Recording the history of contemporary Australian comics

Australian comics and graphic novels produced over the last 40 years tell a story of Australia unlike those in any other art form.

An illustration of a cartoon, a book and some pens

Image: A project banner drawn by researcher Pat Grant.

A new project led by our own Dr Elizabeth MacFarlane in collaboration with the National Library of Australia, Australia Council and Craig Walker Design has been granted Australian Research Council (ARC) funding for a project that will map, archive and promote the contemporary history of Australian comics and graphic novels produced in the last 40 years.

The team will expand, digitise and activate the National Library of Australia’s comic collection and create a website that acts as an access point to essays, profiles, long-form audio interviews and samples of digital comics.

Project lead Dr MacFarlane said that she hopes the project will help other adults discover more about Australian comics.

“Having rediscovered the beautiful medium of comics as an adult after not reading them since childhood, I've been privileged to enjoy the wealth of remarkable stories being told by Australians in comics form. I hope this project will open up these stories to many more readers both here and around the world.”

Comics produced from 1980 to 2020 reflect a picture of contemporary Australian society, culture and identity that has largely not been captured elsewhere. They have touched on important themes including disability, mental illness, Indigenous stories, immigration and activism while using unique narrative techniques to uncover a new and powerful representation of life in Australia.

Dr MacFarlane also noted the importance in making sure those stories are preserved and told broadly “This is the first ARC-funded project to examine the contemporary history of the Australian comics industry, narrative innovation, and cultural impact. Our research team is made up of people who are all both artists and scholars and we hope to bring a unique perspective to our research and its dissemination.”

Three members of the research - Ronnie Scott, Dr Elizabeth MacFarlane and Gabriel Clark - at an audio recording workshop.

Image: Three members of the research team - Ronnie Scott, Dr Elizabeth MacFarlane and Gabriel Clark - at an audio recording workshop. Photo by Pat Grant.