The West Australian

THE CHAMP IS HERE

Our newest comic strip artist hopes to inspire Indigenous kids

- SIMON COLLINS

Meet Brenton E. McKenna — artist, wrestling enthusiast, heavy metal fan, personal trainer, former pub bouncer, father and proud Yawuru man.

The 38-year-old from Broome is also the creator of The West Australian’s new cartoon strip and probably the first Indigenous artist to have one syndicated in a daily newspaper. From Monday, McKenna’s series Ole Champ, below, about an accident-prone Aboriginal pro-wrestler, will run every weekday in The

West Australian.

The pioneering cartoonist endured a long journey to become Australia’s first published Indigenous graphic artist. The first of his Ubby’s Underdogs trilogy inspired by his grandmothe­r Alberta Dolby, who trained local boxers, was published almost a decade ago. While his cousins fished, played sport and listened to hip-hop, McKenna became enthralled with comic books as a kid growing up in Broome in the 1990s. Getting his first graphic novel, Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider, was a formative experience not only because it set him on course to be an artist but also because it nurtured his literacy.

“Myself and a lot of my cousins, we struggled reading and writing English at school, mostly because it wasn’t our first language,” McKenna said.

“I struggled more than my cousins did, to the point where I made up my own words, made up my own alphabet.

“Around the age of nine or 10, Dad brought me into a newsagency and I picked up a Ghost Rider comic book. I couldn’t read it but the pictures told me the story . . . I loved this comic.

“Every week, I got a different comic book. I didn’t actually read them, I just tried to draw the pictures. Bit by bit, I started learning characters’ names and ‘To be continued’, and by the

age of 13 I was easily reading books by myself.” As he discovered a love of reading, McKenna also developed his illustrati­ng skills by copying the artwork. McKenna describes Ole Champ as an underdog, a scrappy fighter going up against muscle-bound foes such as The Tangler with his tag team partner The Killer Koala, who is allergic to eucalyptus. In addition to creating five comic strips a week, the hardworkin­g renaissanc­e man also runs a personal training business and is a teacher’s aide at his old high school, St Mary’s College. McKenna hopes Ole Champ being in a daily newspaper inspires Indigenous kids to pick up a pencil. “I don’t want to be the only Indigenous graphic novelist,” he said. “I’ve had this 16-year uphill battle trying to get my own graphic novel series out. “Now to have (Ole Champ) in The West, I’m actually not crazy, people do like this. It’s good to be acknowledg­ed. I hope my comic strip will hit some nerve with some kids, the same way I picked up Ghost Rider 30 years ago.” McKenna added comic books have an important role in lifting literacy rates among kids. “I really hope I can be part of that.”

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