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AV Club praises D+Q's Enfant line

Updated January 14, 2013


By Noel Murray October 17, 2012

The prestigious comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly has in recent years been in the business of making the kinds of kid-friendly books that become family keepsakes. In sort of a reverse of what Fantagraphics did back in the ’90s when it started the pornographic Eros Comix to keep the bills paid, D&Q established the Enfant imprint for its archival collections of classic kids’ comics, like the recent color repackaging of selected Tove Jansson Moomin storylines and D&Q’s strange, wonderful collection of 1950s Pippi Longstocking comics, appearing in English for the first time. These are books that young kids read and re-read, then pass along to their kids someday—or at least leave on a shelf in the den for their children and grandchildren to stumble across, the way I remember doing with my grandmother’s collection of crumbling-but-still-gorgeous children’s books.

And this matters, because books like D&Q’s Nipper collections or Fantagraphics’ Mickey Mouse archives are a better gateway to comics than anything DC or Marvel is publishing now. That’s not a knock against those companies, or against the superhero genre, which I still love. But the major comics artists of today—like Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Marjane Satrapi, and Lynda Barry—tap into that feeling of being 8 years old and poring over the Sunday funnies or a Golden Book. They connect that feeling to adult concerns and emotions, but still, they rely on an inherent affection and nostalgia for the medium. Five years ago, I worried that those cartoonists were a dying breed, writing and drawing for a dwindling audience. Now I look at the stack of comics next to my daughter’s bed, and I see hope.
 
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Featured artists

Tove Jansson
Doug Wright
Astrid Lindgren & Ingrid Vang Nyman

           Featured product

Pippi Moves In




  London Free Press delighted by NIPPER

Updated June 30, 2011


Doug Wright's comic-strip collection Nipper is an enchanting little book.
Not only is it ideal reading for lovers of gentle humour, it's also a fascinating document that recalls the birth of suburban culture in Canada.
The main characters - two round-headed little boys - are reminiscent of Peanuts; the premise - said boys raise hell and otherwise make life tough for their unnamed parents - prefigures Calvin and Hobbes.
Wright, an English transplant who landed in Montreal in 1938, took the stock elements of family-based newspaper strips and used simple, evocative lines to create a cartoon that still says a lot about the lives of Canadians in the early 1960s.
Even more impressively, he used no words.
The strips in this collection first appeared in Weekend magazine, a Saturday newspaper supplement, from 1963-1964. Using only red, white, black and grey, Wright created a world of couches, chairs, barbecues and maple trees; a typical strip consists of five panels.
Wright's work is gag-driven - one strip has the harried father slipping on ice as he pulls the boys on their sleds; another shows the father and elder son watching a thunderstorm as it passes through the neighbourhood - but there is also something deeper going at the margins.
My favourite strip has the brothers following a department-store Santa on break to find him relaxing with a flask and cigarette. One can only imagine what comes next - you might think the reaction to such an unmasking would be disillusionment, but Wright hints that it's joy.
In a rare moment of relaxation, the father makes a glass of lemonade before retiring to the backyard. It's inevitable the boys will knock it over, of course, but check out what the father is doing before his sanctuary is invaded- he's reading the weekend comics. This small detail makes for a moment of self-reflexivity that telegraphs a mountain of meaning to the reader; Wright didn't break the fourth wall outright, as later cartoonists would do, but he was definitely pushing up against it.
With touches like this, it's no wonder the Canadian comics intelligentsia- aided by publisher Drawn & Quarterly - deemed Wright worthy of reclaiming. The slender Nipper book follows on the heels of The Collected Doug Wright, an expansive volume of interest to readers who want to find out more about the comic creator's work and life (among the artists who count themselves as Wright devotees are Lynn Johnston and Seth).
Nipper is not philosophical in the same sense as the work of Charles Schulz. Regardless, attentive readers will find the strips here provoke thought not just about how families work, but also the trappings of Canadian society.
Take, for example, the evidence we find in the strips of the changing seasons. In the winter strips, we see the younger boy getting stuck in a snowbank; in the spring, he and his brother play road hockey; in summer, the family retreats to the lakeside cottage; in the fall, a football game messes up a piles of leaves. All told, it's a story as old as Canada itself, of humankind's struggle to master the elements.
And if you want to probe even deeper, Nipper would easily yield a bonanza of questions to those who are Canadian Studies majors.
For instance, did Wright understand the potent symbolism of the Habs jerseys the boys wear? What is it about Quebec that prompts silent humour (keep in mind, this is the same province that produced the dialogue-free Just For Laughs Gags television program)? And why does every Canadian cartoonist feel obliged to do at least one strip in their career about the long process of bundling children up in snowsuits?
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Featured artist

Doug Wright

           Featured products

The Collected Doug Wright Volume One
Nipper 1965-1966




Nipper, Picture This, and Denys Wortman make Entertainment Weekly's best of 2010 list

Updated February 9, 2011


The Ten Best Graphic Novels and Comics of 2010
December 30, 2010
by Ken Tucker


It was a good year for a wide array of comics collections and graphic novels. From superheroes to memoirs of old age to vintage reprints, there was something for anyone — which is to say, everyone — interested in visual storytelling. In no particular order:

• Picture This, Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly) Barry’s follow-up to her remarkable What It Is is, once again, a combination how-to book, a memoir, and an inspirational book of the highest order. Picture This will tap into the artist you may have hidden in the recesses in your soul, encouraging you to pick up pencil or paintbrush and begin to enjoy the pleasure and thrill of making art yourself. “You move your hand and you scribble all you want and it feels very good,” she writes. Barry speaks the truth, always.

• How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Sarah Glidden (Vertigo/DC)
A memoir of a trip this left-leaning Jew takes to Israel, determined to have her ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict confirmed. Of course, things turn out more complicated than Glidden had imagined. So do her deceptively simple line drawings, their delicate watercolor shadings, and the thinking that informs the vivid dialogue in a graphic nonfiction novel of subtlety and understated wit.

• Nipper 1963-64, Doug Wright (Drawn & Quarterly) These Canadian newspaper strips, free of dialogue but full of vivid line drawings, depict the mischievous adventures of a little boy. Wright, a stay-at-home cartoonist and father, doubtlessly drew quite literally on personal observation and experience, but the fluidity of his inks and his storytelling makes this an all-ages special.

• Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke (IDW) Cooke, whose best-known work has probably been for DC Comics (The New Frontier, his reinterpretation of The Spirit), proves again that he can capture in pictures the terse storytelling of Donald Westlake, who used the pen name Richard Stark for his brutally succinct hard-boiled novels featuring the canny thief Parker. Adaptations of novels generally tend to concentrate on getting the plot and dialogue down accurately, but Cooke is working on a higher level: He wants to be sure you experience the cold amorality of the Parker stories. He does so by drawing Parker as a series of sharp, flat angles, and by avoiding film noir visual clichés in precisely the same way Westlake/Stark avoided hard-boiled-fiction clichés.

• A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, Moto Hagio (Fantagraphics) Ostensibly Japanese comics aimed at the adolescent-girl market, these so-called Ten Stories of the Human Heart are lush mixtures of dreamlike imagery and realistic depictions of young people’s yearnings, hopes, reveries, and fears. Gathering representative work from four decades of publication, A Drunken Dream exerts a hypnotic pull on the reader, Moto Hagio knows both her commercial audience and her ideal audience — which is to say, the world.

• Batwoman: Elegy, Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams (DC Comics) The year’s most intriguing superhero art came from Williams, who shattered the conventional arrangement of panels in a comic book, drawing in the broken shards in a manner that suited the fractured consciousness of Batwoman. Writer Rucka gave her a worthy foe, an insane criminal, Alice, who leads a cult of crime. This hardcover collects six issues of Detective Comics, and demonstrates just how far adventurous creators can venture the erroneously perceived boundaries of commercial comics.

• Denys Wortman’s New York (Drawn & Quarterly) Probably the historical discovery of the year in comics, this volume — subtitled “Portrait of the City in the 1930s and 1940s,” edited by James Sturm and Brandon Elston, offers a sumptuous gathering of one-panel, pencil-and-ink drawings that summon up an earlier era of city life. Working for The New Yorker, Life, and, most prolifically, the World newspaper, Wortman incorporated overheard and imagined snatches of dialogue among working-class citizens and dowagers, rushing commuters and toff businessmen. No one is ridiculed; everyone is placed in a context that gives each life dignity. Which is not to say Wortman’s cartoons are without a vinegary tang: In the midst of the Depression, a pet-store owner is shown responding to a woman who’s come in bearing her pet bird in a cage. “Listen, lady,” he says brusquely, “your bird ain’t sick. Can you show me anybody today feels like singin’ every single morning when he gets up?” Timely as ever.

• Special Exits, Joyce Farmer (Fantagraphics) A long-form narrative about the decline of her parents’ health, Special Exits avoids cheap pity and piousness by doing what any good art should: focusing on specifics — the ways in which Farmer’s parents slide into old age and ill health; the care they require and receive. That this is also a portrait of a strong marriage is an added benefit. Frank, never shying away from the awkward indignities of aging, Special Exits illuminates two lives, as well as that of the author’s.

• The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW) A seasonal book that can be read all year ’round, The Great Treasury collected tales originally published in comic-book form by superb cartoonists such as Walt Kelly (Pogo), John Stanley (Little Lulu), and Richard Scarry. If you’re looking for a picture book that offers alternatives to familiar holiday tales, you can’t do better than this sturdy volume, with its stories including “Santa and the Pirates” and “Christmas Comes to the Woodland.”

• Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980, edited by Dan Nadel (Abrams) As with Nadel’s eye-boggling previous anthology, Art Out of Time, this thick book offers an array of artist-writers both famous and little-known. What they all shared was employment on the more disreputable fringes of the comics industry, bending familiar genres (superheroes, horror, thriller) to their will. Nadel again demonstrates his knack for selecting mainstream work that can look like the dreams of surrealism, or the most brutish of art brut, or the wooziest of romanticism. You’re summoned beneath the spell of this work.

What graphic novels and comics caught your eye and mind in 2010?
 
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Doug Wright
Denys Wortman

           Featured products

Picture This
Denys Wortman's New York




  Robot 6 reviews NIPPER 1963-1964

Updated December 21, 2010


What Are You Reading?

Chris Mautner

Things I’ve read:

Nipper 1963-1964

Nipper 1963-1964 by Doug Wright. Utterly charming, inspired cartooning, done with a sharp eye for detail and drawn enough from real life to make it seem utterly familiar without ever being bland or too cute for words. Guaranteed to knock the socks off ya.
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Featured artist

Doug Wright

          



SEE recommends NIPPER 1963-1964 and TUBBY this holiday season

Updated December 9, 2010


A Holiday Comic-Copia
Times have never been better for comics fans. Here are some of the season’s best.

by Kenton Smith
SEE Magazine

Given the last decade’s tremendous increase in comics publishing, an article like this shouldn’t come as a surprise this holiday season.

Even during the rest of the year, you may have noticed the kind of shelf space now dedicated to comics (or graphic novels, if you prefer) at your local major book retailers. And quality-produced and packaged work at that, aimed at mature readers, from both smaller houses like Drawn & Quarterly and Conundrum Press of Canada, to major players like Random House and Henry Holt.


More and more publishers are getting into the game. More and more people are noticing, buying and reading comics. Artists and writers have gone from facing the dilemma of trying to be noticed at all, to trying to be noticed among the competition. The lists of “hot” comics must either grow longer, or more selective. And the demand for such lists is perhaps greater than ever.

Which brings us to this, SEE’s guide to the some of the best in holiday comics shopping. As there’s no way this list could possibly do justice to the cornucopia of quality work produced just this past year alone, we’ve limited ourselves to some of the most notable, buzz-heavy recent titles.

And we’ve made sure there’s something here for everyone: the novice, the seasoned reader, and the kids. If it’s comics you aim to plant under the tree this year, let this be our gift to you, Anonymous Holiday Shopper. And stay sane.

Nipper 1963-1964

In 2009, D&Q released The Collected Doug Wright: Volume One, to a considerable degree of national fanfare: it was the most comprehensive retrospective dedicated to a largely forgotten Canadian cultural figure. “Canada’s Master Cartoonist,” is what the inimitable Doug Wright has been called.

Yet even D&Q has realized the “deluxe” format isn’t always necessarily best; publisher Chris Oliveros says the company reflected that perhaps a more accessible volume was called for — hence, the $18 paperback format of the new Nipper reprint.

Yes, the big fancy collectors’ editions tend to be the thing for Christmas — but this compact volume’s appeal both includes and extends beyond the collector. And it will even fit in a stocking.

