Thanks Bancks


IT is doubtful whether comic artists are really indispensable to society. Their passion for inflicting disorganised noses and unbearable contours on beings is rightly regarded as only fitting in hangmen and scoundrels who steal their fathers’ beer. It is on that account that artists with a weakness for caricature who expose the fact that the face of some President of the Toothbrush Trust has been stood on by a tractor and brought home in a shovel have sometimes been assaulted by the victim. Many men are more concerned about possessing an outline that will dilly the girls than they are about their personal honor.

Once upon a time J. C. Bancks was a caricaturist. He strove to set forth in telling, even gossipy line, the Egos that strutted with padded calves on the show boards of Sydney town. Armed with pad and pencil he haunted the stalls of theatres, and soon had actors writhing on the pins of pictorial wit. He exhibited their parts much better than they could do themselves. He overdrew their overdrawings, and when their roles were underdone, they were shown undone.

It was a type of criticism in which other artists, notably Will Dyson, have developed crustacean eyes and a lurid sense of form. Bancks revelled in it, for it stirred the dreggy depths in his well of fun. It also gave him a shrewd view of human sapience in its most arrant guise and assured him, if he needed to lift the suspicion to conviction, that grand mummer and grandmother very often rhymed.


All the while Master Bancks, whose industry even now permits a passable intermission for sleep, was sniffing the pastures in other parts of the comic field. Originally he was a clerk in a wool office in Sydney, and perhaps the deadly dullness of the trade, the beauty of which some of our dear old morning papers would have hymned by a Milton, set the seed of pictorial banter germinating in his soul. He may have started limning capitalists on a blotter, instead of recording the quantities of the fleeces that enable so many Australians to wear wool next to their intellects; but anyhow he was soon spending a tittle of his savings on Bristol board, pen and Indian ink and turning out experimental designs for the comic press.

He was not greatly successful at first—the road to ruin is white with the bones of prodigies who have achieved an initial triumph—but he was persevering and he had the instinct, which is better than genius, of taking his goods to the best market.

The Bulletin then was the target of every aspiring black-and-whiter, and Bancks fired at short range, scoring a few bull’s eyes to break the demoralising monotony of outers.

The Bulletin served him well, guaranteeing him after a period a certain amount of work and enabling him to leave the weighing of wool bales to other fellows. It was the heyday of the gifted Low, but Bancks did not require the example of the meticulous New Zealander to give him backache over a drawing-board. He used as much rubber and tore up as much cardboard as Low, and by this arduous method perfected the style which interpreted the spirit of the man.

Just when Ginger Meggs came on the scene neither he nor I can tell to the minute. It was while he was doing joke blocks illustrating the miraculous gift for repartee displayed by all grades of the local social system that the Sydney Sun conceived the idea of a weekly colored comic for its Sunday edition.

The versatile Montague Grover, then the Sunday editor of The Sun had brought this suggestion to the front, and it was due to his enterprise that 40 or 50 black-and-whiters were asked to submit sample drawings of a strip suitable for kiddies to run from week to week.

Grover was thus Intermittently informed of the enormous number of descendants of Mutt and Jeff, and various other tousled and whiskered fellows gyrated in situations that were considered to make the local infant laugh. But it was Bancks, who, realising that the only possible comic mutt reflect the life and mischief of the average healthy boy, staged a bundle of wiles and stratagems named Ginger (afterwards surnamed Meggs) find left him to rollick in the recollections of a million children, young and old.

It was Montagu Grovor, who branded the endless history of Ginger with the simple, but siren title of “Us Fellers”; but it was Bancks who devised the scenes which, despite their superficial glaze of extravagance, have always clung cleverly to the skirts of Reality. The human note is always fortissimo in the pictorial scores of J. C. Bancks and it is his talent for visualising stories in which the wharflumper or churchwarden can behold himself in all the ravishing preludes to experience ranging from stealing green fruit to playing the wag that has given Bancks his tremendous vogue. He has now been at it for six years or more, turning out the drawings week by week and watching a growing annual demand for the yearly bound volume containing the cream of his humor, and no one can detect any thinning of the invention which keeps his hero an eternal surprise.

