The promotion of graphic novels in Australia since the 1980s reflects a persistent effort amongst creators and publishers alike to reposition the ‘childish’ comic book as an adult medium, worthy of serious critical attention. However, this trend has, to some extent, ignored the very children who once comprised comic books’ largest audience. The work of Dillon Naylor (1968 –) not only proves there is an untapped juvenile readership for comics, but also highlights how Australian comic artists have used unconventional channels to reach this overlooked market.
Naylor was still in his teens when his earliest work was published in the small-press anthology, Fox Comics, during the mind-1980s. His first solo title, Frankie Laine’s Comics and Stories (1986-1990), introduced the malicious pranksters Da ‘n’ Dill, two bizarre creatures who enjoyed tormenting the bespectacled nerd, Ian Douglas. This strange trio would undergo subtle changes as they went on to become his most enduring creations.
Naylor’s art was a fusion of influences derived from his passion for American horror comics and the work of Walt Disney Comics artist, Carl Barks (1901-2000). This unlikely but dynamic synthesis of styles saw Naylor become a sought-after rock music poster artist during the 1990s. His involvement with Australia’s independent music scene deepened further with Drivel (1995-1996), a music zine which introduced Naylor’s acerbic ‘domestic comedy’ series, Pop Culture & Two-Minute Noodles, set in an inner-city share household.
The Showbag Factory distributed novelty bags which were sold at agricultural fairs throughout Australia, but the company received complaints from parents about their inclusion of violent American comic books. Naylor seized this opportunity to repackage Da ‘n’ Dill as a kid-friendly comic book (1992-1999), which proved hugely successful for the Showbag Factory and brought Naylor’s work before a national audience. He also invited other contemporary Australian cartoonists to contribute artwork to Da ‘n’ Dill, and the new Pop Culture & Two-Minute Noodles comic (1997-2002), now published under Naylor’s Cowtown Comics imprint.
When his publishing deal with The Showbag Factory ended abruptly in 1999, Naylor developed Batrisha the Vampire Girl, a comical horror heroine, for K-Zone (2001 – 2006), which led the resurgence in Australian children’s magazines. He followed through with a whimsical ‘girl-power’ fantasy serial, Rock & Roll Fairies, created for K-Zone’s companion title, Total Girl (2002 – 2006). By this time, Da ‘n’ Dill were also appearing as a weekly comic strip in Sydney’s Sunday Sun Herald newspaper (2002-2008).
Naylor’s artwork has moved away from the dark and grainy patina of his early works, to a crisper, colorful and more angular style. Yet his stories retain a playful sense of the absurd and a keen ear for the Australian idiom which has delighted children and adults alike for thirty years.