Friday, April 16, 2010

NZ Comics Weekend in Review Part Two: Hicksville and the 2010 Eric Awards!

Above: From the left: VUP publisher Fergus Barrowman and Dylan Horrocks celebrate the release of the NZ edition of 'Hicksville'. Photo by James Gilberd.

The second night of NZ Comics Weekend festivities featured the official Wellington release party for the NZ edition of 'Hicksville', followed by the 2010 Black River Digital Eric Awards.

Above: A crowd gathers to hear Dylan speak, including Elisabeth Knox (in yellow) and friends. Photo by James Gilberd.

Published for the first time in New Zealand by Victoria University Press, it was only fitting that Wellington got to celebrate the release of 'Hicksville' in style. VUP publisher Fergus Barrowman was in attendance, along with his wife, acclaimed author Elisabeth Knox (who also served as one of the judges for the Eric Awards).

Above: From left: Robyn E Kenealy, Fergus Barrowman, Dylan Horrocks and Grace C Russell.

Above: The crowd enjoying a drink and checking out some of Dylan's original artwork on display. Photo by James Gilberd.

Above: Cartoonist Darren Sheehan and Matthew Kelly enjoy a drink at the opening.

Above: Robyn E Kenealy and Claire Harris in pre-awards mode.

Above: Once again Dylan Horrocks diligently signed and personalized every copy purchased with an individual sketch on the ideally placed 'This book belongs to...' page (so you won't be seeing these copies on eBay any time soon!).

Above: The crowd gets seated and ready for the 2010 Black River Digital Eric Awards. Top photo by James Gilberd.

After some drinks it was time for the business end of the evening: the 2010 Black River Digital Eric Awards!

Above: The Eric Awards hosts: Nic Sando and Robyn E Kenealy.

The Awards were hosted by cartoonist and comedian Nic Sando, along with NZ Comics Weekend organiser and cartoonist, Robyn E Kenealy.

This year's judging panel consisted of: Roberta Gregory (American author of ‘Bitchy Bitch’), Andrei Molotiu ( editor and publisher at Fantagraphic Comics), New Zealand writer Elizabeth Knox, Ant Sang (of ‘Dharma Punks’ and ‘Bro’ Town’), Cornelius Stone (creator/writer of ‘Knuckles the Malevolent Nun’), Claire Brunette (one of the coordinators of the Wellington City Library Small Press collection), Australian cartoonist and organiser David Blumenstein, and New Zealand’s pre-eminent comics historian, Tim Bollinger. I'll include some of the judges commentary on the winners where available.

Above: Jerome Bihan editor of 'Radio as Paper'.

The first award of the night was BEST ANTHOLOGY, which went to 'Radio as Paper' edited by Jerome Bihan.

“Ultimately, I had to decide based on unified editorial vision and the proportion of good stuff to crap. From that point of view, the winner has to be Radio as Paper.” – Andrei Molotiu (keeping it real or just incredibly dead-pan? Difficult to tell...-AK).

Above: Excepting for BEST WEBCOMIC: Draw and Meredith Van Halen.

Next up was BEST WEBCOMIC, which resulted in a tie between 'Drawing Silence' by Draw and 'How to Understand Everything and Not Hate Yourself' by Meredith Van Halen.

“Striking and emotional. The panels by themselves are great, grouped they are amazing and animated, they are stunning Len Lye-y beauties. I was really impressed by the control and confidence of the artist’s vision. Ultimately, it's just really fricking beautiful.” – Claire Brunette on 'Drawing Silence' by Draw.

“Lots to love about this. Especially the dad jokes and the microsoft paintyness of the comic.” – Claire Brunette
“It is well written and good and I wanted to read all the comics that were available (and had no trouble doing so).”
– David Blumenstein on 'How to Understand Everything and Not Hate Yourself' by Meredith Van Halen.

Above: Darren Sheehan the artist of 'The Inhabitants' accepts the award on behalf of his brother, Kelly.

The Award for BEST WRITER went to Kelly Sheenan for 'The Inhabitants'.

