This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979
James Charles (Jim) Bancks (1889-1952), cartoonist, was born at Enmore, Sydney, on 10 May 1889, son of John Spencer Bancks, an Irish railway-porter, and his wife Margaret, née Beston. Brought up at Hornsby in a family he remembered as a 'living comic strip', Bancks left school at 14, worked as a wool clerk, office-boy and lift-driver, and practised drawing in his spare time. In 1911 his first cartoons were published in the Comic Australian and, from 20 August 1914, in the Bulletin. After the Bulletin guaranteed him £8 a week for his drawings, he became a full-time artist and took lessons from Julian Ashton and Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo. He worked mainly as caricaturist and cartoonist; his work showed the influence of Livingston Hopkins, Phil May and Alf Vincent, although he most admired Will Dyson among Australian artists.
In November 1921 Bancks began drawing 'Us Fellers', a colour comic-strip for the Sunday issue of the Sydney Sun. One of the minor characters in the first issue was Ginger Smith, a small red-headed boy in a black waistcoat. By the time he became Ginger Meggs in April 1922 he had a muff-wearing girl-friend, Minnie Peters, a rival for her affections in Eddie Coogan, and had gathered about him a gang of mates, including Benny and Ocker. For the next thirty years, weekly in the Sunday Sun and also from 1924 in the Sunbeams Book, Adventures of Ginger Meggs, he experienced under Bancks the joys and tribulations of urban life: the joys of cricket and football, wangling ice-creams out of Italian shopkeepers, and toughening up curly-headed 'sooks' named Cuthbert and Clarence: the tribulations of brushes with the law over broken windows, with the bully Tiger Kelly against whom the only defence was a rotten tomato or a catapult, with his largely unsympathetic parents and with school-teachers. These basic ingredients of the strip were established in its first year, but Bancks developed an increasing strength of line and use of planned areas of black; linguistically there was a gradual 'improvement' of Ginger's language. Throughout his adventures Ginger remained sturdily optimistic, self-confident, cunning and quick-thinking; part larrikin, part battler, part philosopher and part humorist, he became Australia's most famous boy. His 25th birthday was celebrated in the wards of children's hospital in several States.
In the late 1920s Bancks penetrated the overseas syndication market; by the time 'Us Fellers' changed its Sunday Sun title to 'Ginger Meggs' in November 1939, the strip had reached audiences in England and the United States of America as well as throughout Australia, and had been translated into French and Spanish for readers of La Presse in Montreal and El Muno in Buenos Aires. On visits overseas Bancks met fellow cartoonists, including Walt Disney; in 1948 Ginger appeared on American television. Plans to introduce the strip into Europe were largely thwarted by the outbreak of World War II, but it reached the Pacific via Guinea Gold, issued by the Australian Army.
In 1923-26 Bancks lived in Melbourne: from 1922 'Us Fellers' had also appeared in the Sun News-Pictorial, for which he drew 'Mr. Melbourne day by day' and 'The Blimps'. Based thereafter in Sydney, he married Jessie Nita (d.1936), daughter of E. J. Tait, on 15 October 1931 at Darling Point. She was well known as a stage and dress designer, and collaborated with Bancks on the dialogue and costumes for the musical comedy Blue Mountain Melody, staged by J. C. Williamson's in 1934 with Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard as the leads. Bancks also wrote for newspapers, was prominent in club life and racing circles, and much in demand as an after-dinner speaker. The highest-paid Australian cartoonist of his day, he was gentle, generous, an indefatigable charity-worker and warm in his encouragement of Australian artists; in 1946 he funded a £1000 travelling scholarship for a black-and-white artist under 25. In 1949 Bancks signed a new ten-year contract with Associated Newspapers Ltd, but repudiated it in 1951 when the company failed to fulfil its obligation to publish 'Ginger Meggs' on the front page of the Sunday Sun's comic supplement. Bancks won the ensuing court cases and moved to the rival Sunday Telegraph; Ginger helped to increase its circulation.
Bancks died suddenly of coronary vascular disease at Point Piper on 1 July 1952 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by his second wife Patricia, née Quinan, whom he had married at Yuma, Arizona, United States, in 1938, and by a daughter. In 1978 'Ginger Meggs' left the Sunday Telegraph for the Sun-Herald.
Whether Bancks influenced or merely reflected the mores of Australian society can only be conjectured; but it is at least possible that the popularity of Ginger Meggs entrenched nicknames like 'Ginger' and 'Ocker' within Australian English, and consolidated schoolboy attitudes towards the gang, the 'opposite sex', and such figures of authority as parents, policemen and schoolteachers.
B. G. Andrews, 'Bancks, James Charles (Jim) (1889–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bancks-james-charles-jim-5119/text8557, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 10 March 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979