Born 1921 Glebe, New South Wales
Died 2012 Fingal Bay, New South Wales
By Lindsay Foyle
Adjoining the Williamtown air base just north of Newcastle, New South Wales is the Monarch museum. It opened in 1998 and contains a large display of military uniforms, antique weapons, armor, photographic equipment, toy soldiers and collectables. In one corner is a collection of Australian comics and drawings that mostly come for the 1940s and 1950s. At first the display of black and white art seems out of place when viewed with the guns and military history. But there is a connection. The museum is owned and run by Monty Wedd and his wife Dorothy. The content reflects Monty’s fascination with Australian military history, which grew from his insistence of getting his Australian historical comics correct in every detail.
Montague Thomas Archibald Wedd was born in Glebe on 5 January 1921, but spent his childhood in Randwick and was educated at Randwick High School. Wedd says that as long as he can remember he was always drawing. “Comic strips played a big part in my life as a boy. They were like the serials at the Saturday afternoon matinees at the “flixs”. They were great escapes from the humdrum reality of a schoolboy’s life. Ginger Meggs by Bancks and Bib and Bub by May Gibbs were popular. The comic that excited me most was Syd Nicholls’ Fatty Finn. Beautifully drawn with tremendous detail, it was a comic most kids could identify with. Fatty played the same games we did and got into the same kind of trouble we did. Nicholls stimulated my imagination no end. When he introduced a pirate dream sequence into his Fatty Finn strip, I was from then on, sold on comics and knew I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Subjects that captured my boyish imagination, soldiers, cowboys, Indians and pirates. You name it I drew it, on the walls in the little room in the house, as well as decorating the pages of my schoolbooks. As a schoolboy I drew strips about World War 1 fighter pilots, the French Foreign Legion as well as detectives and later would hawk them around to various Art Directors of the newspapers. Hoping for that big break.”
On Saturday mornings Wedd took drawing lessons with Oswald Brock in the Victoria Arcade in Sydney at 2 shillings and 6 pence an hour. But often extending his hour to three for no extra charge. Wed thought Brock was just happy to have someone to talk too.
Leaving school during the depression he walked the streets of Sydney for six months looking for work as an artist. Despite getting lots of encouragement work was hard to find with queues of over 100. Eventually he landed a job with the Hackett Offset Printing Company at 10 shillings a week. He only lasted six months before taking a job with Corkhill and Lang at 30 shillings a week as a furniture artist. “I had never drawn a stick of furniture before, except in the evening perspective class at East Sydney Technical College. But they weren’t to know that. I drew bedroom suites and dining room suites for them, every king and description, and soon became a valuable asset to the firm.”
He later joined Grace Brothers working in the art department. But this was short lived as World War 2 had started and Monty signed up for the AIF in 1941, transferring to the RAAF after about 18 months. When the war ended he spent three years completing a Commercial Art Course at East Sydney Tech. In 1946 when he sold his first comic strip. It was about the French Foreign Legion called Sword and Sabre and was published as a serial over three monthly episodes in Middy Malone Magazine, published by Syd Nicholls.
“In those days 5 pounds was a very good weekly wage,” Wedd once said. ”Well, I could earn three or four pounds for a page of comics and if I worked hard I could produce four or five pages a week.”
Wedd produced eight more comics about the French Foreign Legion for the Middy Malone Magazine. Wedd said, “Syd Nicholls was a remarkable man, as well as being a skilled artists and craftsman, he had a great love for all things Australian, and abhorred the fact so many of our national newspapers filled the space allotted to comics with syndication strips with foreign customs and a different way of life. It was very un-Australian in his eyes, and very much against the national interest. Seeing I had found my feet as a young comic feature artist he suggested I create a strip with an Australian origin instead of the French Foreign Legion.”
Wedd acted on Nicholls advice and came up with Captain Justice. He battled bushrangers and championed the oppressed in rural Australia. Wedd said, “The creation of this feature was to have a marked influence on my life, for I knew little of Australian history, except what I had learnt in boring history lessons at school. My research into this subject came as a complete surprise; I felt I had discovered Australian for the first time. We had our own colourful wild west, unique in every way and much better than American wild west, which had been fed to us as children in films, short stories and comic strips.”
Jack Heming, a short story writer to advised him to “Make sure your guns are right Monty.” It was good advice. Working form a studio he shared with Nicholls and Stan Clements, Wedd was meticulous in his research into historical detail for the weapons, artifacts and settings and drew the comic as accurately as he could. To make sure he got the guns right for his comics Wedd began to study firearms, which lead him to become an authority on the subject. The Captain Justice comic ran in the Middy Malone Magazine for a while and then in the Fatty Finn Comic Book.
Australian comic book publisher flourished after the Second World War in part because they produced comics about Australia for Australians. And there were restrictions on the importation of foreign publications. When the Labor Party lost office in 1949 the restrictions were lifted and the marked was flooded with cheep American comics. The Australian publishers couldn’t compete and many artists lost their livelihoods.
Wedd married Dorothy Jewell in 1949 and they have four children Sandra, Justin, Warwick and Deborah. Stan Clements, another cartoonist had married Dorothy’s sister Ivi in 1946.
Syd Nicholls Publishing closed in 1950 and Wedd started contributing comics to Elmsdale Publications. He produced a series of Captain Justice comic books for New Century Press at 102 pounds an issue. At the time the basic wage was 20 pounds a week. In 1953 he returned to Elmsdale to draw a new comic The Scorpion at 160 pounds an issue. It was about a bad-guy who kept escaping his just deserts in order to fight another day, but the comic was banned in Queensland in 1955 and Elmsdale stopped publishing it.
“The authorities objected to the Scorpion not being brought to justice, but if he had been I wouldn’t have had a series,” said Wedd. “Still, once they banned him in one state the distributor was no longer keen to handle the title at all, so that was the end of The Scorpion.”
