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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

'Vumps' Australia's First Ever Comic Book?

Is Vumps the first comic book issued in Australia?  All of the evidence certainly points towards it.  Vumps was a true one-off and promoted as the ‘first Australian comic-paper’ - a claim that has long been accepted as being accurate, mainly as its predecessors, such as the Melbourne Punch (1855 - 1925), the Bulletin (1880), The Rambler (1899) and The Bull Ant (1890-1892) were either tabloid newspapers or magazines.  The Melbourne Cartoon, published in the 1890s was more a political commentary and George Robertson’s Head Over Heels (1874) was more illustrated prose and verse than outright comic style art.  Norman Lindsay, who had edited and contributed to The Rambler, had been incorporating animals in humours situations into his strips in The Lone Hand as early as 1907, much of this work can be found in books such as Norman Lindsay’s Cats and Norman Lindsay’s Bears, both featuring excellent reproductions of some of his lesser known works.  Despite the presence of Lindsay and his art, The Rambler, which lasted for twelve issues (eleven more than Vumps) was best described as being a glossy magazine, as opposed to a comic book.  However Vumps made the distinction between being either commentary or verse by stating what it was intended to be – a comic paper.  But what happened to it?

The first announcement of Vumps came in, of all places, the Hebrew Standard of Australasia.  Founded in 1895, the newspaper changed its name to the Australian Jewish News in 1953 and is still in publication today, the longest running and indeed the ONLY Jewish orientated newspaper in the country. On the 24th of July, 1908, a small editorial piece announced the birth of Vumps.

The contents of Vumps were described in Vane Lindsay’s The Inked In Image as such:
The Vumps – 1908 ‘the first Australian comic-paper’, a sixteen page publication, containing an illustrated humorous Henry Lawson story, jokes and anecdotes, joke cartoons by various artists, including Hal Gye, Mick Paul, Ambrose Dyson and Hugh MacLean, with a full-page eight-frame comic-strip drawn by Claude Marquet, better known for his Labor cartoons in The Worker. This strip was untitled, but concerned two Domain-dossers, Marmyduke Miffles and his brother in adversity, Snoofter McSnickle, both of them in humour and type somewhat reminiscent of the English tramp comic characters, Weary Willie and Tired Tim.

Further period descriptions in 1908 stated that, “…so interesting a personality as the Australian boy should not be allowed to live his life in obscurity, therefore this paper will chronicle his doings. He will henceforth be known as Vumps – Joe Vumps – and his ways will be recorded by some of the most capable of Australian’s artists and writers.”  Joe Vumps appeared on the cover and was a feature in Claude Marquet’s double-spread.  In all cases where Joe Vumps was shown he was pictured with cap, braces and catapult.  The actual book was one of quality.  The cover was black and white with red lettering and a red border and it proudly proclaimed that the comic contained ‘Pure Australian Fun” and the contents showcased the artists fine line work to perfection.

Despite the hype surrounding the title and the quality of the people connected to it, Vumps did not get past the first issue.  Vumps was intended to appear weekly and reviews of the debut issue were positive, but the Adelaide Herald reported on the 3rd of October, 1908 that the promoters, “…should have looked further ahead, but they evidently expected Vumps to make the public smile so loudly on its first appearance that the populace would yearn for it.  Apparently it didn’t year worth a cent – or rather, a penny.”

Australian Book Of Humour, 1874
Melbourne Cartoon.  1891.  Six pages of illustrations.
Here, for the first time in a long, long while, is most of the first, and only, issue of Vumps, from August 1908.


Oh no, you don't get the entire issue.  That'd be naughty.

POSTSCRIPT:  Claude Marquet, one of the more gifted artists of his era, died tragically in April 1920 when a small boat he was sailing around the New South Wales coast in got into difficulties during a storm, resulting in Marquet and his companion, a man known only as ‘Palmer’ presumably drowned.  The boat and its supplies were eventually discovered, the bodies were lost at sea.

2 comments:

rnigma said...

Does Joe appear to have an American flag stuck in his cap?

Daniel Best said...

He does indeed! Well spotted.