The Ink of Histories: An interview with Sam Wallman

Pepi Ronalds talks to Melbourne comic artist Sam Wallman on the eve of the launch of his new anthology of Australian history comics, Fluid Prejudice. Sam’s online graphic novel, Serco Story, was recently published by the Global Mail.

Had you met the Melbourne comic artist Sam Wallman during a particular time he would no doubt have enquired about your connections to Tasmania. ‘I asked every Tasmanian I’ve ever met, “Do you know Clifford [the comic artist]?” Then I’d ask, “Can you ask all of your friends?” It took me a long time to track him down,’ Wallman says.

Clifford

Clifford

Likewise, the artist Mary Leunig. First Wallman googled her. ‘The only thing that came up for a while was my own blog where I’d scanned drawings of hers and put them up.‘ Eventually he got his hands on both artists’ work (albeit posthumously when it came to Clifford). Theirs, and the work of almost 50 others, are included in Wallman’s soon-to-be-launched anthology of Australian history comics, Fluid Prejudice.

‘I’ve always been interested in history and especially sloppier versions of history,’ Wallman says. And while Fluid Prejudice is a ‘straight-up history book’, it aims to include stories that are lesser known, and perspectives that are lesser understood. Powerful men loom over our histories says Wallman. ‘Burke and Wills were fat aristocrats who were out in the bush because they were entitled.’ On the other hand, ‘women, queers and brown people are locked out of history even though they existed.’

Texta Queen

Texta Queen

‘The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice,’ said Mark Twain, who inspired Wallman’s choice of title for the anthology. ‘All history is subjective. It’s always strategic,’ says Wallman. And Fluid Prejudice’s strategy he explains is, ‘to say something that hasn’t already been said in history.’

Thus the 175-page tome documents little known stories from our past domestic life, queer life, indigenous Australians, socialists, agitators, protests and movements (and all in the comic-strip/book format). It also includes new stories about more familiar figures such as Edward William Cole, Noel Counihan and William Buckley. Most of the work is by contemporary artists (including Mandy Ord, Chris Gooch, Michael Hawkins and Leigh Rigozzi – to name a few). But there are also strips published posthumously. Wallman took a shine to some panels by Edward Wilson (drawn in the 1800s), which he found in the State Library of Victoria’s archives (and of course there’s Clifford, mentioned above).

Mandy Ord

Mandy Ord

In his first role as editor and publisher Wallman found it tough to turn down artists whose work was really strong (but whose stories didn’t fit with the book’s strategy). And finding funding (which was eventually provided by the City of Melbourne) was also taxing. But the project has only grown stronger since Wallman first formed the idea. ‘Every time someone would send something good through it would make me realise the project was slightly different – and slightly better– than I had imagined,’ he says. His initial idea was formed on a vision of artists he knew, ‘but strangers would send through work that would plug a gap I didn’t know existed. They would teach me something that I didn’t know about.'

Michael Hawkins

Michael Hawkins

Wallman put the call out for drawings over a year and a half ago – which resulted in an outcome he didn’t anticipate. ‘It’s been such a long, drawn-out call that it’s made people think about history a little bit more,’ he says. ‘I would see people in a street or at a party and they’d be talking about history. I hope that’s a sign of what the book will do.’

Portrait of Pepi Ronalds

Pepi Ronalds is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. She's currently researching and writing a book about rebuilding and recovery in Japan after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

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