Today is my 45th birthday (45 years old - yikes! how'd that happen?!)
Well the good people at Raincoast Books sent me a birthday present: this gorgeous large format coffee table book, The Collected Doug Wright, Vol. 1!
Naw, I'm kidding about it being a birthday present. It did arrive just days before my birthday but they actually sent it to me hoping I would review it here on the TI blog. Well, thanks good people at Raincoast! I am only too happy to oblige -- and for a couple of excellent reasons: first, because this is an absolutely beautiful and fitting tribute to a tremendously talented and prolific cartoonist who deserves better than to be forgotten in obscurity, and second, because Doug Wright was a Canadian cartoonist based in Hamilton, Ontario... and I am a Canadian cartoonist based in Hamilton, Ontario! So this one's for the hometown team - yeah! Go Hamilton Cartoonists!
This book is a labour of love conceived of and beautifully designed by internationally acclaimed cartoonist Seth, with a thoroughly fascinating biographical section researched and written by Brad McKay. I'd love to shake the hands of both these gentlemen for their dedication in making this handsome volume a reality. Even though Doug Wright's Family was an important part of the comic strip culture of my youth, I had all but forgotten it ever existed. When I showed this book to friends and family they all reacted as I did: surprise... delight... and recollection. I wouldn't doubt that millions of Canadians of a certain age ( uhh, that would be age 45 ) would likewise recall spending time with Doug Wright's Family each weekend in their local papers.
For those who care about such things, let me tell you, the design of this book will just about make you weep tears of joy. I don't know how many books Seth has designed, but if there are more like this to come, Chip Kidd better watch his back. (As if Seth weren't already talented enough as a cartoonist. Yeesh!)
Before you even get close to the 'main course' of this book (the seemingly endless pages of Doug Wright's Nipper comics) you will spend hours luxuriating in the front section. Here you'll learn the fascinating details of Doug Wright's early struggles to develop a syndicated comic strip. Even for those of us who think we know Doug Wright's work, there are many revelations, such as the fact that Wright's big break came in 1948, when Jimmy Frise, the creator of an immensely popular Canadian comic strip, Juniper Junction, died suddenly at age 57.
Seth has filled this front section with a cornucopia of rare and obscure Doug Wright artwork. I am grateful that he astutely chose not to bleach out the weathered and browning paper surfaces of printed samples, and often includes the small markings, whited out corrections and hand-written border notes on the many pieces of original art he shares with us. These details add warmth and charm to the material, and leave you feeling as though you are sharing in what must have been a glorious experience for the designer - the opportunity to flip through all this beautiful artwork and decaying newsprint. Those like me who love spending time in old bookstores will understand what I mean.
One thing that really struck me as I saw Wright's early illustration work for the first time is how accomplished a draughtsman he was. This becomes even more amazing when we learn that he was self-taught. The many examples presented of his work during these years will appeal especially to fans of the European 'ligne claire' school that originated with Tintin creator, Hergé.
Finally there is the long and generous Nipper section of the book. This will be the work we (45 year old) Canadians remember so fondly. Actually, as Seth points out in his introduction, most of us remember the strip as "Doug Wright's Family". (You'd have to be even older than 45 to recall the days when it was known as Nipper - and there's an interesting story in the book revolving around that name in the book).
Finally, I'm presenting this strip below for a couple of good reasons: First, because it shows the kind of unsentimental humour that Doug Wright typically employed - and that, frankly, left me a little unnerved as a kid. I never got "the belt" as a kid... but I had plenty of friends who did! This was not something you ever saw in Hi and Lois or Family Circle. And second, this actually happened to my father-in-law when my brother-in-law was a kid! I'd heard the story many times at the family dinner table on Sunday nights. So yesterday I brought the book along and showed this strip to my in-laws. They all had the same reaction: surprise... delight... recollection...
... and laughter.
The Collected Doug Wright, Vol. 1 is available from Raincoast Books.