The Collected Doug Wright, Canada’s Master Cartoonist — 1949-1962

May 25, 2009 | Trades

It seems like well over 50 per cent of the life of any parent of young kids is spent either apologizing for their antics or cleaning up the resulting debris.

Oh, and yelling (in spite of your best intentions and everything modern parenting gurus everywhere 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/Canadian Magazine, depicts the ongoing mischievous adventures of a young boy determined to explore every aspect of chaos in his house, yard, neighbourhood, etc. at the price of his parents’ wits. It also does a masterful job of highlighting the glee with which kids humble, hurt and humiliate their parents with great regularity.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Nipper’s initial success 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, adding 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 of For Worse, is a breathtaking tribute to Wright’s sizable artistic skills.

Included are some of Wright’s earliest drawings from his childhood in England to those from 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, that 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.

(This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

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