Next year Ginger Meggs, the iconic Australian comic strip, turns 90.
But things are not slowing down for the perpetual 12-year-old. Far from it. He has a Facebook page, a Twitter, a blog and both iPhone and iPad apps. He's ready to engage with a new generation of fans who, as cartoonist Jason Chatfield puts it, "can quote the Simpsons verbatim but wouldn't have a clue who Ginger Meggs is".
"I'm trying to appeal to a new generation of readers," he said. "My average reader is 40 to 80 year old - baby boomers and older - we already missed Gen X."
Chatfield, the 25-year-old Perth-raised cartoonist who took over the strip three years ago, is determined the brand will not become stale on his watch. Since inheriting the job from the late James Kemsley, who drew Meggs for 23 years, Chatfield has set about modernising the comic to attract younger readers.
"The readers of the 21st Century don't speak the same way they did in the 1920s, it's no so much of the 'golly gee, mister' and 'strewth' and kids don't necessarily run billy-carts down hills as much as they used to," he said.
"It's a very delicate balancing act between retaining the original charm of the strip and the characters whilst modernising the context and keeping it relevant to the readership, because they're only going to read it if it is relevant."
Created by Jimmy Bancks, Ginger Meggs was first published in 1921. Chatfield is the fifth cartoonist to draw the strip, which was so popular during World War Two the Royal Australian Air Force painted Meggs on the side of bombs and the army named a battalion after him.
Meggs is now syndicated to 122 papers in 34 countries and translated into five languages which can provide some obstacles of its own. Phrases like "Carn the Blues" do not translate well into Portuguese, for instance.
"You get the translation come back and quite literally you have 'give me depression' written on the side of the billy cart," Chatfield said.
Chatfield, who is also a stand-up comedian, said he tests a lot of the jokes for the strip on stage. He carries a notepad with him everywhere to jot down ideas for the comic. He began drawing Meggs in his Tuart Hill studio but has been based in East Melbourne since 2008. As a special treat for WA fans of the comic, he has agreed to show The West Australian readers how Ginger Meggs is drawn.
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