|bc||Monty Wedd, Australian
cartoonist; creator of 'Captain Justice' and 'The
MONTY Wedd was well-known for his detailed illustrations of Australian military uniforms. He was also widely recognised for his painstakingly researched cartoon-strips on historical characters and episodes, which appeared in the Sydney Daily Mirror over many years.
Afficionados of the world of Australian comic-books recognise him too, as a pioneering figure in the postwar scene, creating characters such as Captain Justice and The Scorpion.
In the 1950s Monty Wedd was one of a relative handful of artists providing the often-lurid cover illustrations for the pulp fiction titles that dominated domestic news-stands. Along with other well-known names, including Stanley Pitt and Keith Chatto, he created the eye-catching art that sold the slim little romance, western, science fiction and detective stories. His art illustrated pulps written by G.C. Bleeck, J.W. Heming and many of the other prolific authors of the time. This postwar period, in which cheap, high-volume American imports were temporarily held at bay, was a rare opportunity for Australian authors, artists and publishers to develop their skills and earn a fair living selling their wares to the domestic market.
Unusually for members of this small group of artists, Monty Wedd kept excellent records of his dealings with publishers and, even more unusually, he kept a copy of almost every piece of work he ever did. His collections, and his recollections, provide a rare and valuable insight into a fascinating period of Australian publishing.
Monty grew up in Sydney in the 1920s and even in his
earliest days he loved to draw. He decorated his
schoolbooks and copied and traced pictures of soldiers
and aeroplanes. And in the days before electronic gadgets
and television, one of the most popular forms of
entertainment for Monty and his friends was the humble
One of his first jobs was designing furniture and drawing advertisements. It wasn't cartooning, but it was a start. Monty was working for Grace Bros when the war broke out and he enlisted in the army. He was called up to fight when Japan entered the war and he spent some time surveying for the army before transferring to the Air Force.
When the war ended he was determined to make a career
from comics and cartooning and he completed an arts
course at East Sydney Tech. In his spare time from
college he created his first cartoon strip, "Sword
and Sabre'', a story based on the French Foreign Legion.
To his joy, the strip was accepted by cartooning legend
Syd Nicholls, who self-published the popular
To his even greater joy, cartooning proved a paying proposition. "In those days five pounds was a very good weekly wage,'' he recalls. "Well, I found 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. The market was there in those days for everything I could draw.''
There had been a clampdown on the importation of
foreign publications during and shortly after the war,
and this produced a brief window of unprecedented
opportunity for Australian authors, artists and
Through this period Monty produced his trademark character "Captain Justice'', a good-guy Aussie bushranger who delighted in righting wrongs. The comic-buying public liked Captain Justice and he ran to 23 issues and appeared in strip form in some popular magazines.
But the flood of cheap American imports nearly killed him.
"To keep Captain Justice alive I had to have
him shanghaied and taken to America where he had a whole
string of further adventures.'' It wasn't a decision
that sat easily with Monty, but he realised it was
inevitable in the face of public demand.
In the 1960s Monty made one last attempt to steer Captain Justice back to his Aussie roots, producing a few issues under the imprint of paperback publisher Horwitz. The attempt failed. The public had still not reached the point where it would accept a comic-book hero in an Australian setting. Monty recalls some friction over the Captain Justice strips that appeared in Womans Day, too. An editor decided to dictate the storylines to Monty, but according to Monty, that arrangement killed the character for him so he stopped producing.
Another of Monty's titles, The Scorpion, was actually
banned in Queensland, apparently on the grounds that the
bad-guy protagonist kept escaping his just deserts in
order to fight another day.
Monty also drew and painted the often lurid covers on
Australian pulp fiction titles throughout the 1950s.
Romance covers featured glamorous women in low-cut tops.
Westerns had the usual array of square-jawed cowpunchers,
six-guns and scowling redskins. Crime titles usually had
a couple of men fighting to the death while a terrified
and sometimes not fully dressed woman looked on. Each
cover took about a day-and-a-half, Monty recalls, and the
publishers often asked him to produce designs before they
even had stories to go with them.
As the American stranglehold intensified Monty turned his hand to animation work on US television cartoon series, including The Lone Ranger and Rocket Robin Hood. Monty told me he drew layouts for the latter at the Artransa studios at Frenchs Forest. He thought it was around 1956.
In 1970 he began a long and fruitful association with The Daily Mirror newspaper, drawing an historical cartoon strip illustrating Captain Cook's journal. This was a huge success and was followed by a warts-and-all life of Ned Kelly.
"They had been going to run Captain Justice but they told me Rupert Murdoch had invested a lot of money in the Ned Kelly movie so they wanted a cartoon about Ned Kelly. I did a 140-episode true life story of Ned Kelly and then I followed that up with Bold Ben Hall,'' Monty says.
Ben Hall ran for 400 episodes, eclipsed only by its successor, Birth of a Nation.
Always fascinated by military history, Monty drew a series of trading cards for the Golden Fleece fuel company and later turned this concept into a highly regarded reference book on Australian military uniforms.
Monty passed away on Friday, May 4, 2012.