Saving the Future: Interview with Ant Sang

Ant Sang, self portrait.Ant Sang is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed cartoonists and graphic novelists.

His best-selling graphic novel, Shaolin Burning, won an Honour Award at the 2012 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. He’ll be appearing in Ant Sang: Dharma Punk with Tracy Farr, Saturday 1 September, as part of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018.

Welcome to Christchurch, Ant!

Graphic novels are very popular here across all age groups, as are animated series and films. New Zealand artists compete well in this genre. Can you say why you think the comic strip and cartoon has remained a popular genre?

I think cartoons are naturally appealing to people, from a young age.

And with the breadth of work being produced in the comic form there really is something for everyone; from easy-to-read comics for younger readers, experimental ‘alternative’ comics, Japanese horror and romance manga, superheroes and so much more.

As a kid I read Monster Fun, The Beano and Judge Dredd. What early cartoonists and artists appealed to you as a young person?

I read so many comics when I was young. Asterix, Tintin, Footrot Flats, Beano, Tarzan, Uncle Scrooge, Richie Rich; anything i could get my hands on really!

Cover of Shaolin Burning by Ant SangI enjoyed the clear black and white plates of Shaolin Burning, not to mention the great plot and strong characters. It appeals to those (like me) who don’t like too much text, or are reading graphic novels for the first time.

Was Shaolin Burning your interpretation of a folktale, or a myth of your own creation?

Thanks. Shaolin Burning was a retelling of kung fu myths and Chinese history, interwoven with my own original characters. I really liked the idea of creating characters who were written out of history, but who might have interacted with famous kung fu personalities such as Wing Chun.

Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas is a standout as your first foray in colour comics. How did you make this transition and how did you find it as a medium?

I loved working in colour for Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas. I’ve worked with colour previously in my illustration and comic projects, but never on the scale of this book. To make it visually interesting I wanted to use different colour palettes for different locations and times of day so that there was a sense of a varied landscape and a long passage of time throughout the book.

The Dharma Punks, Shaolin Burning and Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas feature strong female characters. How did you develop Helen’s character?

Helen was created by my co-author Michael Bennett, who originally wrote the story as film script. As we developed the graphic novel, Helen did evolve; for instance in the original script she was married, and a few years older. But at the heart of it, it’s always been a story about a young woman finding herself and her place (or time) in the world.

Not just action-adventure, your comics address strong themes. In Helen we touch on disability, environmental destruction, state control and domestic violence, to name a few. Were these issues part of Michael Bennett’s original script idea, or did they develop as you responded to it?

A lot of these were very much a part of Michael’s script, though we did emphasise the environmental issue as we developed the script into comic form. Originally the collapse of civilisation was more mysterious and wasn’t fully explained, and Helen wasn’t an environmental activist.

These things became clearer as we collaborated on the comic and dug deeper as to Helen’s motivations and character. That’s something I really love about collaborating with other creatives; the process of pushing our work into new and undiscovered directions.

How do you think zine culture and comic strip writing could be better nurtured and preserved in New Zealand?

I think there’s already so much great work being produced here in New Zealand. Back when I started, it was all about using photocopiers to make and self-publish mini-comics, but now there’s a huge amount of great work being produced as webcomics.

Do you have any advice tor people planning to run a comic or ‘zine workshop?

I’ve been teaching comics at MIT here in Auckland for the last two years, and I think it’s a good idea to give participants an environment where they can create in a hands-on way. For short workshops, I like to focus on one topic and let participants get into it.

Lastly, we all loved Bro’ Town. Can we hope to see more of your series animated? (Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas would make a great film!)

The Naked Samoans have been busy writing a bro’Town feature script, and I really hope it goes into development. It’d be great to get together with the bro’Town crew again. As for my other projects, I’d love to see them all adapted into films. I’m currently making an animated kung fu short film about the young woman Wing Chun, so that’s a start.

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More about WORD Christchurch Festival

Ferrymead: House and hotel

The modern Ferry Road Bridge marks the site of where a ferry service once operated to serve those settlers who, after having arrived in Lyttelton and having crossed the Port Hills via the Bridle Path, would commence the final leg of their journey to Christchurch.

When standing on the bridge, let your gaze wander along the banks of the Heathcote River until it comes to rest on a house, partially obscured by trees, with an ad hoc blend of nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture. This is 285 Bridle Path Road, or as it was once known, Ferrymead House.

Bridle Path Road 285 Distance. Kete Christchurch. Bridle_Path_Road_285_Distance. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Although there is very little other than the house to show for it now, this was once the site of a busy cargo wharf and railway station.

In December 1851, James Townsend (d. 1866) leased a plot of one hundred and fifty acres next to the Heathcote River from Robert Godley for a period of three years. As part of this lease, Townsend was required to establish approaches to the ferry and provide a punt for the use of which he could charge tolls. In 1852 the ferry was moved further upstream to the site leased by Townsend.

Upon the site he leased, Townsend built a kitset house using the ‘best Van Dieman’s Land timber’. From an early photograph taken in December 1863 by Alfred Charles Barker we can deduce that it was similar in style to another ‘Hobart-town timber’ house, Dullatur, built in Opawa in 1852. Townsend’s house (as seen in the photograph below) faced north, with an east-west roof line and two dormers on the northern side of the first floor. Although he originally named its Greenlands, the property eventually came to be called Ferry Mead.

