugs.
It's a nice bright day, shorts weather. It's my last day here, but I've got one more thing to do. I've set aside part of today to interview Chris Knox, a well-known figure here. I've been trying to get up to speed by reading zines and listening to his music, but he's just done too much - he has a finger in every pie.
Fortunately things are a bit simplified in that I want to interview him on just his comics work. For The Clean's Boodle Boodle Boodle EP, he drew a comic for the CD booklet. In 1981 he edited the "Rock" issue of Strips, and began a regular comic, "Max Media", for the NZ Herald in 1987, which continues to this day. He draws music reviews for Really Groovy, and various other pieces for Stamp, On Film, The Listener, etc. Prolific.
Perhaps, though, the best-known thing that exposed Chris as a cartoonist is the fondly-remembered anthology Jesus On A Stick, which he self-published four issues of from 1986 to 1987.
Ant was kind enough to lend me three copies. It seems to have made a big splash at the time, and all issues have some fine stories. Some of the best are by Chris. I'm envious - getting paid for doing comics and music.
It had a print run of about 1500 per issue, color cover, roughly A4 in size. The art styles mostly leaned in a non-representational noncommercial direction. Having put together the anthology, Chris also got to do the honors on the covers.
Issue #1 has "The Bruce Springsteen Story" (a fetus) meeting Cyndi Lauper (lookin' awful like Snoopy), by Chris. I have a weird feeling this strip is allegorically autobiographical. Nothin' else in that one turned my crank, except maybe the cover with Mickey Mouse up on a cross grinning in his undies.
"Free Jesus Mask!" advertises Issue #2. This is accomplished by having two covers. (I don't want to imagine how much of the budget that ate up.) The first cover is of a skull with skin peeling off it, surrounded by dotted lines. The second (interior) cover appears to be a color negative of the first cover. The outside one is intended to be removed and used. A surreal, somewhat morbid untitled story of a transient sort-of-homunculi is done good service by David Mitchell's able figure drawing, and intricate stippling and shading. Chris contributes a nicely detailed nightmare of childhood toys and dolls come to life. I see a Golliwog doll in this too, an item that often pops up in Tom Priestly's stuff - am I right in guessing that these are representations of Aboriginals?
In #3 Tony Renouf makes an appearance with Sedgewick - good lord, this guy's everywhere. Chris reprints a religious tract in its entirety – while some of the strips in Jesus On a Stick have a blasphemous bent or mystic allusions, for weird religious shit, how do you top Jack Chick?
Standout strip for this issue is Chris's "Radiation Sickness", two pages about gang rape, understated but still not for the easily disturbed. I found them both particularly moving. In one, we hear a second-hand story of the crime, chilling because you are made to imagine. Second is a postscript where convicted prisoners are role-playing what a rape victim goes through. Both are true. Lisa Noble also contributes a fine tidbit of paranoia on scratchboard, "The Watchers". All this plus a letter from Pete Bagge, another guy who gets around.
#4 finds a sick Muppet parody by Tom Cardy, a ghost story by Chris, more of Lisa Noble's "Watchers", and a bloody ear on the cover. Van Gogh's? Oh yeah, Joe Wylie contributes a cute comical fable of the end times in "To Hell and Back". Don't let the angels lobotomize you!
After seeing Chris play back in Melbourne I was curious about his other efforts, and was interested to learn that he did cartoons as well. Onstage he was unpretentious and energetic, two admirable qualities. By
the end he looked like he'd been through a workout. I did a drawing of him labeled "Mr. Charisma" in my sketchbook at the time.
So after seeing him perform and reading his comics, I'm ready to ask Chris some questions, but, of course, I can't find his address. Arrgh! I know Chris is listed in the phone book, so I try ringing - but it's the wrong Chris Knox. Oops. "You must get this all the time," I say apologetically.
"Yep." I'm told.
I call Ant and Alex, and in an amazing display of prescience, they've left Chris' address info by the phone. Their housemate fills me in. Phew. (The address: 2 Hakanoa Street, Grey Lynn, Auckland. Chris really doesn't do any minis at the moment, but he may have some issues of Jesus on A Stick left. $4.00 NZ per issue.)
I grab my briefcase and tape recorder and then look at the time. I feel like I'm splurging getting a taxi but it's probably the easiest way to get to Gray Lynn where Chris lives. I don't wanna kill myself tramping all over town. After some nasty ethnic jokes I step out of the cab (no tip).
I'm lost for a moment - the house across the street has the same number for some weird reason. Chris' partner comes out to get the mail and spots me looking clueless. Apparently the postman's been pretty clueless too. "We've lost a lot of mail that way." she says ruefully.
Their house is great. Stuffed with books and records, which I'd love to linger and check out. Chris breaks off a phone call and drags out some photocopies he's made. He's way ahead of me.
I whip out my trusty recorder. Like Dylan, he cranes his neck to second guess the questions I’ve jotted. He's thoughtful and perceptive; direct and literal, much like his music and comics. I can't for the life of me figure out why his art is so often seen as naïve just because it's not cloaked in indirect metaphors.
I ask him if being a rock musician has any relation to being a successful cartoonist. "There are far, far too many rock musicians in this world" he responds emphatically. "Ninety-nine percent of them should be taken out and shot." What a cool guy.
Comics and copies in hand, I stuff them in my briefcase and take my leave. I decide to walk from Grey Lynn to the city center. I can see the skyscrapers in the distance.
I buy an apple. It's a gorgeous sunny day, and the walk into Auckland gives me a nice view. I take a few pictures. Probably not the smartest thing to walk that far though, I've still got a bit of a cough. I make it to the city center and miraculously don't seem to have gotten a sunburn.
And that's it. It's time to go to the airport and head back to the States. Not really sure how to feel - wish I had more time here, going to miss this corner of the world - but mostly, I'm tired. I feel a weariness that permeates my bones. I've pushed myself too far. I can't wait to get back to the familial homestead and recover.
I make some phone calls in the downstairs lounge area in the hostel. Suddenly I see my battered old briefcase is gone. With my recorder inside. Shit! The ten or so interviews I've done so far, of bands, comics people and other stuff - all gone.
I ask at the desk - someone's put my briefcase behind the desk for safekeeping. Second time I'd almost lost priceless stuff. I could have coughed my heart right out of my throat.
I take the bus to the airport. As I get on, I remember my fake student card from Dunedin. I wave it at the bus driver and receive a discount. Yeah! Came in handy after all.
This is what, the fifth time I've been at this airport? I retrieve my luggage. I put all the suitcases and stuff in one huge precarious load and navigate my way through immigration and other obstacles, pausing only to buy some Vegemite for gifts later.
Filed, stamped and sorted, luggage tagged and transferred, I finally I make it on the plane.
I've got tapes and a walkman. I've got heaps of comics to read. I've got my sketchbook to draw in. But what I _do_ is to sit and doze in a fetal half-asleep state for eighteen hours. As the plane takes off and the pressure drops I feel like a balloon has been inflated in my sinus cavity.
Halfway through the flight I cough up a big flourescent green glob of phlegm and breathe much easier. I'm sure it endears me to the people in Economy Class that I'm wedged between.
Suddenly I'm there. Due to the international dateline, I've arrived before I left, hours earlier on the same day. I stumble out of the plane and blink at the bright California sunshine streaming through the windows. I'm about to find I have sinusitis and bronchitis. The sky is impossibly blue.