As to his work in Melbourne, it is well known. The talent he bestowed on the daily doings of “Mr Melbourne” in the Sun News-Pictorial, a feature that has enabled the readers of that popular Journal to follow the subtle processes of the suburban mind, has been whole-heartedly and deservedly praised, and it is no reflection on his successor, B. F. Reynolds, to say that the artful artlessness of the conceptions has been kept at a very high level. Once or twice, too, he appeared in Punch, now incorporated in this Journal, and here again his technical equipment and sharp satiric fancy enabled him to visualise many amusing phases of the human scene.

  • Written by C. R. Bradish,   Illustrated by L. F. REYNOLDS
Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), Thursday 31 May 1928, page 8

By an Admirer

There have been three great Australian characters in recent times — William Morris Hughes, Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Ginger Meggs. Had Jimmy Bancks, the father and mother of Ginge, been more than a lad there might have been created an Australian wartime character which would have ranked with the Old Bill of immortal Bruce Bairns’ other.

It remained for Bancks, one of the greatest post-war Australians, to produce a post-war character which was to sweep the Commonwealth and New Zealand. Ginger Meggs is the most human character created by any caricaturist in the second and third decades of the century. Not because Ginger is beloved by the readers of ‘The Daily News’ is this assertion made, but because the sheer Australian characteristics of the lad have endeared him to readers of newspapers in every part of this country and of New Zealand. It falls to my lot to tell Australia that, despite a dangerous period, during which it seemed that really great foreign offers ‘would wrest Bancks and his character away from Australia, Bancks and Ginge and Min, and the rest of them will not be going overseas. ‘ They will stay in Australia as the chief feature of ‘The Daily News’ week-end Colored Comic Section. Bancks has signed a new contract, which makes him. the highest paid . artist or journalist in the Southern Hemisphere, and other countries, especially the United States of America, will be the poorer.

Safe for Australia

With Ginge made safe for Australia, hundreds of thousands of kiddies will be the happier. Sunday morning without Ginge would have been a sad Sunday morning indeed. Hundreds of thousands of big kids, those who have grown up during the 14 years of Ginge’s life, will be as relieved as the little folk to hear that Min’s boy friend is not to be Americanised. Believe me, the offer of two big American syndicates made the negotiations with Jimmy Bancks pretty difficult, for Jim, to use one of the Americanisms Ginge may have been forced to use, is no slouch. Now he joins the ranks of Tom Webster and David Low and Strube and Winsor McCay — and eats in future from gold plate with diamond spoons. Not one man in the trade of journalism begrudges him one ha’porth of his spectacular success. Jim Bancks’ is the godfather of most Australian kids. I have heard them speaking of him in the little school at Alice Springs. When I lectured at the Auckland Normal School last year, the sixth standard asked me about him, and wanted to know whether Ginge would ever grow up. No. 1 said, and his father, Jimmy, won’t grow up either.

Has Intimate Touch

In nearly 14 years Bancks, the quietest and most unassuming of fellows, has never lost that intimate touch with childhood — infant and adult —which has made him a Professor of Humanism. He is more in touch with the psychology of the average Australian than are a hundred psychologists. He is a Teacher of Humanity. Many a man has had a knighthood for less than Bancks has done for his country. Jim Bancks, who has sold almost 2,000,000 Ginger Meggs books in the past 13 years in Australia and New Zealand, is well within his thirties. He is no beauty, as you see by his photograph on this page. His hobbies are play-writing, golf, ignoring editors and eating beef and chutney sandwiches with Arthur (Dead-pan) Mailey, a ci-devant good cricketer who sank into cartooning, reckoning that Jim Bancks wasn’t the only one who could make a living without working. Jim says that Mailey’s amazing silences produce inspiration for Ginger, although Jim’s father-in-law, E. J. Tait, says that nowadays HE is the divine spark for Ginge. The fact remains that Ginger Meggs today runs in every State in the Commonwealth. It is safe to say that 3,000,000 people— nearly half the population of this country— see Ginger Meggs every week.

