Most Australian lives are haunted by this strange form of entertainment, but very few have any idea of the extent of the threat that it poses, how close is the terror that these "comics", with their misleadingly jolly name, represent.
Most Australians have contact with the spectre of comics in their everyday, straightforward lives. There are the strips in newspapers. There are the superhero comic books they read as children. The books their own children now read - Tintin, Asterix. Why, you ask, do these comics not frighten them? Why are they not worried by this almost omnipresent spook? Okay. I'll tell you. The thing is, the comics which most Australians know are produced elsewhere. In other countries. In America, which people vaguely think of as the home of comics. England. Europe. Japan.
Most Australians, then, can sleep easily in their beds at night, secure in the knowledge that while the spectre of comics stalks the streets of the rest of the world, here in the lucky country they are spared that horror. In the Great Southern Land comics are seen more as shadow than spectre. Here, Australians think, comics are not happening live. Here, they are secondhand, hearsay. Comics, they think, happen elsewhere, to other people, and when we read them here, it's like getting news from the front: scary stuff, but at a safe remove.
Even the disturbing reports of some of these comics becoming less spectral and more real, doesn't seem to affect Australia. Maus? The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan? Palestine? These strange, ectoplasmic comic books, poking through into the shelves of our bookshops and libraries, even these do not upset our equilibrium. When Australians are woken up by a louder-than-usual spectral bump in the night, they reassure themselves with: "Comics are still stalking other lands, and will never walk on our inviolate shores." And with that they roll over and return to sleep.
Of course, they are wrong.
Dead wrong, as it turns out.
All over Australia, in a thousand suburbs, the spectre of comics rises: lines are written and drawn on paper. Photocopiers whirr and clank. Longarm staplers are strongarmed into submission.
The spectre of Australian comics walks the night, fever-haunting the dreams of decent citizens across the continent. This spectre is given substance by a legion of dedicated, well let's say obsessed, oh come on, out with it, they're possessed, comic book makers. For surely nothing less than possession would drive these monomaniacal folk to persist in harnessing their energy and wills to the creation of artefacts that most people don't even believe exist. That are dismissed as phantoms, chimerae: "Australian comics? Isn't that the bogeyman we use to scare our children into choosing productive lives and careers?"
No, ladies and gentlemen, as you in this room well know, Australian comics are real, a real threat to relaxed and comfortable Australia. A real dream. A real deamon. A real option.
And they are coming for you.
Australian comics, every last hastily-scrawled, shittily-photocopied, badly-stapled, wonky A5 mini, is another Molotov cocktail thrown into the shopfront of the banality of the globalised, digitalized life of the 21st century.
Australian comics are fiercely local reworkings of an international form. They terrify the natives and befuddle overseas observers.
Australian comics realize that they are building their own tradition, and their own audience, here and now, from scratch, and they laugh at the enormity of the task.
Every Australian comic produced is another foundation stone. Every one is made, and read, then it is pulped and on the recycled paper another comic is drawn. It's like Gallipoli - we just keep going over the top of the trench. And our blood, our ink, seeps into the landscape, and in the half-light, if you squint just-so, you can make out a terrifying figure weaving between the eucalypts, between the buildings.
A spectre is haunting Australia.
The spectre of comics.
Presented at the 2nd Sequential Arts Studies Conference, Sydney: A Visual Culture Event, at the The Interdisciplinary Studies Unit, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of TS on Friday 23 May 2003