Sprung! Dylan Horrocks, at AUT's St Paul St Gallery, forging the signatures of his fellow comics artists. He brazenly copied them on to the walls, no less, in full view of the crowds at the Auckland Festival opening of the German Comics, Manga & Co exhibition and Nga Pakiwaituhi, a New Zealand comics/graphic storytellers survey show (on until April 12).

Horrocks curated Nga Pakiwaituhi, and protests that his counterfeit graffiti is part of his presentation of the show's 30-odd artists. As he is probably our best-known comic-scene artist-ambassador (a title I've naffly created without permission), we'll let him get away with it. Particularly as he obligingly paused to chat about comics' evolution.

It used to be that comics buffs dreamed of working for Marvel or DC Comics. Horrocks even got there. But now, he says, "young people are more likely to be focused on their own graphic novels than getting a job drawing Batman."

Artists have gone from craftsmen to auteurs, as graphic novels have overtaken comics in international market share and library space.


Now "the more unique your voice is, the more people are interested", he says.

Different formats are proliferating too. Tablets boost webcomics, but Chicago comic-strip artist Chris Ware has gone the other way with his breathtaking art object Building Stories, which includes leaflets, a Little Golden Book tribute, books and a game - to be read in any order, like an apartment-block universe in a box.

Horrocks says New Zealand comics have been particularly diverse, because the scene "is not polished or shaped by an industry". That is the silver lining to the dark cloud of 1950s moralist censors practically destroying our comics industry, as historian Tim Bollinger writes in Horrocks' New Zealand comics catalogue (www. hicksvillecomics.com).

Before, we had our own hokey take on sci-fi comics - the cover of Eric Resetar's Crash O'Kane: An All Black on Mars shows the hero being fiercely hugged/tackled by Martian rugby players seeming to say: "We'll eat you up, we love you so!"

Now we have Indonesian New Zealander Akira Atsushi creating sexy androgynous young men in the yaoi genre (female-produced manga about male relationships); Weta Workshop's Greg Broadmore's glossy steampunk creation Dr Grordborts; Andrew Burdan's Maori Battalion stories in te reo; Tim Danko's experimental works (his exhibition piece is a sculpture) and Toby Morris' and Sarah Laing's chronicles of parenthood.

This year, Laing has won a landmark victory for Establishment comics acceptance: she will be the first Michael King writer-in-residence to work on a graphic novel.

It surely helped that she's not your average unwashed pop-culture hoi polloi member storming the high-art gates - she has a track record in more traditional literary forms, her subject is Katherine Mansfield, and she's never been to an Armageddon expo. A wonderfully unexpected pioneer, then; and the change packs a punch without a punch being thrown on the page.