Was Wool Clerk Fourteen years ago

Jim Bancks was a young wool clerk. At night he took lessons in drawing. His friends still say he needn’t have bothered. The idea, not the drawing was the thing they add. Jim just laughs. His first artistic successes (I use the word artistic without prejudice, despite my envy) were published in the ‘Bulletin,’ a great paper which years after was big-minded enough to print an ode to Ginger Meggs, though Jim was no longer employed by them — a typical big action of the ‘Bulletin,’ that truly national weekly. Jim, still a wool clerk, wanted to earn his living by drawing. The late William Macleod, ‘Bulletin’ chief, saw possibilities in Jim and guaranteed him a certain sum each week as a retainer. But Jim was dreaming of Ginger. Twenty years ago Hornsby was a small boy’s paradise. Jim lived there among the trees and the creeks and the paddocks; the swimming holes and the orchards to be robbed. Jim was a wild kid. He was Ginge. He knew. One day the reservoir of ideas broke through the sluice gates. The wool clerk would wool-clerk no more. Ginger smashed into the, first four color section of any Australian, newspaper. There he plays today, secure from imitators, standing on a mountain in the journalism of this country.

Unspoiled by Success And Bancks?

What has success done to him? Many men have been spoiled by a meteoric career, but not James Bancks. Hardly a week passes, but that he walks, not drives, through the poorer areas of the city there to meet and talk with the counterparts of the friends he played with 20 years ago in the Hornsby scrub. They know him in Redfern and Glebe and Ultimo and Erskineville. ‘Hey, here’s Ginge’s old man, they yell, and Jim gets on to the street cricket match, listening, watching and learning. Jim teaches them the game, for his two great friends are ‘Deadpan’ Mailey and Vic. Richardson, with Alan Kippax thrown in as the perpetual criitc. And many a street team in Surry Hills, in Sydney, owes its victory against the next street to Alan Kippax and Jim Bancks. Apart from trying to write musical plays – a task which E. J. Tait watches complacently —Jim Bancks has the hobby which has ruined better men than he. You’re quite right. I mean golf. Bancks never rests. There is vitality in his every movement. He is tall and slight, like so many great men. He is never seen in his office until his drawing is finished. Then a staff of spelling experts go through it for mistakes. I once found twelve in one issue. Only Sid Miller has broken that record. Bags of mail come for him, and they are sent to his home where he and Mrs. Bancks go through every letter. Men write to him asking whether certain ideas were obtained from certain specific places as the experiences pictured had happened to them as children. People invite Ginger to Parties. One child headed his letter ‘My Place.’ When Ginge was in hospital hundreds of letters from children showed utter grief; many telephoned my office to ask after him. When Bancks wrote ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ I was deluged with letters from all parts of Australia asking whether Playwright Bancks meant that Ginger Meggs Bancks was gone. To help the situation they assured me that the play was terrible, but that Ginger was not. As to that I won’t commit myself.

‘Tell me, Jim,’ I asked him the other day. ‘What, actually is behind Ginge?’ -Jimmy lit a cigarette.. ‘Character,’ he said. ‘I never let Ginge forget that. Even if what I thought was a great idea depended on Ginge giving his father cheek or doing ..something unworthy or; mean, then I would abandon the idea . . . Not because I thought you thought so,’. he added offensively. ”Go ‘Go on,’ I. said. ‘No need to stress the obvious. What then?’ Jim ‘ thought. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Ginge has had his ups and downs. Like all humans, his plans fail and succeed. He is never precocious. I tell you if I give him too tough a spin for too long, I get letters from women protesting, and saying that it’s time for him to succeed in something.’

So Ginge remains Ginge. just as his dad and his mum don’t get new clothes — all in the character, with the hated Tiger Kelly as a foil and the little monkey as a reflection of Ginge’s moods, and the little dog, Mike, as a pal.’ ‘And was there a howl when I tried to dump the monkey!’ said Jimmy, colloquially. ‘The kids wrote hundreds of letters.’ Bancks has shown more sincerity in his work than many successful artists. He has shunned commercial exploitation of Ginger or himself when lesser men have sought it. Practically every firm in Australia connected with children’s goods very wisely contacted him, asking him to identify himself with their products. Their offers were sound business, and ethical,’ but Jim in his quiet way thought’ that Ginge’s home was his week-end supplement. Bancks has had the greatest career of any Australian caricaturist. His determination not to cheapen Ginger Meggs is unflinching. It gives him further right to the title he has so justly earned.

Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), Saturday 13 July 1935, page 19


By J. C. Bancks

IT is quite surprising to a lot of people, including myself, that Ginger Meggs has now been in existence for a quarter of a century.

WHEN an artist thinks up a set of characters and spends most of his time beating his brains out trying to think of amusing, slapstick, and even pathetic situations to get these characters into and out of, the years are apt to slip by with noteworthy speed. It is the usual and banal thing to say after doing something for a great number of years, that it only seems like yesterday when you began doing it, and that is really how it does seem. For myself, I still sit down at my desk with the same pleasure, but I seem not to get up from it with my one-time buoyant alacrity. On the other hand, the passing of those 25 years has had, I believe, no slowing-up effect on Ginge. who is fighting as often and as freely as ever; his ‘terrible right’ is just as dynamic and damaging as it was when he began. Two questions I am usually asked in connection with Ginger: — Was I like Ginge when I was a boy? ? Where do I get my ideas? Well, the truth is, I was not a bit like Ginge as a small boy. In fact, I was painfully shy and retiring. I had none of his courage and enterprise, and I couldn’t fight. As a matter of fact, I had my only fight when I was about 12. and then I did it to impress a small schoolgirl. It was an unfortunate affair. I must have been blinded by passion or temporarily insane for. although a thin weedy boy myself. I challenged a boy twice my own size. He was a very heavy, bovine lad. very sluggish mentally, but very strong . and violently active physically. I don’t remember anything of the fight except the actual shaping up. but my best school friend explained later: That I did not lay a hand on my opponent, but he got in 15 or 20 lucky blows before I was carried away and placed under a tap. However. I did establish a kind of record for the school for me greatest loss of blood from one boy. The record, 1 believe, remains undisturbed. In connection with the business of getting ideas, I was lucky enough to spend my boyhood in Hornsby, which was then a small country town. It was not a noteworthy boyhood, but it was highly enjoyable, filled with the delights of swimming holes, orchards, cricket, and football. Remembering these pleasant happenings has resulted in hundreds of ideas. My own family, too, was very productive of ideas. We were in fact, a living comic strip. My father was a good-natured and lovable man, and magnificently inefficient. As I have written once before, he, himself, established quite a record. He joined the Railway Department at 7/- a day and when he was retired, 29 years later, he was receiving exactly the same wage. My mother was a powerful and purposeful woman and she waged a never-ending battle with the local tradespeople. She held firmly to the view that a small amount paid off the main debt entitled us to begin as new and desirable credit customers. In any case, she took care of six of us. Drawing Ginge and his friends for 25 years I have found, and still find, is a pleasant wav of making a living. I am also of the opinion that having the luck to hit the popular taste with a feature, there isn’t a hope in the world of staying the course unless you put everything you’ve got into it. You must be pretty much in love with it yourself. Again it seems to me that, much better than producing a character who makes people laugh is to create one that can win affection.

Readers who have an affection for a character stay with him over his bad spots, and no character can run for a number of years without having his share of these. Lovers of a character forgive him his weak days and remember the times when he did amuse them, and feel sure that he will be amusing again. If a comic artist can get a certain number of these kind of people about him his luck is in. I can’t remember when I did not try to draw. I am sure now that I had very little talent, but I had an unquenchable enthusiasm; an all-consuming desire to see my drawings in print. Of course, I felt then that I was laden with talent, and that was very sustaining, for I cannot believe anybody had more early drawings rejected than I. The routine for a long time never varied. I would post my drawings enclosing stamp for return, on each Wednesday, and on each Monday I would come home to find them awaiting me on the mantelpiece. Once in a while the package would not be there on Monday, and my hopes would rise, only to be dashed on Tuesday. I feel grateful towards readers for liking Ginge; Its been great fun drawing him ; It has been exciting, and a special pleasure to, see him published in London and New York, and other cities, and to see him printed in a foreign language.

Well! Back to the drawing board.

Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), Saturday 16 November 1946, page 4


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