Bancks’ Ginger Meggs is a quality hard-cover publication written by Tristan Bancks and illustrated by Jason Chatfield (published by Puffin Books) to celebrate 100 years of the iconic Australian and internationally loved comic strip character Ginger Meggs.
Readers will be caught up in the fast-paced, funny adventures of billycart racing and Father’s Day camping shenanigans; they will take sides in the school rivalries and class captain campaign, and salivate (or not) over Ginger’s lamingtons.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords blog, Tristan.
Nice to be back in the Paperbark universe. (Like the Marvel universe, but different.)
Did you grow up being aware of your relationship with Jimmy Bancks, the creator of the famous Ginger Meggs comic strips and, if so, how did this influence you?
One thing I clearly remember is a picture of Ginger Meggs, that hung on my grandmother’s wall. There were originally three, but only one has survived. I used to look up at that image and I’d ask about it and Ginger and Jimmy and it would inspire me to write my own (very bad) comic strips. The papers would arrive every Sunday and right there on the front page of the comics, in full colour, I’d see ‘Ginger Meggs, created by Bancks’. I loved that. When I was a kid, I would tell anyone and everyone that I was related to him. I think it was a major factor in me pursuing a creative career.
What do you first remember about Ginger Meggs? Which story or episode was particularly memorable?
I had two Ginger Meggs books written by Bill Peach – Ginger Meggs Summer Lightning and Ginger Meggs Meets the Test. Even before I really understood the significance of Meggs to our family, I read those books cover-to-cover, over and over. I treasured them. I loved Summer Lightning best. Ginger was always the underdog, certain that life and his parents and everyone were out to get him. But, from the ashes of his disgruntlement, an idea would spring and when Ginger had an idea, there was no stopping him. He’d follow it through to the end. I felt that way as a kid. And maybe now, too.
Where does the Ginger Meggs comic strip run now?
It runs in the Sun-Herald every Sunday and daily in lots of newspapers around the country. It’s the most widely-syndicated Australian comic strip and has been running, non-stop, for 100 years. It’s still in 100+ newspapers in dozens of countries. (Also on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and www.gingermeggs.com.)
How is the centenary of Ginger Meggs being celebrated?
There are exhibitions in the works and other releases to be announced in coming months – top secret right now, but follow the socials above for the announcements. Or you can subscribe to my eNews.
You have devised four new stories about Ginger Meggs. How have you kept the style and tone of Jimmy Bancks? How have you changed this at all to appeal to contemporary young readers?
Throughout the process, I dipped my head into the stream of 100 years of Ginger Meggs – from the classic Golden Years of Ginger Meggs book through to Go Comics where Ginger Meggs is published daily. It allows you to hit a ‘Random’ button and read a strip from sometime in the past 20 years. I loved that! I’ve worked hard to capture the essence of Bancks’s Meggs, but Ginger is a contemporary kid. His issues are the issues of kids now. He could go to school with Tom Weekly from my other books. In fact, I think he and Tom would get on rather well. Tom Weekly was training for Ginger Meggs. My goal is for the book to appeal to those who have been reading Ginger Meggs for decades and to the kids who might not already know him.
(I love the idea of Ginger Meggs going to school with Tom Weekly)
Have you introduced any new characters in your book? If so, could you please introduce one or more of them?
New characters have been introduced to the strip by Jason Chatfield in the past few years and they’re all in the book. Rahul Jayasinha is a Sri Lankan-Indian-Aussie kid, who’s one of Ginger’s mates. There’s also Gloria Tudehope, the sporting, musical all-rounder, who’s super-competitive and can outrun Ginger. And Penny Chieng, who’s super-smart, boasts an impressive social media following and believes she can achieve anything if she sets her mind to it. She talks Ginger into running for class captain, a doomed mission from the start.
Have there been stories like yours published previously about Ginger Meggs or has Ginger Meggs always been told as a comic strip?
The Ginger Meggs annuals were published for 35 years from the ‘20s to the ‘50s and sold millions of copies. There were Little Golden Books, too. And Ginger Meggs at Large which sold about 300,000 copies in the ‘80s. So, I’m not the first! But I hope that this book earns its place in the Meggs canon.
