Could a comic book win a Pulitzer prize, the award associated with the most important and prestigious works of literature? In 1992, for the first time in the prize’s history a graphic novel (essentially a long form comic) won the Pulitzer’s Special Citations and Awards – Letters. The award winning graphic novel was Maus by Art Spieglman, described as being the most affecting Holocaust narrative ever created. Its haunting images and heart-breaking text are the stuff of nightmares – and Pulitzer Prizes. Overnight comics had arrived in the mainstream of American literature and were now worthy of academic attention. But Maus had long been known in the world of underground graphic artists and comics, it first appeared ten years earlier in the avant-garde comic Raw.
If you are looking for our own home grown graphic art and comic universe you can find it at the most easterly end of the West End. This is the home of Graphic Action, a kind of comic central which opened in 1995 and soon became a mecca for aficionados of graphic art. In 2001 the business was put up for sale and teetered on the brink of closure; enter James Morris, the store’s manager who had been with Graphic Action from the beginning. Donning his superhero cloak, he bought the business and saved the day. Ten years ago the store moved to its current West End location and James is still at the helm today.
Graphic Action is a riot of colour; its walls are tiered with comics including Superman, The Phantom, Astro Boy, Archie and Veronica, the X-Men, SpongeBob, Transformers and my personal favourite Tank Girl. Surprisingly the traditional classics are still popular, with two of the oldest, and biggest, comic book publishers Marvel and D.C. Comics still performing strongly against their newer rivals. Old style heroes and villains are not considered retro, but genuinely stand up on their own merit remaining one of the biggest selling lines, along with Japanese animation. The store also stocks action figures, statues, card games, comic badges (called ‘buttons’), monster toys and DVDs. In Graphic Action talk these things are ‘cool stuff’, not collectibles, hence the store’s by-line ‘Comics and Cool Stuff’.
Happy, high energy James and his staff are renowned for their passion for the comic art form and their impressive knowledge base. He relishes being thrown a curly question he can’t answer. “If I have never heard of a comic, or we don’t stock it, I like the challenge of finding out all about the title and the artist and hunting it down til it becomes part of the Graphic Action catalogue”.
On the day I visited, one of the store’s regular customers Deanne was in. She lives on the Central Coast and travels up once a month to stock up on comics and graphic novels. Before her monthly trip she places her order in advance choosing them from Comic Shop News, an American comic newsletter which James imports and supplies free to his customers. Deanne explains that most comic lovers are 16-40 year old ‘nerds’, a description she proudly takes for herself. She clarifies that ‘nerds’ are folk with “a love of reading and appreciation of art” and that in a comic or graphic novel this hybrid of text and art comes together perfectly.
Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires or infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0413 250 155.
This post was first published in August 2013.