Tubby: Volume 1

Are quality children’s comics in short supply these days? That would be ironic, given comics’ classification as children’s entertainment throughout the vast majority of their history.
And yet according to journalist and comics historian Jeet Heer, the present industry isn’t, in fact, very good at producing quality comics for kids. Good thing D&Q has since last year been collecting the work of John Stanley — most famous for Little Lulu, but whose other titles Nancy, Melvin Monster, Thirteen Going on Eighteen and finally Tubby are now accessible to contemporary readers.

“Stanley did some of the best kids’ comics ever,” Heer says. “But they’re so good — so witty, so well-crafted and sophisticated — that they’re not just for kids, either.”
 
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Featured artists

Doug Wright
John Stanley

           Featured product

Nipper 1963-1964




  Newsarama reviews NIPPER, 1963-1964

Updated November 30, 2010


by Michael C. Lorah

Nipper, 1963-64
Written & Illustrated by Doug Wright
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Doug Wright’s Nipper acted as the Canadian equivalent to Bil Keane’s The Family Circus. There are many outward differences – Nipper is multi-paneled and almost entirely silent, whereas Keane’s strip is one image with an accompanying caption, but the overall tone of each strip is remarkably similar. Those gosh-darn kids and their crazy antics!

Wright’s an excellent draftsman, so Nipper looks great. If readers take anything away from the book, it will undoubtedly be an appreciation for Wright’s illustrative prowess. In four to six panels, his elegant line and strong compositions capture the innocent and maddening travails of parenthood. The slick drawings capture the idyllic dream of 1960s family life, a dream continually undermined by the chaotic endings of each sequence.

Doug Wright was a keen observer of the family dynamic, and a powerful, clean illustrator. Combining his talents, he created an engaging, fun family comic strip, now collected by Drawn & Quarterly as Nipper, 1963-64. Taken in book form, the strips read incredibly quickly, giving readers not much more than an hour of enjoyment, but readers who appreciate this innocently charming material will certainly find it an hour well spent.
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Featured artist

Doug Wright

          



The Comics Reports suggests you read NIPPER 1963-1964 and see the world through DOUG WRIGHT's eyes

Updated October 27, 2010


CR Review: Nipper: 1963-1964

There are a ton of things to recommend Drawn and Quarterly's tiny gem of a reprint volume, Nipper: 1963-1964. The primary reason you'll want to read it is for Doug Wright's magnificently versatile thin-line art work, capable of filling space with copious detail or animating Nipper's suburban family in occasional close-up. Wright has relaxed so far into his cartooning career a decade and a half in that there's no easy match of technique and utilization: Wright basically draws whatever he feels is necessary, and if that means multiple, minutiae-filled panels simply to pad out a joke so the timing is better, so be it. I can't remember the last time I read a comic strip with which I'm largely unfamiliar and not wish for the cartoonist to take his work one way or the other, hoping that they'd emphasize a certain kind of effect over other. This is one confident strip.

I think the other major strength of this run of comics is that the relationship depicted between the two little boys feels right: at once competitive and worshipful and protective. I did not, as introduction-writer Brad Mackay seems to have done, recognize a continuity in the actions of either parent (he focused on the father as a Wright stand-in) that would provide psychological insight, although I'm admittedly slow to pick up on that kind of thing. What I liked is the logic of "keeping the peace" that settles in with both parents, assigning blame in whatever way best restores order -- or allows them to settle into a desired space -- as opposed to securing justice. If there's anything I took from these prime 1960s examples of Wright's work beyond the skill and craft involved in their making is how rich a life the boys seem to lead focused almost solely on play, and the genial and matter-of-fact way the parents treat the kids. If there's anything more I could have wanted from this work it would have been a bit more clarity in the supporting material as to the strip's provenance. I had to look it up to refresh my memory that Nipper changed it's name to Doug Wright's Family within a few years of these comics' publication (the subtitle confused me), and I'm still curious as to how this work is being re-presented in relation to how it was run in the newspaper (were there spot reds? were they run in empty space as they are here?). Despite these additional wishes on my part, I'd recommend Nipper: 1963-1964 to anyone with an interest in comics art, mid-20th Century strips, gag-cartoon style art, Canadian comics and/or domestic strips. I like seeing the world through Wright's eyes.
 
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Featured artist

Doug Wright

           Featured product

Nipper 1963-1964




  Boing Boing reviews NIPPER: DOUG WRIGHT's "depiction of children is the best I've seen in a comic"

Updated October 21, 2010


Nipper 1963-1964: Doug Wright's comic about family life with two young boys

by Mark Frauenfelder
Boing Boing
Oct 12, 2010

I'd never heard of Doug Wright or Nipper before I received this comic strip anthology published by Drawn & Quarterly. It's about the day-to-day events of a suburban family: husband, wife, and two small boys (one named Nipper). I read it a couple of nights ago with my daughter and we laughed quite a few times. (When I say "read," I mean I studied the panels, because the comic strips are wordless.)

There are a lot of things to like about these comic strips, which appeared in newspapers across Canada in the mid-20th century. First, Wright's artwork is charming. The facial expressions of the people are subtle and often essential to understanding the joke of each comic strip. Wright's balance between detail and economy reminds me of Hank Ketcham's, but with less forcefulness. Wright doesn't overtly tell you what to look at. Instead, he invites you to soak in the scene and absorb the different things going on in each panel.

Second, Wright's depiction of children is the best I've seen in a comic. They way the siblings behaves rings true: the taunting, tormenting, fighting, playing, thoughtlessness, selfishness, fear, and joy. These are real kids, as opposed to the pint-sized adults of the Peanuts universe (as Art Spiegelman once pointed out, the only kid in Peanuts is Snoopy). Their antics (as well as their parents' antics) are timeless.

Third, the way these wordless stories are told is like nothing I've seen in a comic strip before. The apparent simplicity of the strips is deceptive. Often, it's not clear what is going at the beginning of a strip. But as the story unfolds, the meaning is revealed. It's very lifelike. These aren't gags; they're slices of life.
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Featured artist

Doug Wright

          



SETH, SIKORYAK, WRIGHT, TATSUMI, BELL, and BROWN make the Torontoist 2009 best of list

Updated February 9, 2010


Warning: Graphic Content

by Dave Howard

It’s late December. You haven’t done your holiday shopping and you’re surrounded by happy loved ones you’d like to indulge with a gift. You’d like to get them a book they would really enjoy but probably never think to buy for themselves. A little surprise that is indulgent, luxurious and even a little decadent. A gift that gives them permission to spend a little time on themselves, and when they’re done, have the option to re-gift…I mean…share with others.

You’re in luck. You’ve just fallen into the world of the graphic novel. The form’s non-verbal, dreamlike-yet-self-aware text most closely imitates cognition, and can hold moments indefinitely – ready to be revisited again and again. Lovely.

But which ones to choose? And for whom? Fortunately for you, 2009 was a stellar year for comics publishing. Let’s start.

Absolutely Brilliant Graphic Novels To Impress The Hell Out Of People

George Sprott 1894-1975, Seth

This is certainly the best book yet in the internationally revered Canadian artist’s career – and that’s saying a lot. Collecting Seth’s existential strip, which appeared in New York Times Magazine in 2006, George Sprott is a serendipitous depiction of a small town celebrity filled with Canadiana both sad and unsentimental, accessible and far-reaching, a fun light read and a poignant tolling of the bell. It is also a simply beautiful book: oversized, hard cover with silver foil lettering, colour glossy pages, and gorgeously designed endpapers.

The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by Robert Crumb

Probably the most anticipated book to come out this year, the irreverent, controversial, neurotic grandfather of underground comix has given the first book of the Bible an unexpectedly straight treatment with his mighty pen – and to the surprise of all, it really works. It turns out the Bible has enough racy story material that can be told without embellishment and still satisfy the aesthetic of an artist credited for defining the comics underground.

Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli

The author of probably the second most anticipated book for this year, David Mazzucchelli is half the genius behind Batman: Year One, one of the key books to revive the Batman franchise and the basis for the Batman Begins movie. Mazzucchelli dropped out of superhero comics and famously re-emerged to translate Paul Auster’s City of Glass into comics, garnering widespread critical and literary acclaim just before he disappeared from comics for a while. Asterios Polyp marks his long-awaited return. An examination of meaning and identity, it is simply a beautiful book, rich in formalist comics language experimentation that would make even Scott McCloud blush.

Luba, Gilbert Hernandez

Hernandez is one of the brothers behind Love and Rockets, the complex, beautifully drawn and multi-storied anti-middle-American soap opera rooted in Latino California. Luba is one of the vast cast’s matriarchs – a force to be reckoned with – and this book collects her stories in one enormous volume. Very much worth it.

Masterpiece Comics, R. Sikoryak

An artist who can trace his roots way back to Art Spiegelman’s RAW, R. Sikoryak has achieved the near impossible: mashed famous literary works with superhero tropes to create an enormously clever reductionist viewpoing that makes us re-examine our feelings of both genres. With mock covers like “Action Camus,” the work is laugh-out-loud funny.

Gifts For Your Sometimes Angst-Ridden Young Adult/Older Teen

Skim, Mariko Tamaki/Jillian Tamaki

This is a beautifully drawn piece of work that I highly recommend, told through the eyes of Skim, a teenage girl struggling with her own identity as she works though the rituals and limitations imposed upon her by her friends and peers and herself. Drawn in a lovely familiar pencil line that feels like it could have come out of a diary.

The Complete Essex County, Jeff Lemire

Winner of many awards, including a 2008 Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist and a 2008 Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent, Lemire pays homage to his southern Ontario upbringing with this critically acclaimed farmland tale. Over the years a community is forced to deal with a damaging and long-standing deception – and to try to heal from the fall out.

GoGo Monster, Taiyo Matsumoto

Originally released in Japanese, this much-lauded story dabbles in magic realism – a new student sees ‘monsters’ wherever he goes and his new friend must decide if they are a figment of his imagination or a real force to be reckoned with. Emotionally resonate, sometimes sinister, and ultimately adventurous.

Far Arden, Kevin Cannon

A great deal of fun, Far Arden is Cannon’s tale of a noble young man who sails into the Canadian Artic to find the utopian tropical island of Far Arden, only to be thwarted by one after another ridiculously impossible set of people and circumstances. Clever and funny – very much like life, yes?

Scott Pilgrim Vol 1-5, Bryan Lee O’Malley

Young Canadian cartoonist star and Doug Wright Award winner Brian Lee O’Malley continues to unravel his charming, autobiographical coming-of-age story set in Toronto. Addictive and very likeable – also soon to be a major motion picture, shot in Toronto.

True Loves, Jason Turner and Manien Bothma

Set in Vancouver, True Loves is a light-hearted romantic comedy about True and Zander, by one of my favourite underground Canadian cartoonists.

The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

This now famous two-book collection of a girl’s emigration from Iran to France to escape the oncoming cultural revolution has been repackaged into one set. A not-atypical Middle-East-meets-West conundrum showing a family’s high expectation and a girl’s rebellion as she is lured by a once-alien culture she has been sent into for her protection.

Gifts To Intimidate the Budding Cartoonist

The Collected Doug Wright 1, Doug Wright

One of the Canadian grandfathers of the cartoon form in the 1950s and 60’s, Doug Wright was once a household name. Now gone, he is the person behind the prestigious cartoonist award that bears his name. Drawn and Quarterly has done well to collect this master’s work. Lynda Johnson says “I don’t think I’d have had the basics needed to do a syndicated comic strip had it not been for Doug Wright.”


Yoshihro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life

Tatsumi is well regarded as the grandfather of alternative manga for adults – the precursor to the “graphic novel.” This enormous tome is a fantastic autobiography that has taken 11 years to create. It is indulgent and illuminating, both in terms of his life, and in terms of Japanese comics history.

The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, Helen McCarthy

The Japanese creator of Astro Boy has had an enormous impact on manga and comics the world over. His life and work are collected here in this lavish biography for new readers and those familiar with his work.

Hot Potatoe: Fine Ahtwerks, Marc Bell

Canada’s own Marc Bell has earned a reputation for groundbreaking work, effectively blurring the distinctions between art and craft, of unique art object and print piece, of comics and fine art, of associative and linear narrative. Here his labyrinth-like creations are bound in a single beautiful book.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Calvin & Hobbes) (v. 1, 2, 3), Bill Watterson

This box set is the last appearance of Watterson’s comic and it contains the whole strip in it’s entirety. For those who are fans of the strip, this is a real find. You can cast off all you dog-eared, incomplete collections of the strip, and keep this one on the bookshelf. Finally.

Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, Frank O. King (Author), Peter Maresca (Editor), Chris Ware (Editor)

This oversized book reproduces the legendary Sunday pages of Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley” in it’s heyday, the 1920s and 30’s, in their original newspaper broadsheet size. Certainly the book and art are absolutely beautiful – large and lush – but they are difficult to handle. I was worried the book would become ruined or worse – forgotten. To my surprise, it became one of my eight-year-old’s favourite books: she lays it out on the floor and pores over every corner. Now what parent in the world would stop their child from reading?

Walt and Skeezix: Books One, Two and Three

These are beautiful and well crafted hardcover editions of Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley.” After reading a few strips you realize they are more than simple jokes or gags, they create a complete quiet, poetic world, against which you may see reflections of your own. These are when the dailies were at their height.

Gifts For Impressionable Kids

BONE, Jeff Smith

Every kid I’ve known who started to read this series could not put it down. Now colourized beautifully, the book is at times slapstick, funny, poetic, poignant – it is the rare breed of comic that is not full of superhero power fantasies that still holds your seven- to eleven-year-old’s attention. Oh, and it’s Canadian.

The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly

These are the classics from the masters of the 1940s and 50’s – those who laid the brickwork down for the graphic space we now inhabit. Chosen by New Yorker art director Mouly and her Pulitzer Prize-winning husband, the legendary Art Spiegelman, in one book you have the best of the best of the cream of the crop, of the silliest, funniest, craziest kids’ comics ever made from the Golden Age.

Jellaby, Kean Soo

When Toronto’s Kean Soo showed preliminary samples from Jellaby around, the work was quickly snatched up by Disney’s graphic novel imprint Hyperion, and for good reason. I often read comics and books to my daughter, and this is one of the few she really took to and really wanted to read again and again. Try it out.

Historical, Journalistic, Biographical

Footnotes in Gaza, Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde pretty much defined comics journalism as a complete, legitimate, and independent genre. His latest work looks at the history of Gaza and the notorious massacre in 1955 of 111 Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. By placing this in context to events since then, we are reminded how precious life is, and how easy it is for people to become statistics.

Drop-In, Dave Lapp

Dave Lapp splits his time between teaching art to kids in drop-in centres in some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Toronto and relentlessly pursuing his dream to create great comics stories. With Drop-In, Lapp has found a way to combine the two: a series of unflinching short stories unfettered by judgment or useless commentary about some of the most damaged people living in some of the worst situations you can imagine. You think you know Toronto? Not for the light hearted, but still recommended reading.

Louis Riel, Chester Brown

Chester Brown created this biography of Louis Riel many years ago yet it still shows up on Canadian bestseller lists. Why? Because its the kind of timeless book you can refer to again and again. Consider Canadian history’s treatment of this enigmatic personality, as well as how our government treated an “unwanted” people. Now – compare that treatment to today.
 
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Featured artists

Seth
R. Sikoryak
Doug Wright

           Featured products

George Sprott: (1894-1975)
The Collected Doug Wright Volume One




  THE COLLECTED DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The Burlington Post

Updated August 12, 2009


This cartoonist was all about the Wright stuff City names park and street in honour of artist’s impressive 40-year career

It’s the kind of honour the family of renowned syndicated cartoonist Doug Wright wished the former Burlingtonian was here to appreciate.

Based on the thousands of drawings he amassed over his 40-year career, it’s something he probably would have chronicled with the use of his trusty pencil and never-ending wit.

First, the talented and beloved artist, famous for his comic strips Nipper and Doug Wright’s Family, had a park and street named for him by the City of Burlington in the growing Alton community.

Second, the family has so many special memories and stories about the man who was revered for his simple, yet inspiring depictions. that they helped compile a special 240-page hardcover, tribute book of his works.

The family sat down with the Post recently to talk about these honours and the husband, father and artist who spent most of his life capturing the gentler side of Burlington and much of his family in cartoons, particularly from the late 1960s and 1970s.

For many in Burlington, perhaps Wright’s best-known artwork is the logo of the Burlington Teen Tour Band — still used to this day.

Born in England, Doug Wright came to Canada in 1938. His cartooning career flourished when he landed a job as an editorial cartoonist for the Montreal Standard.

Wright created Nipper for the Standard in 1949. It became Doug Wright’s Family in 1967 when Wright moved from Montreal to Ontario. The strip enjoyed an impressive run until Wright drew it to a close in 1980. It was a comic strip that inspired so many others to follow in his footsteps.

The artist, who had moved to Burlington in 1966, passed away in 1983 at the age of 66, following complications of a stroke that essentially robbed him of the skills he needed to craft his unique comics.

If you look at Wright’s work, you’ll notice something that made his cartoons special — there is no dialogue.

He skillfully drew his characters using different techniques to evoke emotion.

For example, one strip from March 12, 1949 shows a father using a broomstick to knock on the ceiling to tell his young son to stop pounding the floor with a mallet. The father grows more irritated when each time he hits the ceiling, his little boy smacks the floor thinking it’s a fun game.

Wright’s son, Ken, a Peel police officer and one of three children, recalls his dad hiding away in his bedroom office, thinking and creating his strip.

“I remember running upstairs to see what the next cartoon was.”

More often than not, Wright’s subject matter was kindled simply by looking out his window and documenting life on Rankin Drive.

His inspiration for the comics could be found in almost anything, the family says.

His wife Phyllis Wright-Thomas recalls a time when her husband saw a neighbour’s daughter sneak out a top bedroom window of her parent’s home.

It made its way into a cartoon.

Wright-Thomas said she could have a conversation with the letter carrier and something as simple as that exchange would make its way into a cartoon.

But it was all done in good fun and equally good humour.

The homes in Wright’s cartoons were very similar to real life as well.

“The houses looked like that in the cartoon strips,” Wright-Thomas says with a smile.

Wright would often head over to the former Brant Street train station and sketch away a few hours of the day.

His work touched Canadians from coast to coast and to have a park and street named after him is so exciting, the family said.

“It’s just too bad my dad wasn’t around to see this,” Ken said.

What has made the family even more proud of their patriarch is an awards night that is held every year in his name.

This past spring, the family attended the 5th Annual Doug Wright Awards in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It has become an impressive affair that inspires cartoonists and artists.

What a change from the first time the awards were held in an upstairs room of a restaurant in Toronto, Wright-Thomas recalls.

“I’m just overwhelmed with the responses to these awards,” she says.

The new book, entitled The Collected -Doug Wright, Canada’s Master Cartoonist, was unveiled at the ceremony before being released to the public through most bookstores. It covers roughly the first half of his career. Another book could be forthcoming in a few years.

The annual awards night is organized by co-editor of the book, Brad MacKay.

Wright-Thomas says her husband — who also loved making model airplanes and trucks — took great care in creating each and every cartoon. He thought long and hard about what he would draw and what it would be about.

It was all about detail, she says. He was that way when he did house projects. He didn’t want to paint but would embrace installing intricate wainscotting.

“He did a lot of work and lot of erasing to get that picture,” she explains.

Ken says when he was growing up, he never thought much of how much effort the cartoons took.

“I didn’t recognize it then, but I see it now,” he says.

Another thing the family remembers about Wright is his dedication to his craft. He never missed a week of work unless for vacations. Yet, on holiday, he would find himself doodling a cartoon or two.

Teen Tour Band logo

Ken was in awe of his father’s cartoons, drawings and journals he came across when helping co-editors MacKay and Seth (cartoonist Gregory Gallant) compile The Collected book. It keeps his dad’s memory alive, he says.

With a large Rubbermaid bin full of artwork beside him — and even more memories in his head — the 48-year-old Ken describes the excitement of poring over his dad’s work.

The cartoons are still amazing, he said.

“It’s Canadian history,” he explains. “(My dad) was very humble.”

The work is also certainly some Burlington history, too.

The Teen Tour Band logo was first crafted on Ken’s cast on his left leg. A member of the band himself for six years, he says his dad doodled the logo of a clarinet-playing kid. It became the band’s logo in the mid-1970s and it still used today.

The Nip cartoons are something Ken certainly remembers, for several reasons.

For one, some people called him Nipper.

“There are some who don’t even know my real name,” Ken said.

But many know his dad’s name and he’s just fine with that.

According to a 2001 Hamilton Spectator article, Lynn Johnston, creator of the family-centered comic strip For Better Or For Worse, said that while she was growing up in British Columbia, she and her family were great admirers of Wright’s work and owned some of his books.

Johnston named Wright as one of the two most influential cartoonists on her own work.

She called Wright “just one of the best, a real hero.”

Johnston wrote the introduction to The Collected.

‘Profoundly sensitive’

“He was smart, vulnerable, thoughtful, conscientious, observant, happy and kind. That was a given,” wrote the popular cartoonist, who was thrilled Wright enjoyed her comic strip.

“He could have not done the work he did if had not been profoundly sensitive and able to see things from another’s point of view.

“His gentle and caring depiction of family life endeared his characters to everyone — and perhaps taught some parents to be just a bit more tolerant, to laugh at themselves a little more.

“I don’t think I’d have had the basics needed to do a syndicated comic strip had it not been for Doug Wright,” said Johnston.

CBC thought there was enough interest in Wright that a crew filmed A Day in the Life of the Wright Family in 1968.

So special are Wright’s works, a collection is kept at the National Archives in Ottawa.

It includes precisely-rendered reproductions of trains and automobiles, sketchbooks, Nipper colouring books — Ken still has some of his own colouring books he doodled on as a youngster — and log books from Wright’s time in the 1940s in the Royal Canadian Air Force, along with the originals for Doug Wright’s Family and his editorial cartoons.

“It was a shame that they were sitting there, packed up in cardboard boxes,” Ken said at the time to the Spectator.

“This is a man’s life — years of his work, sitting packed and nobody was enjoying them. The thought was let them go (to the archives) and be properly taken care of.”

Telling the Post: “If Burlington had a museum (for art), my dad’s stuff would be forefront.”
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THE COLLECTED DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by PopMatters

Updated July 22, 2009


The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist, Vol. 1
by Doug Wright

Drawn & Quarterly

May 2009, Hardcover, 240 pages, $39.95

By Jason Buel

Doug Wright was one of Canada’s most well-known cartoonists and is often compared to the likes of Charles Schulz. Though born and raised in England, Wright become an important fixture in Canadian pop culture. After flunking out of high school and dropping out of an art program after three weeks because his instructors were encroaching on his style, Wright moved to Montreal and got his humble start in the industry by taking a job as an illustrator for the Sun Life insurance company.

The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist doesn’t begin quite as humbly. The book opens with a brief introduction from Lynn Johnston, creator of For Better or Worse, which praises Wright for his mastery of his craft and for the profound influence his work had on her. She identifies a few reasons for Wright’s widespread appeal: “His images sequences always had just enough information, just enough expression and just enough slapstick to make them truly believable and therefore truly funny. We identified with every situation from all points of view. There were no perpetual heroes, no perpetual villains, just real people”.

Wright’s most popular series, Nipper (later renamed Doug Wright’s Family), comprises the bulk of the book. The series focuses on the eponymous young boy who is frequently causing mischief in his suburban Canadian hometown. imilarities might be drawn between Nipper and Dennis the Menace or Calvin and Hobbes. As Johnston’s quote points out, however, Nipper encourages viewers to see its stories from the points of view of several of the characters, not just the protagonist.

The slapstick may not be any more subtle than it would be in a series like Dennis the Menace, but the emphasis in Nipper tends to be on the realization of an opportunity to create mischief (usually involving a creative use of a commonplace item) and the ensuing reactions from characters (typically outrage from the parents and innocent amusement from Nipper). Unlike Calvin and Hobbes, Nipper lacks a consistent foil to his character and, though he is certainly imaginative, he has no imaginary sidekick to pull him into the realm of fantasy.

While one might not call the series “realistic”, it would be closer to realism than fantasy as it relies on the depiction of a believable, ordinary suburban society and Nipper’s blatant violations of that society’s norms. The depiction of such a society, where nearly every character functions as a sort of Canadian Everyman (or woman), is one of the most interesting aspects of the series as a whole.

Narrative arcs do not tend to carry over from one strip to another and even Nipper’s character traits fluctuate (most notably, he has the tendency to drop his typical trickster ways and transform into an angel for a couple of strips around the winter holidays). Despite such differences, the backdrop of ‘50s suburban Canada remains constant.

The setting is important for other reasons as well. This book is the first part of a two-part collection of Wright’s work and it primarily covers the work he was doing while living in Montreal, Quebec. Wright was a native English speaker and accordingly Nipper appeared in English language magazines:
The Standard

and later in Weekend. Though Nipper does not generally have any dialogue or captioning, any storefront signage, labels, and sounds appear in English. His work was eventually translated into French and published in Perspectives.

