Twelve Panels Press is an Australian graphic novel publishing enterprise wrangled by Bernard Caleo, Elizabeth MacFarlane and Erica Wagner.
Bernard has been making and publishing comics since 1992. He published nine issues of the comics anthology Tango from 1997 to 2009, and with filmmaker Daniel Hayward made the feature documentary Graphic Novels! Melbourne! in 2012.
Elizabeth is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne. She designed and delivers the ‘Graphic Narratives’ course which has been running since 2011. Elizabeth also co-directed the artists’ residency Comic Art Workshop.
Erica has edited and published books for young people for over thirty years and received the 2017 Dromkeen Medal and the 2020 Australian Book Industry’s Pixie O’Harris Award for outstanding achievement in the creation of Australian children’s books.
A Brief History of Twelve Panels Press
In the early 2010s, we three began a conversation around this idea: Australia needs a specialised graphic novel publisher to bring long-form comic books (aka graphic novels) into the Australian book market.
In 2015 an opportunity arose when German graphic novelist Jan Bauer was invited to the Melbourne Writers Festival. His autobiographical graphic novel set on the Larapinta Trail had been published in German but not in English. The timeline was short but our vision was long – we leapt into action, getting quotes, a printer, rights from the German publisher, translation funding from the Goethe-Institüt, and thus the English language version of The Salty River was published in time for Jan’s arrival at the festival.
Publishing The Salty River, and seeing how it has been embraced by readers in Australia, has been a great experience for Twelve Panels Press, and led us to publishing our second graphic novel in 2021, Safdar Ahmed’s Still Alive, Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System.
Safdar was part of the Refugee Art Project, a group bringing art materials into the Villawood detention centre for the asylum seekers held there. A comic-book maker, Safdar got to thinking that the difficult stories of the people he met in Villawood could be shared in comics form. We worked with him as he sculpted and shaped his book from its original Walkley Award-winning webcomic into the graphic novel, Still Alive.
The Salty River and Still Alive give readers immersive, informative, emotive Australian stories via the beautiful artform of comics. Publishing them is a lot of work and a lot of joy. As comics continue to develop as a vital form of storytelling in this country, we want to be part of that development, helping to deliver significant graphic novels into readers’ hands. Huzzah!
Erica Wagner has been involved in Australian book publishing, especially children’s books, for decades. She witnessed the rise of graphic novels in international publishing markets and wanted this to happen in Australia too. Elizabeth MacFarlane is a lecturer in creative writing at Melbourne University, specialising in researching and teaching comics. Bernard Caleo is a comics maker and comics teacher from Melbourne who loves promoting the work of local comics makers.
Read an article about the foundation of Twelve Panels Press in Illustrators Australia magazine here.
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