Culture

Sam Wallman (ed)
Fluid Prejudice

Fluid Prejudice is awkward. This is a relief, for the default Australian attitude is probably awkwardness, whether genuine or simulated. Self-consciousness governs our society, and our best literature depicts this. As Giramondo Publishing’s Ivor Indyk has long maintained, there is a tradition in Australian writing that is characterised by its remarkable plasticity under the pressure of emotion: the way bodies, objects, settings and atmospheres contort and stretch, or mutate in their identities.

Perhaps nothing causes more shifting and squirming than the confronting of history, our personal and public stories unfailingly tied up in issues of restraint, impetuousness and luck. And comics – or graphic narratives, as they’re now regularly called – often embrace awkwardness, perhaps due to the typically offbeat perspectives of their creators.

Here, then, is a collection of comics and drawings from 50 contributors, focusing on underrepresented, marginalised and alternative visions of Australian history. Artist-cum-editor Sam Wallman – whose most recent projects include the rendering of a gay Bangladeshi man’s struggle to gain asylum in Australia, as well as the viral online comic Serco Story, illustrating the harrowing words of a detention centre guard – chases his obsession with how the past is a strategic weapon. The title of the anthology is taken from Mark Twain: “The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”

Shame is revisited with Zacharias Szumer’s shambolic account of the Emu Field and Maralinga bomb tests, and Josh Santospirito’s adaptation of a Craig San Roque essay is confronting. Several of the comics revisit oft-told stories, such as Udo Sellbach’s depiction of the “free speech fights” that raged in 1930s Brunswick, Kieran Mangan’s double spread on The Somerton Man, and Q-ray’s remembering of the Witch of Kings Cross, Rosaleen Norton. There are also many personal histories: Ruby Knight’s comic about her mother’s youth and David C. Mahler’s bitter tale of lost love are the standouts.

The final two panels of one of Wallman’s own sublime comics in the anthology, about the “green bans” that occurred throughout the 1970s, declare: “The past is a part of the future/But the present is a hammer.” Fluid Prejudice, measured, intelligent and confidently awkward, has Wallman jimmying one more nail loose from the old boards that continue to confine us. TW

Glass Flag [incorrectly listed as Pen Erases Paper in the print version of this article], 176pp, $20

[ERRATA: In the print edition of The Saturday Paper, the 'The Free Speech Fights' was incorrectly attributed to Udo Sellbach, but is the work of Keith McDougall and Josephine Collins. The reviewer was incorrectly listed as 'DH'. We apologise for these errors.]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 15, 2014 as "Sam Wallman (ed), Fluid Prejudice". Subscribe here.