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Comic Gong and the return of the cultural mirror

It’s been over fifteen years since the Phantom Zone closed it’s doors to the public. The old comic book store was a regular haunt for Batman obsessed youngens such as myself, their aisles of glossy illustrations a holy grail of epic adventures. Such immaculately kept bindings and their amazing covers were near enough to set my imagination on it’s own vivid tale of heroism and justice.

Wollongong’s comic culture seemed to disappear with the departure of the Phantom Zone’s shop front, but like many of the famous and infamous characters they pedal – comics are back, with a venegence.

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The third Comic Gong event is poised to shower the CBD’s public spaces with catholically costumed fans and some other fun stuff too, including a discussion run by Bill O’Donovan and John Monteleone at Wollongong Art Gallery regarding the cultural role of comic books.

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The revival of comic book culture probably has Hollywood’s block-bustering to thank, yet their cultural relevance has never feigned as a true portrait of society’s fears, values and perceptions. One need only take a look at the evolution of the villain from Nazi in the 1950s to street thug in the 1980s and most recently artificial intelligence to see a likeness to the movement of Western cultural concern. Perhaps, too, a sign of our current societal conundrum is the reinvigoration of print publications alongside their digital equivalents – a war of epic proportion.

 

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Ultron, an evil artificially intelligent robot featured in the second Avengers film, ruminating popular culture’s insecurities toward the technology. (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Beyond providing a keyhole into society’s sole, funny mags have also been the dictator for popular imagination and escapism. Who hasn’t imagined being able to fly? Or lift a car above your head? Or to save a train full of people?

 

Many of the publishing niche’s biggest fans have turned a passion for the imaginary into a full time job. One such talent is illustrator Chris Wahl, a Sydneysider who recently made pilgrimage to Wollongong. Wahl has been producing beautiful pictures for almost 20 years now and he attributes much of his early inspiration to the comic books he read as a child.

 

 

 

“The first comic I bought and read which started off my comic collecting was Marvel’s ‘The Falcon’ limited series from back in the mid 80s. Even though I read every comic I bought, I mainly collected them for the art.”

 

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Illustrator Chris Wahl

 

“ Comic artists like John Byrne (Fantastic Four), Jim Lee (X-Men), Alan Davis (Excalibur), Art Adams (Longshot), Brett Blevins (New Mutants) and J Scott Campbell (Danger Girl) heavily influenced which comics I bought back then, and their work inspired my own art and drawing style for years to come.”

 

 

 

MAD Superman

An illustration by Chris Wahl

As Wahl settles in to life on the South Coast events like Comic Gong provide him and his son with an opportunity to hang out and meet other like-minded artists and fans. This very facet of comic book culture; the community, seems to be the true hero in the end.

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As comics first came to prominence during the depression they were a welcomed distraction from the woes of the “common man” in that epoch, giving people a chance to escape. As World War II came in, the comics represented a vent of frustration towards the reality of evil and then the following baby-boomer generation became akin to anti-hero characters such as the Hulk and Spiderman.

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The realisation of true evil during and following the second World War was reflected in the antagonists of the comic books of that time (image credit: DC)

 

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Spider Man & Hulk are examples of the anti-hero. Their segragation from society is sometimes compared to the differing values baby boomers had to the previous generation, coupled with the always present nuclear enemy. (image credit: Marvel)

The villains of modern day comic books are no different in nature to their predecessors, vying to tackle the same fears and uphold contemporary values. One need only look at the most recent Avengers film to see that a fear of artificaial

 

the movement back towards tangible objects and face-to-face interaction may very well be a reaction to the digital disconnect we have found ourselves a part of. Are conventions such as Comic Gong the hero we need?




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