Thursday, December 20, 2012

Remembering Eric Resetar: 1928-2011




Above: The cover of Crash Carson of the Future #2. First published in 1944, this scan is from an unpublished cover for a early 60s reprint that never eventuated. Copyright the estate of Eric Resetar 2012.

One year ago today, Eric Resetar, one of New Zealand's first self-published comic book creators, passed away at the age of 83. He left behind an extraordinary comics and publishing legacy which is largely unknown to the general public. I have pieced together the following biography to help bring some of the details of Eric's life and accomplishments to light.

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For Auckland schoolboy Eric Resetar, it was an issue of a Buck Rogers comic book that sparked his imagination, and marked the beginning of a life-long passion.

Resetar was born in Auckland in 1928. As a young boy, he was skinny and introverted; much more interested in devouring the latest science fiction magazine than eating lunch or taking part in schoolyard games. His insatiable appetite for reading didn’t go unnoticed by his peers at St Benedict's School in Newton, who nicknamed him ‘the Professor’.

Science fiction was his escape from the dreary realities of everyday life, a daydream of space ships and heroic deeds he would rather not wake from. Fifty years later, he would recall of his childhood, “I was very introspective, my mind was always in a dream. Somebody was always giving me a shove and telling me to wake up”.

One day in class he received a particularly rude awakening. Frustrated by Eric’s lack of attention, a teacher grabbed his Buck Rogers comic out of his hands and held it up in front of the class. Eric recalled the moment vividly, “…the teacher said, “You are forbidden to read comics. You know these are trash.” And to the horror of all those devilish little boys sitting in there, he ripped this comic in bits! I tell you what, it would be worth $500 - $600 dollars today…naughty teacher.”

Eric wasn’t deterred by this experience, and began writing and drawing his own comics, in the style of his favourite American adventure strips. He would spend his weekends penciling six panel grids onto the pages of his exercise books and filling them with stories. On Monday he brought his homemade comics into class, where his friends would take turns reading them under their desks. Soon Eric had his first dedicated readership. As he later recalled, “…they’d say to me, “hey, can’t wait till Monday when you bring some more in”. So it was at their urgency that I kept writing and drawing comics”.

Eric’s older brother Ian also helped foster his emerging artistic talents. It was Ian who suggested that Eric learn how to ink his drawings. Eric recalled his advice, “All I know about comics is that pencil doesn’t photograph very well, so you’ll have to do them in ink.” I’d never drawn with Indian ink before, but he did, and he said, “you do the pencils and I’ll outline them. And meanwhile, learn how to draw over your own pencil lines in ink”. It took me a while, that was very foreign...”

And it wasn’t just his family and classroom peers who were impressed by young Resetar’s comics. In 1941 the father of one of Eric’s schoolmates had seen Eric’s comics and approached him to contribute artwork to a locally printed comic book. The one-off production, Mighty Comic, featured a two colour cowboy themed cover and a text story illustrated by Resetar alongside illegally reproduced American comics material. Eric was paid 52 shillings for his efforts, and the comic’s 10,000 print sold out. At 12 years old, he was now an officially published cartoonist.

This early success encouraged Eric to consider creating comics as a viable career path. In 1942, Eric gathered together some samples of his artwork and boldly approached a local printer Wright & Jaques Ltd, to see if they would be interested in printing his comics.

Decades later he would recount that fateful day in an interview with Tim Bollinger, “ I had a black uniform on, a school cap, and my socks pulled up as you had to, and I marched in with this pile of stuff under my arm – a very small, skinny kid. And there were these printers and they looked up from their machines and the guy came over wiping his apron and he says: “What can I do for you, son?” And I said: “Do you print comics here?”

Eric proceeded to show the printer his artwork. Impressed by this young kid’s artwork and forthright attitude, the printer explained that he would love to print them if they had enough paper, but the government had tight restrictions in place during wartime. He suggested that Eric could personally write to the Minister of Internal Affairs in Wellington and request a special allocation of paper to produce the comics. Resetar took his advice, and wrote a letter expressing his desire to print comics, along with samples of his work.

In due course he received a reply: the government not only approved his request, they supplied twice the allocation of paper he had asked for, and noted that since no comics were coming into the country during wartime, local comics would help boost troop moral. Clearly they considered this project of some strategic national importance.


Above: The back cover of Crash Carson of the Future #2. Copyright the estate of Eric Resetar 2012.

With the necessary resources in place, Eric began self-publishing his own comics in 1943. The first to see print was Crash Carson of the Future #1, a rip-roaring space adventure modeled on Buck Rogers. The next year he followed this up with Crash Carson #2 and #3, and Adventure, featuring another space hero, John Power. He also branched off into colonial safari adventures, set in the exotic jungles of Africa in Treasure Comic, featuring ‘Black Cobra and the Red Gold’. Each issue sold for six pence with print runs of reportedly over 10,000 copies an issue regularly selling out, as they were virtually the only comics available in the country at the time. Many of these were sold and traded with visiting American G.I.s, keen to get their hands on some new comics material.

Eric described the printing arrangement as follows, “The printers didn’t ask for the money up front. When the first couple of thousand sold, they would get paid by the distributor. And at the end was you. Of course the distributors got their returns quickly, and from the results they would pay out the printer and the plate-makers and myself. If there was any (left) over they’d be dumped on your doorstep.”

However, being a one-man comics producing machine wasn’t without its problems. Eric found that while he was extremely prolific, not all his comics were making it through the printing process to meet a regular schedule, essential for maintaining sales and a regular audience.

