Cornelius Stone Comments
Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2002
By: Darren Schroeder
Back in the nineteen-eighties the local comic scene in New Zealand was just starting to function. The on going anthology Strips was going strong and getting distributed in small press circles in the UK and Australia. About that time I had first taste of the scene with the New Zealand Comic Gazette, a sale catalogue for one of the first specialty comic shops in New Zealand. The New Zealand Comic Gazette included some local strips and Stone Comments, reviews by Cornelius for international comics. Spurred on by this I developed a taste for local comics. Early discoveries led me to Cornelius Stone's work on Knuckles the Malevolent Nun and Razor, a comic anthology that mixed comics and pop culture with a strong punk approach. Recently Cornelius contacted me with news that his work on Knuckles the Malevolent Nun is to be reprinted and distributed internationally through Diamond. I took the opportunity to ask the guy whose work got me hooked on the local small press a few questions...
Darren Schroeder: What is your full name?
Cornelius Stone: Well, I was christened Gary Wayne by my parents, that's to say, the folks who adopted me. Family name, Stone. When my first girlfriend asked me to use another name in her bookshop (there was a bit of an age difference between us)I chose Cornelius from the novel I'd just read, Monkey Planet. That, by any other title, is of course Planet of the Apes. The character was compassionate and intelligent and left a mark on me. But that's not where the story ends. Years later, I tried changing my name again, kind of for the hell of it and also because I had another name I liked. Really, I was adding it onto the front of my name: Lucy, this time. And although some people called me that, I think I'd chosen too well the first time. So, I'm down as Lucy etc. to vote, I'm Cornelius etc. on everything else, bills, library card, and all that, and I'm Gary to Mum who is still alive. (It was Dad who had named me after cowboys......Gary Cooper, and God help me, John Wayne.) My birth mother who I knew for two years before she passed away from general ill-health at the age of 58, she also liked calling me Gary. If anyone else was to coin the name, I wouldn't 'hear' it. Coming from them, it was fine. In fact, people hardly ever call me Cornelius. It's usually Corn.
CS: I'm the age my parents were when they adopted me, which is 39.
DS: If a movie were to be made of your life, would you be a hero or a villain?
CS: Man, I figure I'm the nexus point where Bart and Lisa Simpson meet. So, what does that make me? I dunno. Man Thing? Howard the Duck? I'll say villain.
DS: Were comics a big part of your childhood or did you discover them at a later stage?
CS: A huge part of my childhood. Dad read comics, so there they were. Comics for the kid. The first one I remember reading, and I do distinctly remember this, was a Caspar the Friendly Ghost. I actually collect pre 1974 Harveys, Little Dot, Spooky, Hot Stuff just....because. Yeah, they're all the same character with different hair-dos, except for Stumbo the Giant, Nightmare the horse etc. Mighty Samson (Gold Key post apocalypse thing) and Uncle Scrooge followed straight on the heels....A comics enthusiast was born or weaned or whatever.
I also got into weekly British comics a little later on. I loved Gus Gorilla in Cor and Odd Ball and Sid's Snake in Whizzer and Chips. Damned if I didn't like a sports comic called Tiger. Tiger's known for Roy of the Rovers, but I loved the Football Family Robinson, and the Amerindian wrestler guy, who, if I'm not mistaken, was called Johnny Cougar. It's been a while.
Then came superheroes. Australian black and white reprints of DC comics. Which is why I find pre-1974 DC's so exotic, seeing Jim Aparo and Nick Cardy artwork in colour. (Aparo was intensely good then. Kurt Schaffenberger.....the particular team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson on Supes.The 1970 Superman written by Denny O'Neil is about the only time Superman ever interested me that bloody much. And I loved the Bizarro stuff, as you do.)
Then came Marvel. At that time, it was spawning all sorts of stuff, and you had....in that decade, you had Killraven written by Don McGregor and drawn by Craig Russell, Master of Kung Fu written by Steve Englehart (at the start) and Doug Moench and drawn by Paul Gulacy, the Avengers written by Englehart and all that great Steve Gerber stuff, the Defenders, Man Thing and Howard the Duck. The Duck was drawn by Gene Colon. (At DC, I loved loved loved Kamandi and Omac written and drawn by Jack Kirby.)
