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CANADA'S MASTER CARTOONIST

The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist
Edited by Seth and Brad MacKay
240 11x14-inch pages
color as well as b/w
Drawn & Quarterly 2009
hardcover
$39.95

The gigantic dimension of this book is determined by the format of the weekly comic strip that first brought fame to Wright. Entitled Nipper, it was published always in vertical format. Its protagonist was a bald-headed but otherwise normal kid of about five, who managed, by simply being a normal kid — albeit in pantomime — to create havoc wherever he went, usually accompanied by his parents. Well over half the book — 163 of its 240 pages — reprints Nipper at the generous rate of two strips per page, each strip dated, with occasional marginal notes by the editors. That brings us to December 1962, and there is probably more Nipper: a second volume is promised, covering 1963 to 1981, wherein, I assume, Nipper will morph into Doug Wright’s Family, ruled over by Nipper and his equally bald younger brother.

Wright0001MacKay supplies a biographical essay, which is amply illustrated with sketches and incidental artwork (for the Standard’s weekly magazine, Wright did impressively detailed covers, drawing in a style that reminds me of Carl Rose) and family photographs. Oddly, Nipper was named by the Standard editors, choosing a submission in a reader contest, but Wright, like another cartoonist, Charles Schulz (who hated the name “Peanuts”), didn’t like the name he was subsequently to live the rest of his life with.

The book is designed by Canadian cartoonist Seth (Gregory Gallant), who imbues it with his distinctive clean and spacious aura, sometimes devoting a whole massive page (even a two-page spread occasionally) to displaying a single bald-headed Nipper frolicking across the expanse.

It is Seth whose fascination with Wright’s work has resulted in this rescue of the cartoonist from complete and utter obscurity. Pondering the works of Wright, Seth realized that Wright and his contemporaries “deserve credit for their role in the shaping of our modern Canadian identity. ... These artists, who worked mostly in the middle of the 20th century, had an instrumental role in taking the moldy old 19th century images of Canada and making them modern. They recast all those Mounties and trappers and habitants into contemporary (for that era) streamlined icons. It’s the kind of thing, done in plain sight, that no one thinks to notice. The Canadian pop culture images that we know so well today were largely reshaped in those times. ... You can almost chart Canada’s transformation from the rural to the urban in a flow chart from Jimmie Frise to Doug Wright.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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