The Francophone magazine translated the strip’s title as Fiston and, in a move that understandably upset Wright, removed his obviously English signature. One might argue that reaching out to Anglophone and Francophone audiences alike through the pantomime format of Nipper helped bridge the cultural divide between the two groups (in fact, Brad Mackay makes exactly that point in the 10,000 word biographical essay on Wright that begins the book).

On the other hand, the society Wright portrayed in the strip was an English-Canadian one and seems to have been much more representative of his own life experiences that those of the Francophone majority in the city and throughout the province (indeed, the essay reveals that several of the slapstick routines featured in Nipper were directly inspired by claims Wright would have dealt with while working at Sun Life insurance). Wright eventually left Montreal and moved to Toronto in 1966, after the Quiet Revolution had begun, but one year before Charles de Gaulle’s famous “Vive le Québec libre” remarks and the escalation of the nationalist movement.

While it would be interesting to further explore such issues related to the roles of Anglophone artists working in Quebec and the cultural significance of their work to Francophone audiences, such an endeavor is well beyond the scope and purpose of this book. Rather, it seeks to collect and canonize the works of a talented artist whose comics, though widely beloved during their heyday, have since been overlooked or ignored.

Wright’s work is exceptional and it holds a special, though occasionally contentious place in Canadian popular culture. The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist succeeds at collecting and displaying Wright’s work in an accessible way and helping readers to understand more about the artist’s life, cultural significance, and place in Canadian history.

Rating:
— 21 July 2009
 
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  THE COLLECTED DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The Contra Costa Times

Updated June 29, 2009


"The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist," designed and edited by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, $39.95, 240 pages). Leave it to Drawn & Quarterly. The Canadian publisher of literary comics has released an especially handsome oversized collection of Wright's influential work. Everything about this production is classy; from the insightful bio about Wright to the reprints of his amusing wordless comic strip "Nipper," which featured a trouble-prone boy. B+
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THE COLLECTED DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by Booklist

Updated June 26, 2009


Issue: June 1, 2009

The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist.
Wright, Doug (Author) and Seth (Editor) and Mackay, Brad (Editor)
May 2009. 240 p. Drawn & Quarterly, hardcover, $39.95. (9781897299524). 741.5.

Approximately 18-by-11-and-one-half inches, height to width, its board covers sheathed in shiny red like a Christmas gift, with an oval portal in the front cover revealing an embossed figure of its subject’s most
famous creation, this is one impressive volume, and so are its contents. Wright (1917–83) created Nipper,
a kid strip that, while Peanuts and Dennis the Menace became cultural icons in the U.S., was Canada’s
favorite. Nipper (or Doug Wright’s Family, as it was retitled in 1967) markedly differed from its American
coevals. It had no written speech, its variable number of panels were stacked top-to-bottom, and its
children aged, albeit much slower than real kids. It wasn’t philosophical, psychological, or wisecracking
like Peanuts and Dennis. It showcased physical comedy as naturalistic as anything in the silent films of
Chaplin and Keaton. It was like Dennis in that it dealt with family life and was drawn to a T by a genuine
dab hand. Arriving at strip cartooning via advertising in his native Britain, Wright could render detail with
near-photographic verism (he especially liked cars, and the models front-and-center in Nipper changed
regularly), though never to show off his chops next to his cartoony, bald child hero (heroes as time went on
and Wright’s family grew), whose antics, however, are utterly realistic and all the more hilarious because
of it.

— Ray Olson
 

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  THE COLLECTED DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated June 25, 2009


Doug Wright: Rediscovering Canada’s Master Cartoonist
This story originally appeared in PW Comics Week June 23, 2009 Sign up now!
by Bill Kartalopoulos -- Publishers Weekly, 6/22/2009 3:50:00 PM

Doug Wright was born in England in 1917. His father, a British soldier in World War I, died within a year. Wright’s mother raised Doug and his sister alone and strongly encouraged the boy’s native artistic skills and inclinations. At the age of twenty-one, intent on pursuing a career as a cartoonist, Wright immigrated to Montreal to pursue a job opportunity as a staff illustrator at the Sun Life insurance company. So began a career that would see Doug Wright eventually become a Canadian household name as the artist behind the weekly comic strip Nipper—later, Doug Wright’s Family—a quiet, constant presence for decades before the artist’s 1983 death.

Since that time, Wright’s work has largely vanished from public view, in part because the strip was never widely syndicated in the United States, in part because the strip was never heavily merchandised, and perhaps in part because Wright’s unassuming virtuosity was simply taken for granted, even by his regular readers.

The writer Brad Mackay and the cartoonist Seth are attempting to restore Wright’s life and work to the public memory. As co-founders of the Doug Wright Awards, an annual prize for Canadian cartooning, they have explicitly elevated Wright to patron saint status within that country’s comics art tradition. As co-editors of the first volume of The Collected Doug Wright (published by Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly),they seek to restore Wright’s work to public view within a broader world of contemporary comics publishing that includes both ambitious new work and prominent reprint series devoted to acclaimed historical comics.

The deluxe first volume, designed by Seth, physically broadcasts great claims for Wright’s work. An 11 x 14” oversized hardcover, the book is case-wrapped in reflective red paper, like a permanent gift. A die-cut window reveals an image of Wright’s signature bald-headed-boy character embossed upon the ivory paper stock beneath. The effect is inviting and friendly, but unmistakably monumental.

Heavily illustrated with artifacts from Wright’s archives, Mackay’s introductory account of Wright’s early life tells the story of a meticulous and professional young artist who seems to have seamlessly acclimated to his new, Canadian environment. If Wright maintained an outsider’s perspective, it was in retaining fresh eyes carefully observant of a rapidly urbanizing post-War North American landscape. Indeed, his freelance illustration work frequently teems with detail. His swarming images, with their deep linear perspective and unconventional composition, recall the dense gag cartoons of Gluyas Williams, peppered with the local color of an H. T. Webster—especially in Wright’s first widely published comics work, continuing Jimmy Frise’s rural-themed Juniper Junction after that artist’s death. But Wright’s ultimate métier was strictly mid-twentieth century suburbia, as is deeply evident in the bulk of the work that comprises this volume.

While drawing Juniper Junction, Wright freelanced as an illustrator for the Standard Magazine, an offshoot of the Montreal Standard newspaper. Based on an indirect editorial suggestion, Wright, on a lark, produced a pantomime gag strip about a comically mischievous child. Striking a chord with the many baby boom parents then populating the nation, the strip was an immediate success and Wright found a new career as the weekly author of a kid-strip later named, by editorial decree, Nipper. When the Standard was reformatted into the Weekend and syndicated as a newspaper insert, Nipper found a wide audience of Canadian parents and bemused onlookers.

The assimilated Canadian immigrant was once again an outsider: an unmarried, childless man writing about a subject he wasn’t particularly invested in. But therein lay the seeds of the strip’s success. Lacking any sentimentality about children, Mackay’s text suggests, Wright felt free to depict his Nipper as totally, joyously, and heedlessly selfish in his pursuit of childish pleasure (largely, at first, of the manically slapstick variety, and, in Wright’s universe, mercifully exempt from grievous bodily harm).

The Nipper character, rendered as a collection of bold, curved strokes, bounded from panel to panel within a heavily constrained comic strip format. Except for sound effects, the strip was entirely pantomime, and was reproduced in black and white with one spot color (always red). For most of the years represented in this volume, the strip was vertically formatted. Eschewing panel borders, Wright’s consistent panel width provided a steady rhythm within which he would vary panel height to affect pacing and accommodate environmental detail.

The present book covers the years 1949 through 1962. Although this volume’s text suggests that Wright’s peak years as a cartoonist will be reprinted in a subsequent volume, this elaborate book with its provocative subtitle (“Canada’s Master Cartoonist”) begs the question of the re-emergent artist’s status in comics history. At the Toronto Comic Art Festival in May 2009, Canadian comics scholars Bart Beaty and Jeet Heer publicly took up this question. Beaty found in Wright a peer to Dennis the Menace’s Hank Ketcham: an appealing narrative stylist whose work fails to resonate in the manner of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Heer agreed that Wright was no Schulz, but disagreed with Beaty’s estimation. “Ketcham’s housewives are always this stereotyped Fifties image of a housewife, and even when they’re vacuuming, they’re always wearing high heels,” he noted. “Which no woman does. But if you look at the housewives in the Doug Wright, they’re actually dressing like housewives… And that’s just one detail of hundreds where throughout his work, there’s a real attention to the actual lived experience of suburbia.”

Indeed, as Wright married and started his own family, Nipper became more well-rounded. As a suburban parent—an insider again—Wright fleshed out the strip’s environment and focused on somewhat less-broad, though still comical, incidents. And as he became more fully invested in his own comic, Wright reintroduced into his strip’s constrained format the graphic diversity and attention to detail that characterized his illustration work. While Doug Wright’s works may not be essential comics, they are a sure pleasure for lovers of elegant cartooning, and remain work worth preserving in a readily available format.


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THE COLLECTED DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by Winnipeg Free Press

Updated June 15, 2009


Unprecedented collection of Nipper creator's work
By: Reviewed by Kenton Smith
7/06/2009 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

The Collected Doug Wright
Canada's Master Cartoonist
Drawn and Quarterly, 240 pages, $40
The first of a planned two-volume set, this is an unprecedented collection, focusing on a Canadian whose impact on the national culture demands recognition.
Cartoonist Doug Wright (1917-1983) was the author of the daily strip Nipper -- later known as Doug Wright's Family -- which ran for more than 35 years in 41 newspapers across the country, including the Winnipeg Free Press.
With a readership of two million, the strip was a fixture of Canadian life at the time. Today, the Doug Wright Awards recognize the best in Canadian comics art.
The book is thus an incomparable piece of coffee table Canadiana. Designed by the celebrated Guelph-based cartoonist Seth, it's a beautiful piece of work, both to look at and to handle.
It's so well crafted that it's a joy simply to turn the pages, with the ever-so-rough paper surface retaining a sense of the material's newsprint origins.
Of course, the book wouldn't look this good were it not for the handsomeness of Wright's art itself. On the level of draftsmanship, the work is marvellous. Clear of line, clean and sharp-eyed in detail, often powerful in perspective, the art brilliantly showcases the often-minimalist nature of cartoon art.
Wright was especially good at reducing scenes to their essences, emphasizing the most striking or characteristic details of architecture, streetscapes and interiors.
He was also adept at tricky, cramped compositions, such as two characters sitting in the back of a bus -- no easy feat in the small format that is the comic strip panel.
Wright also made ingenious use of his allotted space on the page. The vast majority of his comics work was done in vertical format, in contrast to the more commonplace horizontal strip.
Wright sometimes used it for visual gags that, horizontally, would have been impossible. He used the format with equal invention for some delightful newspaper ads.
Indeed, Wright's commercial work is just as admirable, sometimes evoking the art in early Mad magazine by such artists as Will Elder and Jack Davis.
One particularly Elder-esque touch is to be found on a cover for the Montreal Standard, which depicts a newsstand displaying a wide assortment of magazines; among titles such as "Men Only" and "Women Only," one can also spot "Morons Only."
It must be said, however, that Wright's most famous creation, Nipper, is a charming, well-drawn but not especially outstanding comic strip.
What is noteworthy is the total absence of dialogue, making Nipper an often highly creative exercise in pure visual storytelling.
Another way in which Wright's work captivates is as a time capsule from the mid-20th century, from the clothes to the architecture to the cars to such habits as smoking in a house with children.
One disconcerting detail, however, is the sometimes rageaholic nature of Nipper's father. In one strip the dad chases Nipper with a belt; in another, he actually gives Nipper the back of his hand. As a reflection of the times, this is both telling and disturbing.
The Collected Doug Wright is of considerable value, both culturally and esthetically. It should please Canadian culture buffs, art lovers and fine-book collectors alike.
Kenton Smith is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer, critic and comics enthusiast. He is the former co-host of Eat Your Arts and Vegetables on CKUW 95.9 FM.

 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by Quill and Quire

Updated June 3, 2009


The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist
by Doug Wright; Seth, ed.

This shiny, retro-modern-style coffee table book on the work of the once-celebrated cartoonist Doug Wright, edited by well-known comic book artist Seth, is a beautiful object. Filled with full-page strips and blown-up illustrations, the book revisits an important part of Canadian cultural history, charting the early years of Wright’s career, from 1949 to 1962. Seth, who also designed the book, began collecting Doug Wright cartoons in the 1980s. This volume is the first of a pair, the second of which will cover Wright’s later career, from 1962-1980.

