Queenslander Nat Karmichael is the publisher of Australia’s only nationally-distributed, local content comic magazine Oi Oi Oi!, which with #7 debuted the first ‘native’ superhero appearing on newsagency shelves (Magpie) for over 25 years. Since returning to comics in 2011, after an absence of over 20 years, Karmichael has in fact published 15 books and magazines under the Comicoz imprint.
On the side, he moonlights as a committee member of the Australian Cartoonists’ Association and as editor of their quarterly members-only magazine INKSPOT.
Karmichael is working with Brisbane comics researcher Graeme Cliffe to see his 7+ years of study reach the publishing stage as From Sunbeams to Sunset: An Illustrated History of Australian Comics. He’s also getting to the editorial stage on a book by the late Monty Wedd of his 1970s-80s newspaper strip Bold Ben Hall.
“I dearly want to publish a book about the creator of Superman, called Joe Schuster, by talented Sydney-based artist Tom Campi, who is presently working on the artwork. And Gary Chaloner and I were talking about putting out a collected volume of Flash Damingo and Jackaroo comics.”
Why did you start making comic books?
“Australia is a beautiful country. It’s unique. There are so many stories that have been told and are still to be in the comic form. Comics are historical artifacts that reflect our culture, both now and in the past. They are, for some reason, a forgotten entertainment medium. I started publishing comic books because I cannot sing — as many who know me can attest! I can’t afford to made a movie about it (too expensive) and I’m not the cartoonist or artist I wish I was. I publish comic books because those who can tell these tales need to have a medium via which they can share with other Australians. And stories already told by creators from our past need to be shared, to find a new audience.”
Who were your local comic book influences?
“When I was young, in the very early 1960s, my father fed me a staple diet of comic books, mostly ones from the UK. We did not have television — one needed a license in those days to own a TV! — so comics were our entertainment medium. In the early ’70s an article was published in The Australian about John Ryan‘s comic collection, and about the reporter’s recollection of [Australian comic] Captain Atom. On the basis of this article, I wrote to John. He sent me many of his monographs and articles about Australian comics, and talked of his plan to produce a book about the local scene. I gave up all aspirations of being a cartoonist, my previous goal, and resolved to become a publisher, a comics publisher… an Australian comics publisher.
“I published my first comic three years later and sent it to John — and it sits among his collection of Australian comics in Canberra.”
Do you believe there really is an Australian comics renaissance right now?
“Publishing comics, and the preparation for making them, is cheaper now than at any time in our history. Computers, digital printing and Print-on-Demand presses have all made the process a lot cheaper these days. People want to tell their stories, and there are more talented creators working in the field these days. As the great Australian comics of the late 1980s and early ’90s were influenced by the knowledge of the comics before them, the comics of today I believe are influenced by those from that earlier era.
“So is there an Australian comics renaissance? I want to think so. In terms of quantity of comic titles being published, certainly; in terms of quantity of comics getting into the hands of the average Australian, I am not so sure. I think we need to continue to agitate to show comics are not for kids — a perception, sadly, I think still exists — and that they have some redeeming value as an entertainment medium in their own right. This is slowly taking place, with many libraries stocking them on their shelves.
“However, I find it somewhat discouraging to find media outlets are presently seeking to increase their circulation by including readership offers of Marvel Comics, as opposed to seeking out local creators to tell Australian stories to their readership.”