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Comic Adaptation

Text by John Lampard

W hile preparing for the CAB: Collaborative Auto-Biography, an exhibition and book, featuring a collection of autobiographical comics earlier this year, comic artist Matthew Huynh, looking for a way to incorporate the ordinariness of suburban life into a factual representation, found himself recalling his first overseas holiday.

His recollections however were not exactly the fond memories that many of us hope for, or expect, after something as expensive as an overseas holiday. While being trotted around an overseas city’s “tourist attractions” may have made for a few photo opportunities, it otherwise did little for Matt.

“I found the experience of appearing at tourist destinations and landmarks disappointing and empty, distant from any semblance to the lifestyles and experiences of the locals bustling around me. I started thinking about the feedback between the community’s contribution to an individual’s identity and vice versa.”

Artwork by Matthew Huynh
“Animals” © Matthew Huynh

Matt began giving thought to how he might entertain an overseas visitor in his hometown of Sydney. For him though, parading around the “usual suspects” including the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and Luna Park, didn’t seem the best way of imparting the essence of Sydney on a visitor.

“Locals hardly ever interact with these places! The places most effectively demonstrating how we live are those forgotten cracks and corners where intensely personal stories are experienced.”

“If your mate tells you about getting mugged at a certain parking lot, or the corner shop where he stole for the first time, these otherwise unassuming places make you flinch and take notice every single time you walk past.”

Artwork by Matthew Huynh
“Swing Girl” © Matthew Huynh

Matt, who names illustrators Paul Pope and Yuko Shimizu, and writers Kurt Vonnegut Jr, and Jack Kerouac, among his influences, is self taught. Although he has been drawing all his life, but didn’t become serious about comic art until he took part in a 24 hour comic event several years ago.

While he wasn’t exactly proud of his efforts on that occasion, he knew this was the direction he wanted to go in.

“The aim was to make a complete 24 page comic in 24 hours. The result was cringe worthy but it made me aware of my capabilities and demystified the creative process enough for me to continue publishing my own work.”

Matt says the Australian comic art scene, though fragmented, remains receptive to the many and various genres that local artists are working in.

“It’s a mix of everything; manga, psychedelica, Euro-influenced comics, indie journal comics, superheroes, hard boiled comics, fantasy, kids cartoons. There’s also a mix of professional creators working for international publishers and underground adventurers.”

Artwork by Matthew Huynh
“Sing” © Matthew Huynh

While the lack of an established scene or industry makes finding any sort of “mainstream” recognition difficult, this does not deter comic artists from publishing and distributing their work.

“There’s no real formal business industry set up, so every artist is finding their own way from the ground up through alternative distribution, marketing and retail methods, selling at boutiques, record stores, book stores, markets, libraries, anything.”

This is not all bad though according to Matt, who says the lack of a defined scene is allowing local artists work without being bound by the weight of any expectations.

“Local creators are in an exciting period right now whereby they have the opportunity to build the domestic culture and attitude to comics without the restrictions of major preconceptions or limits from domestic audiences.”