In July 1853 the mercantile firm of Joseph Longden and Henry Le Cren of Lyttelton advertised the house for let, describing the property as ‘one hundred acres of freehold land…situated on the Bank of the River Heathcote, where schooners can land goods at all times.’ It is possible that no one initially took up the offer, as by March 1854 Joseph Longden was still advertising the property. In October 1855 Charles Torlesse, who had married Townsend’s third daughter, Alicia, in 1851, was advertising the property for sale on behalf of Townsend.

By March 1856, John Mills, a former settler from Tasmania, was living at Ferrymead, where he sold roofing shingles which he imported from Tasmania. However, in September 1856 he sold up his stock and chattels and departed New Zealand. It is possible that the property remained in his possession, as by August 1857, Frederic Le Cren (a ferry master at the Heathcote) advertised the house for sale (or let). At this time it was described as a “desirable and convenient residence” containing six rooms and accompanied by a garden with trees, a stable, cart shed, fowl house, piggery and stock yards.  Three months later, Frederic Le Cren married Cecilia, the eldest daughter of John Mills.

By June 1859 William Reeves was the occupant. He started a carrier business between Lyttelton and Christchurch via Sumner and used the property as a stopover point between the two destinations. In August 1862 the auction firm J. Olliver and Sons advertised the house, now consisting of seven rooms, to be let, with a lease for five years.

Heathcote. Kete Christchurch. PH15-NZViews-005. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Ferrymead Hotel

Initially the Heathcote had been used by cargo boats to bring goods further upriver to a site which later became known as Steam Wharf. In 1861 the Canterbury Provincial Council decided to build a railway line from Christchurch to the site of a proposed tunnel to Lyttelton. In 1863 this Christchurch-Heathcote railway line was extended to Ferrymead before officially opening on 28 November 1863.

Even though a former ferry operator, Thomas Hughes, had kept a house on the western side of the river known as the Heathcote Hotel, the prospect of a railway line and cargo wharf at Ferrymead offered the opportunity for a rival institution. In April 1863 Stephen “Yankee Doodle” Curtis opened a store at Ferrymead House. In that same month he applied for a license to sell liquor which was granted on the condition that he improved the house before the license renewal in the following year. By July he was referring to the building as Ferrymead Hotel.

Photograph: Ferrymead Station Christchurch Railway 1863, taken by Alfred Charles Barker. Canterbury Museum, Accession Number: 1957.13.120, CC BY-NC 4.0

The photograph taken in December by Alfred Charles Barker shows how the new settlement at Ferrymead looked. The approach to the now redundant ferry is situated in the foreground. Beyond stands a cluster of buildings, the centre of which is the Ferrymead Hotel. Next door, to the east, is the gaol and policeman’s house. Situated between the hotel and the river were the refreshment rooms and a goods shed. Just beyond this were the railway line and the cargo wharf.

In March 1866 the hotel was the site for the inquest on the body of a man, Laud, who drowned in the Heathcote River after falling overboard.

With the official opening of the Lyttelton rail tunnel in December 1867 the line to Ferrymead was eventually closed. By March 1868 the station buildings, apart from the hotel, had either been demolished or relocated. Although it was no longer on a route, the Ferrymead Hotel was still operating in 1874 as in May the licensee of the hotel, John Holman, is recorded as being charged with providing liquor after hours.

285 Bridle Path Road – Side. Kete Christchurch. Bridle_Path_Road_285_Side. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Market gardens

In 1886 the property was purchased by the Bunting family who used the land surrounding the former hotel to grow tomatoes. During their ownership the building resumed its original role as a house.

The house underwent renovation during its ownership by Leonard and Annie Shearman (nee Bunting), fruit growers, who are recorded as residing in the Heathcote Valley by 1913. During this time, a porch was built over the main entrance which was enclosed at a later date. A box window was added to the west façade of the ground floor. Upstairs, the two north facing dormers were merged to form an unusual gable. These changes must have been made after 1906 as a painting by Florence Hammond dated from that year shows the building in its original form. A photograph dated from the 1920s, when the property was still owned by the Shearmans, shows that the structural changes made to the building were already in place.

Under the ownership of the Shearmans a museum was established behind the house which, during the 1930s and 1940s, catered to visits by school classes. The museum collection consisted of photographs and items associated with the history of Ferrymead House and its environs.

In 1971 the house and nursery were purchased by Philip Wright (1943-2015), who had an interest in horticulture. A collector of antique items, Philip Wright kept the museum and the nursery open to the public, as an advertisement from the Christchurch Star (April 15, 1976, p.21) shows. In 2008, a short documentary “The Lost Time Traveller” was filmed, which consists of interviews with Philip Wright as he takes the viewer on a tour of the property. The documentary provides some glimpses of the interior of the house, including the original staircase.

The house suffered damage during the Canterbury earthquakes and the chimney, which was already on a lean prior to the earthquakes, was later removed.

285 Bridle Path Road. Kete Christchurch. Bridle_Path_Road_285. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

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