“For everything that was printed, there was a lot that never saw the light of day”, he explained to Tim Bollinger. “One of the problems was getting the metal to make up the plates. The plates were made up of lead and zinc. And because all the boys were away, there was a shortage of staff. So, although I wanted these to come out every month, and I had a month’s stuff ahead, covers and everything, drawn up to size, they couldn’t print them enough. You may want this out next month, but it’d be three or four months before the thing turned up. That was a classic problem.”


Above: The cover of Childrens' Xmas Comics #1. Copyright the estate of Eric Resetar 2012.

Resetar continued to produce comics as regularly as he could, including Captain Sinister #1 in 1948 and even a Christmas themed special, Children’s Xmas Comics #1. During this period he also began signing his work under the pen name of ‘Hec Rose’.

After the war ended, cheap foreign comics from Australia and America found their way back into the New Zealand market, saturating the newsstand, which up until this point Resetar’s comics had dominated. Combined with the printing hold-ups, the frustrations of the situation were beginning to get to Resetar, “I couldn’t get what I wanted, which was to stay regular while I was hot, while I was feeling good (about) the way I was drawing and I knew I was getting better. I thought, I’ve got all this stuff piled up, it’s got to be published. I feel ashamed of my earlier stuff. Once the war was finished there was a flood of American comics. They just poured them out. Then after that unless you could find a distributor…The American ones were bigger and they were in colour. We couldn’t compete against that. And if we couldn’t, they won’t give it a go. That I’d say is the biggest curse in New Zealand. Not giving the local people a go.”

Resetar continued to persevere, producing comics during the 1950 and early 60s. One of Resetar’s most appealing titles from this period was Crash O’Kane: An All Black on Mars #1. A rather brilliant mash-up of science fiction and New Zealand’s national pastime, its hard to believe this title didn’t catch on.


Above: The cover of Halfback Comics #1, from the late 1950s. Copyright the estate of Eric Resetar 2012.

As it became more difficult to print local comics in the sixties, Resetar resorted to an A6 format for his last few offerings, a similar size to the mini-comics which would become commonplace in the self-publishing movement thirty years later. These mini-comics included an Invisible Man homage, Invisible Smith; and two issues of Half-Back Comics, featuring ‘The Space Pirates’.

Even though Resetar’s comics were largely flights of fantasy, there were always touches of his real life grounding his fictional world. “Everyone you see in these comics of mine, they are real people”, he explained. “The Space Pirates had this interesting girl in it, she was a girl who lived over the road. I was fascinated by her, but I didn’t deliberately use her or my depiction of her in cartoon form in that comic. You had to be inspired by someone (to) put it down on paper”.

With most of the major comics printers of New Zealand finally closing for good in the early sixties, Resetar returned to his first love: second-hand books and magazines. For the next thirty years, Resetar successfully ran a number of second-hand bookstores around Auckland, in the suburbs of Mt Albert and Onehunga. He specialized in science fiction paperbacks and continued to collect rare original Buck Rogers comics, and would occasionally come across a well-read copy of his own efforts.

Resetar’s pioneering contributions to New Zealand comics were largely forgotten by the public, until the turn of the century, when he was prominently featured in ‘The Comics Show’, an exhibition celebrating New Zealand comics at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 2001. Eric’s artwork was highlighted with a special two-page spread blown up to decorate one of the art gallery walls. Rod Macleod, one of the shows organisers, noted that Eric was ‘quite bemused by being the centre of attention for a few weeks’.

That same year, the New Zealand comics community established it’s first comics awards, named in honour of Resetar’s pioneering self-publishing efforts. ‘The Eric Awards’, held bi-annually, were created to celebrate local comics and encourage emerging cartoonists.

Resetar spent his retirement living in a small, clutter-filled pensioners flat in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga. He was still very active in his seventies, often visiting friends to trade DVDs and hunt down rare Buck Rogers memorabilia. In his early eighties his health began to deteriorate, and was hospitalized several times before passing away at Auckland Hospital on Wednesday 21st of December, 2011. He was 83 years old.

Resetar never married, and was survived by one of his six brothers, Claude - currently living in Queensland, Australia – and a wealth of nieces and nephews, including one named after him. In accordance with Eric’s Will, there was no funeral service, just a quiet cremation with his remains going to his niece Andrea.

In March 2012, a gathering was held in Onehunga to celebrate his memory and scatter the ashes. It was attended by family, friends, cartoonists and fans of his comics. After some drinks and reminiscing, the group made their way to the nearby Mangere Bridge. It was a warm afternoon; the bridge was busy with families fishing and enjoying the sun. A steady breeze was blowing as Eric’s niece Andrea cast his ashes out over the Manukau Harbour. A thin grey cloud spread out over the water, before it dissipated to parts unknown.


Above: Several hundred copies of Eric Resetar's self-published Halfback Comics #1 & #2 from the late 50s, discovered under a house in Sandringham, Auckland.

Six months later, a large collection of Eric's comics from the late 1950s was discovered under a house he had once lived in on Sandringham Road. To my knowledge it is the largest discovery of rare New Zealand comics in history, featuring several hundred issues of Halfback Comics #1 & #2, Childrens' Xmas Comic, Mo and Jo and  loose Crash Carson covers. The final fate of the collection has yet to be decided, but I hope its existence will help encourage readers to rediscover Eric's comics and place in New Zealand popular culture.

- Adrian Kinnaird
(Three blocks from where the Eric Resetar collection was discovered)
21st of December 2012

PS: If you have any corrections, or further information on Eric's life that you would like to share, feel free to leave a comment, or contact me at: adriankinnaird@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

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