In 1951 Wedd produced a 24-page comic called Kirk Raven, which he sold to Elmsdale Publishing. Wedd said, “It was a one off - but it did well.” He then created a second comic for Elmsdale called Tod Trail, an American western. It too was successful and he was asked to do more wok for Elmsdale. But after a disagreement about ownership of copyright he stopped working for them. He was keen to get back to Australian based comics and sold three Captain Justice comics to New Century Press that were published from 1950 to 1953.
For Calvert Publishing Wedd produced a series of Kent Blake comic books in 1953 to 1954 and then another series of Captain Justice comics which ended in 1955. In 1954 Wedd and began contributing features to Stamp News. It was an association that was to last over 40 years.
It was around this time he started a 16-year association with The Australian Children Newspaper drawing adventure comics and in 1958 he started contributing to Chuckler’s Weekly with more Captain Justice and King Comet comics as well as some illustrations. Wedd was also selling a comic strip called Children of Fortune to Woman’s Mirror, which was owned by The Bulletin. It was a story of a brother and sister in the Macquarie era of Sydney and he was contributing historical illustrations to Woman’s Mirror at this time.
Wedd started collecting items for reference for his drawings in the 1940s and this stimulated his interest in collection historical artifacts. As the collection grew and he needed additional space to house the collection he formed the idea of starting his own museum. This opened in Narraweena, a northern beach suburb of Sydney in 1960 and quickly became a showcase of early Australian history. The museum only closed when
Wedd realized it had out grown the space available and to house the ever-expanding collection he decided to move to Williamtown and build a bigger and better museum.
Captain Justice appeared in another five comic books Wedd produced for Horwitz publications in 1963. Wedd said, “These were made up of the Chucklers Weekly stories, and I hoped now there was so much Australiana appearing on television the bushranging series would strand up to the flood of American Westerns. I was duly disappointed.” But there was one compensation; George Foster invited Wedd to become a regular on his Cannel 9 TV programs, Tell the Truth and Play Your Hunch. Each week Wedd would take something form his growing collection of historical items, gathered for research of his comics and present it on the show. “It was all live, and wonderful experience, which lasted several years, until the program was unceremoniously axed along with others of Australian content, in an economy drive.”
Woman’s Day ran a full-page Captain Justice comic from September 1964 to April 1965. Wedd said, “This venture was very successful and something very different and truly Australian. But a problem arose when the assistant Editor, Bob Nelson for reasons best known to himself, wished to write Captain Justice, leaving me only the illustration. Rather than lose the space, I reluctantly agreed, but when I found the material offered downgraded Captain Justice and was entirely unsuitable, and historically most inaccurate, I withdrew from the magazine rather than see the character face ridicule.”
Around this time Nicholls pointed out to Wedd that there was some work to be had being involved with Australia’s conversion to decimal currency. Wedd entered a competition run by the Decimal Currency Board and they commissioned him to create a series of Dollar Bill cartoons featuring the history of Australian currency. They were intended to instruct the readers about the simple ways of converting pounds, shillings and pence into dollars and cents. Wedd thinks he must have done about 60 cartoon strips that were given to hundreds of newspapers all over Australian in 1966.
When the Dollar Bill series came to an end the American strangle hood on the Australian comic industry had intensified and Wedd got involved with animation with Artransa and Eric Ported. He worked on Marco Polo vs the Red Dragon, Charlie Chan, The Lone Ranger, Rocket Robin Hood and Super Friends.
In 1970 Wedd began producing an historical feature for The Daily Mirror in Sydney illustrating Captain Cook’s journal. Following the success of this venture he turned his hand to a series on Ned Kelly for the Sunday Mirror. He left animation in 1974 to concentrate on the comic that was originally expected to run for 25 to 39 weeks. But was extended to 146 weeks so Wedd could produce a detailed examination of Kelly’s life. Wedd said “It told for the first time a true and unbiased story of the bush ranger’s life, and the events leading up till his execution, and needless to say, my hours of research and hundreds of miles of travel, made Kelly a most successful strip.”
After the Kelly comic had run its course Wedd produced a similar feature on the Australian bushranger Ben Hall. “I endeavored to tell an authentic story of Ben Hall’s life and times, using diaries and memoirs of John McGuire, Hall’s business partner and brother-in-law.” Wedd said. “Plus, the recollections of John Vane, the only member of the gang to survive to tell the true story from the inside. There were also numerous letters and newspaper accounts to back up the facts.” Ben Hall ran for 400 episodes and was followed by an even longer series Birth of a Nation.
Wedd also produced a book on Australian Military Uniforms from 1800 to 1982. It told for the first time the story of Australia’s armed forces from the earliest volunteers through the Colonial era to Federation and the to modern times.
In 2009 his health began failing and he moved into a nursing home for the last few months of his life. He died at Fingal Bay on 4 May 2012.
Wedd received Stanley Awards in 1987 and 1989 for comics; the Order of Australia for services as an author, historian and illustrator in 1993 and the Jim Russell Award for his contribution to black and white art in 2004. In 2014 Nat Karmichael gathered up all Wedd’s Ned Kelly comics and put them into a book, which was published by Comioz in 2014. In 2017 Monty’s Ben Hall comics became a massive 400page book also published by Comioz.
Monty Wedd entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2014.
- Panel by Panel, Cassell Australia 1979
- The 102 Collection, Lilyfield Publishers 1985
- Bonzer: Australian comics 1900s-1990s, Elgua Media 1999
- The Insiders cartoon exhibition, ABC 2009
- 2018 cartoon exhibition, Australian Cartoonists’ Association 2018
- From Sunbeams to Sunset, Comicoz 2019