DS: Regarding Caspar the Friendly Ghost, what did you think of the movie?
CS: I never saw it. Still, it'd have to be better than Howard the Duck.
DS: My favourite Harvey Comics character was Hot Stuff, mainly because it had lots of flaming pitchforks and all the weird stuff with chillies. What is their appeal?
CS: They are pure juvenile fun. Caspar, Spooky, Wendy and Hot Stuff can hop into pictures on the wall or opened storybooks or into the TV - and they'll have been transported corporeally to that 'land'. Richie Rich, who in many ways I like nearly the least, is particularly well written. Maybe that has something to do with the world he moves in, money, just like Uncle Scrooge.
DS: What was the first comic you published yourself and how did that come about?
CS: Razor. I'd met Dylan Horrocks, as you do, and we'd talked about doing comics on the local front. I've met Eric Resetar (Pioneer comic creator in New Zealand during the 1940's) now, in fact I had dinner with him and others the other night, but at the time, the only other locals to be aware of were Strips, who showed us such people as the phenomenally good Colin Wilson and Barry Linton. (Nowadays, I've got Barry for a flat mate.)
I also had the Associates characters at that point. They just ended up going into Razor. I worked with artists such as Paul Sherriffs, Warwick (Scott) Gray and Dylan. (Warwick ended up working on the Marvel published Dr Who in Britain, I ended up finding a Dr Who episode. And I suppose I stuck lots of daleks like Happy and Salvador into Knuckles. Dr Who was always our destiny!)
DS: Finding a Dr Who episode?
CS: A friend of mine purchased an episode of William Hartnell's on 16mm at a garage sale or something. Fifteen bucks. He showed it at his home on one of his film nights. I thought little of it. I just didn't think what we were watching could possibly be, well, missing. What the hell were the chances? I told Bruce (Grenville) about the fact that the BBC had chucked a lot of Dr Who's prior to the advent of video and DVDs as common-place technology,promising him I'd look into the situation with friends of mine and their exhaustive, encyclopedic knowledge of those episodes. Christ, when I spoke to Neil Lambess .....Neil changed colour! He could tell us straight off - Bruce's copy of The Crusades Part One was a missing episode. Suddenly Bruce was appearing in media all around the world. He was interviewed on BBC radio. He auctioned it online eventually, after the BBC had copied it and returned it. Surprisingly, he didn't get much for it.
DS: From my memory Razor was the first comic / zine in New Zealand to discuss comics in any detail What was the reaction to that?
CS: Nah, Strips did that as well. Obviously before us. If you do too much of that, you're just thought of as a fanzine. Which is fine. I got my first huge fan letter back from Steve Bissette when I sent him our articles on Swamp Thing by him, Moore and Totleben. Even before Razor #1 was out, I sent him what was going in and he seemed to think we were on the same wavelength.
DS: What was the print run for Razor?
CS: Usually about five hundred. Never less than five hundred. Sometimes eight hundred. Depends what we had in the bank.
DS: Did a good percentage of those sell straight away?
CS: Yeah, sure, Family of Sex too, but nothing like the three Knuckles collections.
DS: What is the worst experience you have had with printers/photocopiers?
CS: Censorship! There's a Knuckles (second year) that was printed in Monitor, BFM's (Local Student Radio Station in Auckland) magazine of that time. In the story, Knuckles thought she was pretty cool shit scooting around graffitiing the word "Cunt" everywhere. Then she comes across the graffiti campaign that existed in real life, (especially common around railway stations - and in the doorway to where I lived over an opportunity shop on Mt Eden Rd.) It said such unbelievable brain dead garbage as Maoridom Is Stinking Boredom/ Maoris Fuck Their Kids/ Maoris Are Dogs etc., offering supposed parts of the Bible these were quoted from. In the strip, Knuckles sees these and just gives up because in this case she's so utterly out-classed. What should happen but the printers, who didn't even ring Michael Lamb the editor, just blacked out the wall that had the word "Cunt" on it. So you got all the other stuff, which was representational and was supposed to be there, all the stuff abusing Maori, but the word Cunt was taken away, shooting the strips balls off. Did these fucking morons READ the strip? How on earth could we make our point if the Nun's graffiti is absent/blocked out/ CENSORED? It read not even like dada. It was just senseless.