Each page is filled with images, most notably of Nipper, his popular, wordless strip about a hell-raising child (predating both Peanuts and Dennis the Menace), which ran in the Montreal Standard and was syndicated across the country. Page after page showcases the increasing sophistication of Wright’s storylines and stylistic flourishes, for example his effective use of a single colour – red – for emphasis.

In the book’s introductory essay, Brad Mackay traces Wright’s engaging life story from Dover, England, to Montreal and the accidental birth of Nipper, begun when Wright was a bachelor but coming into its own as he married and started his own family. Numerous anecdotes give the reader insight into Wright’s career, from his big break when he was asked to take over from the successful cartoonist Jimmie Frise to possible reasons for his later obscurity: an editorial misstep in 1949 forced Wright to pay royalties to a British artist with a similarly named strip, thus preventing him from capitalizing on Nipper’s potential merchandising opportunities.

Both general-interest readers and fans of modern-day graphic novels will find much to enjoy in this highly entertaining book. It reminds us of simpler times, when couples dealing with young children looked to the funny papers for lighthearted commiseration, but it’s also a reminder of Wright’s immense talent.

Thus far, there has been little republication of work by Canada’s early comic artists. The Collected Doug Wright makes it hard to believe that his work was almost forgotten. The book is a fitting testament to a prolific and talented artist.

Reviewed by Andrea Carson (from the June 2009 issue)
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DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The Montreal Gazette

Updated June 1, 2009


Classic cartoons
TERRY MOSHER (AISLIN), The Gazette
Published: Saturday, May 30

The Collected Doug Wright, Vol. 1: Canada's Master Cartoonist

Drawn & Quarterly, 240 pages, $39.95

My godfather, the Montreal painter John Little, is a very funny raconteur. John tells stories about trying to get established as an illustrator here in the late 1940s. Living in the Town of Mount Royal, he borrowed his father's car one day to drive downtown to see Dick Hersey, the legendary art director at the Standard, one of the best weekly publications in Canada at that time. After a quick look at John's portfolio, Hersey asked John to drive him and Mavis Gallant, then a featured writer at the Standard, to a bar in the West End where the three of them drank away the afternoon.

This wasn't unusual behaviour for those times - or for Hersey. There was a tavern around the corner from the Standard where Hersey's stable of illustrators would gather. The art director was known to send back to the office for the occasional cash advance for an illustrator who drank his way through his pocket money.

What illustrators Hersey had at his beck and call back then: Among others were Ed McNally, who would become the editorial-page cartoonist for the Montreal Star in the 1960s, the very funny and sly gag cartoonist Peter Whalley - and Doug Wright.

Wright, born in England, had arrived in Montreal in late 1938. Joining the RCAF, he drew several comic strips during the Second World War to entertain Canadian troops. On the strength of that, Wright returned to Montreal to become one of the country's most prolific illustrators over the next 30 years. An excellent draftsman, his first major assignment was a challenging one: having to replace the recently deceased Jimmy Frise, the most popular Canadian cartoonist of the day, in drawing the comic strip Juniper Junction.

In addition, Wright drew many illustrations for a variety of English-language publications that existed at that time in Montreal. But Doug's best-known effort began in 1949 with a weekly comic strip titled Nipper. It first appeared in the Standard and then the publication's successor, Weekend magazine. When Weekend folded, the strip began appearing in Canadian magazine, a weekly newspaper insert. With that, the name of the strip also changed from Nipper to Doug Wright's Family.

Nipper was an imp - a small, hairless boy continually running around getting himself into all sorts of mischief. In the 1950s, Doug Wright and his wife, Phyllis, began raising a family in a modest, brand-new suburban home on 54th Ave. in Lachine. The neighbourhood could have been in any suburb, really, partly explaining the comic strip's popularity. Apparently, all Doug Wright had to do to get inspiration for Nipper was to watch the shenanigans of the local kids through his front window.

Drawn & Quarterly has published a lavish tribute to Wright that has been lovingly assembled by celebrated illustrator and cartoonist Gregory Gallant (a.k.a. Seth) and Ottawa-based journalist Brad MacKay. The text is not only an interesting record of Wright's life and experiences as a professional cartoonist, but also a record of the thriving Montreal publishing industry in the 1940s and 1950s, when Wright worked here.

A second volume is planned that will cover Wright's later working years after he moved from Montreal to Burlington, Ont., right up until his death in 1983. Nervous about Quebec politics, Wright had moved down the 401 earlier than others in 1966, well before the highway was even finished! The authors tell an interesting anecdote that I had not heard before: Wright became upset with Perspectives, the French-language equivalent of Weekend magazine, when the publication began printing his translated comic-strip - and started dropping his English signature.

Seth and MacKay watched Wright's work when they were growing up, as had the cartoonist Lynn Johnston of For Better or For Worse fame.

Johnston has written an introduction to this first volume where she also mentions another cartoonist who had an influence on her: Len Norris, who worked for the Vancouver Sun. It was, in fact, a rich period for Canadian illustration and cartooning.

Drawn & Quarterly, under the stewardship of Chris Oliveros, is a Montreal publishing house that is now world-famous for specializing in graphic novels and other forms of cartooning. The publisher should be congratulated here for taking a chance in remembering the talents of Doug Wright. In a perfect world, D&Q would eventually do the same for some of the equivalent Canadian talents of the day like George Feyer, Oscar Cahen, James Simpkins, Duncan Macpherson, Bruce Johnson and others already mentioned above.

In the meantime, cartoon buffs have this excellent first volume of Wright's to pore over. The illustrations give a visual record of the fashion and artifacts of the time: the suburbs, the emergence of television and, in particular, automobiles. Wright sometimes filled in as the editorial page cartoonist at the Montreal Star (and, after moving to Ontario, at the Hamilton Spectator), and was notorious in the business for always sticking a car or truck somewhere in his drawing.

Over half of this first volume is taken up with reproductions of the comic strip featuring the rascalities of Nipper. The authors point out that the strip started publishing even before the popular Charlie Brown, a comic strip that also featured a bald-headed tyke. However, on re-examination, I find that there is a realism about Wright's strips that is far superior to many of the efforts created in his day. Nipper, a jolly little anarchist at heart, is always getting into gleeful trouble. So, a comparison with the blander Charlie Brown doesn't seem a match. It would be more apt to see Nipper as a precursor of another troublesome youngster: Bart Simpson.

Terry Mosher (Aislin) is editorial-page cartoonist at The Gazette.
 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The Onion

Updated June 1, 2009


From the ’50s through the ’70s, Canadian cartoonist Doug Wright drew a weekly strip—first called “Nipper,” and later “Doug Wright’s Family”—for a Montreal newspaper’s weekly supplement. The Collected Doug Wright: 1949 To 1962 (D&Q) is the first of a two-volume set dedicated to reprinting a good chunk of the Nipper/Family strips alongside samples of Wright’s other commercial art and a fairly detailed mini-biography by journalist Brad Mackay. The book itself is a thing of beauty—large, shiny, and red, and handsomely laid out by Canadian cartoonist Seth—but the presentation would be pointless if the strip weren’t so terrific. Working without dialogue and in the rigid confines of the “mischievous little kid” genre, Wright was able to capture the idyllic look and mood of mid-20th-century suburban life, as well as the way children inflict casual anarchy on the world their parents have planned out so carefully. Wright’s punchlines were rarely forced or exaggerated; his Nipper would cause trouble by dragging a cat around in a shopping bag, stuffing rocks into a car’s front grill, or doing something else annoying but not intentionally malicious. Wright had the rare talent to make parents everywhere say, “I’ve been there,” and then to make them recognize that the little beasts unsettling their lives were also making them more vital. (Consumer note: The gorgeously designed, eternally amusing Collected Doug Wright carries the same list price as the smaller, more dubious Batman Annuals: Volume One. Just sayin’…) A
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DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by Comic Book Resources

Updated May 29, 2009


Robot reviews: The Collected Doug Wright

Posted on May 28, 2009 - 01:07 PM by Chris Mautner

The Collected Doug Wright Vol. 1
Edited by Seth and Brad Mackay
Drawn and Quarterly, 240 pages, $39.95.

The first thing you notice is the line. It’s usually rail-thin, although it will sometimes gracefully thicken when forming the back slope of a character’s head or traveling along someone’s back or legs. It’s simple, and seemingly unfussed, but it’s never less than assured, capable of rendering just about anything with clarity and aplomb, be it a typical 1950s suburban neighborhood, a mud-soaked little boy or the wood paneling on a corner table.

Were that all Doug Wright had to offer comics, it would be enough to merit attention. The medium is filled with great and talented artists, but few are capable of the charming effortlessness that’s on display in The Collected Doug Wright, the first of two volumes designed to bring a renewed appreciation to the Canadian cartoonist.

Indeed, one of the artists he most draws parallels with is his American contemporary Hank Ketcham, and not just because both are largely known for their strips about over exuberant little boys — Ketcham with Dennis the Menace and Wright with Nipper. The difference, however, lies in the substance behind the drawing. Ketcham is rightly revered as a superb craftsman, but one who nevertheless leaned heavily on a stock gag formula that over the years relied less on observation and human behavior and more on cute, rote situational comedy.
Not so with Nipper. In addition to being lovingly rendered, the silent strip overflows with knowing, true-to-life humor about the realities of parenthood. No doubt drawn from his own experiences as a father (at least in its later years, as Wright began the strip before he had children), the weekly strip doesn’t attempt to portray its lead as an innocent angel. Nipper frequently gets into trouble, and his parents are just as frequently exasperated (it should be noted that Wright’s knack for facial expressions are one of the selling points of the strip) but he isn’t a menace. More that he’s blessed with a curiosity and eagerness for play that has to be constantly stepped on by his parents (more so when Nipper is blessed with a little brother). It’s a situation that anyone who’s had to take care of a preschooler for more than two hours can relate to.

Much has been made by some of how Canadian the strip is and I suppose with the constantly changing seasons there is a particularly distinct northern humor and sensibility. I tend to regard the strip as a rather universal creation however, Wright’s milieu was one that any reader young or old can easily identify with, regardless of their country of origin.

While the Nipper strips make up the bulk of this volume (and continue no doubt into the next one) I don’t want to slight the other material collected here. Co-editor Brad Mackay provides an excellent introduction to the artist, delving extensively into Wright’s background and temperament. What’s more, the abundant magazine illustrations, gag cartoons, other strips and photos of the artist and his family help provide a well-rounded picture. And all bound in a handsome oversize hardcover that once again showcases Seth’s talents as a designer.

There’s been a tendency to place Wright in the upper eschelon of his contemporaries, alongside Harvey Kurtzman and Charles Schulz. I’m not sure that sort of overeager boosterism is really necessary, though he certainly does share some overlapping qualities with those creators. Wright’s work, at least what’s lovingly presented in this volume, is strong enough though to stand on its own and demand attention without the comparisons, however apt someone may find them to be. I’m content and grateful that a few people took the time and effort to re-introduce this artist to a new generation of readers like myself. That’s enough.
 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The Toronto Star

Updated May 28, 2009


GRAPHICA

That little Nipper

For generations of newspaper readers, Doug Wright's irrepressible hellion brightened up the familial drudgery
May 24, 2009 04:30 AM
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Jonathan Kuehlein

It seems as though more than half of our time as parents of young kids is spent either apologizing for their antics or cleaning up the resulting debris. Plus there's a lot of yelling, in spite of your best intentions and everything modern parenting gurus preach.

Pouring over the timeless, wordless comic strip gags in The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist – 1949-1962 (Drawn & Quarterly $39.95, 242 pages) certainly hammers these truths home and highlights a few more.

Wright's classic comic strip, Nipper, which began appearing weekly in 1949 in the Montreal Standard Magazine and later evolved into the much-beloved Doug Wright's Family in the Star Weekly and Canadian Magazine, depicts the ongoing mischievous adventures of a young boy. He's determined to explore every aspect of chaos in his house, yard and extended neighbourhood at the price of his parents' wits. Wright's strip also does a masterful job of highlighting the glee with which kids still humble, hurt and humiliate their parents with great regularity.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the initial success of Nipper, at least from a parent's perspective, is the fact that Wright's knack for capturing the precociousness of kids came before he had any of his own. The first of his three sons was born in 1953, an event that added even more realism and depth to the strip in subsequent years.

This first volume of a two-book set, assembled by award-winning Canadian illustrator and designer Seth, featuring an insightful and comprehensive biography by journalist Brad MacKay and an introduction by Lynn Johnston, creator of For Better or For Worse, is a breathtaking tribute to Wright's sizable artistic skills.

