Very little research will show that Australia is not a place tapped of comic quality; it’s a nation starved of appropriate showcases that delve into what its creators have to offer. Glom Press, an award-winning comic book publisher based in Melbourne, houses multiple standout works from Australia’s contemporary comic scene, representing a flourishing industry filled with quality pieces.
Glom Press operates as a for-hire risograph press (risograph being a type of printing that involves superimposing colours onto each other in layers, allowing for vibrant pages at affordable prices), providing opportunities for emerging artists, many of whom find great success in experimenting with both the comic medium and the risograph style. There is also a focus on furthering the niche of micro-comics, underrepresented mediums in their own right, attempting to bridge the gap between this type of comic and mainstream publications. Whether it be through surreal minimalism or anxiety-inducing imagery, an array of experimentation has occurred under Glom’s name, many to astounding success. The artistic merit of each piece is undeniable, and tends to transcend household styles to creating unique and flexible visual experiences.
Founders Marc Pearson and Micheal Hawkins themselves have extensive experience in the comics industry, and yet never sacrifice innovation for mediocrity. Within these pieces we are given the freedom to think, feel and experience things of great significance, sometimes through an empty panel. This showcase has been divided into two separate parts, in an attempt to fully explore some of Glom Press’ best works.
Swimsuit by Rachel Ang
In order to create a piece of tension, you must manipulate how much control the reader thinks they have over what they’re experiencing. Finding the sweet spot between complete detachment from scenes and predictability is what dictates how well you capture your audience. Ang’s piece in itself isn’t necessarily horror, but by stripping down the context of many of the events it explores, the reader is left uncomfortable with how little control they have over the situation.
The piece dances around the awkward interactions of a recently reunited pair; their dynamic suggests a relationship more complex than friendship in the past. Their catch-up is calculated, and only particular lines of dialogue are permitted to cut the silence. They find themselves at a public pool, swimming amongst scattered summaries of friends and each other, though topics that don’t require extended debriefing. The male lead begins taking small jabs at certain lifestyles choices of theirs, which bothers Jenny, our female lead. The way she reacts also seems to suggest these discussions aren’t new to her, as if these comments have been made before. The way he rashly talks about new relationships and beauty hits Jenny profoundly, only accentuated by them being in a situation where they must expose their bodies.
The silence in this piece is intense, and becomes deafening with Ang’s exceptional artwork. Little intricacies in her sketchy art style provide detail in body language that dialogue never could. The silence also gives us time to implant our own thoughts on the situation, and if we can empathise, how we would navigate the situation. The tension and awkwardness culminate into an event outside of our two leads, the drowning of a young child, with a potentially racial motivation. This polarising scene brings with it a little slip up at the end of the duo’s catch-up. As both characters intend on seeming unfazed around each other, our Jenny unleashes a torrent of anger during their final goodbyes, almost in response to everything she had experienced that day. In reality, what she says is nothing more than a casual remark. “Yeah, I’m a fucking shit magnet” – passive aggressive, but not something that would fray a relationship, and hardly the “torrent of anger” I initially described it as. But that’s how it feels after reading an entire story based around characters tippy-toeing around each other.
The reality of their situation has leaked into reality – whether that is an un-contentedness in their current relationship, or a struggling in general, Jenny reveals her true feelings, and promptly leaves the situation. She walks home, strips down and lies in a similar position to floating in water. A powerful ending to a work interested in capturing a stage of a relationship rarely explored, we are left pondering the unhappiness of a young woman, and what their interactions might say about them as people, if anything.
Leonie Brialey – Psychic Hotline
In Leonie Brialey’s Psychic Hotline, what initially seemed like a wholesome story about a dial up wellbeing service ends up being a sombre reminder of mortality, and a critical examination of the therapy process. The comic follows our narrator, a young lady working at a psychic hotline, and her reoccurring conversations with a ghost suffering from depressive and existential symptoms. The conversations between them are somewhat awkward – the narrator must build up the trust of the ghost, while the ghost must also be willing to acknowledge his situation and engage in solutions (which often involve calling the hotline in the future).