Oddly, the other main censorship thing I've 'come up against was at the Auckland Art Gallery. Two pages from a 17 page story called Kafka Day. They were enlarged and painted onto a wall, the swearwords replaced with comic book swearing motif, the skull, exclamation marks and so on. (Taken from Kafka Day itself, so that was fine, sort of.) In the next room, the original two pages were displayed anyway, and guess which two original pages the gallery are purchasing off me? It seems stupid, doesn't it?, though that doesn't insult my intelligence the way the Monitor example does. I can at least understand that there was a young audience involved, and like I say, the substituted symbols come from the work. (Not that my permission was sought, with time running real short till the start of the show....)
DS: Knuckles seems to have developed a following, from the Fantagraphics editions to a play. What do you think attracted people to the character?
CS: I have to say after getting back into the character after an eight year break, she just seems to be a classic. I've watched people respond to the stuff Roger has posted to hotelfred. The baby-eating one. She just says Nature's bloody-minded - then digests the baby. We were laughing ourselves sick. Everything old is new again. Knuckles is something that happens to you, was something Roger said recently. He leaves it for me to get into her head.
DS: How did the Fantagraphics editions come about?
CS: It was up to Roger what he wanted to do and what would see print. We did Knuckles.
DS: What materials and equipment do you use when drawing your comics?
CS: A3 tracing paper and a host of felt pens, especially around Family of Sex (the strip) and Kafka Day times (1989), though that's shifted to pencil, brush and felt pens on white card. I decided, what the fuck, I'll learn to draw, get away from photo reference at least somewhat. It's early days yet.
DS: Do you think your drawing style had a negative impact on how people reacted?
DS: Who do you see as the target audience for your work?
CS: Oh my fuck! Let's start with Knuckles. It's pitched at a wide range of people, really. People who like potty-mouthed scat' humour, though it broadened significantly to the point where we did a play. Check out the first year that's up and archived at The Hotel Fred Site or just read someone's No More Mrs Nice Nun reprint collection coming out in 03. I guess it's for people who like anything from Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers to Black Adder.
The Associates is designed to appeal to people who like, this is speaking very roughly, Concrete, Grendel, Nexus, early American Flag, Man Thing, ah God, who the fuck knows? The Mark II version has a lot more indivisible humour. Makes it work for me a lot more deeply, hopefully at least something like Preacher.
Family of Sex, I've found, is really appreciated by people who's minds are looking for patterns in things, ie tarot readers, fellow cartoonists.
DS: What work have you been doing recently?
CS: The Associates, in a trade paperback form, the equivalent of the first four issues. (Called The Associates Themselves.) Artists include the busiest and some of the best cartoonists around - Ant Sang and Craig Petersen. So, yeah, it's taking a while to come out.
And I've just started The Language of Appearances for Knuckles #1, volume 2, which Toby Morris is drawing. Christ, you know, tonight I wrote a one pager called The Unambiguous for Roger Langridge to draw and post on hotelfred. Apart from fooling around on a Knuckles/Gene Simmons strip with Tony St George a couple of years ago for an Armageddon booklet, this day marks the first time I've written her since about 93. Same with working with Rog.
DS: Are you working from the original artwork for the Associates trade?
CS: I'm inking over the pencils which, at my suggestion, are only photocopies. I'm using a lightbox and inking onto white card.
DS: Are there any common themes to the comics you write?
CS: Definitely, yep. Everyone from Chris Claremont to Grant Morrison seem to have these stories that they just write over and over in different titles, at different companies. My Associates stuff deals with the concept of the self and whether there is one. (There isn't.) And my Knuckles stuff is about.....who wins and why in a situation. There's stuff coming up which is sort of everything from Knuckles vs Kafka (in The Trial II) to Knuckles vs Australia. That last one was inspired by the Simpsons episode about Brazil. It was so offensive, the makers had to apologize. (To whom exactly in Brazil I don't know......) I've never indulged in that Australian/Kiwi antagonism, but for the sake of a good story, well, why not?
DS: Do you have a copy of every comic that you've produced?
CS: Not quite, but all the off-set stuff, Razor and that, yep.
DS: What comics have you read recently?
