NSW Bookstall by James Zee
Securing a comics market
By mid-1940, American publications had disappeared from shops in Australia, the result of war-time restrictions on imports from non-Sterling countries and pressures to ban 'undesirable' US publications being dumped on the Australian market. This included increasingly-popular comics, reported to be brought into Australia in their millions.11See, for example, 'Resolution of the New Smith's' (30 December 1939). Smith's Weekly (Sydney, NSW: 1919-1950), p. 12. Retrieved 19...
NSW Bookstall, no doubt anxious for replacement product for its outlets, used its publishing expertise and networks to quickly fill the market gap with a new line of original Australian comics.
The first issue came from Tony Rafty (1915-2015), a young up-and-coming cartoonist who had joined the Sun Associated Newspapers group in 1937.22Born Anthony Raftopoulos in Paddington on 12 October 1915, Rafty began working as a caddy aged eight ('His Caddy but... Rafty reports that, on a regular visit to Brendan Dowling—NSW Bookstall's 'boss at the time'—he was asked to do a comic.33Kevin Patrick, 'Tony Rafty OAM – Comic Book Pioneer' (2006, December). Collectormania. Retrieved 19 September 2017, from comicsdownunder.blogspot.com.au.... This became Jimmy Rodney on Secret Service, published late 1940. It was typical of the emerging Australian approach, with Rafty responsible for all aspects of the comic—writing, art, lettering and cover.
While the talented Rafty later became cartoonist with the Sydney Sun and Sun-Herald newspapers for forty years, historian John Ryan describes the publication as only a 'passable attempt at coming to grips with the new medium'.44Ryan, John in Panel by Panel (Stanmore, NSW: Cassell Australia, 1979), Page 161....
The majority of the next wave of issues were by Will Donald (1883-1959) and Terry Powis. While Powis was a newcomer to NSW Bookstall,55See more on Powis.... the company had already published booklets of Donald's cartoons. Donald had worked with Archibald Edward (A.E.) Martin (Peter Amos) at The Gadfly until it folded in 1909. Several of that paper's team later worked for NSW Bookstall, including A.G. Stephens, Ruby Lindsay, Will Dyson and Ambrose Dyson, as well as Donald and Martin.
Powis and Donald are largely recognised for their dramatic covers, with their interior work overshadowed by contributions from two accomplished New Zealand artists who went on to work extensively with other publishers.
Edward (Ted) Brodie-Mack was an experienced cartoonist when he produced is first comic for NSW Bookstall and understood the dramatic flow of comics. His creation Kazanda, scripted by Peter Amos (Archie E. Martin), was sold to US publisher Fiction House and published in Rangers Comics #23 (June 1945) to #28 (April 1946). The first five issues present 'The Wild Girl and the Lost Continent' in a significantly re-edited and rescripted form, with the final issue adapted from 'The Forbidden Kingdom'.
Noel Cook, an established newspaper strip artist, produced comic work for NSW Bookstall as well as Elmsdale, Emvee, KG Murray, Frank Johnson and the Offset Printing Company. Kokey Koala and his Magic Button from Elmsdale was a children's favourite for many years before Cook relocated to London in 1950 and art director of Fleetway's children's magazines.
Also of note are Moira Bertram, who later worked for KG Murray, Frank Johnson, Calvert and Invincible; and Royce Bradford who worked at nearly every major comic publisher at the time.
Overall, Bookstall worked with a group of about ten main artists—Moira Bertram (one comic); Royce Bradford (one comic); Noel Cook (three comics); Will Donald (seven comics); Tom Hubble (two comics); Brodie Mack (four comics, including two with writer Peter Amos); James J. Murray (one comic); Terry Powis (19 comics) and Tony Rafty (one comic)—although there are four comics by unknown artists and some issues had secondary stories from other creators.
A few of these artists also produced non-comics work for the publisher during this period, generally small booklets in the form of humorous text with illustrations. Examples include Will Donald's Heil Hitler: Adolf's A.B.C.); and Hooey! and There Was a Young Lady of -- ) by Brodie Mack. While these are at times reported to be published as early as 1938, it seems most of this undated work was around the same time as their comics.66It seems likely most of these issues are during the second world war and the earlier date seems likely to...
Also published during the war years were A.E. Martin's crime novel, The Misplaced Corpse and The Romance of Nomenclature books on place names. Many publications were 24 to 68 page booklets suited for quick, cheap bookstall sale—particularly focused on war issues—or reprints of previous Bookstall novels and popular fiction from overseas.
All Bookstall comics were unnumbered one-shots—a Bookstall innovation to secure limited war-time newsprint supplies that were restricted to existing series or new single publications—despite some features that appeared in multiple comics. The comics sold well enough that Frank Johnson, Offset Printing and others copied the strategy in following years, creating an Australian comics boom.
In total just 42 Bookstall comics are known. There are only fragmentary collections in Australian libraries and issues are rare, possibly because they were disposable reading for a train trip.
Comments, updates, corrections and suggestions
Contributions about Australian comics are welcome. Comments will be moderated. Spam, trolling, abuse and off-topic comments will not be publicly displayed.
New posts are visible only until you leave this page. They become public when approved. Read previous comments here.
If you post in error, email via the contact link below.