The book includes content ranging from some of Wright's earliest childhood drawings in England to his first job – doing illustrations on staff newsletters for Electrolux – and work from the position that brought the artist to Canada as staff illustrator for Sun Life Insurance in Montreal in 1938.

Several of Wright's cartoons for the RCAF service magazine, completed under the pseudonym "Ozzie," and examples of his take on the rural-themed Juniper Junction, which he took over in 1948 from the late Jimmy Frise and continued for another two decades, show the artist's diversity. But it is Nipper, the character that captured the zeitgeist of the late-'40s baby boom, who gets most of the attention in this book.

From tipping an ashtray into his sleeping dad's mouth to roaring around the house dragging the cat in a shopping bag to countless adventures that leave him covered head to toe in mud, the endearing little hellion almost always gets the last laugh in a wonderful collection of strips that truly stand the test of time.

Wright died in 1983.

Jeffrey Brown's willingness to lay himself bare in his autobiographical graphic novels has endeared him greatly to many readers over the past decade.

From emotional depictions of how he lost his virginity (Clumsy) to his first love (Unlikely) to becoming a dad (Little Things), Brown has captured the often mundane moments that form much of our lives and made them compelling through deep introspection and a delightful self-deprecating wit.


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DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by the Times Colonist

Updated May 28, 2009


Wright's car culture tribute to times past
Peter Kenter, Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, May 15, 2009

Growing up, one of my favourite comics was Doug Wright's Family, a weekly two-colour pantomime strip that graced the back pages of the long-departed Canadian Magazine. For most of us, Wright so accurately reflected changing suburban Canadian family life that we simply didn't realize we were looking into a mirror.

The Wright kids not only played hockey and watched Victoria Day fireworks, they had a real father who drank beer and sometimes didn't shave and a mother who cussed her brood and burned with shame at their antics. I never questioned that Wright was drawing from real life. If he wasn't, I don't need to know about it.

I recently got my hands on the first of a two-volume set, The Collected Doug Wright, Volume One. The book covers not only the Doug Wright's Family strips but also Wright's enormous output as an illustrator for hire.
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I can see where I might have gotten such strong impressions of that bruiser of a station wagon. Wright must have loved cars -- or at least loved to draw them.

Editors Seth and Brad McKay note Wright's "great passion for the motor vehicle -- and his remarkable skill in cartooning them"

That's almost an understatement. Even the kiddy cars in the strips are rendered with an attention to detail usually reserved for adult-sized vehicles.

The book could almost pass as a history of the Canadian automobile experience from the early 1940s until 1962, where this volume leaves off. Vehicles ranging from family sedans to beaten-down pickup trucks and giant 18-wheelers are rendered in loving detail all out of proportion to their importance in the narrative.

What's also fascinating is the fact that all of them seem to be made up out of whole cloth -- an amalgam of fine detail cobbled together in perfectly harmonious fashion to deliver car brands and models as they might have been. There's a canary yellow 1962 Astrojet locking its brakes as a squabbling family in a grey something-or-other pulls a crazy U-turn in the middle of traffic. I'm almost fooled into thinking a two-toned pink-and-white model called a Satellite is the real thing, until I realize the illustration precedes the introduction of the Plymouth Satellite by three years.

Landscapes are littered with automotive minutiae: gas at 35 cents an Imperial gallon, advertisements for Guck Oil, delivery vehicles for Provincial Pork Packers and independent roadside coffee shops from a time before Tim Hortons (though not Tim Horton).

Still, it's the family strips that speak to me the loudest. I first experienced them at an age when I was only a passenger in my father's car. As a driver and dad, they're far more meaningful. A helpful child assists his father by sandpapering the car. (My car?!!!) Two kids hail a streetcar, only to run away after exercising control over a stream of vehicles that stops suddenly behind its open door -- only I'm no longer the cheeky kid but the guy who's stuck in traffic. It gets worse. Dad tells a Canada Customs agent he has nothing to declare, until his blabby kid points to a giant-sized carton of cigarettes stashed under the front seat. In a water gun fight, one of the boys sprays his pals with radiator fluid he finds in the garage.

I didn't see the station wagon with the faux wood panelling in this volume, but I'll wait for it in the next one. In the meantime, I'll settle for the giant 1962 Astrojet -- running on 35-cent-a-gallon gas.


© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The Calgary Herald

Updated May 28, 2009


Reviving Canada's master


By Nancy Tousley, Calgary Herald
May 11,

The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist, Volume One, edited by Seth, (Drawn & Quarterly, 240 pages, $39.95)

Remember Doug Wright? His cartoons ran in Canadian newspaper magazines for 35 years and a generation or two of Canadians grew up with his main character, a rambunctious little Canadian boy-cousin of Charlie Brown.

Nipper, as he was called, was born in print a year and a half before Charlie Brown and two years before Dennis the Menace. Charles Schulz and Hank Ketcham, Charlie Brown and Dennis’s respective creators, are enshrined in the pantheon of great cartoonists. Wright, on the other hand, though heralded as “Canada’s best known cartoonist” during his lifetime, has been all but forgotten.

More’s the pity because the creator of Nipper and Doug Wright’s Family was a great cartoonist, says Seth, the author of Palooka-Ville, Clyde Fans and the forthcoming George Sprott. As if it takes one to know one, Seth is a great cartoonist himself. The two facts, that the work of Wright, who died in 1983 at age 65, is great and nearly forgotten, are what spurred Seth on to bring him back into the foreground and set our cultural memory straight.

Saturday night, The Collected Doug Wright, initiated, edited and designed by Seth, was launched by its publisher Drawn & Quarterly at the 5th annual Doug Wright Awards. Hosted this year at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the awards are held in conjunction with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, running this weekend. The best book award, by the way, went to Skim, a graphic novel about the difficulties of adolescence by former Calgarians Jillian and Mariko Tamaki.

Seth and writer Brad Mackay, a former journalist for the National Post and the CBC, founded the awards around the same time they started research on the book. The award recognizes Wright’s influence on a generation of leading Canadian cartoonists, who include Lynn Johnston (For Better or Worse), who contributed the book’s introduction, and Chester Brown, whose first comic, written when he was 11, was a tribute to Wright.

The Collected Doug Wright will be issued in two volumes, with an appreciation-cum-biography of the British-born cartoonist and illustrator, written by Mackay. The oversize hardcover monograph, with its eye-catching red foil cover, was a patient labour of love all around, encouraged by D&Q publisher Chris Oliveros.

“The history of cartooning has quite a few seminal cartoonists who were more important (than Wright) in defining the form in some way, and most of them were much earlier in the 20th century,” says Seth.

“I think Wright’s real significance was that here in Canada, where there was such a small pool of working cartoonists and a very small market, he was such a very high-quality artist. There is only a handful of guys worthy of study and Wright is right up there at the very top.”

Seth, who hunted down and collected Wright’s printed cartoons for years, culled the “best-of contents of the collected Wright from hundreds of the prolific cartoonist’s distinctive, wordless, vertical strips. This first book, which was five years in the making, contains Wright’ early work as an illustrator and a 200-page portfolio that follows Nipper to Dec. 22, 1962. Volume Two will be out in two or three years.

“Wright’s great strength was that he tried to infuse his work with the actual feeling of the place where he lived,” says Seth. “All the little details: he drew what was around him.”

What Wright so meticulously depicted with all its comical and conflictual moments was the childhood and family life of the post-war baby-boom generation in middle-class Canada.

Today’s readers might be surprised to look into Wright’s social mirror and see how much parenting has changed. A lot of anger and some violence is unleashed in the strip, in which angry, frustrated faces are darkened with cross-hatching. In one strip, Dad is seen ripping off his belt to deliver a little ’50s style corporeal punishment. Spanking is common.

“Like a documentarian of suburban domestic life, Wright was taking what he saw and heard around him and popping it in there,” says Mackay.

When Wright began to draw Nipper, he was a 30-year-old bachelor. He lived in Montreal with his mother and unmarried sister and knew nothing about children. There weren’t even any nieces or nephews to observe. He dreamed up the idea for the strip and drew it in a rush, which Mackay thinks might be why it has no words, after he noticed the editor’s query to art director Dick Hersey on a Punch cartoon on Hersey’s desk: “Why don’t we have more strips about the contrariness of kids?”

Wright decided to try it almost on a whim, thinking it would be a one-off. “He was baffled that they took it and that the strip took off,” says Mackay. “He was bummed about it at first.” What he really wanted to be drawing was adventure stories, like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates.

Under the circumstances, drawing a strip about an energetic toddler posed a challenge. Nipper’s debut on March 12, 1949 in the Montreal Standard was based on a funny anecdote Wright’s mother told him about the antics of a neighbour’s child. But if Wright had to borrow and improvise at first, he grew into the strip after he married Phyllis Sanford in 1952. One year later, Mackay says, “Suddenly there was a kid in the house.”

“By the time he got around to having kids of his own Nipper was a certified hit,” Mackay writes in The Collected Doug Wright. “By then, the ironic detachment he had accidentally cultivated on Nipper allowed him to accomplish an unprecedented feat: re-inventing the moribund family strip for a modern audience.”

Wright eventually became the father of three boys and during that time the strip moved from slapstick sight gags to a more textured picture of family life. It was in 1967, after Wright and the family left Montreal, where he settled after emigrating from England, for the suburbs of southern Ontario that he changed the strip’s name from Nipper to Doug Wright’s Family.

Wright’s strip is visually striking for his fluid drawing style, his skilful pantomime, the vertical orientation of the strip and the red overlays and spot colour, which he used so effectively to direct a reader’s eye and attention. Although Seth does not think the vertical strip was Wright’s invention, he does not know of another cartoonist who used it habitually or so successfully.

“Wright’s work is based on real drawing,” says Seth. He observes that the self-taught Wright was not a great cartoonist when he started, but put so much work into it that he became one. “I think it mattered to him.”

The ambitious pantomime, which in a lesser artist would be difficult to sustain, is acted out so clearly that it is easy to read for a five-year-old. Yet it also has something to say to an adult.

Mackay, who is 40 and has a three-year-old Nipper of his own at home, says, “As a kid, I found the strip hilarious; as a dad, I read it from a completely different perspective.”

Why did Wright fall into semi-oblivion? “I think it has a lot to do with just how Canada operates, to tell you the truth,” Seth says, “and the fact that it’s popular culture. Pop culture does kind of come and go. Cartooning in most of the 20th century was extremely ephemeral. Once it stopped appearing in the papers, I think people just stopped thinking about it.

“But I do think it’s a distinctively Canadian thing that we don’t value things that are in our own media. It’s like the fact that it appeared in Canadian publications made Wright’s work seem less important. Canadians just didn’t give it the same value as they did to so many iconic American cartoon characters.”

The timing is just right for a Wright revival. With the rise of the graphic novel, one of the biggest phenomenons to hit book publishing in the past 10 years, cartoonists are being shown more respect. Drawn & Quarterly, celebrating its 20 anniversary this year, is one of the two premier publishers of literary graphic novels in North America.

With The Collected Doug Wright, big books honouring the work of a single master cartoonist are now appearing on both sides of the 49th Parallel. Seth, Brian, Chris, take a bow.

ntousley@theherald.canwest.com

Editor's note: Corrections made to this story.

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DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The National Post

Updated May 28, 2009




He had the Wright stuff

Canadian artist had a good eye for all things automotive

Peter Kenter, National Post Published: Friday, May 08, 2009

Growing up, one of my favourite comics was Doug Wright's Family, a weekly two-colour pantomime strip that graced the back pages of the long-departed Canadian Magazine. For most of us, Wright so accurately reflected changing suburban Canadian family life that we simply didn't realize we were looking into a mirror. The Wright kids not only played hockey and watched Victoria Day fireworks, they had a real father who drank beer and sometimes didn't shave and a mother who cussed her brood and burned with shame at their antics. I never questioned that Wright was drawing from real life. If he wasn't, I don't need to know about it.

Thinking back, the cartoon image that stuck with me the most was Dad, patiently packing his kids and a passel of hockey equipment into the back of a huge station wagon -- not a hatchback, but the kind with a rear door that opened sideways -- on a frozen Canadian landscape before dawn. I'm not sure I actually saw a strip like that, but I can see the way Wright might have drawn it, with special attention to the wagon's wood veneer panelling.

I recently got my hands on the first of a two-volume set, The Collected Doug Wright, Volume One. The book covers not only the Doug Wright's Family strips but also Wright's enormous output as an illustrator for hire. I can see where I might have gotten such strong impressions of that bruiser of a station wagon. Wright must have loved cars -- or at least loved to draw them. Editors Seth and Brad McKay note Wright's "great passion for the motor vehicle -- and his remarkable skill in cartooning them."

