Story: Comics and graphic novels

Page 1. Early years of comics, 1900s to 1940s

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British comics dominate

In the early 20th century, New Zealand-created comic books and strips were rare. British illustrated humour magazines dominated the market. In exchange for lamb and butter New Zealand imported children’s comic papers like Puck and Playbox.

Early local artists

New Zealand cartoonists found employment as caricaturists, satirists and commercial illustrators. Many honed their skills in the pages of local pictorial magazines like The Sketcher and The Free Lance.

In 1922 Auckland returned serviceman George Finey led a bohemian gang of cartoonists to Sydney, including Noel Cook and Cecil ‘Unk’ White. They helped establish Australia’s comic-book industry.

Sci-fi innovator

Foxton-born returned serviceman Noel Cook is said to have invented the sci-fi comic idiom with his strip Peter and all the roving folk, drawn for the Australian Sunday Times in 1924. Legend has it that Cook declined an early offer to draw the series for a big syndication company in New York, only to witness the rise of American science-fiction strip Buck Rogers some five years later.

Full-colour supplements

Full-colour weekly comic supplements in New Zealand newspapers, comprising mainly syndicated American strips, arose in the 1930s. The occasional local series made an appearance, such as The Tee Wees adventures by D. Price, for the Auckland Star’s ‘Star Twinkles’ children’s pages in 1931 and 1932.

American comics discouraged

The advent of the American adventure strips in the late 1930s aroused public fears about the supposed danger of comics for young readers. British-style comics, which had fewer speech balloons and more explanatory text, were considered culturally and artistically superior by library and education authorities. American-style comic books, even those published in Australia, were commonly referred to as ‘alien’ or ‘yellow’ comics, to denote their non-British origins and supposed low moral tone. In 1938 new import regulations were used to ban several comics.

Wild man of the Wairarapa

An unusual New Zealand comic strip written in the early years of the Second World War was the hunting diary of Wairarapa-born Neville ‘Stag’ Spooner. Finally published in 2012 in Chris Maclean’s book Stag Spooner, wild man from the bush, the comics document Spooner’s daily exploits as a government deer-culler from 1939 to 1940, in a style that foreshadowed the autobiographical comics of a later era.


New Zealander Ted Brodie-Mack drew and co-authored the Australian jungle-girl series Kazanda in 1944. Reprinted in full colour in Ranger comics in 1945, Kazanda was the first comic story by a New Zealander to be published in the United States.

How to cite this page:

Tim Bollinger, 'Comics and graphic novels - Early years of comics, 1900s to 1940s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Tim Bollinger, published 22 Oct 2014