Minimalistic art mixed with a fragmented story allows for a lot to be said with very little displayed, and often the characters in it aren’t “available” to the reader – they are often involved in affairs (introspection) outside our view. In a sense, the psychic element of the piece remains outside of our grasp – the answers we crave rest in minds we are unable to enter. The only time in which linear storytelling is present is during a short monologue towards the end of the piece, discussing the sexuality struggles of our characters’ father. Elements of such a struggle are actually spliced throughout the piece, but upon re-reading it, and even with all the puzzle pieces you receive by the end, isn’t intended to create any holistic view of the story.
Psychic hotline is an experience that you must allow your feelings to guide you through – this is the most rewarding way to uncover the mysteries of the service and its users.
Marc Pearson – Raymond Ray and the Flamingo Diamond
While possessing a cover drenched in abstract psychedelic colourscapes (and playing around with the limits of risopress), Pearson’s story is actually quite linear, albeit laced with absurdity. Our protagonist, Raymond Ray, alongside friend Max, travel to meet up with the former’s daughter and husband in the countryside. While on the overnight train, a robbery occurs, in which the group must solve the mystery of the missing flamingo diamond.
Well, not really. Though detective Arturo Hasquantle (a less adept Hercule Poirot) is on the case, most passengers seem unaffected by this bizarre occurrence. And the plot isn’t too interested in the mystery either, as bizarre occurrences make up a large chunk of this story – odd interactions, odd situations and odd disasters that Raymond finds himself in occur constantly, almost overshadowing Hasquantle’s case. Once again, the clarity of this narrative must be emphasised – the plot flows so smoothly that the reader isn’t even asked to reflect on the absurdity they experience. Much like in real life, they are asked to just embrace it. The underwhelming reactions of our characters offer a comedic contrast between situations and implications, which avoid making the events themselves gimmicks. In fact, many events openly mock the dramatics of popular culture, providing a reality where total indifference leads to more effective (and entertaining) storytelling.
Despite a clear narrative structure, content isn’t spoon fed to the reader. While some moments of absurdity can be described as nothing more than silly events, others bring with them a great profundity. Moments of silence between dialogues, and panels in which our characters merely observe, provide reflective instances which further contrast perceptions of the comedic. Humour does not equate to insignificance, and many astute observations can be extracted from this piece – from the drifting of friends, the perceived plateau of mid adulthood and the fragility of relationships.
Bailey Sharp – My Big Life
Aptly written in its blurb, My Big Life is somebody’s memoir.
I admired our protagonist from the get-go. There is an inherent romanticism in a life filled with drifting, travelling and exploring, but my fondness for her goes further than superficial adventures. She is determined to try, to reinvent herself, and continue on a path of self improvement that is (naturally) littered with mistakes. It’s a piece that comes to a satisfying conclusion, without the unrealistic and naive clichés of a self purported public figure – it depicts a “truer” living, and how transformative life can be. We rarely stay within one interest, one occupation, particularly during early adulthood, and this time of exploration is essential.
As seen in other comics (the works of Mandy Ord come to mind), there is a sense of otherness attached to the protagonist through disfigured characters. The simplicity and fluidity of her one-eyed alter-ego allows Sharp to transition between panels smoothly, almost animated in their movement. Even though My Big Life is a comic filled with polarity, ups and downs, successes and failures, it is in this turbulence that a holistic view of living is reached. The protagonist, amongst all her faults, truly lives, and urges the reader to show the same unabashed (and often reckless) adventurousness that she does.
Even though the protagonist at times laments that her life cannot be of singular purpose (like the characters in her books), it is being multifaceted that allowed me to connect with her so intently. My Big Life was awarded the 2019 Bronze Ledger for excellence in Australian Comics.
An accompanying piece will be released soon, with more titles to explore, and some concluding statements on Glom Press.