Author shares story behind Australia’s longest-running comic strip
Ginger Meggs is Australia’s longest-running comic strip, with the iconic character and Aussie legend about to hit a 100-year milestone on November 13.
First created by Jimmy Bancks in 1921, his great-great nephew Tristan Bancks has released four new and original Ginger Meggs stories, with illustrations by Jason Chatfield, ahead of the anniversary.
Tristan reveals some of the biggest changes to the character over the past 100 years, and why kids and grown-ups alike still revel in the rambunctious adventures of the ginger kid who never gets old.
As the great-great nephew of Jimmy Bancks, what can you tell us about the creation of the Ginger Meggs comic?
T: I have been able to play in that universe after reading it as a kid. I heard stories about my great-great uncle Jimmy Bancks when I was a kid and have an original Ginger Meggs artwork on my wall that used to hang on my grandmother’s wall and it used to inspire me to draw my own comic strips. When he died in 1952, it was Jimmy’s wish for the strip to outlive him and for other artists to continue it. Five other artists have gone on to do it, and Jimmy had this idea of his legacy living on. Jim is my middle name and I have always felt this affinity and connection to him and I also felt like I was the character to a degree. I have always had a difficulty working out the difference between truth and fiction and my family think I tell tales. As a kid I felt like I was Ginger Meggs and spoke like him and had his gusto and energy.
What is it that kids and adults alike love about Ginger Meggs?
T: Having a kid in the lead role, everybody can relate to that. Everybody has been a kid at one point and his kid logic, his beginner’s mind and his enthusiasm he applied to every situation is something both kids and adults can relate to. As adults we hope we still have that kind of energy and free-thinking that Ginger has. Ginger has that energy and ability to get excited about something and really go for it but as we get older it gets more difficult as we think about the consequences. But Ginger sees what he wants, goes for it, and manages to pull off something miraculous.
What are the biggest changes to Ginger Meggs over the past 100 years?
T: When Jimmy wrote the comic over three decades he tried to keep the character contemporary and Ginger changed with those decades. Throughout WWII he was used to help people feel good, even though the news was grim, he was an escape from the real world. The comic would also touch on things like the Harbour Bridge opening and Ginger meeting Don Bradman — it touched on reality. After Jimmy stopped creating the comic it became stale and not as contemporary and it was more an old-fashion kid character, but James Kemsley took it over in the 80s and contemporised the strip. Ginger started to use language I could relate to as an 80s kid. He doesn’t used words like ‘strewth’ and ‘beaut’ anymore but he might still say ‘g’day’. The character has stayed pretty similar visually throughout the years, he still wears similar clothes, but Jason has been doing the comic for the past 13 years and slowly over time has made small changes. Ginger’s eyes were initially separated but in the 80s James bought the eyes together. Over the last few years Jason has moved them out slowly over time to separate them again.
Ginger has always tried to pull something big off, whether it’s getting down the biggest hill in town, trying to become the Prime Minister or the captain of the Australian cricket team — but along the way he meets reality and challenges and it doesn’t always quite turn out the way he wants it to. In the face of that, he retains his optimism.
How does it feel personally to be continuing Ginger Meggs on 100 years later?
T: It means so much. When I get asked which book of mine do I loved the most I always say Two Wolves and Detention, but I’m most proud of Ginger Meggs because of the family connection and that I was allowed into that universe. Jason writes and illustrates it for the newspaper and I thought there’d be a minimal chance I would be able to write the book, but it was something he always wanted to do but was too busy to get around to it. I think he relished the opportunity to illustrate this book and have a bit more freedom. I’m also so proud of the way it has been published, it’s a hardback with a beautiful gold around the cover. It’s a beautiful book to give as a gift and feels the way a book should.
How did you go about working with Jason, who lives in New York?
T: Jason and I emailed furiously and chatted on Zoom a bit. We met in Perth years ago and sort of kept in touch a little bit. I spent four months in the US in 2019 and 2020 and we met up in LA and New York. Before I met up with him one morning I went to the New York Public Library to write in one of the small rooms. When I told him I was writing in there he said, ‘No way, that’s where I go to write the comic strip’. It was a strange thing, of all the rooms in all of New York we both went to this particular reading room.
As a 7-year-old who read Ginger Meggs, what did you personally love about it?
T: Reading Ginger Meggs as a kid I loved the energy. I loved that he had a pet monkey and dog and loved his conflict with Eddie Coogan. I was a pretty sporty kid and loved cricket, football, squash, basketball and tennis and Ginger was always doing that too, he was always outdoors doing stuff and playing different sports and I just found him relatable.
What inspired your new and original stories?
T: The first story, Dead Man’s Hill, was inspired by a piece of animation Jason created a couple of years ago of Ginger going down Dead Man’s Hill. It was a fun piece of animation. Then the Lamington Billionaire was inspired by my son’s cupcake business. When he was 12 he would bake 40 cupcakes at lunchtime on a Saturday and go around the neighbourhood selling them and he’d make about $180. I thought, ‘What if Ginger sets up a lamington business and starts making all this money?’. Then Benny Hooper sets up a rival business and they get in this dog-eat-dog world and they compete to see who can become a lamington billionaire first. I wanted it to be personal and overlap with my own family and the things my sons have done and what I did in my childhood, I just felt the stories come to life. In another story, Ginger’s dad want to take him camping but he’s terrible at it. His dad tries to be a survival expert but he’s a liability. I’m not good at camping either — I love to go but I’m useless and get in the car without the right equipment, then it rains, so I’ve based that on camping disasters over the years.
What do you hope people get out of the Ginger Meggs book?
T: I hope kids and older readers who know Ginger Meggs just enjoy reading it, it’s fun and fast-paced. People feel that it captures the essence of Ginger and for kids who don’t know it’s a thing beyond the pages, I just hope they devour it and think it’s funny and want to keep reading it over and over. The book is a beautiful item and is a nice gift over Christmas. I hope lots of kids end up with a Ginger Meggs book in their Christmas stocking.
illustrated by Jason Chatfield
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