Moa team are colourful characters in every sense

Characters from Moa, Possum von Tempksy and Kiwi Pukupuku.
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Characters from Moa, Possum von Tempksy and Kiwi Pukupuku.

Need to find those stolen Lindauer paintings?

This sounds like a job for Possum von Tempsky and his mate Kiwi Pukupuku. Just say the word and the most unlikely buddy cops you'll ever meet will mount their moa and ride into the bush to pursue villains and right wrongs.

The Moa Rangers have come a long way in every sense since Taranaki teacher James Davidson knocked together an A5-sized, black and white comic book aimed at providing New Zealand children with an alternative to the likes of Thor and Asterix. 

Taranaki comics artist James Davidson hopes New Zealand children will find 'Moa' entertaining and educational.
GRANT MATTHEW/FAIRFAX NZ

Taranaki comics artist James Davidson hopes New Zealand children will find 'Moa' entertaining and educational.

The latest milestone on their journey is Moa, a full colour edition by Earth's End Publishing, collating all five volumes of their swashbuckling adventures ranging from the lizard-egg rescue to an underground mission to save the jawbone of Maui's grandmother for the nation.

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Davidson - acting deputy principal at Opunake High School when he's not working on these artistic adventures - describes the world of Moa as a a colourful blending of history and mythology, and a utopian vision of what New Zealand could be like.  The Prime Minister is Maori and anyone who tries to steal the nation's taonga has to reckon with Possum (inspired by 19th century bush ranger and renaissance man von Tempsky) and his mate Kiwi.

Behind the scenes, Davidson has had to hack his way through a lot of dense bush to get this far.

He has a degree in fine art but admits that his first attempt at comics were "pretty rubbish", a view confirmed at a comics convention by a professional artist, who shredded his superhero efforts in a constructive-criticism kind of way.

Davidson admits to feeling deflated by the experience. But he persisted, the characters evolved and after a few dead ends, his confidence grew that he was on to something as his dynamic duo started to take form in a loose, cartoony style.

And so the adventures began. He paid $500 to self-publish a 50-copy print run of the first issue, selling them to friends and family, and followed it up with a colour version.

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He did the hard yards of networking at more conventions, which paid off when Pikitia Press noticed his work

And all this in between the day job and raising a family (three children, aged 9, 8 and 3).

How does he find the time?

The world of Moa comes to life in an Opunake house late at night when the kids are asleep. Davidson does the whole lot, from the pencilling and inking to the scanning, colouring and lettering (although his daughter helps out with proof-reading - "she's much better at it than me").

All this for something a kid can read in half an hour before demanding when the next one will appear. "But that's a comic artist's lot."

So no pressure, then, when Earth's End Publishing called last Easter to pitch the collated edition.

He had only just started the fifth episode, and had to hit the production afterburners while his wife took the kids on holiday for a week.

"It takes me about six months to finish one issue, I did that one in about two months."

A couple of weeks ago a copy arrived by courier. Six years of work, on nice paper but Davidson had all of 10 seconds to admire his magnum opus before his son swooped to get first read.

At least that proves he's doing something right, and he says the feedback from Maori has also been positive.

He has a ton of adventures and more characters to bring to life so that intermediate schoolkids can see something of the world around them in the comics they read.

Who knows, maybe this country might be that utopia one day, although it's safe to say you'll never see a possum riding a moa through the bush.

But in the meantime that New Zealand  does exist, here, in 120 pages of vibrant colour.

Moa, James Davidson, Earth's End Publishing, RRP $32.99.

 - Stuff

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