Vumps, Australia’s first “comic paper” published in 1908, is a study in contradictions. The front cover depicted the magazine’s eponymous Australian mascot, Joe Vumps, wearing a flat cap decorated with an American flag, holding aloft his slingshot. The accompanying blurb informs readers that Vumps embodies “Pure Australian Fun,” yet it bore all the hallmarks of comparable British publications then avidly read by Australians. Vumps highlighted the reigning influence of British culture in shaping the hesitant development of Australian comic books during the opening decades of the twentieth century.
Vumps was published by Hector Lamond (1865-1947), editor of The Worker, which was the official organ of the Australian Workers’ Union. The editorial boasted that it was entirely produced in Australia, and opened with a comical prose sketch titled “Down Another Hole” by the celebrated Australian author, Henry Lawson (1867-1922). It also featured work by some of Australia’s leading cartoonists, including Claude Marquet (1869-1920), staff artist for The Worker, and Will Donald, who later worked as a comic-book illustrator for the New South Wales Bookstall Company in the 1940s.
The magazine acknowledged that it was not necessarily filling a “long-felt want” amongst Australian readers, but nevertheless championed its choice of Joe Vumps to chronicle the unique personality of the Australian boy. The two-page centerpiece cartoon, drawn by Marquet, showed Joe and his mates greeting the U.S. Navy on its visit to Sydney, cheekily upstaging the Australian Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin. The accompanying text, penned by Joe’s friend Johnno Goodle, was written in the broad Australian “larrikin” accent later popularized in C.J. Dennis’s poetry collection, The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915).
The magazine’s jingoistic tone captured the optimism of the newly proclaimed Commonwealth of Australia, which achieved nationhood just seven years prior. However, Vumps’ mixture of illustrated poems, humorous prose sketches and single-panel cartoons strongly resembled the appearance of British “comic papers,” which continued to provide the template for Australian children’s periodicals well into the 1950s. Vumps, therefore, was not a comic book in the modern understanding of the term, but rather an illustrated magazine for children.
The Daily News predicted that Vumps would “surely […] become popular with the general public all over Australia” (1908, 7), while The Sydney Stock and Station Journal declared that its contents would make readers “weep for the mental degradation of the [Australian] race” (1908, 3). The Hebrew Standard of Australasia indicated that Vumps would be “clean and distinctively Australian” (1908, 6), but it would have been dismayed by its inclusion of several anti-Semitic cartoons. Vumps ceased publication after just one issue, its passing noted only by The Worker newspaper, which observed that it “paid every artist and contributor to the last penny” (1908, 19).