Gary Chaloner is a writer and illustrator based in Tasmania, one of the best-known (and loved) over the past trio of decades. He’s published a whole swag of local comics. Chaloner was (with Dave de Vries, Glenn Lumsden and Tad Pietrzykowski) co-founder of Cyclone Comics, and he started the Australian comic book awards The Ledgers — established to acknowledge and promote excellence in comic arts and publishing in this country.
Comic books and characters Chaloner has created include Flash Damingo and The Jackaroo, The Undertaker Morton Stone, and Red Kelso. Past projects he’s been involved with have been Astro City (Vertigo), The Spirit: The New Adventures (Dark Horse), Robert E. Howard’s Breckenridge Elkins (Dark Horse), Dark Horse Down Under (Dark Horse), Unmasked (Gestalt), Will Eisner’s John Law (IDW), and The Phantom (Frew).
Current projects? The Undertaker Morton Stone (Gestalt), and Cyclone Force (with Tad Pietrzykowski and Tim McEwen) — featuring the return of Flash Damingo and The Dark Nebula.
Why did you start making comic books?
“I started writing and illustrating my own material straight out of high school. There wasn’t much going on locally at the time, so I put my thoughts towards printing and publishing myself. In the early ’80s, I eventually met Tad Pietrzykowski, Dave de Vries and Glenn Lumsden, and started the publishing imprint that became Cyclone Comics. We published The Southern Squadron, The Jackaroo, The Dark Nebula and a few other titles like GI Joe Australia.”
Who were your local comic book influences?
“John Dixon and Peter Ledger were two creators that I followed in the papers and magazines at the time. Dixon was working on his amazing Air Hawk and the Flying Doctors strip. Ledger was doing Kromm and a few other things like album covers. He eventually moved to the ‘States and got some pretty high-profile projects. That career path fascinated me. It could be done!
“Over the years, though, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering the rich and wonderful history of comic books in Australia. An amazing history and heritage that every young comic book creator should look into. It’s fascinating! It’s always a good thing to see where we’ve been, and to get some perspective on what the future can hold.
Do you believe there really is an Australian comics renaissance right now?
“In a nutshell? ‘It’s local comics over thirty years to be an overnight success.’ There’s been a slow build over the last 30-40 years. Back in the late ’70s, it really was the low point for anyone wanting to get into the field in this country. A few creators started to self-publish, and their efforts caught the imagination of a small new wave of artists and writers that saw what was happening in independent comics being produced overseas.
“Comic shops started to pop up that imported these comics direct from Europe and the U.S.; Japan came a bit later. These retailers, mostly in the capital cities, also became a place where artists and writers and like-minded people could meet, talk comics and collecting, but also to get organized enough to produce printed material.
“As the ’80s progressed, the direct market flourished in the ‘States, and the trend was mirrored here in Australia. Local publishers started to produce titles more regularly. Comics in general slowly began to move out of the shadows as the ‘Bastard Art’ – neither a prose novel, nor a series of paintings or illustrations, but a mongrel combination of the two. They became more acceptable as a form of literature that has an intrinsic value in and of itself. An art form that takes quite a bit to master, but can be appreciated by anyone and everyone.
“The advent of the direct market also happened at the same time as the rise of the internet. This has allowed for easier communication with overseas publishers and readers, allowing some great talent to be ‘discovered’ by publishers around the world.
“Locally, we have a few amazing comics and graphic novel publishers that are producing world standard, award-winning material that any publisher anywhere in the world would be proud to publish.
“A comics renaissance? You bet’cha! And it only took 30-odd years.”