When I found out Tiger Airways could get me to Melbo and back for a low, low $56 I decided I’d go to this thing.    Only I clicked on the wrong dates, and booked myself a week in Melbourne.  How the hell would I fill up one whole week and where would I sleep?   David and Sarah’s is the short answer.

A funny answer to how to fill up one week in Melbourne might be “order a coffee” but it didn’t fit in that paragraph.

So I spent two nights with David Blumenstein and his now fiancee Sarah. They live in a small apartment that is smaller now with Sarah – but when I’m there too you have to stand in the kitchen. But I behaved, and held most of my farts in for two nights.  I had the couch though, as you can see.  Me:1  Them:0

On Friday, we left for the Comics Camp. We first picked up Chris.  He was from Tennessee but is now from Tasmania.  We picked him up from the station just as a crazy man began talking to him.   He apologised for smelling like travel, and I apologised for having fingers that stunk of salmon because I’d been picking at this chunk of salmon we brought along.   He’d been waiting around Melbourne since like 7AM.   That’s the worst.   Chris does autobio comics, with a page devoted to each day of his life.

Next pick-up was Jo, who lived on the outskirts of the city. Inside her flat, Jo had her money stacked into little piles of coins and I laughed at her but they explained to me that it was good to do that if you travel by tram. I wasn’t listening though, I just wanted to make fun of her. Jo does all kinds of comics and illustration. She is working on the outline for a graphic novel for Allen & Unwin and she laughs a lot.  Like some kind of mentally ill person.

We got lost trying to get out of Melbourne, and as we sped along freeways, we were treated to the world’s ugliest environment. I have never made fun of a landscape before, but it was so desolate, ugly and boring that we couldn’t help giggling.  It was impressive how fucked it was. This was the industrial area.    We saw a towering pile of broken glass,  factories with masses of pipes, smog, traffic and the occasional huge overpass with arty architectural colour bits on them.  Soon we passed a small patch of dead grass and plastic bags.  I noticed a sign on it saying “grass reserve”.

Eventually we passed just a big field of death where the smog obscured anything on the horizon.

Then we started passing hideous ‘estates’ with endless cloned mansions.

Chris fell asleep, then woke up with a “WHAAA?” then muttered something and went back to sleep.

Later at the servo, Jo found a dead bird that was quite pretty and rare. But I hate dead things and I didn’t let her bring it in the car. She had it in a little bag, but what if the bag touched my knee?  I later realised I should have asked her to just keep it in the boot, because she really wanted it.

We were greeted at the cottage by John Retallick – he does an enthusiastic radio show about Aussie comics, Kirrilly Schell – originally from Canberra like Mandy and me and Joy, the owner of the artists retreat. It was a proper retreat too. We should have been wearing large knitted jumpers and sipping from mugs of Nescafe or something.  It was all wooden and in the bush.  Joy had laid out a spread  (not in a rude way). There were the best muffins ever, bowls of nuts, yoghurt covered sultanas and all kinds of stuff. We ate and read the books and graphic novels that were all over the joint. Finding Nemo was amazing. I inspected the dirty pond with Jo, enjoying the little cicada skin husks until I realised I was scared of them too.  Jo slipped a bit in the mud and got dirt on her arse.  Not Finding Nemo… Little Nemo in Slumberland I mean. Jeez..

Everyone was looking through the binoculars because they could apparently see kangaroos amongst the trees. I toyed with the idea of refusing the binoculars, explaining that to a Canberran like me, kangaroos are no big deal as you see them all the time, but I was a bit bored plus who gives a shit so I took them. And anyway I couldn’t see any even though everyone else could. I began to get anxious so I headed to the artists room and began to set up.

It was the perfect drawing environment.  The room was wooden, with beams across the roof, and large glass sliding doors. The light was warm, and in the middle we’d pushed a number of desks together. There was a TV with a small, strange collection of films.  Intelligent but boring Dendy dramas, mixed with tacky fantasy flicks.  I found the perfect drawing movie – Gladiator.  Good, but not distracting good. All of us sat there with our heads down, sketching away in our sketch pads. There was beer too. I was in drawing heaven to be honest. Plus I had the biggest, comfy chair. And everyone else was right into it. I have not been to many comic meetings where everybody draws, so it was great.  Pat was working on this giant poster comic the whole time.

From left to right: David, Sarah, Arran, Anthony, Pat, Chris, Mandy!

