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Subject: Re: Australian comics (LONG)
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Posted by Sockamagee ! on January 19, 1998 at 14:12:11:

In Reply to: Re: Questions about Australian comics posted by Rimes on January 19, 1998 at 00:56:25:

: This is fascinating stuff...! So, the JLA was reprinted in a series called Mighty Comic? I wonder if those old Australian reprints are worth a lot, like old U.S. comics tend to be worth a lot in the U.S.? Or, if not, they'd be a good inexpensive way to read old stories. (I'm always trying to think up good inexpensive ways to read old stories!) Were the original Golden-Age comics ever reprinted in Australia? Do comics shops in Australia stock old back issues of Mighty Comic?

: Rob


Here is a brief history of Oz reprints of US comics from the 1940s on, with a particular emphasis on DC reprints. It's based on an item I posted to a newsgroup a couple of years ago. Sorry about the length, but I thought it might be of interest to those on the Golden Age Board as an example of the history of comics publishing outside North America.


Sockamagee !

For many years (roughly 1940-60), the import into Australia of nearly all US magazines and periodicals, including comics,was prohibited. Basically, this was to encourage local production, so the only comics (and other magazines) which were available were local product and local (or British) editions of US magazines - including comics.

For the first 15 years or so of this period, a number of DC (and Quality, Fawcett and other publishers) titles were published in local editions; eg, Batman, Superman, Strange Adventures, Blackhawk. These were generally published in black and white, on poor quality paper (even by comics standards!) and generally had fewer pages than their US equivalents. They usually retailed for 6 pence to 9 pence (we didn't adopt dollars and cents until 1966). I have a few examples of these.

Some time in the late 50s, these individual titles started to be replaced by larger anthology titles, such as "Century", "The Hundred" and "Five Score". They were 100 pages long (actually 96 pages plus covers, though for a time they went up to 116 pages), published in black and white with colour covers, and sold for 2 shillings (20 cents). Each issue would contain a wide variety of stories; eg, in a single issue you might have an early Silver-Age Flash story, an Andru-Esposito drawn Wonder Woman story, a couple of Strange Adventures/ Mystery in Space shorts, a Tomahawk adventure, etc.

Up until about 1965 or so, the anthology titles would often include stories from the ACG line of sf/fantasy comics (best known now as the publishers of “Herbie”) or the odd story from a publisher no longer in business (I have one early 1960s issue of “All Star Adventure Comic” that features Golden age “Blue Bolt” and “Dick Cole” stories). However, from the mid-60s on they featured DC stories exclusively.

By the time I started reading comics, around 1965, there were about 8 of these anthology titles regularly reprinting DC material, such as Superman Supacomic (which reprinted recent Superman, Batman and Legion stories), Tip Top, All Star Adventure Comic, Mighty Comic, All Favourites, Super Adventure, Wonder Comic and World's Finest (and perhaps one or two others). Particular features would appear in certain titles fairly consistently (eg, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane and Supergirl in "Super Adventure"), and although stories were usually printed in approximately the correct order, their currency could vary from being a few months behind the printing of the US originals to a few years. As well as these regular features, each issue of most of the titles would usually feature one or two western, mystery or s-f titles which could be many years old, or older superhero adventures (eg, Wayne Boring "Superman" or Dick Sprang "Batman"). These older stories tended to range in age from the late 1940s through to the early 60s, and many of them, so far as I know, have never been reprinted in the USA.

The then-current 80 page giants were also reprinted as "Batman Album", "Superman Album" "Flash Album". These were generally identical in content to the US printings, albeit in black and white, though they often had an additional story added to cover the pages used for advertising in the USA. One nice thing about these local reprints was that they rarely had any internal advertising, which was generally limited to the inside and back covers.

Some time in the early 60s the import restrictions on periodicals were lifted, and many US comics (eg, Marvel) started to appear in the local shops. However, the local reprints of DC titles continued, with only a few American DC titles available locally. Most of these were titles which were not reprinted in the local anthology titles; eg, Green Lantern and war titles (and confusingly some DC comics were both imported _and_ reprinted locally; eg Justice League). I’ve always assumed that this was as a result of some contractual arrangements between DC and local licencees, but have never heard any evidence either way.

The local DC reprint anthology titles continued well into the late 70s. By then, they had shrunk to 50 pages (to keep to that 20 cent price) and then begun to increase in price (and in some cases number of pages, back up to 100). During this period they reprinted much of the Golden and Silver Age material that was then being reprinted by DC; a lot of my initial exposure to DC Golden Age stories came from these reprints.

By the late 70s, most of the anthology titles were now named after single characters (eg, "Flash", "Superman"), although some still continued to present a mix of stories featuring a number of characters. By then, they were mostly printing current US stories, with the occasional older story (I found a few of these in a second-hand bookshop just the other day, and one of them has a very early Silver Age Green Lantern story that I’d never read before). Some of them, such as "Superman", even switched to US-standard 32 pages and introduced colour; towards the end, thy were simply one-shot reprints under a variety of names, without numbering. Up until then, all of the titles had always been numbered (eg, "Superman Supacomic 123"), but none of them were ever dated.

The last of the local DC reprints died out some time around 1982 - by coincidence (?) it was at about the same time that all of DC titles which were previously reprinted locally (Superman, Batman, etc) started to be directly distributed in Australia.

Although I grew up on these anthologies, at the time I (and all other comics readers) _hated_ them, because we would much rather have had the American originals. However, with the passing of time I've come to feel nostalgic about them, and now avidly collect them. In retrospect, I can also see that reading them gave me a very broad "education" in DC comics; if I wanted to read the Justice League, I _had_ to also buy Challengers of the Unknown, because it was printed in the same anthology book, and so on. At the same time, as well as reading more-or-less contemporary DC stories, I was also reading ones many years old, often in series or genres no longer being widely published (eg, humour, western, sf).

For both of these reasons (and because through them, I can often get reading copies of stories which would cost me a fortune for the originals), I now actively collect these Australian reprints, particularly the ones from the mid-to late 60s which were my introduction to DC.

They’re not easy to find, however, despite having been incredibly common in their heyday. “Mainstream” comics shops never carry them, and in fact comic shop workers and comics fans under 30 are often unaware that they ever existed (these young people today....). Even specialist dealers in old comics, many of whom have a strong interest in locally produced Australian comics of the 1940s to ‘60s and the local reprints of American comic _strips_ from that period (such as “The Phantom”, which has been reprinted locally in comic book form for 50 years), rarely have much interest in these DC reprints (although strangely, the earlier 1940s to mid 50s reprints _are_ considered rather collectible by those interested in old Australian comics). This is good in that you can often buy them for incredibly low prices, but bad in that there is a lack of organised networks through which one can obtain them. The couple of back issue dealers who do make a point of carrying these titles (one of whom I’m hoping to see in Sydney this weekend) tell me that there are a number of active collectors, but I’m the only one that I know of. Often frustrating, but there’s always the thrill of the hunt......

Incidentally, the Australian National Library, here in Canberra where I live, apparently has a couple of major collections of these and other old Australian comics which were donated to it. I’ve been meaning for years to check them out, but for some reason have never gotten around to it. It’s one of my grand dreams to someday do an index of all of these anthology titles, and that is the obvious place to start.


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