New Zealand society’s attitude to comic books changed in the late 20th century. As censorship lessened and control of imports was reduced, local artists looked to new international influences for inspiration. Graphic novels – books in a comic-strip format – emerged.
New Zealand’s first comic magazine aimed at adults, Strips, was born out of the student underground in 1977. Colin Wilson, Terence Hogan, Barry Linton, Joe Wylie and Laurence Clark had grown up on New Zealand’s comic diet of the 1950s, but were inspired by the European and American comics of the 1960s and 1970s.
Strips was non-profit and independently published. With the growth of photocopying technology, and the rise of specialist comic shops in the 1980s, Strips became the model for other communities of artists making and selling their own comics.
1980s and 1990s
Jesus on a stick, created by musician Chris Knox (four issues, 1986–87), introduced a local punk aesthetic to comics. Razor (11 issues, 1988–93) contained the early work of Dylan Horrocks (who later produced the graphic novel Hicksville), Cornelius Stone (Knuckles the malevolent nun) and Roger Langridge (Fred the clown). All three gained an international following. Aucklander Martin Emond’s work was also published extensively in Britain and the United States in the 1990s.
Before the graphic-novel boom of the 2000s, a handful of adult New Zealand comics found publication overseas instead. Two comics published by Fantagraphics in the US, Teaser and the blacksmith by Timothy H. Glass (1989) and Playgrounds by Peter Rees (1991), both originated in Christchurch and featured local themes and settings.
New children’s comics
A new style of children’s comics also emerged, with the publication of Bob Kerr and Stephen Ballantyne’s Terry series (three volumes, 1982–90), and Chris Slane’s Maui: legends of the outcast (with Robert Sullivan, 1996) and Nice day for a war (with Matt Elliot, 2011). All were spurred on by the massive mainstream success of Murray Ball’s Footrot Flats, which reached its peak of popularity in the mid-1980s.
Women and comics
While comic books have been a male-dominated field, Sparkles in the 1940s included comics by Marie McNab, and Strips in the 1980s included the work of Blossom (Judy Darragh). The 1990s and 2000s saw a rise in the number of New Zealand women comic artists, including Sophie McMillan (Interlude pie), Indira Neville (Nice gravy), Sarah Laing (Let me be frank), Robyn E. Kenealy (Roddy’s Film Companion) and Li Chen (Extra ordinary).
Into the 21st century
The self-published comics of the 1990s spawned many new artists. Simon Morse and Rufus Dayglo, inspired by British comic 2000AD (which Dayglo later worked for), dominated Wellington’s Pistake (13 issues, 1992–95).
Ant Sang’s Auckland mini-comic Filth (seven issues, 1994–97) preceded his Dharma punks series (eight issues, 2001–3) and acclaimed graphic novel Shaolin burning (2011). Greg Broadmore’s Adventures of Dr Grordbort (2011) followed his small-press comic Killer robots will smash the world (2002).
In 2012 Huia Publishers released three graphic novels, Ngārimu: te Tohu Toa, Te poiwhana and Hautipua rererangi, in both English- and Māori-language versions, drawn by Andrew Burdan.
Grassroots communities of comic artists produced online and printed comics, collaborated with one another and organised and attended comics conventions.