It was 17 years ago that Australia’s oldest comic strip went from running as a Sunday strip for 72 years, and finally took the leap into the daily format, but it wasn’t easy…
In the early 1930’s Arthur J Lafave offered Ginger Meggs creator, James C Bancks a very substantial offer to move to America to syndicate Ginger Meggs to the world, but he believed it would be easier to market if it was also available as a daily strip (and if Bancks was living in America.)
Eric Baume, then editor of the Sunday Sun offered him a bigger sum to stay in Australia, so he did!
“This”, said Baume, made Bancks, “the highest-paid artist or journalist in the southern hemisphere, and other countries, especially the United States of America, will be the poorer.”
At the time, about three million Australians a week – almost half the population were reading Meggs.
In 1935, Bancks looked into turning Ginger Meggs into a daily strip but was worried about the volume of work involved. He asked several cartoonists if they would do the drawing while he wrote the scripts, but none were up to scratch. Some artists turned Bancks down in fear that they’d lose their own identity by becoming synonymous with such an iconic strip.
In 1946, Bancks made a trip to the US visiting Lafave in Cleveland. At that time Dan Russell was in America along with his brother Jim. Jim had taken over drawing The Potts at the end of 1939 from Stan Cross and was keen to find out if there was a chance of Lafave syndicating the strip. Bancks introduced them to Lafave and The Potts was soon running in about 40 papers across the United States. But what Lafave really wanted was to syndicate a daily Ginger Meggs. Bancks was still not interested in doing the work.
Lafave pushed for Dan to take on the drawing of the daily strip with Bancks writing the scripts. From time to time Dan did draw Ginger – for books and some advertising projects. He even says “on one occasion I drew the comic for two weeks when Bancks was unable to do it”. But realising what a taskmaster Bancks was, and the demands of the Americans, he turned the job down. He thought he “could satisfy Bancks with the drawings and I thought he could satisfy the Americans with their needs. But I didn’t think I could satisfy both at once and keep up with the daily deadlines”.
The daily strip didn’t happen, but the weekly strips were syndicated and Ginge was being read in newspapers in London, Boston, Dallas, New York and St. Louis. It was also being translated into French and Spanish, and read in South America.
37 years later, the late James Kemsley OAM, became the fifth cartoonist to take on writing and drawing Ginger Meggs.
Kemsley pushed Meggs back to a level of popularity it hadn’t enjoyed for years. 1990 saw Kemsley and Ginger Meggs win the Australian Black & White Artists’ Club “Stanley” award for Best Comic Strip.
In 1993, seventy-two years after its debut as a Sunday strip, Kemsley finally took the leap and began a daily version of the strip for the Illawarra Mercury.
It was soon picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane’s Courier Mail, Perth’s West Australian, then in October 1997 by the London Express, and in the USA by the American Publishing Corporation. Its appearance in the Express made it the first Australian daily strip to appear in a British national daily paper. Five annuals of strips have been published.
In 1999, Kemsley and Meggs signed with the US-based Atlantic Syndication for worldwide distribution. Ginger Meggs now appears in over 127 newspapers around Australia and the world. Apart from Australia, you can now read Meggs in the USA, Antigua, Barbados, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Fiji, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, India, Venezuela, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Canada, Brunei, Sweden, the Netherlands, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and Thailand.
In 2011, Ginger Meggs will celebrate his 90th Birthday, making Meggs one of the longest running comic strips in history. You wouldn’t know it looking at him!
(Daily strip #0000, published in 1993 © James Kemsley)
(Daily strip #5000, published in 2010 © Jason Chatfield)