FF1989: Fox Comics

Fox Comics Special
Fox Comics #24-27

Edited by David Vodicka.

The first twenty-three issues of Fox Comics were published in Australia, but they apparently wanted to get wider distribution by publishing through Fantagraphics. And that worked: Just see, I bought those issues.

I’ve been trying to find the Aussie-only issues over the years, and here’s the total result:

Yes, a grand total of three issues, but the editorial in the first Fantagraphics issue (which reprints stuff from the previous issues) helps explain why:

Yikes. If the first dozen issues had a print run of 200, the chances of me ever getting to read them seems pretty slim. The subsequent issues seem conceivable, though, even if they never seem to pop up on Ebay, in my experience. (Although searching for them there is pretty tricky, since there’s an American old published also called Fox Comics…)

Anyway, the editorial explains frankly about what the Australian comics scene was like in the 80s.

I re-read the three non-Fantagraphics issues I had, and it seemed like the magazine had taken a journey from being all funny all the time to try to also feature more ambitious and serious work. Lazarus Dobelsky and Ian Eddy’s work is in the former camp, but being funny isn’t all bad either, eh?

Dave Hodson’s oblique framing reminds me a lot of Rick Geary’s early work. The drawing styles are very different, but still there’s a similar eerie effect. It works very well.

But perhaps the most distinctive stylist here is Chloe Brookes-Kenworthy. In her strip in Fox Comics #13 she’s using traditional panel borders with gutters between the panels, but in her work in all the Fantagraphics issues, she drops the gutters, and later she also drops the panel borders themselves, just using obsessively different hatching in each panel to separate the panels.

Combined with sometimes ambiguous text (never dialogue) floating over the images, it gives it all a non-premediated feeling, like we’re connecting directly to her. It’s a very strange and pleasant reading experience.

And it’s not all Australians, either. Here’s an excerpt by New Zealanders Kupe and Dylan Horrocks, but there’s also a solid British contingent in all the issues (Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin, Ed Pinsent).

There’s only one continuing serial story here, and it’s The Tattooed Man by Dave Hodson and Greg Gates. It’s a fantasy, sort of, centred around a carnival. It’s not completed by the time the magazine is cancelled, but it looks very pretty.

Neale Blanden’s pieces are, perhaps, well-observed, but are they funny? Perhaps loathing of this kind has to be processed a bit more before being committed to the page to really work. I think.

By issue twenty-four, most of the pieces are of the “serious” kind, and the mix really works. Trevs Phoenix… that name seems familiar… Oh, he’s done a number of mainstream comics.

Another Chloe Brookes-Kenworthy page, now without panel borders. Nice, eh?

Chris Reynolds (of Mauretania fame) and Rian Hughes. Which reminds me: I really have to lay my hands on all the issues of Mauretania. It’s not only the wonderful Monitor series by Reynolds (mostly reprinted by now), but also pieces by Carol Swain that I don’t think have appeared anywhere else.

Ooh! There’s a solo comic. Gotta have! Oops. That cover looks really familiar… Yup, I’ve already got that somewhere here.

So many of the pieces in Fox Comics are about unhappy childhoods. You get the feeling that growing up as a wimpy boy in Australia may be even more harrowing than elsewhere…

Or perhaps they’re just more sensitive. (Panel by Tim Richie and Kupe.)

And, of course, there’s the Neale Blanden approach to the issue. Which I kinda like.

Dean Gorrisen’s childhood traumas are very tangible (and it’s an effective piece).

Meanwhile, Glenn Dakin is traumatised by Haley Campbell eating all his food. Also note that Fantagraphics decided to print this issue on what I assume to be tracing paper: You not only see clearly what’s on the other side of the page, but also get a good impression of the next four pages.

In issue twenty-seven the editor announces that Fox Comics is being cancelled, but that there will be one more issue. That didn’t happen, but it sounds like a fun topic.

And as a way to finish this article, here’s a Glenn Dakin Krazy Kat homage. It sometimes seems like half of alternative comics artists have been inspired by Herriman.

After this magazine was cancelled, all the featured Brits went on publishing elsewhere, but I have no idea what happened to most of the Australian artists. I’ve visited Australia a couple of times the past few years, and I’ve visited comics shops. And while there seems to be a number of people producing comics now, I can’t recall many of the Fox Comics contributors showing up in my comics haul from Canberra or Melbourne.

In particular, googling now I can’t find any further published works by Chloe Brookes-Kenworthy, which is disappointing.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

8 thoughts on “FF1989: Fox Comics”

  1. Interesting! A good read. In my own defence I was young….(that’s the usual thing you have to say)

    1. Hey, if you’ve got some of the issues to sell, I’m buying. 🙂 I’m missing Fox Comics 1-11, 13, 17, 19, so basically most of them…

  2. Have sent you an email regarding possibly adding to your missing issues.

    To explain a few points…
    Re scarcity of early issues.
    As you note, most of the A5 issues had limited print runs and were only sold in Australia. You point to our comment that issue 8 had a print run of 200 as evidence of their scarcity. But that was the upper extent of our runs. The previous ones would have had even less. The really early ones could have been under 100. Overseas distro started with 12 and print runs of over a thousand with 13, hence why you have had more success with those. 13 was actually something like 3,500 after it came out at the peak of the TMNT inspired indie-rush in the mid-80s, when dealers were buying up anything indie hoping one of them would be the next big thing. Trouble was 13 was a chunky A5 production which would have been difficult to display with regular floppies, so I fancy many dealers pulped it in exasperation.

    On Chloe Brookes-Kenworthy.
    You state with regret that you can’t find anything else by her. That is because there isn’t anything. Chloe was very much an outlier; someone who had no background in comics but who stumbled into the medium when illustrating some poetry of hers while at university. It was only through being published in the Fox that she was inspired to continue what became a sort of diary in pictures. Other than work in the Fox and the CBK Special, I think she had one page in a Fast Fiction and that’s it, other than some early work in her uni magazine.

    Where are all the other artists?
    Well comics production in this country is pretty cyclic. People enter when they’re young and without commitments, maybe shine brightly for a time, then tend to disappear when life in the form of marriage, kids, mortgage and a serious job arrives. Although there is a lot more production now than in the 1980s few people still hang around and very few make a living from it. No-one makes a living doing comics published within Australia, a few do so working for overseas markets.

    Most of the ‘Fox Crew’ moved on to other things although many continued in the general artistic field. Those still active in the medium include Neale Blanden https://www.instagram.com/blandorama/, Dillon Naylor https://dillonnaylor.com/ and Dave Hodson. I agree with your comment in FF1990 regarding the disparity between some of Dave’s jokier work and that contained in True Confusions 1. But quite a few of Dave’s earlier work, like the first few we published in Fox 14, do have wistfulness about them. Yes, he and Tony Thorne did collaborate on an Eros comic that was pitched as ‘erotic noir’, although I’m not sure it really succeeded in that. Tony is now the story runner for a children’s animated cartoon series Little J and Big Cuz, https://www.littlejandbigcuz.com.au/.

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