That's almost an understatement. Even the kiddy cars in the strips are rendered with an attention to detail usually reserved for adult-sized vehicles.

The book could almost pass as a history of the Canadian automobile experience from the early 1940s until 1962, where this volume leaves off. Vehicles ranging from family sedans to beaten-down pickup trucks and giant 18-wheelers are rendered in loving detail all out of proportion to their importance in the narrative.

What's also fascinating is the fact that all of them seem to be made up out of whole cloth -- an amalgam of fine detail cobbled together in perfectly harmonious fashion to deliver car brands and models as they might have been. There's a canary yellow 1962 Astrojet locking its brakes as a squabbling family in a grey something-or-other pulls a crazy U-turn in the middle of traffic. I'm almost fooled into thinking a two-toned pink-and-white model called a Satellite is the real thing, until I realize the illustration precedes the introduction of the Plymouth Satellite by three years.

Landscapes are littered with automotive minutiae: gas at 35¢ an Imperial gallon, advertisements for Guck Oil, delivery vehicles for Provincial Pork Packers and independent roadside coffee shops from a time before Tim Hortons (though not Tim Horton).

A lot of it is simply timeless Canadiana. A 1962 Christmas cover for a Montreal Star Saturday supplement shows a fine, fin-laden automotive specimen nestled cozily under a thick blanket of snow. A mid-'50s illustration shows a richly detailed sedan, its driver hidden in shadows, plying a rural winter road at sunset. The depicted drivers are similarly timeless --fuming parent huddled angrily over the steering wheel, cussing cabbie and juvenile hot rodder.

Still, it's the family strips that speak to me the loudest. I first experienced them at an age when I was only a passenger in my father's car. As a driver and dad, they're far more meaningful. A helpful child assists his father by sandpapering the car. (My car?!!!) Two kids hail a streetcar, only to run away after exercising control over a stream of vehicles that stops suddenly behind its open door --only I'm no longer the cheeky kid but the guy who's stuck in traffic. It gets worse. Dad tells a Canada Customs agent he has nothing to declare, until his blabby kid points to a giant-sized carton of cigarettes stashed under the front seat. In a water gun fight, one of the boys sprays his pals with radiator fluid he finds in the garage.

I didn't see the station wagon with the faux wood panelling in this volume, but I'll wait for it in the next one. In the meantime, I'll settle for the giant 1962 Astrojet -- running on 35¢-a-gallon gas.
 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by Quill and Quire

Updated May 20, 2009


The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist

by Doug Wright; Seth, ed.

This shiny, retro-modern-style coffee table book on the work of the once-celebrated cartoonist Doug Wright, edited by well-known comic book artist Seth, is a beautiful object. Filled with full-page strips and blown-up illustrations, the book revisits an important part of Canadian cultural history, charting the early years of Wright’s career, from 1949 to 1962. Seth, who also designed the book, began collecting Doug Wright cartoons in the 1980s. This volume is the first of a pair, the second of which will cover Wright’s later career, from 1962-1980.

Each page is filled with images, most notably of Nipper, his popular, wordless strip about a hell-raising child (predating both Peanuts and Dennis the Menace), which ran in the Montreal Standard and was syndicated across the country. Page after page showcases the increasing sophistication of Wright’s storylines and stylistic flourishes, for example his effective use of a single colour – red – for emphasis.

In the book’s introductory essay, Brad Mackay traces Wright’s engaging life story from Dover, England, to Montreal and the accidental birth of Nipper, begun when Wright was a bachelor but coming into its own as he married and started his own family. Numerous anecdotes give the reader insight into Wright’s career, from his big break when he was asked to take over from the successful cartoonist Jimmie Frise to possible reasons for his later obscurity: an editorial misstep in 1949 forced Wright to pay royalties to a British artist with a similarly named strip, thus preventing him from capitalizing on Nipper’s potential merchandising opportunities.

Both general-interest readers and fans of modern-day graphic novels will find much to enjoy in this highly entertaining book. It reminds us of simpler times, when couples dealing with young children looked to the funny papers for lighthearted commiseration, but it’s also a reminder of Wright’s immense talent.

Thus far, there has been little republication of work by Canada’s early comic artists. The Collected Doug Wright makes it hard to believe that his work was almost forgotten. The book is a fitting testament to a prolific and talented artist.

Reviewed by Andrea Carson (from the June 2009 issue)
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Doug Wright slide show on GlobeandMail.com

Updated May 19, 2009


The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist (1949-1962), Drawn and Quartered, 240 pages, $39.95

This oversize, gorgeous new book has impressive pedigree. It is co-edited by renowned Canadian graphic artist Seth, who also designed the book, and by Brad MacKay, an Ottawa journalist who contributes a thoroughly researched essay on the life, career and influences of Doug Wright. There is also an introduction by Lynn Johnston, the creator of the comic strip For Better or For Worse. As well, the books’ creators had the support of Doug Wright’s widow, Phyllis Wright Thomas, and complete access to Wright’s journals and archives.

“If you grew up in Canada during the 1960s or 1970s, then you likely need little introduction to Doug Wright or his masterpiece of Canadian cartooning, Doug Wright’s Family,” MacKay writes in his essay. “Created on the cusp of the 1950s under its birth name Nipper, the semi-autobiographical strip epitomized the competing joys and agonies of family life for millions of readers, and earned Wright a reputation as Canada’s equivalent to Charles Schulz.”

Wright was born in England and moved to Montreal in 1938 at age 21 to take a job as an illustrator with Sun Life, then the largest insurance company in Canada. When the war came, he ended up in a small Manitoba town teaching navigation in the RCAF. His first cartoons were contributions to service magazines.

This collection, the first of two volumes, focuses on the years leading up to and including Nipper, the strip about a rambunctious boy who gets into constant trouble. Nipper was popular, says MacKay, because in Wright’s work “kids acted like kids, in all their uncensored, amoral glory. Whether they were wreaking abuse on the family pet, pouring cigarette butts into their sleeping father’s mouth or idly throwing rocks on unsuspecting adults, Wright presented the casual brutalities of childhood as an essential (and undeniable) fact of life.”

The book is being launched today (Saturday, May 9) during the Doug Wright Awards at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It will be on sale as of May 26.


 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The National Post

Updated May 19, 2009



All In The Family

It's high time you revisited the work of pioneering Canadian artist Doug Wright, argues comic historian Seth

Seth was rummaging around a junk shop sometime in the mid-1980s when he discovered old back issues of Canadian magazine. Flipping through the pages, he came across comic strips drawn by a man named Doug Wright. The name piqued his memory.

"I think with a lot of the artists that I've been interested in as an adult, many of them were interests as a child but then forgotten during my teen years," says Seth, on the phone from his Guelph, Ont., home. "Wright fell into that category."

Over the next 20 years, Seth, the acclaimed cartoonist behind It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken and Clyde Fans, undertook to collect all of Wright's work that he could find. The detective work paid off, as this month Drawn & Quarterly publishes Volume One of The Collected Doug Wright, which chronicles the years between 1949 and 1962.

As journalist Brad Mackay writes in the book's introductory essay, "If you grew up in Canada during the 1960s or 1970s, then you likely need little introduction to Doug Wright or his masterpiece of Canadian cartooning."

But for those of us from a later generation, a history lesson is in order.

Wright was born in Dover, England, in 1917. A high school drop-out, he began his career as an illustrator for appliance manufacturer Electrolux before immigrating to Montreal in 1938 to work for Sun Life insurance. He first gained attention for his military themed strips during the Second World War, and after the war he became a freelance illustrator for the Montreal Standard. In 1948 he took over the popular strip Juniper Junction after creator Jim Frise's sudden death. His most famed strip, Nipper, about a mischievous bald-headed child, debuted in 1949 -- a year and a half before Charles Schulz's Peanuts, points out Mackay, and two years to the day before Dennis the Menace began terrorizing Mr. Wilson-- two strips to which Nipper is often compared. Nipper, later rechristened Doug Wright's Family, ran for 32 years and consists of roughly 1,664 strips. Wright inspired a new generation of Canadian cartoonists, including Lynn Johnston, who pens the book's foreword, Chester Brown and, of course, Seth.

We can only hazard a guess to why Wright was forgotten -- maybe it's because he's Canadian, says Mackay, or perhaps because Wright rejected merchandising, unlike Dennis the Menace, says Seth--but both men note that they, too, forgot about Wright.

"There seems to be black hole in pop culture for cartooning in Canada," says Mackay, on the phone from Ottawa. "We spend a lot of time mythologizing hockey games and artists -- God, if I see another article about Stephen Leacock this week! Those people get mythologized a lot, almost too much. But for some reason cartooning--maybe it's just too everyday, it's too common. But it does seem like a shame."

Says Seth: "I do think in Canada we do have a distinct lack of interest in anything that's actually produced here. It's almost like a feeling it must be second rate if it's here in Canada ... The funny thing about Wright was he really was a superlative draftsman, far above 90% of the American cartoonists, yet still, I think, there was sort of a stigma about it, that this was homegrown material. And like so [many] publications it's ephemeral -- here this week, gone the next. When it stopped publishing people forgot about it."

Over the years Seth -- dubbed comics' premier historian in the latest issue of The Walrus magazine -- compiled as much of Wright's work as he could find. Mackay says that at first Seth proposed a book called Gang of Seven -- a look at Canadian cartooning from the turn of the century onwards -- though a lack of interest from publishers shelved the idea. Later, the concept was revived when D&Q publisher Chris Oliveros showed interest in a Wright-only retrospective.

The book, designed by Seth, is an impressive collection of his early work, comic strips, sketches, paintings, magazine covers, photographs and rough drafts. A trove of original material was uncovered at the National Archives in Ottawa, which proved invaluable.

"Wright himself was remarkable in that he saved everything: He kept all his originals -- a huge amount of them -- he kept careful scrapbooks, which some cartoonists do but most don't ... He kept all the stuff, and that was a godsend," says Seth.

Initially, Seth hoped to do a complete reprinting of the strip--as he is doing as designer of the massive 25-volume The Complete Peanuts -- but it wasn't economically feasible, plus there was no guarantee they could locate all of Wright's work. A "selected" volume was the logical choice.

Wright died in 1983. He suffered a stroke near the end of his life that effectively ended his cartooning career. In 2004, Seth and Mackay co-founded the Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning, whose fifth annual ceremony is being held tomorrow. They hope the book, coupled with the awards, will spark a Doug Wright renaissance.

"The publishing of the book," says Seth, "is more about trying to give him his due. I guess as a working cartoonist you hate to think somebody worked their whole life on something and then were forgotten. It seems important to me to leave a legacy of some sort, and I would kind of like him to be reclaimed. I see him as a national treasure, and I would like that in 10 years a young cartoonist would know his name and not realize there was even a period that he'd been forgotten." - The Collected Doug Wright is published by Drawn & Quarterly ($39.95). The Fifth Annual Doug Wright Awards take place tomorrow. Check nationalpost.com/theafterwordfor a complete list of winners.





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Doug Wright

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DOUG WRIGHT photo essay on CBC.ca

Updated April 17, 2009




If you want to get a sense of what suburban family life in Canada was like in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, you could do no better than to read Doug Wright. The popular cartoonist was a fixture in Canadian homes throughout those decades, thanks to his weekend comic strip Nipper, later known as Doug Wright’s Family. An indubitably Canadian comic, it eschewed sticky sentiment in favour of wry observations about parents and kids, and stands today as a humorous record of its era. In many ways, Wright was a documentarian disguised as a comic-strip artist.

“His real talent was rendering the world around him,” says Seth, the renowned Canadian graphic artist, who grew up reading Wright’s comics. “In his work you really get a much stronger feeling of the times than you’ll find in almost all commercial cartooning.” Seth is the designer and driving force behind The Collected Doug Wright, the first comprehensive collection of the late cartoonist’s work, which is being published in two volumes by Drawn & Quarterly. Volume 1, to be released in May, traces the birth and early years of Wright’s most famous strip and provides an overview of his prolific career.

“Being a working freelance artist in those days, you really had to work your ass off,” explains Seth (a.k.a. Gregory Gallant) during a phone interview from his Guelph, Ont., home. “The Canadian market was so small, you had to take whatever came your way.” The indefatigable Wright churned out countless illustrations for magazines, ads and brochures, as well as generating two weekly strips for the bulk of his career. It was as a hustling young artist looking to please his bosses that he first came up with his iconic creation – a bratty bald tot in a striped T-shirt. Nipper, as he was soon christened, made his debut in the Montreal Standard in 1949, and would evolve over the next 30 years into one of Canada’s most beloved comic-strip characters.

