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Panpa Bulletin : July 2007
38 PANPA Bulletin July 2007 Comics -- child's play? No way By Lindsay Foyle history Given how long comics have been around it is amazing how many people misunderstand who reads them. To start with they are not drawn for children. Yes, children might read them, but the biggest audi- ence is adults. While there are few major studies on comic readership in Australia in recent years, there are American studies that that put the prime readership in their 30s to 40s. University educated too. It should also be remembered adults buy newspapers, children don't. Some people might think that a little far fetched. Before you pass judgment have a think about the history of comics, which goes back before writing started. Comics have their origin in the simple cave wall drawings that were used as decoration and to tell a story tens of thousands of years ago. They have been used to record history and can be found in one form or another in every society since civilisation began. Ancient temples and some of the oldest buildings in the world have drawings on the walls, many of them used to tell stories, which makes them comics. The simple picture stories evolved into writing, but writing did not eliminate comics, just added to their complexity. It is over a century since comics became popular in American newspa- pers and almost 90 years since they were adopted as mainstream in Australian newspapers. Sunday newspaper com- ics were popularised here in 1921 by Monty Grover who had been editor of The Sun and Sunday Sun in Sydney and became the founding editor of the Sun News-Pictorial in Melbourne. While the comics ran with the children's Sunbeams section, the editor of the section, Ethel Turner didn't want anything to do with them considering their content unsuit- able for young readers. She was right, but her efforts to have them removed failed and they have remained part of the Sunday newspapers ever since. One of the first comics run in the Sunday Sun was Us Fellers, created by Grover and drawn by Jimmy Bancks. While it had some success it didn't become popular till Bancks took con- trol and evolved it into Ginger Meggs. Over the next decade Bancks turned Meggs into the most popular feature in Australian newspapers and that turn him into the highest paid person in Australian media by the early 1930s. One of the reasons Meggs was so suc- cessful was that it filled a full page of a broadsheet newspaper. This was a won- derful space for Bancks to fill. It enabled him to write a story every week that took the readers on an adventure. The frames of the comic set a visual image that placed Meggs in a world that was familiar to all readers; half way between the back lanes of the city and the bush environ- ment of the country. The value of Ginger Meggs to the Sunday Sun can be judged by what hap- pened when Bancks moved the comic to the Sunday Telegraph in June 1951, 80,000 readers moved papers too. Frank Packer would have felt justified in having more than doubled Bancks' already enor- mous salary to help facilitate the move. Within a few years the publishers of the Sunday Sun, Associated Newspapers went belly up and was taken over by John Fairfax. All this happened back when Charles Schutz was establishing Peanuts as one of the most popular comics in the world. Like Meggs and many other comics it was about children, but the humour was adult and the hundreds of millions Schultz made wasn't child's play either. Back in the 1950s some people were saying the thread that was pulled causing Associated Newspapers to unravel was the loss of Ginger Meggs. There are others who say the departure of Bancks and the collapse of Associated Newspapers was a coincidence. It is one of those things that can't be proved one way or another. When Fairfax took control of the Sunday Sun they merged it -- in October 1953 -- with the Sunday Herald to form the Sun-Herald. John Ryan in his book Panel by Panel -- An illustrated history of Australian Comics, wrote that the merger "brought together the cream of local Sunday newspaper strips -- Fatty Finn, The Potts, Radish, Bib and Bub, Frisky, Wally and the Major, Snowy McGann, Billy Koala and Sandy Blight. The Sun- Herald went on to become the largest selling Sunday newspaper and some of its success can be attributed to its comic section which contained a reasonable percentage of Australian strips." At the Sunday Telegraph things didn't work out as well as had been planned. Bancks died in July 1952 and while Ginger Meggs continued with Ron Vivian drawing it, it was eventually downsized from a full page to a half page. In the smaller format, Ginger Meggs didn't have the pulling power it had when filling a full page.
August September 2007