Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Canada's Forgotten Cartoonists: Len Norris

Recently David Apatoff wrote about his fondness for artists who 'draw a crowd'.

"Most artists working under a deadline look for shortcuts. They do a good job, but they want to complete a picture as efficiently as possible and get paid," wrote David.

"But some artists just seem to love making marks on paper, and they regularly create unnecessarily grand challenges for themselves, like these ambitious crowd scenes."

Len Norris would, I think, qualify for that latter category.

According to Kathy Marotz, head of the Belzburg Library at Simon Fraser University, "Leonard Matheson Norris was born in London, England, in 1913 and immigrated to Port Arthur, Ontario with his family in 1926."

"He moved to Toronto during the Depression, studied for a year at the Ontario College of Art and then worked as an advertising artist 1938-40. Following army service in World War II, Norris became an art director for Maclean Hunter Ltd., before joining the staff of The Vancouver Sun in January 1950."

Norris is renowned for his four decades of service providing editorial cartoons to The Sun... "He received the Bruce Hutchison award for lifetime achievement in journalism, a national Newspaper Award for best cartoons in Canada, and was elected to the News Hall of Fame in 1978," writes Marotz.

Norris' continuing freelance work for Maclean's magazine during the 50's is only briefly touched upon -- and that's a shame -- because he invested an incredible amount of effort into these extra assignments, as seen in these detail croppings.

Marotz continues, "Norris considered himself a social commentator rather than a political cartoonist, saying: "I get at the events from the viewpoint of the readers themselves, looking at how the news affects them."

I would add that his keen sense of observation and ability to portray a broad range of interesting and amusing character types reinforces the idea of Norris as a social commentator.

Because Norris' people are fun to look at - full of personality. You can't help but contemplate their intentions and invent scenarios for them.

As with most other mid-century Canadian cartoonists, Len Norris was completely unknown to me. But in researching this post, I discovered the website at Simon Fraser University, where Norris donated 1,500 of his original drawings - editorial cartoons created for The Vancouver Sun between 1952 and 1985. At that site, you can see nearly two dozen examples of the artist's work from the various decades of his career. Well worth a look!

Norris' last editorial illustration appeared in The Sun on his retirement in 1988. He died in Langley, BC on August 12, 1997.


  1. Fabulous !
    I can remember living in Vancouver and finding little collections of his cartoons in all the used book shops. It was love at first sight.
    Thanks Leif

  2. Amazing! I love his works!

  3. Yet again, Leif, you come through with flying colours. Your observations are spot on. Thanks for this.
    Next time I'm home visiting the parents I think I'll rummage through their attic and try and find those old collections of Norris I mentioned. Now that I think of it, it makes sense my Mom had those compendiums. Her brother, Bill Straiton, wrote a couple of books which he had illustrated by Norris. I believe they were 'The Winkle Pickers' and 'The Tiger Witch'. Quite forgotten now and extremely rare. If I can dig up my Mom's copies I'll scan a few pages and share them.

  4. Never heard of that one before, but glad to discover him thanks to you ! All the expressions of the characters are so lively and funny ! Thank you very much !

  5. Hello Leif,
    Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful art by these Canadian artist. They are truly inspirational.

  6. I had never heard of Norris till a couple of years ago when I found some books collecting up strips he did for a Canadian paper, it seems like they did one each year. The ones I have are from the '60's so there is some cool social commentary stuff. Man he was good!

  7. Norris ruled. Several years ago, I came across a split book of Norris' newspaper work with a Quebec cartoonist published by the Government of Canada (!). Every page was amazing.

  8. Leif,

    I'm glad to see Norris finally getting some recognition.
    I always loved his take on the places and people of Vancouver, particularly the residents of "Tiddelycove"

    Last year I found an box of his annuals from the 60s and 70s at a used book store in Penticton. I bought them all for $1.00 a piece.

  9. You're right, Leif-- I like Norris, and not just because he "draws a crowd"-- look at the variety in his shapes of heads, the extra bit of imagination and enthusiasm he puts in facial expressions (even in a portrait hanging at an angle on a side wall), the extra "snap" he puts into fingers and limbs; this is clearly someone who loves to draw and give a picture something extra, which makes it fun for the rest of us. Thanks for sharing.

  10. ONe thing that really struck me about his stuff was the wide variety of character types, from fat to thin. Great angular features. I wish he did more girlie art, his girls are always beauties too.

  11. MMmmmmm… sweet to see the work of man and brush!

  12. I'm looking for cartoons related to tiddley cove