CS: I scored a lot of old DC's at Armageddon. A lot of old Phantom Strangers, some Flash with Nick Cardy covers (it was like creative visualization, one minute I'm looking at them online for the first time in donkey's years, and the next I'm buying them in a fucking clump from this Australian Greek at the con.)
Mazzuchelli's Rubber Blanket #3 which Dylan's lent me, and that's all there was.
Dark Knight II which, to put it nicely, is utterly superfluous.
Promethea by Alan Moore. It's his best fucking work, and I've read every collaboration of his from Bill Sienkiewicz to Marc Beyer. Actually, I haven't read the Rob Liefeld stuff. Maybe one day.
Dreamboat Dreamboat by Toby Morris. It's BRILLIANTLY written.
Ant Sang's Dharma Punks. A little earnest, as Ant always is, and sort of a little precious about it all, but good, inescapably compelling. You know, it's a work filled with soul.
Avengers by Kurt Busiek. Marvel offered little to nothing almost since Jim Shooter took over right through the bloody disgusting Tom De Falco and Bob Harras eras, and now that it's selling 10% of what it used to, it's decided to go for quality. Howard the Duck by Gerber is back! Grant Morrison is writing X Men which is fine but Pete Milligan and Mike Allred are doing X Force with their own batch of characters, and its absolutely the mutant comic I've always, fucking always wanted to read. It's as funny as a fight and it's handsomely cartooned.
DS: My impression is that back issues like the old Phantom Strangers and Flash are getting harder to find. Have you noticed that?
CS: Yeah, though I think Mark Paul (of Mark One Comics) is still doing them.....But the few comic shops we've got, they don't have the room. Law of diminishing returns or something.
DS: Do you sell much at the comic conventions in New Zealand?
CS: Seems modest. There was one convention when only a small handful of Kiwi cartoonists turned up for both days, and I did really well....filling the gap.
DS: Do comics gain any benefit from being displayed in art galleries?
CS: Sure. Exposure. End of story, for me. France and Europe sound nice, but I'm not on a campaign to legitimize comics in anyone's eyes. Not in New Zealand or England or the States.....where comics are a predominantly trash culture. So.....give us more gallery time. Sure. Buy our work. Help us put bread on our tables. Help support us. That'll be well worth it.
DS: If you could work with any comic artist, alive or dead, who would that be?
CS: My favourite 'alternative', just, in other words, not mainstream cartoonist, is definitely Robert Crumb, but in all honesty, I can't see it. So let's shoot for my favourite mainstream cartoonist, Walt Simonson, who wrote and drew my favourite stint on a regular title, Thor, in the 80's. And his recent Orion 25 issues isn't, as they say, chopped liver either.
But, let's add Paul Gulacy, Tom Sutton (too late in practical terms), Kurt Schaffenberger (likewise), Steve Ditko, Alan Davis and Terry La Ban.
DS: Why these artists?
CS: In all cases it's their drawing, their vision of what a page should fully be like, the universe - that's meant to be such a big word - that they create just on paper. I'd LOVE to hear my dialogues inhabit any of their paradigms. Ditko and Schaffenberger are especially intriguing!
DS: What made you want to get involved in making comics?
CS: Ideas knocking against the side of my head......The work of Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber in particular, out of mainstream Marvel. Their stories, the way they were written. They just made me think - organize your ideas, and you could be doing this. In the 70's, even early Jim Starlin, with his Adam Warlock who was going to live to be the Magus.....Englehart's Dr Strange (drawn by Frank Brunner and Gene Colon)....the narrative sequences in some of these. I've long felt Englehart's Dr Strange was the 70's equivilant of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing in the 80's.....and I found something very lecturing online somewhere at some point, expressing the same conviction. So, more than drawing even, certain examples of the writing and drawing combination just.....worked their way into my psyche. Permanent arrangement. The way Mike Baron's words sharply punctuate his story in a Steve Rude drawn Nexus. Perfect team, siamese twins. I read a set of these and feel like getting to work on a few comics of my own, Knuckles or the Associates or something else for that matter. I love writing other people's characters, something you could do with a Roger Langridge masterminding the art. He called himself the Super-Adaptoid. He can draw in any style he sees. Which is how we could do our tributes to the characters in Fawlty Towers and Calvin and Hobbes, or have the conversation in a bar that Knuckles has with Wile E. Coyote in A1.If you are collaborating, you can write to the strengths of your fellow artist.