“I’m a bit of a sucker for portal fantasies (the whole ordinary-kid-being-hijacked-by-magic thing never gets old). The Inhabitant’s strength is its confident storytelling (like it shows you the townscape of the Endless City seen from the passing car before it shows you the hero in the car looking out the window). That kind of thing was done very gracefully. This story had a well-developed generalised mood of melancholic suspense. And, at their best, the magical bits felt magical, like the hero’s hand experimentally rolling the black stuff into a ball, and the monster being lured away by Charlotte into an inhospitable other dimension – beautiful! The repeated frames were a good touch too – emphasising the stillness and emptiness of the city. Darren Sheehan just loves angles, doesn’t he?”
– Elizabeth Knox

“Good visual story-telling in the partnership of Kelly and Darren, they've perfected over time. Well considered writing with a story and a purpose. Most deserving. I quite liked the landscape spreads of characters with name labels. I guess these were 'the Inhabitants' of the city - the names rolling off Kelly's pen. They have a diagrammatic stillness not unlike the aerial views of the city, like the whole landscape was being mapped out for the reader - and it’s a form of writing specific to this visual medium, so interesting I thought.” – Tim Bollinger

Above: Margaret Silverwood accepts her award for BEST ARTWORK.

BEST ARTWORK was awarded to Margaret Silverwood for 'Utopia Now Vol.1'.

Above: Robyn accepts for Tim Molloy in his absence.

The award for BEST SHORT PIECE went to Tim Molloy, for 'Under the Bed'.

“It's excellent. I have no choice but to vote for it.” – David Blumenstein

Above: Ned Wenlock towered over the judges to accept his award for BEST DEBUT.

The BEST DEBUT award went to 'Hotpools' by Ned Wenlock.

“Aesthetically mature and restrained. Strong, simple art. Sustained and original narrative voice.” - Claire Brunette “Really nice design/layout concept, great drawings. Funny story ideas.” –Tim Bollinger

Above: Robyn accepts for an absent Mat Tait.

An absent Mat Tait took out the award for BEST COMIC for 'Love Stories'.

Above: NZCC Organisers, Claire Harris and Issac Freeman.

Next was one of the most important awards of the night, BEST DISTRIBUTION, which went to the NZCC. Initiated by Isaac Freeman with Claire Harris and friends, the 'New Zealand Comic Creators' stall organises the selling and distribution of NZ comics at comic conventions around the country. For the past few years it has been the most successful incarnation of a NZ comics distribution network, and is largely responsible for the continued public profile and awareness of NZ comics.

Above: Me, giving a long-winded thank you to all 67 of my dedicated readers! But on a more sincere note: this category was based solely on reader votes, so I really appreciate the community support.

BEST NZ COMICS RELATED WEBSITE went to yours truly, thanks again!

Above: Dylan Horrocks accepts an award on behalf of an absent Timothy Kidd.

The final award of the night, BEST COMIC STRIP, went to 'Western Park' by Timothy Kidd.

“My easiest choice. I was completely floored by the deceptive simplicity of this comic. The beautiful art, the slow-motion tragedy of the narratives. WP is unique amongst many of the comics in that Mr Kidd isn’t afraid of detailing the small, heartbreaking things that make up such a large part of life. The drama feels authentic, the boredom and hopelessness shimmer off the page. Astonishing.” – Claire Brunette

“It is funny, and fanciful, and strange, and evocative ,and beautiful, and strongly and deftly narrative. I like the way that the strips are all separate – Fafisa, Bernard of the Eve, Blues Clues – but you can imagine those characters inhabiting the same city. They certainly inhabit the same sensibility. I loved Bernard’s life of the mind – he’s depressed, he’s in bed because he can’t go anywhere because he hasn’t got his dole for the week, and he’s trying to cheer himself up by imagining how much harder his life would be if he was a cave man, and he keeps dropping off and dreaming that he is – and Ernest the cat and his demands are the only constant. It really got that lackadaisical spaced out early twenties thing. And Fafisa, same, that poor depressed kid on the couch, with his sandwich, grazing channels and missing his vanished brother. I loved way that the story in Fafisa melts from the kid’s present moment, to his memories, to dreams—his own and other people’s—Galactus, Jason in his hockey mask, a zombie .... And I love the way it ended – the pull back to the night time street and the villa. So—Best Strip, Western Park, for its fantastic storytelling— sparse, suggestive, and full of feeling.” – Elizabeth Knox

Above: Tim Bollinger hosts a discussion with NZ cartoonist Burton Silver.

After the awards ceremony there was a brief break for conversation and congratulatory drinks before a discussion with noted NZ cartoonist and satirist Burton Silver, creator of the popular '70s cartoon 'Bogor'.

Above: A book collection of Burton Silver's most well-known creation, 'Bogor'.

Tim Bollinger hosted the lively discussion with Silver, looking at his work on 'Bogor' and numerous other books and projects he's created over the years.

Above: A 'Bogor' comic-strip. Copyright Burton Silver, 2010.