At last a new carload pulled up containing the other chaps: Arran, Bernard and Michael. Arran had his 1-up Mario top like mine but a different design, Bernard was tall, and Michael Fikaris, well he is this old school Aussie comics fella. I’d heard his name bandied about since I started comics, but I had never met him. He was one of the ‘Silent Army’ chaps from Melbourne who I never met. Those guys are proper art scene guys, who like, live in studios in alleyways and do illegal wall art, and don’t care about things like Harry Potter or iTunes because they live on the edge. He seriously looks like Freddie Mercury in a cap. He was so talkative everybody kept drawing portraits of him. Mandy did a good one where she was telling him to shut up.

When I got back in, Gladiator still wasn’t over. Boring idiots were on the screen standing around in costume giving speeches and being all majestic. One by one the girls disappeared to bed, then some boys. Michael got louder and more nonsensical by the minute until he lay down and fell asleep in his own confusion. Pat and Arran and me plopped down too. It was 3 AM, so we were the most hardcore.

The next morning Anthony arrived. He also does autobio comics like Chris, but he hails from nearby Ballarat. Mandy Ord turned up too, in her own good time, as you please. She used to live in Canberra when I started drawing comics, and she onced asked me, “Do you use Wella?” There was still some drawing going on, but then we had a few ‘show-and-tell’s using a little projector. Joy put down a bowl with two varieties of Tim-tams. Two different kinds in one bowl. That’s crazy town host-wise isn’t it.  The room was still nice, with all wooden bits and stone walls.

That night we went to a pub for dinner where I ate bangers and mash. Everyone was drawing all over the napkins, and again Michael Fikaris got like three or four versions of himself. I think he was the most drawn fella that weekend. In the toilet when I was trying to do a poo but it turned out I didn’t really need to, they were playing the Australian version of ‘Everythings Allright’ by Kate Ceberano and John Farnham. Later when I had a cig outside they were playing ‘Two Strong Hearts’. It was like everyone except the people inside were being treated to John Farnham. I never liked John Farnham very much but he was a great Jesus. Maybe better than Ian Gillan but I dunno, that may or may not be blasphemy.

We did a whole lot more drawing that night. Oh, it was beer fuelled but there were also mint slice biscuits. They are the most boring of all the chocolate biscuits. I love how sweet biccies are divided into three levels of specialness: Plain, cream and chocolate. And each level has the shitty one and the best one and most people agree on what those are. So for me, the shittiest plain one might be Nice. It’s plain with sugar all on it. The texture sux and the taste is dull. Best? Who cares. NEXT. The best cream ones are probably those little fat square ones. Shortbread creams. You can eat like 10 in a row. Even the three lines across the top are appealing. The shit one would definitely be those fuckin’ orange ones. What are they even meant to be? I don’t know why anybody would like Monte Carlos either. They’re stupid and not even yummy. Anyway, I had like 5 mint slice biscuits because they’re chocolate aren’t they. The best chocolate ones are Tim Tams in case you were worrying about that.

I put the Matrix on as i’d only once seen it when it first came out. It was pretty cool but I can’t believe how people go on about it, and the ‘philosophy’ behind it. A uni student tried to blow my mind once. He’d started philosophy and he asked me how I knew I was alive. I said coz I’m breathing. He said “Yeah but it could all be a dream!” and he looked at me like expectantly, as if the very foundations of my beliefs were beginning to crumble and i was teetering on the edge of a chasm. He mistook my annoyance for fear but it was because I was about eight when I first heard this question, thought about it for a few minutes, then decided there were better things to think about like making a waterfall for my ewok figures with a hose. Michael was going “WOW!” sarcastically when those dumb squid machines were floating around which was hilarious. He wanted us to talk instead of watching nerd films.

Pat, Arran and me were the last ones awake again, and everyone else was in the other room. I made some really hilarious joke then we all burst out laughing then suddenly stopped and fell asleep.

So on Sunday we drew for a while, swapped comics and had lunch and everyone said goodbye, traded contact details and that sort of thing.  Bernard gave me the latest Tango which was massive.   Everyone was muttering about how awesome it had been.  We’d all drawn loads as well. There are some scans at Michael’s flickr site:


So we dropped off Chris and John, and went to a Greek restaraunt where they don’t have a menu, they just give you what they’re cooking that night. Sarah was not impressed by the fact that my sister Sarah’s middle name is also Louise. She said all Sarahs are either Sarah Louise, or Sarah Jane. My mum told me the exact same thing word for word. Coincidence Town, Vic, 3045.

The rest of the stay was great. I saw chum Irene one day and the next I joined Michael’s street art tour which had some of the best art I’d seen.  That eve I left Melbourne with the thought I always have – that it is truly is a city of creative people, some of whom have talent.  HO HO!