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Wednesday 16th of September 2020

Comic Cons have been popular in the Illawarra and, once this coronavirus is sorted, will no doubt be so again. Apart from comic books and graphic novels being sold, they provide a venue for people to dress up as their favorite hero or villain. Comic Gong 2018, held in Wollongong, proved to be a favorite for those dressing up as various incarnations of spider-man (Marvel). There was Wonder Woman (DC), Tinker Bell (Disney), Captain America (Marvel) and, for villains, The Scarecrow (DC).

The interest in costumed characters, and especially superheroes and villains continues. What is around today, good and bad, can mostly be traced back to the Silver Age. It was a different time. Marvel ruled though some preferred DC or even Disney. Stan Lee was around. Jack Kirby was king and Gene Colan’s eye for art and also photography was inspirational.

The Silver Age began in 1961 with the Fantastic Four. Old heroes such as the Submariner and Captain America were revived and given a new lease on life.

I remember, when I was young, my forty cents pocket money could buy four comic books with change left over for sweets. Nowadays forty cents might buy you half a page of a Marvel or D.C. comic book. What’s more, the art isn’t any better than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. The optimism that was in the early 1960s, however, has gone and has long been replaced by cynicism.

Back in the 1960s you could get a brand new paperback for less than a dollar and a second-hand paperback might set you back twenty cents. This Doc Savage paperback reprint was from that period and cost the sum total of seventy-five cents.

The British in the 1960s and 1970s put out comic papers rather than comic books. From them came the futuristic lawman, Judge Dredd (correct spelling).

In the 1960s and 1970s, when as a boy I was collecting comic books, there wasn’t much around you could call Australian. The American product had flooded the market and knocking the local product for a six.

Was the fact that the Americans could do this completely the fault of the Australian artists of the day? I would say no. It was a combination of art, publisher and cost. Black and white interiors could not readily compete with colour but where was the money and population base that could justify colour? It wasn’t an even playing field and yet I feel our artists, writers and publishers could have done better.

Censorship was also a factor. The Scorpion by Monty Webb was a popular Australian comic book that ran into problems in 1955 and was discontinued.

Also, in the 1960s and 1970s in the USA, underground comic books called COMIX came to the fore. Unlike traditional comic books, their outlet was record bars and wherever college and university students hung out. These comix were not for kids and the publishers, writers and artists were free to say and draw what they wanted to concerning what was happening in their world. It was because they were not distributed through newsagents that the Comics Code Authority, the official censor, couldn’t touch them.

I still have a few issues of Slow Death. I know one issue dealt with the insanity of the nuclear arms race. Apart from the covers, they were mostly black and white but they had a strong enough audience base.

Like other writers I have touched upon the notion of nuclear holocaust in my writing.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, Australian artists such as Steve Carter and Antoinette Rydyr (correct spelling) have made a living both here and in the USA.

In Wollongong there are buildings that reflect a British empire past. There are lions here and there. I came across what was once a water fountain with a lion’s head. The lion’s head remains though it is no longer a water fountain. On one building there is a unicorn with a lion. This Wollongong unicorn reminds me of Lewis Carroll and of a certain unicorn saying to Alice: If you believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”

In 2018 in Wollongong giant inflated rabbits were put up in the mall to entertain local children. There was also street art depicting a crazy rabbit. Meanwhile real rabbits remain a menace to our farmers.

The above building decorations are old and fascinating. They are part of present day Wollongong and can be found in the mall. You have the two lion’s heads and, above them, this strange but beautiful woman’s face.

Pigeons shelter inside a clock tower near Wollongong mall that long ago lost its arms. The holes where the arms used to be give the birds a way in and out.

In Corrimal yesterday I came across the first long-billed corella of spring 2020.

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