How is Ginger Meggs uniquely Australian? What also gives it universal appeal?
I researched a doco on Ginger Meggs, Jimmy Bancks and Australian Identity when I was at university, so I considered this. ‘Uniquely Australian’ is a tricky thing to define because there are so many ways of being Australian. So, I wondered if the traits we like to think we embody as Australians are traits that most humans aspire towards. For me, Ginger’s youthful enthusiasm, eternal optimism and resilience, his ability to dust himself off and try again, are the parts of his character that I think a lot of Australians connect with.
What is the source of humour in Ginger Meggs?
I think Ginger is real, raw and relatable. Jason Chatfield says it’s our unique language and sense of humour that make Australian comic strips successful – the Aussie vernacular, slang and phrases – our distinct sense of humour and that sense of rule-breaking or ‘larrikinism’.
Jason Chatfield has been writing and illustrating the Ginger Meggs comic strips since 2007. How did your collaboration with Jason on this book work?
He was very generous, allowing me to work with his adopted fictional children. So was Miranda Latimer, Jimmy Bancks’s granddaughter, who looks after the rights for Meggs. I pitched the idea to them in 2018 and sent them some of my books. Very soon, we started talking about what the book could be and Penguin Random House came onboard and committed to making it a full-colour hardback. I wrote the stories, checking in with Jason every now and then about certain words or lines of dialogue or details about Ginger’s town. When he became enthusiastic about a certain story idea, I’d know I was on the right track.
I wrote part of the manuscript when I was living in LA for a few months with my family. (Sometimes it’s easier to write about a place – in this case, small-town Australia – when you’re away from it!) Jason and I met up in LA and New York, which was fun. We’re both obsessed with Ginger Meggs and the creative process and stories. We both work hard and talk fast, so there wasn’t much of a lull in conversation. Once the stories were done, Jason dived down into the illustrations and this beautiful book began to emerge.
Which of Jason Chatfield’s illustrations in your book particularly resonates with you, and why?
I love the billycart derby pics. I’ve always loved billycarts, my sons and I have even competed in local billycart derbies in our hometown. I also have a phobia of free-falling, so the illustrations capturing both of those things in the story ‘Dead Man’s Hill’ prompt a visceral reaction from me.
Talking about your other books, could you disclose anything about any of your books coming to the screen?
I’ll agree with every author ever and say that it’s a long (but enjoyable) process! I’m in Sydney next week for a Tom Weekly writers’ room with a group of talented screenwriters. Just developing, developing. Not making it at this point. And Two Wolves keeps moving forward. I’m focused on enjoying the process and learning valuable lessons from the writers I’m working with, rather than getting too focused on the outcome.
Tell us about your Young Writers’ Story School?
Encouraging kids to read and write, to love telling and reading stories as much as I always have, is an ongoing mission for me. I’ve spoken in hundreds of schools in the past thirteen years, working with young writers. I’ve learnt lots about what inspires kids and teens to write. Last year, I had time, during lockdown, to record all of the teachings on video. So, Young Writers StorySchool is a 24 x 3-4-minute online writing workshop that supercharges the writing process in the classroom. It teaches kids, aged about 9-14, step-by-step, how to use video, maps, music, pictures, drawing, outdoor writing and other tools to inspire their writing. Then it gives insight into outlining, rewriting, point-of-view and some of the other trickier concepts. It’s everything I know about writing. www.youngwritersstoryschool.com.
What have you been reading and enjoying recently?
I loved Katrina Nannestad’s We Are Wolves. I’ve just started reading John Boyne’s new adult novel, The Echo Chamber, which is very funny. And I’ve been revisiting books I loved as a teen – Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Cujo. On audiobook I’m listening to Holes. And next up for me is some Barry Jonsberg. I love his lens on the world.
Thank you for answering these questions, Tristan, and all the very best with your nostalgic yet lively and fresh tribute to Ginger Meggs.
Tristan Bancks’ website is https://www.tristanbancks.com/