Australian comics have come back into focus with the success of the ABC documentary Comic Book Heroes, highlighting local publishing house Gestalt Comics. While they seem to be determined to take over the world, another local outfit, Milk Shadow Books, simply “aims to publish the weirdest trips, strangest journeys, and assorted stories that make you laugh, think and gag”. Launching their latest line of retrospectives this weekend, at Melbourne’s All Star Comics on Saturday October 12, there’s a good chance that readers will get a hefty dose of all three of those things.
Da ‘n’ Dill: The Showbag Years, from cult favourite Dillon Naylor, dives into the archives and plastic showbags of the 1990s and fishes out those strips that felt far too naughty for our youthful and (mostly) innocent eyes. While some punters explored the wood-chopping at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, or sampled some jams and preserves at the Brisbane Ekka, Naylor’s subversive and often simply perverse pieces of underground art sat out in the mainstream for the world to see.
Concerning the misadventures of the put-upon Ian, he is constantly beleaguered by Ure Da, an alien scientist, and Dill, a rare breed of bird from the coasts of Africa. Either that, or they were simply too very deluded school boys in rubber latex masks. Running over the course of seven issues, from 1992 to 1999, the increasingly bizarre situations the titular pair force Ian to get into are perfect for our inner juvenile delinquents, the kind of imitable behaviour that would have sent Fredric Wertham into a conniption. The restrained madness of the early comics, printed on some rough as guts stock in their original form, grows and refines with the pen and inks of the later issues.
Naylor’s other recent collection, A Brush With Darkness, shows the Creepy and Eerie influenced early work of Naylor, alongside the band posters, album covers and comics that kept the underground scene in t-shirt designs for the better part of a decade. Da ‘n’ Dill: The Showbag Years influenced a different generation of impressionable minds. As cartoonist Owen Heltmann suggests in his introduction to the volume, this is perhaps best enjoyed with some “Bertie Beetles, Freddo Frogs and Wizz Fizz”.
For something completely and utterly different, Ben Constantine’s collection of (initially) self-published Plump Oyster comics has been described as being in the tradition of alternative comic artists such as Charles Burns and other RAW alumni, and fans of Jhonen Vasquez’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Squee! may find a kindred spirit in Constantine’s creations. Of course, the writer/artist’s sense of the weird has a direct line-through from the underground comix-with-a-capital-X of Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman (during his days in the aforementioned RAW), although it is difficult to put the menagerie of comics found in Squirt-Stone: The Collected Plump Oyster – Volume 1 into a single cage.
The 200+ page volume has been curated by the Queensland artist, whose art was recently seen gracing the covers and advertisements for the free daily newspaper MX, and contains an eclectic but often interconnected mix of tales and vignettes from a set of characters that would make the most disturbing Saturday morning cartoon in the history of the medium.
There’s the misadventures of “Little Teapot”, who is both short and stout and regularly gets all steamed up, on a quest for love (or something) that is regularly dashed upon some very literal rocks. “Pleff’s Dungeon” reads like a demented version of Harold and the Purple Crayon, and like many of the stories in the mix, it’s also about finding the balance between drug use and creativity and the fears of the latter drying up with the cessation of the former. The book is also a timely reminder that the reason “Why She Woke and Wandered” is “because she’s music.” So there.
The artwork is both simple in its pen and ink construction, but built of a complexity that demands multiple read-throughs. The hand-made quality of the once self-published work shines through in this reproduction, but seeing it collected all together like this gives us a deeper appreciation for the surrealist artistry of Constantine’s style.
Da ‘n’ Dill: The Showbag Years and Squirt-Stone: The Collected Plump Oyster – Volume 1 launch . For details, hit up the Slug Guts Graphic Novel Launch Facebook event page or click on the poster below.