Virgil Reilly

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Virgil Reilly
Born Virgil Gavan Reilly
(1892-11-29)29 November 1892
Creswick, Victoria, Australia
Died 23 January 1974(1974-01-23) (aged 81)
Sydney, Australia
Pen name Virgil
Occupation Cartoonist, comic book/strip artist, illustrator
Nationality Australian
Period 1910-c.1958

Virgil Reilly (29 November 1892 – 23 January 1974), was an Australian cartoonist, comic book artist and illustrator. His most notable creations were the 'Virgil Girls' and his comic books Silver Flash and The Invisible Avenger.


Virgil Gavan Reilly was born on 29 November 1892 in Creswick, Victoria. His father was the local postmaster.[1]

In the 1910s he worked as a commercial artist for a motion picture advertising firm,[1] as well as drawing propaganda and recruitment posters during the First World War.[2]

In 1920 Virgil joined Smith's Weekly as a staff artist in Sydney where he remained until 1950. 'Virgil Girls' in Smith's were the sex symbols of Australia, the equivalent in the 1920s and early 1930s of the USA Gibson or Petty Girls,[3] where he became one of Australia's best-known and highly paid newspaper artists.[2] For a time Virgil also drew the political cartoons at Smith's Weekly.

Reilly was an accomplished book illustrator, providing artwork for two collections of poetry by Kenneth Slessor: Darlinghurst Nights in 1933,[4] and Backless Betty from Bondi in 1983.[1]

Reilly was a prominent cover artist for The Australian Women's Weekly during the Second World War. One of his cover paintings was used for a wartime stamp issued in July 1940 – and was the third official 'First Day Cover' stamp issued by Australia's postal service.[5]

Reilly's first published comic books were two one-shot titles, Texas Cody and the Treasure Hunters and Texas Cody and the Phantom of the Sand Dunes published in 1947 by Joseph Swanson Wilkinson.[6]

In June 1950 Reilly created his best-known comic book, Silver Flash and his Frogmen for Invincible Press.[6][7] It ran for 54 issues until 1955 when it transferred to Calvert Publishing appearing as Captain Silver Flash.[7] Reilly's fluid art style was well-suited to this underwater adventure series, as Captain Flash and his crew (Guns, Frogface and Tadpole) patrolled the oceans in their submarine, fighting strange marine creatures and world-conquering villains in the depths. In the same year he created two new monthly comics for rival publisher Ayers & James: The Invisible Avenger,[6][7] about a cold war-era science fiction series featuring a malevolent Chinese scientist, who used his power of invisibility to carry out his genocidal mission of exterminating the "white races" of the world; and "Punch" Perkins of the Fighting Fleet,[6][8] later renamed Fighting Fleet Comics,[7] which featured two major characters, "Punch" Perkins, a two-fisted Aussie Naval officer, and a top-secret RAF unit called Rocket Squadron.[9] Reilly wrote and drew the first six issues of The Invisible Avenger before passing the title to Peter Chapman[10] due to workload pressures,[7] where it was renamed Invisible Avenger Comics[11] and included a number of other Chapman-created strips including The Blue Ghost and Cometman. The Invisible Avenger/Invisible Avenger Comics ran for 26 issues until 1952, and Fighting Fleet Comics ran for 22 issues also until 1952.[11]

Smith's Weekly closed in October 1950, upon which Reilly became the political cartoonist for Sydney's Daily Mirror and Melbourne's The Truth,[1] as well as freelancing.[2] He drew cartoons for Man and was a war correspondent for the Australian Women's Weekly. Reilly also in 1950 briefly handled the Chesty Bond comic strip before passing the responsibility onto Cec Linaker.[12]

In 1958 Virgil won the inaugural Walkley Award for 'Best Creative Artwork or Cartoon'.[13] There were no art categories for the Walkleys in 1956–57. Virgil's award-winning artwork was a sentimental drawing commemorating Legacy Week showing the ghost of a soldier embracing his schoolgirl daughter who is laying a wreath to his memory.[2]

Virgil was married five times and had four sons: his eldest, Gavin was killed in an ambush in December 1942, in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War,[14] His son Jervis died in a car accident in April 1944.[15] After fire destroyed Virgil's Potts Point flat and all his belongings in 1968 (he and his fifth wife, Anna, escaped by going under the floor), a 'Virgil Fund' was opened to aid the artist.[1][16] Reilly died on 23 January 1974, aged 82.[17]