The roots of a cartoonist
Douglas Austin (Ozzie) Wright was born in 1917 in Dover, England. From early childhood he showed a talent for drawing and briefly attended art school. He was less interested in formal training, however, than in indulging his love of cartooning. He filled his sketchbooks with painstaking copies of Popeye, Dick Tracy and other popular comic-strip characters of the period.

In 1938, at the age of 21, Wright immigrated to Canada to take a job as a staff illustrator for the Sun Life insurance company in Montreal. He adapted quickly to his new country and his subsequent work showed little evidence of his roots.

“He really is very quintessentially Canadian, for an English immigrant,” Seth says. “He doesn’t have much British influence in his work. The only artist from Britain he seemed to have any great interest in was Giles, the newspaper strip cartoonist.”

In Montreal, Wright would find the outlet for his cartooning gifts and, at Sun Life, the woman who would turn the bachelor artist into a family man. Here, Wright is pictured at his Sun Life drawing board with fellow employee and future wife, Phyllis Sanford, in 1952.

Wartime funnies
Cartooning remained mostly a hobby for Wright until he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. It was while working as a RCAF navigation instructor that he began contributing comic strips to various service magazines. His novice efforts, with titles like Clewless McGoon, Slipperpuss and A. Body (a jauntily macabre strip about an armless soldier), were a chance to try out different styles and techniques. They also gave him his first taste of success.

Shortly after one of his cartoons was published, Wright came across an officer who was doubled over with laughter as he read it. “That just made him think immediately that he wanted more of that,” Seth says. “I think his desire to become a cartoonist wasn’t so much that he loved cartoons, but that he liked to get a laugh out of people.”

Juniper Junction
After the war, Wright began to carve out a freelance career as a cartoonist and illustrator, which eventually allowed him to quit his Sun Life job. Most of his work appeared in the Montreal Standard, the city’s major English-language weekly newspaper, which had a national circulation.

Nipper's debut
Early in 1949, Wright came across a Standard editor’s memo suggesting a comic strip about “the contrariness of kids.” Eager to oblige, Wright raced home and drew up the first Nipper comic, an untitled eight-panel gag based on an anecdote his mother had heard. Reader response was so positive that Wright was asked to create a regular strip.

Before long, his anonymous brat would acquire a name (via a readers’ contest), a couple of long-suffering parents as his foils and a distinctive milieu – suburbia.

“Juniper Junction had represented the kind of Canada that was just pre-war, when Canada was more rural in nature," Seth notes. "In the 1950s, you see a shift in Canadian culture from the rural to the urban and the suburban, and Nipper really captured that modern flavour. Even the way it was drawn, with very clean lines – it was very slick. Juniper Junction was of that earlier era in that it was a very finicky crosshatch style, which Wright carried on. When you see the two strips side by side, they do seem to be from two different time periods, even though they were produced at exactly the same time.”

It turned out Wright was on the cusp of a trend. In the next few years, two popular American strips about kids, Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, would debut.

Silent slapstick
Wright began Nipper with a distinct disadvantage: he was a single man who had spent very little time around kids. As Brad Mackay writes in the excellent biographical essay that accompanies The Collected Doug Wright, the strip “was potentially a creative death sentence.” To keep it going, Wright relied heavily on violent slapstick gags, like the one pictured here.

“In the first seven or eight years you could practically put it down to just being a slapstick strip,” Seth says. “The early character of Nipper seems to be mostly a precocious brat – he’s kind of a Dennis the Menace type, except without all the cutesy talk, because there’s no dialogue. I’m kind of happy to see that fade away as time goes on in the strip.”

Thanks to the absence of word balloons, Nipper would later make an easy transition to Quebec’s French-speaking market, under the name Fiston.

A Nipper Christmas
However, even in those early comics, Wright revealed a softer side on occasion. In this, the first of Nipper’s annual full-page Christmas strips, the little fellow showed he wasn’t made entirely of mischief.

Distinctively Canadian
When Wright married Phyllis Sanford in 1952 and they moved to the Montreal suburb of Lachine, Nipper began to reflect their new surroundings. More and more, the strip also began to look distinctively Canadian. The gag pictured here, in which Nipper outfits his hot rod with chains, is a perfect example.

“I don’t think [Wright] was really striving to be particularly Canadian,” Seth says, “it’s just that since he was focusing so much on the immediate details of his own suburban life, the work really has a Canadian flavour to it. I never feel like he’s saying, ‘I should do a hockey gag because it’s a good Canadian thing.’ It’s just another element of that life.”

Sugar-free humour
Another Canadian attribute – shared by Wright’s successor, Lynn Johnston of For Better or For Worse fame – is the comic’s refusal to be excessively cute. In that respect, Nipper is a refreshing contrast to other contemporary strips like The Family Circus and Hi and Lois.

“My main complaint with all that stuff is that it’s really cloying and sugary,” Seth says. “It seems to be designed exclusively to go on the refrigerator. Wright isn’t entirely free of that, being a commercial artist, of course. But I do think as time goes on with Nipper, the amazing thing is that it gets much quieter. As the strip hits its real peak, often an instalment can be about practically nothing at all. A minor incident of a kid slamming the screen door too loudly, or what they’re doing with their guinea pig – it becomes really about the small incident, it has that ring of truth about it.

"You never really get that feeling with those American kid strips," he continues. "They always seem to be calculated for some sort of gag, which as far as I’m concerned is the death of commercial cartooning. Wright managed to transcend that, by getting away from trying to have a laugh at the end.”

Doug Wright the adman
Wright kept a logbook of his daily activities and Seth says the man’s workload was mind-boggling. “I’m a pretty busy artist myself, and he’s doing three times the amount of work I’m doing.” He says that having so much on your plate can be good for a commercial artist. “Your skills become really tight when you work that fast, you get over any fussing about. It’s obvious in his work that Wright had that ability.”

Occasionally, the world of Nipper bled into Wright’s other assignments. Illustrating a major advertising campaign by Simoniz floor wax in 1959, he came up with a red-haired, freckle-faced variant on his comic-strip imp. The ad pictured here was part of a series Wright did for Simoniz – Seth says he’s seen at least 10 different ones.

Doug Wright the illustrator
Wright's imagination wasn’t confined to kids and domestic subjects. His steady editorial work for the Standard, Weekend magazine and the Montreal Star had him drawing everything from hungover officer workers (for a post-New Year’s issue) to a flock of Stratford Festival patrons. This cover, from the Sept. 29, 1962, issue of the Star’s entertainment supplement, had Wright poking gentle fun at beatniks.

Nipper's baby brother
If the move to suburban Lachine had a big impact on Nipper, even more significant were the births of the Wrights’ three children (in 1953, 1956 and 1960, respectively). Sons Bill, Jim and Ken would provide their father with unlimited fodder for his strip.

“When you listen to cartoonists who do kid-oriented material – even someone like Charles Schulz, where the kids aren’t really kids – you find out there is a period where their children do supply a lot of inspiration to them,” Seth says. “Often it isn’t direct, but there’s something about being in contact with kids and how they think that opens up the door for you.”

When Phyllis was pregnant with Ken, Nipper took an autobiographical turn. Wright built the pregnancy and birth into the comic strip, so that Nipper ended up with a little brother. In the strip pictured here, Nipper experiences the classic jealousy of an older sibling.

Nipper times two
Seth says the introduction of Nipper’s kid brother was a major turning point in the strip’s development. “Instead of just trying to come up with another slapstick gag, Wright came to understand what the relationship between the boys would be about. That’s when the strip gets interesting. You lose a lot of that clichéd mayhem and you get into more of an unsentimental view of childhood, too, where it seems to be more about the conflict between the boys. And it’s not a very cute conflict; it does seem to have a basis in reality. You see that come up a lot more in the ‘60s and ‘70s material.”

Nipper's new format
In the early 1960s, Wright also began to alter the comic strip’s format. The single panel allowed him to devote even more space to depicting Nipper’s physical world.

From the Standard to the Star
The 1960s brought changes, both for the Wright family and for Nipper. In 1967, the Wrights left Montreal and resettled in Burlington, Ont. The strip made a comparable move, to the pages of the Toronto Star Weekly, and was retitled Doug Wright’s Family. The history of the strip from the ‘60s up to its demise in 1980 – its golden period – will be covered in the book’s second volume, likely to be published next year.

"A national treasure"
Wright died in 1983 and for a time his legacy suffered the fate of many commercial artists. “In Canada, we have a bad tendency not to pay attention to the work that was produced in the commercial vein,” Seth says. “Wright was a good example of that. When the work stopped appearing, people just forgot all about him.”

However, in recent years Wright has begun to receive some of the recognition due to him. The Doug Wright Awards, annual prizes for Canadian cartooning, were established in his honour in 2005. (Seth was an inaugural winner.)

Now, with The Collected Doug Wright, Seth wants to put the artist’s work back in the public eye. “I think he’s a national treasure,” he says. “I hope the book will spark the memory of people who are old enough to have read the strip, and let younger people who never saw the work in the first place appreciate it now.”

Martin Morrow writes about the arts for CBCNews.ca.


 
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  DOUG WRIGHT featured by Dangerous Ink

Updated January 29, 2009


DOUG WRIGHT
by Brad Mackay
Dangerous Ink
01/2009

WRIGHT KIND OF ARTIST:
THE DOUG WRIGHT AWARDS ORGANISER BRAD MACKAY TAKES A LOOK OVER THE LIFE AND WORK OF ONE OF CANADA’S FINEST CARTOONISTS: DOUG WRIGHT

In the early hours of Jan. 3, 1983, Douglas Austin Wright passed away in a hospital room in Burlington, Ontario with his wife and three sons at his side. His death, which came less than 12 hours after a fatal stroke, was mercifully quick and happened some three years after a debilitating stroke that deprived the cartoonist of his peripheral vision—a condition that effectively obliterated his towering talent for good. Wright’s death, at the age of 65, was noted by the Canadian newspapers of the day (including a lavish tribute by the Hamilton Spectator; the last paper to carry his work) but in the minds of most readers his time had already passed.

A British-born artist who relocated to Canada in the late 1930s, Doug Wright was arguably the most important cartoonist of his generation. His big break came in 1949 on the cusp of the Modern era, and his work was emblematic of his time. His most popular strip, Nipper (later eponymously renamed Doug Wright’s Family) was an expertly executed snapshot of the changing Canadian Family in the 1950s and 60s. In the weekly strip Wright managed to convey the joys and accompanying
agonies of raising children, all without the benefit of words or panels. (His decision to draw a pantomime strip was originally born of necessity; he dashed off his first Nipper strip in response to an editor’s request for more comics about “the contrariness of kids.”

Though Wright was never as popular outside his adopted country as he was within it, his little Nipper did reach varying degrees of success internationally including in the U.S., Australia, Finland and England. As a matter of fact, the strip was a bonafide sensation in his birth country where it was read by some seven million people in the funny pages of The Sunday Pictorial,the weekly incarnation of the popular Daily Mirror. Wright’s strip debuted in the popular paper in early 1949 under a different marque; Charlie Boy, a savvy attempt by the paper to capitalize on the popularity of the wee Prince Charles—the Royal Family’s newly-born heir apparent who was in diapers at the time. Though his strip stopped appearing in the
UK sometime in the early 1950s Wright’s fame continued to soar in Canada.

Over the next three decades, he became Canada’s de facto answer to Charles Schulz; two innovative cartoonists who would earn the appreciation of fans and critics alike. Their similarities even extended to their lead characters; both Charlie Brown and Wright’s titular young boys sported bald heads (a peculiar tradition that stretches back to the original comic strip child star, the Yellow Kid). Also, like Schulz, who used a cute strip about little kids to pass existential commentary on life and love, Wright wasn’t one to follow the rules.

Ignoring decades of comic strip convention, Wright used the cosy milieu of the domestic strip as a platform to lay bare the realities of family life. Yes, his fictional family is loving and nurturing, but it’s also shot through with anger, frustration and bouts of unhinged parental fury. His mischievous boys predictably wreak havoc on their parents, but unlike other beloved family strips of the era (like Family Circus or Dennis the Menace) Wright’s parents didn’t simply shrug their shoulders. In Doug Wright’s Family their reaction is surprisingly—and at times shockingly—real. His put upon cartoon Dad combusts in an endless variety of entertaining ways, blowing up with Technicolor rage and even resorting to shouting and vengeful spanking (though he usually incurs the disapproval of his wife as a result).
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