Many refer to him as an artist, but it’s a term from which he shies. He has curated exhibitions that have been featured in galleries across the state, including the Newcastle Art Gallery. His love for art began before he even reached school, and has stayed with him throughout life, most notably through his exhaustive collections of comics and comic-inspired portraits. Collecting art brings Dietmar immense joy, but it is the opportunity to share it with others that ignites pure happiness in the father of three, and grandfather of four. His personable approach has enabled him to forge friendships with people from all walks of life – world-renowned artists to local enthusiasts – and created interest in his niche collections.
What Catholic school(s) did you attend?
Sacred Heart, Hamilton for my primary schooling followed by Marist Brothers, Hamilton, for my secondary schooling, graduating in 1971.
Why did your parents choose a Catholic education?
My family immigrated to Australia from Austria when I was just two years old and it was a tradition that carried on from their schooling years back home. My wife Julia and I continued that tradition, enrolling our now three adult children in local Catholic schools for their formal education.
What is your fondest memory from your schooling years?
Scrounging around second-hand bookshops, almost daily, for comics that I “needed”. Uncle Scrooge, The Phantom, Prince Valiant, Ginger Meggs, Classics Illustrated, The Scorpion, and adaptations of Disney movies. Then the world changed, superheroes had arrived, so I started collecting Spider-Man, Tales to Astonish, The Avengers, X-Men, Batman. In some ways I was not a completist, I only collected for the art, not the story, certain artists such as Berni Wrightson, Steve Ditko, Russ Manning, Carl Barks, Hal Foster, Monty Wedd, Moira Bertram, Hal English … the art was everything. Even as a youngster I saw art as a lifelong commitment, beautifully supported by John Lennon’s belief that “all you need is love”. Many years later I heard Martin Sharp’s words ring true, “there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”.
You own an iconic comic and pop culture shop in Newcastle, Hunters 4 Collectors. What inspired you to share your love of comics with others?
I originally opened a comic shop in The Junction in 1986 under the banner Graphic Novel. However, almost two decades later a partnership was formed with other collectors, and so the name changed to “Hunters 4 Collectors” and was relocated to Hunter Street, Newcastle. This shop is still open, albeit only on Fridays and Saturdays, and enables me to talk pop culture with fellow enthusiasts and, to reminisce about such events as the worldwide release for George Harrison’s Songs by George Harrison and Michael Cooper’s book of 1960s photographs, Blinds and Shutters. We also had the world licence to publish limited edition art prints of the Phantom comic character. This project opened my life to meeting and working with many wonderful artists.
How did your love for comic books and characters come about?
Our family’s first home was at Greta migrant camp. At the age of four or five I saw my first comic book, The Phantom. I was mesmerised. Comics introduced me to a love of art. Within no time I was a serious collector of cereal cards and toys, and comics. Besides Disney comics publishing film previews (Australian reprints) there were comics by publishers Dell and Gold Key. They produced a vast number of movie/TV adaptations
– Bonanza, Yellow Submarine, Magnus Robot Fighter, Tarzan and The Twilight Zone to name a few.
You and your children have posed for a variety of famous artists. What is it like to see yourself, and the ones you love, depicted on canvas?
I commissioned Euan Macleod to do a portrait, Father of the Phantom, just after he won the Archibald in 1999. He accepted the challenge and in 2014, after having finished the painting, he asked if he could change the painting by depicting me as one of the two characters. I loved the idea; I became the first Phantom. Since then, Euan has painted another two portraits of me, both of which shocked me. I did not realise how old I appeared.
Our son Louis posed for Paul Newton: the depiction of the “Phantom to be” as an eight-year-old reading the Phantom chronicles, sitting at a desk with images of past Phantom generations adorning the background, evoking the golden era of Norman Rockwell.
Our second eldest, Gabrielle, was painted by Rosemary Valadon. There is a serenity, a strength and beauty within the painting that captures her soul perfectly.
Aleta, the artist in our family was painted by Drew Struzan. Drew is arguably the greatest movie poster artist of all time, creating art for posters for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Blade Runner.
It is truly special seeing our children as works of art and getting reactions from guests when they first view the works. The portraits will certainly outlive us and continue to be enjoyed by many for generations.