When I was a kid, the only other cartoonists I knew were the friends I talked
into drawing comics. Friends like Chris Barnes, who drew a whole series of stories
about a Samurai mouse; he was always better at it than me. These days he's living
in England, training as a lawyer. He hasn't drawn any comics for years, but I
doubt this causes him any regrets. In my last couple of years at school,
two things happened that seemed life changing. I wrote an article on comics for
Alternative cinema magazine, which gave me an excuse to find and interview the
cartoonists behind Strips. I was in awe of these guys: they were real cartoonists
and bloody good ones too. Laurence Clark recommended drawing on ivory board,
which I still do today. And Kevin Jenkinson let me trawl through his collection
of European BD, some of which I borrowed and pored over for days.
At the time I was oblivious to the uneasiness my enthusiasm provoked in them. By
the time I met them, Strips was already starting to peter out; most of the core
contributors had reached the stage where they were raising kids and had mortgages
to support. The wild 'what the hell' days of the seventies were over and they now
had responsibilities to worry about, jobs to hold down and bills to pay. Cartooning
was still fun, but any illusions they may have once held that they would be the next
Jean Giraud or Serge Clerc had evaporated.
Years later, at an exhibition of New Zealand cantoonists at Bent Gallery in
Auckland, Kevin Jenkinson expressed some regret that he had never taken that step
into the abyss: following Colin Wilson overseas and trying to break into the comics
industry. God knows if they'd been in England or France, most of the
Strips gang would have done it - their work was so damn good.
But they weren't. And the industry seemed so far away back then.
The second thing that happened was I met Cornelius Stone. For both of us,
I think, it was the first time we'd made a friend who was as into comics as
we were. We would sit for hours talking over our favourite cartoonists, thrashing
out story ideas, inking each other's drawings. We both planned to make it big in
comics and we would devise plotlines for 300-issue series with linked mini-series
and graphic novels. Cornelius reintroduced me to American mainstream comics, about
which his knowledge was (and still is) encyclopedic. He turned me on to Frank Miller
in the middle of his Daredevil run and to people like Bill Sienkiewicz. I'd like to think
I expanded his knowledge of and interest in European comics.
We discovered RAW together. When a local book-exchange owner came back from a
trip to the States with a suitcase full of Underground comix, which he sold
from under the counter by word of mouth. Corneliusus told me and we checked
it out. As soon as we caught sight of Raw #3 we knew the world had shifted
on its axis. In New Zealand you had to work hard to find that kind of treasure.
Mind you, that was also around the time our first comic shop opened:
Mark One Comics,run by a 15 year old cormics fan and entrepreneur from a
cuphoard in the basement of the Old Customs House in Auckland. Before long
things like Love and Rockets and Cerehus were turning up on our shelves and
filling our minds.
Mark One also gave us a place to meet other cartoonists - something Cornelius
has always had some special talent for. By the time we started Razor in 1985
Cornelius had become the centre of a growing network of comics writers and
artists across the country. Luckily Cornelius' taste was impressively eclectic
and Razor ranged from people like Warwick Gray (who taught himself to draw
with a copy of How to Draw comics the Marvel Way) to the spaced out visionary
artist Aslan. Razor became a testing ground for cartoonists like Roger Langridge
and myself. It also became a key voice in the 1980s counterculture, attracting punks,
hippies, dropouts and students. Being the 80s ,of course, it never quite coalesced
into a very big scene but it was a kind of community and Cornelius'flat (Razor House)
was its church.
Plastered in photos and drawings, full of comics and books and 23-Skidoo
records, Razor House had the wildest parties and the greatest Sunday afternoons.
There was always a jam strip on the go and it was impossible to drop in without
Cornelius talking you into drawing some new story of his.