Monday, January 05, 2015

The Death Of The Australian Comic Book Industry #1: 4,000,000 American Comics

There's been several theories on what killed the Australian comic book industry at the end of the 1950s. Some of them are very valid - publishers such as K.G. Murray, Horwitz and the Yaffa Syndicate clearly found it to be more economical to import material, and in some cases smuggle material into the country (that's a topic for a future post), and some theories no longer hold up under the glare of historical research - for example, Len Lawson did not single handedly kill the comic book industry.  Comics thrived after Len was convicted in 1954 and it was finished when he was convicted again in 1961.  So what helped kill the Australian comic book industry? 

The relaxation of import restrictions appears to have contributed more than anyone has ever acknowledged. As soon as the ban on importing was lifted towards the end of 1959 Lilliput Productions cut a deal with Woolworths, a major retail shopping chain, to sell American comic books. Lilliput would import the comics and Woolies would sell them for a discounted price, comparable to Australian comics.  But where the Australian comics were, for the most part, black and white and published on newsprint, the American comics would be colour, glossy and look more exciting.  Once the deal was sealed all that was needed were the comics. 

Lilliput duly secured approximately 4,000,000 backdated comic books from America and began the process of shipping them over. To give it some perspective, the population of Australia in 1959 was a mere 10,056,479, thus this was a major flood of product which had the potential to hurt the local market. And hurt it it did. As soon as the details of the shipment became known in November, 1959, complaints were officially made to the Federal Government by K.G. Murray, Australian Consolidated Press (owned by the Packer family), Gordon & Gotch (distributors) and the Newsagents Association.  The complaints were that the importing and dumping of so much stock would adversely affect Murray and ACP's own publishing of the same product, and would cause unfair competition for the newsagents and Gordon & Gotch. The import price on American comics had been set at 5 1/2 cents (American) and there was nothing illegal in what was happening. 

Customs listened to all parties but ultimately decided in December, 1960, that no compliant had been successful. They then placed a nominal value of four American cents per comic as import, which meant that the comics, which by that stage, were in dock in Sydney, could be imported and legally sold. They were then put out on sale, cheaper than Australian products, at supermarkets and other outlets. The local industry took decades to recover from that blow.

NEXT: How the Yaffa Syndicate and K.G. Murray resorted to smuggling art...

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