The star of Australia’s longest-running comic strip, “Ginger Meggs”, began life in November 1921 as a side character named Ginger Smith in a strip titled “Gladsome Gladys”, in the pages of Sydney’s Sunday Sun. By April 1922 he had morphed into the leading man – known as Ginger Meggs – the cheeky but loveable, waistcoat-wearing, red-headed, quintessentially Australian rascal.
“Gladsome Gladys” was soon renamed “Us Fellers”, before later becoming “Ginger Meggs”. Soon after Ginger Meggs came into being he was joined by a muff-wearing girlfriend named Minnie Peters – a transformed Gladsome Gladys, whose affections rival Eddie Coogan also sought – and mates Benny and Ocker. Ginge was, and still is, frequently accompanied by two other faithful companions: Mike the dog and Tony the monkey.
“Ginger Meggs” is the most widely syndicated Australian comic strip, having appeared in more than 100 newspapers in more than 30 countries. The stamps in the 100 Years of Ginger Meggs stamp issue, released on 7 September 2021, showcase the work of three of the five cartoonists who have illustrated the comic over the past 100 years.
Ginger Meggs’ creator, James Charles “Jimmy” Bancks, was born in Enmore, Sydney, on 10 May 1889. He was brought up in Hornsby in a family that Bancks described as “a living comic strip”. The first of his illustrations to be published appeared in Comic Australian in August 1911, before Bancks landed a gig in 1914 at the Bulletin. During his time at the Bulletin (until 1922), the self-taught Bancks benefited from the tutelage of artists John Ashton and Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo.
Bancks syndicated his comics in the late 1920s, just prior to the syndication market’s peak, so Ginge was recognised widely in Australia, as well in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and America, when the comic strip changed its title to “Ginger Meggs” in 1939. The strip was also published in newspapers in Montreal (in French, titled “Pierrot”) and Buenos Aires (in Spanish). As well as Ginge’s everyday capers being chronicled weekly for newspaper readers, from 1924 to 1959 he was the subject of an annual publication titled Sunbeams Book: More Adventures of Ginger Meggs.
By the time the talented Jimmy Bancks died unexpectedly of heart failure in July 1952, he had been committing to paper the life of Ginger Meggs for nearly three decades. In 1953, the baton was taken up by Sydney-based cartoonist and illustrator Ron Vivian, who, although unacknowledged in this role, penned the cartoon until 1973, when he himself died. For the next decade, cartoonist and art teacher Lloyd Piper illustrated “Ginger Meggs” until his death in 1983. The fourth creator was the Sydney-born cartoonist and actor James L Kemsley, from 1983 to 2007. In 1993, Kemsley expanded Ginger’s visibility, with a daily strip building upon the weekly Sunday strip. An award-winning cartoonist and former president of the Australian Cartoonists’ Association, Kemsley illustrated “Ginger Meggs” until the year of his death.
Since 2007, “Ginger Meggs” has been illustrated by Perth-born, New York–based cartoonist and comedian Jason Chatfield.
Following a brief stint has a commercial print designer after graduating high school, Jason began working as a freelance illustrator out of his bedroom at his mum’s home in Perth. He took caricature commissions and drew editorial cartoons, before landing a gig as a proof reader and ad designer at a local office in Fremantle.
“I got to do the local editorial cartoon for about five different papers in their stable. From there I honed my skills as a newspaper cartoonist until I moved to Melbourne after being asked to take over ‘Ginger Meggs’,” says Jason.
Jason now works out of his studio in New York city, where he’s also a cartoonist for the New Yorker (and other publications) between his work as president of the National Cartoonists Society, established in 1946.
Drawing is something that Jason has loved since childhood: “It was all I ever did!”
“I was a very quiet and introverted kid. I used to walk around with a clipboard full of cartridge paper and [a] black ballpoint pen and I would just sit and draw all day no matter where I was. My drawing pad was the equivalent of a modern kid’s smartphone: I would just disappear into pages of drawings for hours on end,” adds Jason.
“Ginger Meggs” was another important part of the young Jason Chatfield’s world.
“It was the first thing I opened the paper to every morning. I have very fond memories of unwrapping the paper on Saturday morning in Perth and taking out the comics section to read ‘Calvin and Hobbes’, ‘Garfield’, ‘The Far Side’ and of course ‘Ginger Meggs’,” says Jason.
By the time he took over the strip, a moment he describes as “an enormous honour and privilege”, Jason had been reading it his whole life and was familiar with all the characters as if they were his own friends that he’d grown up with.
At the time, Jason was working as an editorial cartoonist in Perth and producing the club magazine for the Australian Cartoonists’ Association. The president at the time was also the creator of “Ginger Meggs”, James Kemsley.
“We became fast friends and he mentored me in the art and business of comic strip cartooning. A few days before he died, he asked me to take over from him. It was a very bittersweet way to inherit such an enormous legacy,” recalls Jason.
Jason describes the process of taking over this important role as collaborative and organic.
“I wanted to make sure that the character didn’t lose the essential element of Australian larrikinism, while ensuring his contemporary readers could still identify with him. Over the years we have made small changes to the strip, very gradually, including giving Ginger a smartphone and introducing indigenous and international multicultural friends to the gang,” says Jason.
During Jason Chatfield’s time as creator, Ginger Meggs has also transformed from a star of syndicated comics in print to someone with an online and social media presence, with people reading “Ginger Meggs” daily on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“Many of these readers don’t even realise he’s a 100-year-old print comic strip, they just think he's a webcomic they discovered on social media!” says Jason.
So why does Jason think that Ginger Meggs is such an enduring and much-loved character around the world.
“Australians are very well-liked all around the world for our can-do attitude and our cheeky disrespect for authority. It’s that ‘Aussie battler’ mindset that helps us persevere through good times and bad. I believe Ginger embodies the quintessence of that Australian larrikin character people love so much,” says Jason.
“I love that he doesn’t let people who take themselves too seriously get away with it. He’s cheeky without being rude or disrespectful. I also love that he’s constantly questioning everything sees and hears in the world and he’s always trying to learn new things. For all of his troublemaking and rabble-rousing he’s a really good kid at heart,” adds Jason.
Ginger Meggs’ centenary is being marked in a variety of ways, including a new book published by Penguin Random House. Available with this stamp issue is a special version of the book, with a cover design exclusive to Australia Post; a limited-edition first day cover, with a gold-foiled postmark; and an exclusive block of four stamps. Ginge is also appearing on an Australian $1 coin, with coloured coins from the Royal Australian Mint featuring in two postal numismatic covers released with this issue.
“There are exhibitions planned and many other celebrations in the pipeline which we hope can still proceed in a safe manner in light of the new normal in which Australia finds itself,” notes Jason.
Jason is also excited and honoured about the stamp release:
“The team at Australia Post have done an incredible job of encapsulating his spirit and the different artists’ interpretations of Ginger over the past century. Having been to a number of philatelic and numismatic shows I can honestly say I now understand the significance of Ginger truly being made part of Australian history in this stamp release.
“As the custodian of Ginge during my lifetime, I am very humbled that his 100th birthday falls under my tenure, and I’m grateful to Australia Post for taking such great care in celebrating his birthday with these stamps.”
The 100 Years of Ginger Meggs stamp issue is available from 7 September 2021, online, at participating Post Offices and via mail order on 1800 331 794, while stocks last.
This content was produced at the time of the stamp issue release date and will not be updated.