'Bogor' was a comic-strip Silver created for the 'NZ Listener' magazine in 1973, about a lone woodsman who's only companions are the forest animals, particularly a friendly hedgehog. Rather than pushing an environmental message about deforestation, Bogor's humour derived from it's 'man alone' setting, exploring the various things Bogor would get up to starve off boredom and isolation. This was a favourite theme of Silver's, who had previously created a much more philosophical take on humour in isolation with 'OB'. Based on his time in the Australian outback, OB (written under the pseudonym 'Roux') was extremely minimalist, following the humourous (and zen like) interactions of a bird, a snake and a rock.

Bogor is also notable for it's frequent marijuana references, often showing the hedgehogs and Bogor with the plant (and occasionally smoking it).

Above: The cover of a Bogor collection, featuring stoned hedgehogs.

It must have been a hit with the masses, as marijuana made appearances on five collection covers, including the three pictured above: Bogor collections from 1979, 1980, 1983. By the early '90s comic-strips by NZ creators were getting edged out of publication by the cheaper syndicated strips from the US, so Silver moved into publishing.

Above: 'Why Cat's Paint', by Burton Silver & Heather Busch.

Silver had an enormous success with his humourous photography book 'Why Cats Paint' (with Heather Busch), which went on to sell over 700,000 copies worldwide. This was followed by several sequels and other satirical publications, including: 'Kokigami: The Intimate Art of the Little Paper Costume' and the 'The Naughty Victorian Hand Book: The Rediscovered Art of Erotic Hand Manipulation' (with Jeremy Bennett).

Above: An example of 'GolfCross', a game created by Burton Silver.

Never short of an innovative idea, Silver also went on to create the sports game 'GolfCross'.
A combination of Golf and Rugby, it uses a unique Golf ball shaped like a Rugby ball (which Tim Bollinger 'magically' pulled out of Silver ear, in one of the night's more hilarious conversation segues). The aim of the game is to drive the ball into a suspended goal net (much like a field goal in Rugby).

Above: Silver with the unique 'GolfCross' ball.

The game requires a more tactical approach to hitting the ball, as it spins on two axes, so it's nearly impossible to simply hook or slice. The ball has to be angled on a specially designed tee adaptor for the best calculated hit, taking into consideration 'back spinning' and other tactical shots previously associated with Rugby goal kicking. Including New Zealand, there are currently 'GolfCross' courses in England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Argentina.

The discussion ended with a series of friendly Q&A questions from the audience, many from surprised twenty-somethings who grew up on Bogor with no memory of the prevalent marijuana references (oh, the innocence of youth!).

Shortly after that the crowd emptied out of onto the street to continue the award celebrations into the night. On the way out, a group of us bumped into Mike and Laura Allred (in town as guests of the Armageddon Expo) who had quietly attended the Eric Awards, interested in discovering more about the local comics scene. Mike was impressed by the enthusiasm of the NZ comics community, and we spoke at length about comics distribution and the growing public awareness of comics. The Allreds could not be more gracious and friendly, living up to their well deserved reputation as 'the nicest couple in comics'.

The last day of NZ Comics Weekend featured talks on comics creation from 2pm.
First up was Travis Lealand-Maplesden on the translation of bande dessinée, followed by Dick Whyte on conceptual comics, and finishing out the weekend, a discussion with Draw, creator of the web-comic 'Drawing Silence'. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend these events as I was working for the NZCC at the Armageddon Expo stall, but I understand they were well received.

Overall, it was another extremely successful Comics Weekend, with the level of quality and awareness of NZ comics growing with each event. While NZ comics are still generally considered something of a sub-culture interest, the potential for success through mainstream publishing and web-comics looks more promising with every passing year. Now with 'Hicksville' on the verge of becoming a cross-over publishing hit, I expect we'll be seeing a lot more events celebrating NZ Comics in the future, possibly sooner than you expect.

In the meantime, be sure to check out some of the Eric award-winning titles. There should be current links in this site's sidebar to the best NZ web-comics out there. For copies of print comics, you can try contacting The High Seas and Gothem Comics in Auckland, or Graphic in the Cuba St Mall in Wellington. 'Hicksville' is currently available from all good booksellers.

NEXT: Stay tuned for coverage and stories from the Wellington Armageddon Expo 2010!



  1. Cheers for that Adrian. Lots of good links to check out.

  2. Great reading. Thanks for all the wonderful news and views.

  3. Awesome, thanks so much for that - one day I hope to make it to one!

  4. I keep waiting for someone to point out how you can totally see my bra in EVERY photo. lol.