bc Monty Wedd, Australian cartoonist; creator of 'Captain Justice' and 'The Scorpion'
Australian cartoonist
Greg Ray

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Page updated 12th April, 2015.

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 comic book.
"They cost a couple of pence apiece and we used to swap them among ourselves. I loved them and I always wanted to draw my own.''

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
Middy Malone books.

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 publishers.
"When the Labor Party lost office the whole thing was thrown wide open to overseas interests again and many people lost their livelihoods,'' Monty says.

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.
"Everywhere you looked you saw the American influence. It was in the movies, in the books: it was permeating everybody's consciousness. I had to put Captain Justice into an American setting in order to stay in the market.''

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 Woman’s 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.
"The authorities objected to the Scorpion not being brought to justice, but if he had been I wouldn't have had a series. 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.''

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.
"They'd take the covers and find stories to go with them,'' he laughs.

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.

If visiting the Hunter District of NSW, Australia, we recommend you call in at the MONARCH HISTORICAL MUSEUM with displays of Samurai, Military and Naval, Air Force and Aviation memorabilia, gramophones and music boxes, toy soldiers, cameras, toy and model trains, ladies clothing, hospital ship CENTAUR memorial, cannons, plus EARLY AUSTRALIAN COMICS and COMIC ART.
Located at 1 to 8 Slades Road, Williamstown NSW 2318.
Open 10.30 to 4 Friday to Monday, phone 02 4965 1641

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