Friday, February 22, 2008

boing boing in the brush

Wallabies and possums. Mosquitos and ants. The hot summer weather seems to bring them all out. The mozzies in particular made straight for my sister Julie at the Australia Day barbecue; she had marks all over her legs for weeks.

When I take Julie's dogs out in the evening, the bushes and the trees are full of sound and movement. The irascible possums glare at us from the branches of the trees, coughing noisily at us when we're at a safe distance.

In this weather there's often a wallaby lurking about in the back yards of the homes. They come down from the hills and feast on the flowers in the gardens. I hear some of them are very partial to roses.

It was odd at first to walk down the street and hear a rustle in the bushes, followed by the unmistakable boing-boing-boing noise as it hopped away. One of them got so used to us going past that it would stand there and wait for us to leave -- as long as we stayed on our own side of the road.

A sad day in Australian publishing this month with the country's oldest magazine folding. When The Bulletin's death was announced at a 10am meeting in Sydney, it ended a tradition that began 128 years ago with the likes of Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and Miles Franklin, and survived into the time of Donald Horne, Les Carlyon and Laurie Oakes.

I never knew the magazine in its pre-war heyday. By the time I came along, Sir Frank Packer had taken it over and turned it into a modern news weekly. I doubt the magazine would have been axed if his son Kerry Packer was still alive, but today it's owned by a soulless international media corporation.

One of the galling things is that the magazine's end was announced between editions. The editors didn't even have the opportunity to write a farewell note to the readers.

The same thing happened with Australasian Post, which was scuttled at a moment's notice despite its equally long history.

They say Australians are among the world's biggest consumers of magazines. But sentiment counts for little among the bean-counters of the modern business world, and a long history is no guarantee of survival in the marketplace.

Just today I heard a report that Reed Elsevier are selling off their magazine business, which includes titles ranging from Variety to New Scientist. Apparently the company is unhappy with "the cyclical nature" of magazine publishing....

Saturday, February 09, 2008

American comics Down Under

I read a lot of American comics as a child. But they weren't exactly the same comics that Americans were reading.

Australian access to original US comics was limited until the 1980s, resulting in a relatively strong local comic industry.
Back in 1939, Australian Senator D Cameron railed against US periodicals being dumped in Australia, affecting local writers and artists. The problem was soon solved with the start of the Second World War: the Australian Government enforced the Import Licensing Regulation to control the spending of US dollars and from June 1940, the import of US comics was banned.

From 1947 until 1983, DC comics were reprinted in Australia by KG Murray Publishing Company/Murray Publishers Pty Ltd under a range of imprints— Colour Comics, Planet Comics and finally Murray Comics. Between 1983 and 1986, the Federal Publishing Company Pty Ltd released reprints as Federal Comics and finally Australian Edition DC.

K.G. Murray had some long-running black-and-white publications whose titles reflected their 100-page size. Century, Hundred, Five Score - you get the idea. But the size of these comic books meant that just reprinting one DC title wasn't enough. Instead the editors ranged over the decades and assembled a real smorgasbord of various dates, titles and genres.

For example FIVE SCORE COMIC MONTHLY #76 in 1964 featured as its cover story "The Terrible Secret of Negative Man" which had appeared earlier that year in DOOM PATROL #87. Another story "The King of Nightmare Jungle" had appeared a few months earlier in TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #83.

So far so good, but the rest of the stories were from a wild and wonderful range of sources. "Out of Nowhere" came from a 1962 issue of UNKNOWN WORLDS. There were two Captain Compass stories from 1952 issues of STAR SPANGLED COMICS and a Hopalong Cassidy story "Buffalo Riders of the Mesa" from a 1950 issue of ALL AMERICAN WESTERN! A range of 14 years from oldest to newest and a bewildering potpourri of art styles from artists as diverse as Alex Toth, Carmine Infantino and Ogden Whitney.

Of course these things never bothered us as children. We just accepted the variety of themes and styles.

What did worry me was when they started trying to fiddle around with the details of the stories. There were attempts to de-emphasize the American origins -- references to Washington DC were relettered to read "our nation's capital" and in the TOMAHAWK stories set in the Revolutionary War the captions talking about the British army were relettered to read "the Redcoats".

Not to mention the frequent censorship where knives or arrows were removed from dead bodies to reduce the amount of violence depicted.

The strangest incident was an ATOMIC KNIGHTS story in which the hero pointed to a map of the United States on the wall. Local artists clumsily replaced it with a map of Australia. The problem was that they didn't change the dialogue which referred to the mountains on the west coast. In Australia, of course, the mountains are on the east coast!

I must have read that page half a dozen times trying to make sense of it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A for ant-agony

Hollywood tried to warn us. Films like The Naked Jungle, Them! and Phase IV.

Even Joan Collins tried to sound the alarm in Empire of the Ants.

The ants are on the march. The last couple of summers they've been an increasing problem and this January has been the driest since they started keeping records around 1882. The result is that they are literally everywhere.

Some nights they've been so bad in the kitchen that when we're making dinner one of us stands there holding the plates in mid-air while the other dishes out the food.; then we take off for the dining room and eat before the ants can follow us.

I know from watching movies what to do in a case like this. You dig a trench and fill it with kerosine, then when the ants start to cross it you throw in a flaming firebrand.

That may be all right out in the jungle but I'm a bit reluctant to try it in a suburban kitchen.

My sister hasn't been well this week, but she was up bright and early after the neighbours called her in to consult on a poultry problem. Their hen has only hatched one chick, so Julie offered to help out. She caught two chicks at her place and brought them over to be put under the hen.

They plan to tell their children that the hen hatched two more chicks while they were away.

Let's hope they all get on together. I know Julie will be on tenterhooks waiting for news of their progress.

I had a routine day at the office yesterday but I felt downcast by the time I arrived home. I felt like dark clouds were gathering over my head, plunging me into increasing darkness as time went on.

Sitting out in the garden alone before dinner, I came to the conclusion that the obvious explanation was probably correct. Next week is Valentine's Day, which is also my mother's birthday. She would have been 86 this year.

It's unfortunate that her birthday falls on Valentine's Day and she died on Grand Final Day. Thus the media never let me forget when either day is approaching. The rest of the year I'm all right, but those two days of the year always get me down.