DS: How do you rate the comics being produced these days?
CS: In New Zealand, surprisingly highly. There are a lot of good people doing stuff. In the mainstream, well, it looks like 2000AD has improved. For a long time, colour seemed like the worst thing that had ever happened to it. At Marvel.....Marvel's producing the best stuff it has since the fruitful days of the 70's. DC, which had achieved a look of quality output first, seems to be losing ground. And Chris Ware is going strong.....Charles Burns....>
DS: Is the New Zealand comic scene what you had hoped for back when you worked on Razor.
CS: Yes. Plenty of people, a good variety of stuff. That's the best part of those huge Armageddon things too, the people. That, and all those old DC's......
DS: What is missing from the New Zealand comics scene?
CS: Population. But who wants it? I don't. Of course John Banks (Mayor of Auckland) does. Business does.
In other ways.....no, to me, you can't go past the fact that this is an island and the O.E. is an idol so many Kiwis worship at and so you go live in London - I believe I know sixteen ex-pats living in London, more or less....
You have to go overseas to get into comics generally speaking, whether its 2000AD, Marvel or Tragedy Strikes Press, and although Fantagraphics started publishing Andrew and Roger Langridge, I suppose you could say through the post, Roger followed that up by going there in person and ending up in London, being one of those ex-pats....So the focus on overseas remains strong if you do want to be making a living. Chris Slane is an example of a political cartoonist who is supporting himself through that as a compromise to doing strip work, it would seem. Anthony Ellison's another. By the way, Slane has a Star Wars strip coming out of Dark Horse in the future.
DS: What's the comic scene like in your home town?
CS: There are bugger all comic shops and more people than ever doing their own thing.
DS: Do you read much small press material?
CS: When it comes my way. I mean.....I have an abiding interest in comics, full stop. What I'm just discovering is comics on the net. I've been using the net for about a year now, allowing for one lull. And I've resisted the net-comics thing....until now. Check out http://www.demian5.com
That's just sublime. Suddenly, comics aren't just these paper pamphlets to me anymore. What next? Mental skywriting? Nanno storytelling?
DS: What does the term small press mean to you?
CS: Glen Dakin. Arkensword. Later, just Ark.Escape. Jesus on a Stick. Lisa Noble. Funtime Comics. Dylan's original Pickles, all photocopied at the bookshop I think he was working in. Barry Linton. Spud Takes Root. Fem-Lib-I-Do. Laurence Clark. Kevin Jenkinson.....
DS: Do you think there has been a change in what comics creators have been trying to achieve since the eighties?
CS: Dark Knight and Watchmen changed everything alright! But how many times has this been recited? People started to do deep, dark, gritty, violent psychos as heroes and all that and mainstream comics became even more boring than they already were. Obviously, Dark Knight and Watchmen are exemplary books. But the trend they set tied in with the huge Marvel/Image thing of marketing comics as units in a profit-making spreadsheet sort of way in the early 90's......that's what's brought the industry to its knees. The guts fell out, like it was always going to. We're lucky there are still comic shops around anywhere, and people who want to go and spend their damn-fool money.
So, yeah, I think the changes are to do with losing all the stupid cover enhancements that drove the price up - especially in this country, just dumping that whole mentality. I think the bar has been raised on what can be considered good writing. I think good writing originally returned to the mainstream in the form of Alan Moore around 1984, and now that a lot of people have grown up on that, and even on the Gaiman Sandman, more writers - a lot of them American, have decided to write like the writing actually mattered. What's sad is the size of the audience for the hike in quality. Of course, I figure Bill Jemas and Joe Quasada at Marvel have looked at how many people are going to be buying their movie-franchise characters anyway, and decided the more interesting gamble is to make their books PG rated, which they are now, and just to get on with it.
DS: Can comics appeal to the casual reader, or can they only work on the serious comic fan?
CS: I know lots of people who will only respond to something like Calvin and Hobbes. They'll look at....even Love and Rockets or Daniel Clowes or something and just.....not be able to metabolise them. There's a term used in the Comics Journal, visual literacy. And its lacking in lots of people, at least as far as comprehending the graphic storytelling end of the comics. They might be able to look at them as separated illustrations with words in balloons on the page, but these things don't come alive for them the way they do for us. We don't need to be trained how to read an Eightball. We're just already in there, chewing on it.
