By Lindsay Foyle
Sydney Leon Miller was born in the Sydney suburb of Strathfield in 1901 the son of Sydney Miller a newsagent who had married Leontina Anne Thorpe. He was educated at Fort Street High where the headmaster insisted he learn two languages rather than to draw. He left in 1916 to work for Muir and Neil, pharmaceutical importers. Soon after he started as a trial apprentice in the process-engraving department of The Bulletin while attending night classes at the Royal Art Society. In 1917 he joined Cartoon Filmads, run by Harry Julius where he worked on Australia’s first animated films while drawing freelance cartoons for The Bulletin and Aussie. Not long after Smith’s Weekly started in 1919 he was contracted to cartoon, caricature, draw humorous illustrations and write film and stage reviews. While his cartoons of animals proved most popular it was caricaturing famous people live that proved the most interesting.
In 1923 he married Susan Austin and they had two children Robin in 1928 and Peter in 1930. Miller was said to have the energy to work 90 hours a week and often took on freelance work, which would have earned him the sack if discovered. He resigned from Smith’s Weekly in 1931 to concentrate on freelancing for The Sun while drawing a feature called Curiosities for The Herald and Weird and Wonderful for The Daily Telegraph. He created Red Gregory for Smith’s Weekly in 1938, which he later published in comic book form. He also devised Chesty Bond with Ted Moloney for the advertising agency J Walter Thompson and their client Bonds Industries. Chesty Bond became a regular feature in The Sun in 1940, running three times a week. Gathering a following it was extended to five days a week in 1942, possibly becoming the world’s first daily advertising comic. When Bob Hope was touring Australian in 1944 Miller used him in seven episodes without permission, which brought threats of a lawsuit.
During the Second World War Miller drew a Hitler send-up comic The Big Boss for Smith’s Weekly and published his own comic books from 1943 to 1945. For a short time he published a children’s newspaper Monster Comics. The increasing cost of paper brought his publishing to a halt. He stopped drawing Chesty Bond in 1945 when he was contracted by The Herald to draw Sandra and in 1946 Rod Craig which was also became a radio serial. At the same time he also drew a feature called Animalaughs. Both were syndicated around the world.
When Rod Craig ended in 1955 Miller started Us Girls for The Herald that ran till 1957 when he resigned to work in TV animation at Ajax Films. For a number of years from the mid 1950s he drew an advertising comic called A Little Bear Will Fix It. He retired in the mid 1960s and involved himself in photography, drawing - especially scraperboard illustrations of flora and fauna - and creating copper sculptures. His wife Susan died in 1978 and five years after he suffered a severe stroke and was admitted to the Sydney Adventist Hospital in Wahroonga and died on 31 December 1983.
Syd Miller entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2018.
- Fifty Years of Australian Cartooning; The Journalists’ Club 1964
- Remember Smith’s Weekly? by George; Blaikie Rigby 1966
- Encyclopedia of Australian Art by Alan McCulloch; Frederick a Praeger 1968
- 50 Years of the newspaper Cartoon in Australia; The News and SA Art Gallery 1973
- Panel by Panel, Cassell 1979
- The Inked-in Image by Vane Lindesay; Hutchinson Australia 1979
- A Fine Line, by Geoffrey Caban; Hale & Iremonger 1983
- The Sea Coast of Bohemia, University of Queensland Press 1992
- Drawing From Life by Vane Lindesay; State Library of NSW Press 1994
- Golden Years of Cartooning: 1920 to 1940, Bunker Cartoon Gallery 1998
- Artists and Cartoonists in Black and White by Joan Kerr; S H Ervin Gallery 1999
- Bonzer Australian Comics 1900s to 1990s, Elgua Media 1998