My mother frequently visited Moorabin Library and fortunately took me with her. It was an adventure where each book was a portal to another time and place. I graduated from children's picture books to history books, books about mysterious, unknown animals, prehistoric beasts, books about nature, science fiction and books about drawing, drawing from nature and drawing cartoons. As a boy I would sit down and draw everything in the how to draw books.
Two uncles aided me in my drawing. One of these was Uncle Ken. He was an amateur naturalist with a large collection of dead insects, a greenhouse where lived a tortoise and blue tongue lizards and he had a a garden full of ferns and native plants. He was also a printer and always saved the offcuts of card and paper for me to draw on. Once, incredibly, he gave me a whole sheet of uncut Nabissco cereal cards.
My other uncle, Des Darvell, my mother's brother, was a sign writer and photographer who also painted splatter paintings, sometimes superimposed on his photos. His paintings remind me of that famous painting in Canberra, Blue Poles. Uncle Des never made that kind of money though, probably because he never pretended the paintings had any hidden meaning. He would have considered that to be so much pretence, 'arty farty' or 'bullshit'. He got the idea for the painting technique from his dad, my Poppy, who painted the inside of his toilet by flicking the paintbrush to make a pattern.
(Incidentally Poppy also painted his Holden with a paint brush with the same light green colour paint he used on the house).
I began drawing gag cartoons and comic strips. The most exciting event was when I had a comic published in Challenge magazine when I was in grade six and later when I was in my first year at secondary school cartoons were published in Pursuit magazine. The magazines went to all the Victorian schools. Best of all was being paid for them!
I always illustrated my school stories and assignments. At Monash University I went on to do a Bachelor of Arts course, as opposed to a Fine Arts course and so never had official art training past my last year of school. The nearest I came to doing that were some night classes in life figure drawing. I eventually became a secondary teacher of English and history where my drawing skills came in handy for illustrating assignment sheets, drawing on the board and covering handout sheets with drawings of teachers during the endless staff meetings. Apart from that I looked forward to the long school holidays when I would travel and take my sketch books with me. I sketched places and people and began to develop stories from my experiences. As I often hitchhiked, from Victoria to Queensland I met a variety of people who gave me plenty of good material.
I turned myself into a cartoon character, who travelled with a backpack. At some point an imaginary kangaroo joined my travels. The main trigger point for this was that teaching in rural areas and renting farm houses gave me plenty of opportunities to come into contact with kangaroos. One such 'contact' involved me hitting a kangaroo with my car - both were destroyed. Fortunately then girlfriend, Leanne, and I survived. (Leanne had noticed that the Econovan, after it rolled on its side was making a great deal of noise, although this was only the radiator. The windscreen had popped out so did she, removing her cowgirl boots and running down the road as fast as she could. Never mind that I was still there hanging on to the steering wheel!)
The kangaroo survived only in the cartoon that followed. It was with some discussions with my Uncle Des that I developed the names of Mick and Hoppa. (Mick was also the nickname of my father Kevin, probably because his garbo mates considered him to be 'a Mick'). We decided that the cartoon would have a strong Australian theme.
Mick and Hoppa became more 'Disneyfied' with the four fingers, big eyes and short statures. The characters also developed as cynical, selfish. politically incorrect Mick who wants to be a ladies' man but never quite gets it right and Hoppa, the Sensitive New Age Kangaroo (SNAK) who is conscious of others feelings and also senses danger before Mick does.
Mick's clothes, admittedly, were influenced by the Paul Hogan character, with the shirt with sleeves cut out and shorts. The checked pattern was stylised to just a few checks. The green boots, also stylised, were based on canvas army boots that I used to wear when hiking. In the 70s they were trendy for a while with surfers who used to cut them down to ankle length.
In the 1980s and 90s I drew hundreds of Mick and Hoppa cartoons, having the occasional cartoon published but without getting a lot of money. They appeared in the Footscray Times for one issue but my pun about a shop name probably made the paper lose interest, it also appeared for a few issues, for free, in Happiness for Life magazine and Comic Edge. Currently it is appearing monthly in the Gippslander newspaper. A selection of my cartoons also appear on tee-shirts, mugs and hats at joccartoons at zazzle on-line.
The biggest boost to my cartoons were my overseas travels in Egypt, Ukraine and especially to Western Samoa and the USA. For the last two countries I had taken six months long service leave, in the 90s, on half pay so I was on a definite budget - no fancy hotels for me. My mode of travel for four months in the USA, included hitchhiking with a bicycle and sleeping in deserts and forests national parks on park benches (to dodge scorpions, snakes and skunks) and backpacker hostels, as well as at friendly Americans' homes. Some of these people ended up in my cartoons. What was interesting was they trusted, a complete stranger, to sleep on their couches, probably just because I was an Australian. I would fill my sketch books with sketches and ideas and take plenty of photos. These would later be the basis for my final pieces I would polish up at home.
Now my thirteen year old daughter, Alexi has taken up drawing cartoons with a passion and we share a love of comics and cartoons. If you think my sense of humour is sometimes warped wait till you see hers!
My intention, in this blog is to eventually post all my Mick and Hoppa cartoon strips and a selection of other cartoons. I am busy colourising them by hand or on the computer, the latter something I learnt to do only recently. I'll be including some accounts of my travels as well. Mick and Hoppa, however, basically go where I go. They experience the same things but have the advantage of also experiencing the 'what ifs'. For example, I was never an ambassador to the American president, landed on the Moon or met Clint Eastwood when he was changing The Good the Bad and the Ugly into a politically correct western. Nor was I pulled up into the air by a giant mosquito and dumped on an island inhabited by a giant ape! But to some extent both Mick and Hoppa are, or at least were, me even if their adventures are slightly more fantastical.