Some of the casual readers I know who do follow comics or try to are only casual because of the price tag!
DS: Isn't that just a self serving arguement on the part of the hard core comic geeks who work for TCJ so they can shift the blame for a lack of readership from themselves and their comic creating friends onto Joe and Jane public who can't find any comics worth reading?
CS: Self-serving? No idea. How much of America reads, anyway? Five or ten percent? And what do they read? Harold Robbins - all the creative typists, as Harlan Ellison calls them. So where do Julie Doucet and Bob Fingerman fit into a culture so devoid of connections to their craft as that?..... where literature is a dirty word. By visual literacy, I just mean being able to read and understand the page. The mechanics come to seem innate.
DS: Some 25 to 28 percent of the respondents, representing about 50 million adults nationwide, demonstrated skills in the next higher level of proficiency (Level 2) on each of the literacy scales. While their skills were more varied than those of individuals performing in Level 1, their repertoire was still quite limited.... 21 percent of the respondents, or 34 to 40 million adults, performed in the two highest levels of prose, document, and quantitative literacy (Levels 4 and 5). These adults demonstrated proficiencies associated with the most challenging tasks in this assessment, many of which involved long and complex documents and text passages. From the Executive Summary Of Adult Literacy In America: A First Look At The Results Of The National Adult Literacy Survey (circa 1990?)
CS: Bob Fingerman has a sequence in Minimum Wage showing the disdainsome Americanshave for people openly reading books, like they were masturbating in public, or something. Like they were posing.
DS: Can superheros survive in the 21st century?
CS: Sure, in all their forms. Dragonball Z and Pokemon and Card Captor are all riffing on superheroes. So many computer games consist of the same pulp excitement at exploding walls and planets and shit. There's Die Another Day, the twentieth James Bond flick, directed by a certain Lee Tamahori. Bond's a superhero through and through. There's Smallville and Mutant X and a horde of fantasy sci fi shows popular as hell, including Buffy and Charmed and, yeah, you see what I mean. Spiderman and Daredevil movies. More Batman movies planned now, and I do mean more than one. There's one said to have been like Batman vs Superman, though its supposedly shelved. (Reminds me a bit of the Alien vs Predator that never got the final go ahead.) Then there's the sword and sorcery of Lord of the Rings , and a certain pack of Jedis.....I don't think suprheroes are going away exactly, do you?
DS: I recently read an article that argued that until more people who aren't super hero fanboys start producing comics the comic medium is going to remain in a genre bound deadend. Does that seem a fair description of the situation to you?
CS: I honestly don't know, Darren. I've read this sort ofstatement from the Comics Journal over and over I'm sure, for the last twenty years. It's a truism, can't be argued against exactly......There's a larger picture, that's all.
One signifigant fact is that a number of Marvel titles (or DC) only sell in numbers that something like Cerebus sells in. The slump in the comics market isn't about a slump in the sales of Eightball or Evil Eye. Captain Marvel and Black Panther are fairly comparible to these now.Now that'sa strangething to see.
CS: What is the worst name of a comic that you have ever seen?
DS: Night Thrasher. A Tom De Falco co-creation, I think......
DS: Do you think the Brit. comic creators have a different approach to story telling than their US counterparts?
CS: It used to be a simple thing to say that 2000AD comes out every week and the Avengers and JLA come out every month, and let that sum up the different mentalities, but the British Invasion of Yank comics happened ages now. Its thoroughly status quo. I think generally that there is more intelligence and snotty humour in the writing, and I'm not just thinking of Judge Dredd when I say this. And the art? Well, the pages are a different size and shape, so the format prevents the material from becoming something its not largely, though the importance of Jack Kirby and Neal Adams hasn't been lost on the artists. (I don't have the link, but Alan Davis can't stress the importance of Adams to him enough on his web site, for example.)
DS: Can comics save the world?
CS: From something trashier? Like infomercials or something? No.
DS: What question should I have asked but didn't?
CS: That one. But you already asked.
Find out more about the upcoming appearances of Knuckles at:
You can contact Corn via:
67 Scanlan St, Grey Lynn, Auckland, New Zealand
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