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Story: Comics and graphic novels

Comics became popular in New Zealand in the 1940s, but sparked a moral panic and government censorship in the mid-1950s. In the 2000s comics and graphic novels took on subjects as diverse as motherhood, the demigod Māui and the First World War.

Story by Tim Bollinger
Main image: Terry and the gunrunners, by Bob Kerr and Stephen Ballantyne

Story Summary

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Early years

In the early 20th century, few comics were produced in New Zealand. Most were imported from Britain. In the 1930s newspapers produced full-colour weekly comic supplements, featuring mostly American comic strips. British-style comics were seen as culturally superior to American strips, and several comics were banned in 1938.

There were occasional local comic series, such as The Tee Wees’ adventures by D. Price. New Zealanders drew for the Australian comic-book industry, such as Ted Brodie-Mack, who drew and co-wrote the series Kazanda.

Mini-boom

In the 1940s and 1950s American-style comic books became popular. Syndicated strips from the US and Australia were repackaged and published in New Zealand by two large publishers – FP in Lower Hutt and Times in Auckland. From 1945 Times printed a series of comics by Auckland artist H. W. Bennett. Other local comic artists were Eric Resetar (Crash O’Kane: an All Black on Mars) and Jack Raeburn (Sparkles).

Comics suppressed

Critics of comics became more vocal in the 1950s (as in other countries). A 1954 report on youth behaviour stated that comics were potentially harmful, and that some should be banned. In 1956 the government set up a comics advisory committee. By 1958 they had banned 260 imported titles. Few local comics were produced at this time.

Protest era

In the 1960s and 1970s protest comics appeared in university student newspapers and capping magazines. New Zealander Kim Casali became internationally successful with her ‘Love is…’ cartoons. Long-running cartoon strips that began in the 1970s included Burton Silver’s Bogor and Murray Ball’s Footrot Flats.

Comics for adults

In the late 20th century attitudes to comics changed. There was less censorship and control over imports, and local artists followed international trends, such as graphic novels – full-length books in a comic-strip format. Comics and graphic novels in the 2000s covered a wide range of subjects, including the exploits of the Māori demigod Māui, Chinese martial arts, the First World War, and motherhood and daily life.

How to cite this page:

Tim Bollinger, 'Comics and graphic novels', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/comics-and-graphic-novels (accessed 25 February 2017)

Story by Tim Bollinger, published 22 Oct 2014