The New Zealand comic strip and comic book
publishing scene has seen more almost as many ebbs and flows as the tide. Adrian Kinnaird
tries to cover as much as possible of the history of the earlier New Zealand comic writing
and publishing as is possible, and in the process throwing up some often overlooked facts.
The United States was the usual source of early comics in New Zealand, with daily and
weekly strips appearing in local papers from at least the early 1920s.
Kinnaird notes that several local artists and authors garnered commissions
in cartooning for comic strips before becoming famous in their preferred field: Rita
Angus, under the name Rita Cook, drew for the Christchurch Presss
childrens pages, and author Avis Acres, as Thyra Avis Mary McNeil, drew and wrote The
Adventures of Tink and Wink, the Star Babies in 1929 for the Auckland Star.
Due to the often dramatic style of storytelling in American comics, a
censorship ban was imposed in the late 1930s, with British comic books filling the
newsstand gap, and local offerings occasionally supplying the unsated demand. Censorship
during the 1960s effectively nobbled the locally generated publication of comic books and
aspiring artists were either forced into self-publication and possible prosecution or to
move off-shore. The scene was only reborn in the late 1970s and has grown at rates
dependent on the quality of the artists and their ability to be published.
As alluded above, New Zealand comic strip authors/artists often moved
overseas to pursue work, with Noel Cook being one of several who made the move to
Australia. Cook was responsible for the first SF strip, Peter, for an Australian
newspaper in 1923 and beating Buck Rogers by five years. Kinnaird punctuates the
history of New Zealand comics with vignettes of important local comic creators, such as
Martin Emond, Harry W Bennett and Dylan Horrocks. As well as the use of New Zealand comic
material for other than pure entertainment. Who out there remembers the promotional
eco-warrior, Captain Sunshine?
The books strength is the almost encyclopaedic approach Kinnaird has
taken to the New Zealand version of the genre. I say almost, as Kinnaird admits there are
gaps in what could be researched due to loss of material, a problem attributable to the
variable regard most had to the medium and the often small production runs many early
publications had. In the second section of the book, Kinnaird tries to provide an
indicative range of examples of local talent from as broad a range of eras as possible.
Due to the recent explosion of published material, work from the past two decades tends to
predominate. Many of these are designed to interest the reader in searching out and
accessing more of the various artists works.
Kinnaird has produced a book that should satisfy most readers tastes
regarding New Zealand comics. It is a staggering 450 pages, and has an appropriately
eye-catching cover. To my mind the one failing is his deliberate exclusion of more recent
New Zealand comic strips, covered by an apologia in the form of a postscript claiming he
wished only to focus on New Zealand graphic novels. Considering the historical section,
this is an interesting and perhaps hypocritical admission. However, every genre has its
snobberies and this omission in no way detracts from the excellent work that Kinnaird has