  • Slessor, Kenneth; Reilly, Virgil (illustrator) (1933). Darlinghurst Nights: and Morning Glories: Being 47 Strange Sights Observed from Eleventh Storeys, in a Land of Cream Puffs and Crime, by a Flat-Roof Professor: and here set forth in Sketch and Rhyme. Sydney: Frank C. Johnson. ISBN 978-0-207-14246-8. 
  • Clune, Frank; Reilly, Virgil (illustrator) (1955). Martin Cash: the Last of the Tasmanian Bushrangers. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  • Clune, Frank; Reilly, Virgil (illustrator) (1956). Captain Melville. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  • Slessor, Kenneth; Croft, Julian (Ed); Reilly, Virgil (illustrator); Dunne, Frank (illustrator); Joan, Morrison (illustrator) (1983). Backless Betty from Bondi. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. ISBN 978-0-207-14494-3. 


  1. ^ a b c d e Chatfield, Jason, ed. (2006). "Ask Lindsay". Journal of the Australian Cartoonists' Association. Number 51 (Summer 2006–2007): 25. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Kerr, Joan (1996). "Virgil Reilly". Design and Art Australia. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Blaikie, George (1975). Remember Smith's Weekly?: A Biography of an Uninhibited National Australian Newspaper. Adelaide, South Australia: Rigby. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-85179-767-0. 
  4. ^ Kirkpatrick, Peter; Susan Lever (Ed) (July 1994). "Troping the Light Fantastic". Proceedings: Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Sixteenth Annual Conference. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "Patriotic Themes on Stamps". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 23 September 1944. p. 2Supplement: The Argus Week-end Magazine. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Comic Creator: Virgil Reilly". Lambiek Comiclopedia. Lambiek. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e John Ryan (1979). Panel By Panel: an Illustrated History of Australian Comics. Cassell. p. 200. ISBN 0-7269-7376-9. 
  8. ^ ""Punch" Perkins of the Fighting Fleet". Gallery of Australian Comics. Aus Reprints. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  9. ^ Shiell, Annette (1998). Bonzer: Australian Comics 1900s–1990s. Redhill, South Australia: Eluga Media. p. 20. ISBN 1-876308-12-5. 
  10. ^ "Peter Chapman". AusLit. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "The Invisible Avenger". Gallery of Australian Comics. Aus Reprints. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  12. ^ John Ryan (1979). Panel By Panel: an Illustrated History of Australian Comics. Cassell. p. 138. ISBN 0-7269-7376-9. 
  13. ^ "The Walkley Awards – 1958 Winners". The Walkley Foundation. Archived from the original on 29 January 2003. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  14. ^ "Killed Himself To Protect Mates". The Barrier Miner. Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia. 21 October 1943. p. 4. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  15. ^ "Three Killed". Windsor and Richmond Gazette. NSW: National Library of Australia. 12 April 1944. p. 5. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  16. ^ Falconer, Delia. Sydney. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press. p. 270. ISBN 978-1-742-24008-4. 
  17. ^ "Artist dies". Canberra Times. National Library of Australia. 23 January 1974. p. 9. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 

External links[edit]

  • King, J. (1979), The other side of the coin : a cartoon history of Australia, Stanmore, NSW : Cassell Australia
  • Lindesay, Vane (1994), Drawing from life : a history of the Australian Black and White Artists' Club, Sydney, NSW : State Library of New South Wales Press
  • Rainbow, Brenda (1998), "Golden Years of Cartooning" 1920 to 1940: Featuring the works of Stan Cross & more than twenty cartoonists of the same era, Coffs Harbour, NSW : Bunker Cartoon Gallery
  • McCulloch, Alan McCulloch, Susan McCulloch, Emily McCulloch-Childs. The New McCulloch's Encyclopedia of Australian Art 4th Edition, Aus Art Melbourne & The Miegunyah Press, 2006. Page 822
  • Judd, Craig (1999), Australians in Black & White : the most Public Art, Sydney, NSW : State Library of New South Wales
  • Reilly, Virgil; De Berg, Hazel (Interviewer) (1972). Virgil Reilly interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection. 
  • Biographical cuttings on Virgil Reilly, artist, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals. National Library of Australia. 1900.