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.

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