Story: Comics and graphic novels

Page 3. Comics go underground, 1950s to 1970s

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Backlash against comics

Though comics had been considered suspect by moralists for some time, critics became more vocal in the 1950s. This demonisation of comics was also evident in other countries, such as Australia, Canada and the United States. These attitudes influenced the government’s view on comics.

The 1954 Mazengarb report (the published results of an investigation into juvenile delinquency) identified comics as potentially harmful and recommended banning ‘injurious’ comics. The Indecent Publications Act was amended in 1954 so that any publication, including comics, that unduly emphasised sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence could be deemed indecent.

In 1956 the government set up a comics advisory committee comprising a Justice Department representative, school principals and a supervisor of prison education. By 1958 they had prohibited 260 imported comic-book titles.

Complaints against comics

In the 1940s and 1950s American-style action comics met with vocal opposition in New Zealand, especially from the educated intelligentsia and those on the political left. Examples of the debate may be found in the pages of the left-wing journals Tomorrow and Here & Now and the arts journal Landfall, and in the colourful language of A. R. D. Fairburn and John A. Lee in a 1949 radio debate.

Local comics

During these years, few local comics were produced. Eric Resetar self-published Crash O’Kane: an All Black on Mars in the mid-1950s, and two issues of his Halfback mini-comics series The space pirates and Invisible Smith in the early 1960s.

A. H. and A. W. Reed published two collections of New Zealand historical strips by Ross Digby Gore in the 1950s, while Times’ John G. Helleur published a series of comics by George (G. F. H.) Taylor under the ‘Jaygee production’ label. These carried the words ‘an approved comic’ on their covers as an apparent concession to government regulators.

Comics on campus

Auckland University’s 1970 capping magazine (retitled Superbag) and Canterbury’s Lead lettuce contained many comics and were innovative in their design. Superbag came in a plastic carry bag designed by Dick Frizzell, and featured a comic book by Murray Grimsdale, a collection of cartoons by Chris Grosz and a paper cut-out doll of the Queen, complete with royal outfit. Lead lettuce featured comics by Gerald (Joe) Wylie, Malcolm Brown and Lyndsay Smith.

Student parody and protest

In the 1960s there was a rise in social activism and protest among student groups. Comics of rebellion and counter-culture began to appear in the pages of the university student newspapers and annual ‘capping’ magazines, challenging censorship laws.

Bob Brockie’s parody of Classics illustrated (a comic-book series) in Victoria University’s 1958 Cappicade was a foretaste of the social satire that would prevail in the student papers of the 1960s. By 1970 capping magazines were dominated by comics and the visual language of ‘psychedelic’ culture.

1970s cartoon strips

In the heady environment of the late 1960s, expatriate New Zealander Kim Casali created the Love is cartoon series, first published in the Los Angeles Times in January 1970. The internationally syndicated cartoons, which depicted cute naked figures and simple messages of love, earned Casali millions of dollars annually and still ran in 34 countries daily in the 2010s.

Bogor, a strip depicting the exploits of a lone forestry woodsman created by Wellington cartoonist Burton Silver, first appeared in the New Zealand Listener in 1973, and was one of the country's longest-running locally published cartoon strips.

In 1976 Feilding-born Murray Ball’s Footrot Flats debuted in Wellington newspaper the Evening Post. Drawing upon themes of New Zealand’s rural lifestyle, Wal Footrot and his nameless dog became the country’s most-recognised and best-loved cartoon characters, spawning a movie, a musical, a theme park and books that continued to sell in their thousands decades later.

How to cite this page:

Tim Bollinger, 'Comics and graphic novels - Comics go underground, 1950s to 1970s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 April 2024)

Story by Tim Bollinger, published 22 Oct 2014