Dave Sim's blogandmail #9 (September 20th, 2006)
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This week’s Blog & Mail is also dedicated with the greatest respect and admiration to long-time Yahoo and Cerebus fan, Chris Woerner, who just a few short months ago was hobbling around on crutches at SPACE and at my 50th birthday party in Columbus, Ohio and is today stationed with the US Forces in one of Saddam’s old palaces in Baghdad “staying the course” in bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. This one’s for you, Chris!
The Doug Wright Awards took place last Thursday night at the newly renovated Gladstone Hotel waaaay out on Toronto’s Queen Street West. Trevor Grace, the official recorder of “Scripture at the Registry” taped the whole thing and we’re hoping to have it downloaded onto YouTube. Jeff will let all you Yahoos know how to hook up with it if and when the logistics are worked out.
It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Doug Wright’s Nipper (later renamed Doug Wright’s Family—Mr. Wright hated the name Nipper the way that Charles Schulz had hated the name Peanuts) to Canadians of my generation. The wordless strip was featured on the back page of the old Star Weekly magazine, the weekend supplement to the Toronto Star newspaper which was syndicated across the country to other newspapers as Canadian Magazine. The unnamed father and mother with their elder and younger sons could easily be described as the First Family of Canadian Comic Strips which, although it hasn’t appeared for nearly a quarter century (Doug Wright died in the mid-1980s) is instantly recalled with great fondness by virtually any Canadian seeing an example of it this many years later. I did an interview by mail with Mr. Wright for the first issue of the Now & Then Times back in 1972 and still remember vividly the excitement of getting two syndicate proofs of the Max & Mini panel he was attempting to syndicate at the time, a long hand-written letter (unfortunately) both long ago misplaced, as well as a paperback of his Doug Wright’s Family strips and a Doug Wright’s Family original both of which I still have.
As tends to be the case with these things, with the passing of Doug Wright, Doug Wright’s Family had vanished into that ether of obscurity which is so often the fate of cartoons—and cartoonists—no longer with us, so the most gratifying news from this year’s awards program was that a street in a new subdivision in Doug Wright’s long-time home of Burlington, Ontario will soon be named after him thanks to the tireless efforts of Seth and Brad Mackay to “do right by Doug Wright”. Their efforts include a complete reprinting of all the Nipper/Doug Wright’s Family strips to be published by Drawn & Quarterly along with examples of Doug Wright’s prodigious output of commercial art and political cartoon work from the Hamilton Spectator and other publications. I can’t wait.
Because John and Siu and their long time friend Han Siu (as best man at their wedding he cracked everyone up at the dinner by saying that it’s a good thing Siu had married John instead of himself because then she would have been named Siu Siu) had to be at a film at the Toronto Film Festival by 6 pm—they would arrive about a half hour into the Seth ‘n’ Chet proceedings when the film was over—I got to the Gladstone just at the initial stages of set-up by Brad Mackay, Jeet Heer (who are both journalists in the real world), Peter Birkemoe of Toronto’s legendary The Beguiling store and a core group of volunteers so we had plenty of time for a nice chat until it was time for them to get down to the serious business of getting the awards show and its lead-in—Seth interviewing Chester on stage—in place.
One of the topics of conversation was, “Would it be possible for someone to be nominated for both Best Book and Best Emerging Talent?” I pointed out that when Wayne Gretzky entered the NHL he was both the best rookie and best player (by a wide margin). Not one for sports metaphors Jeet cited his own example where Chris Ware with Acme Novelty Library—had he been Canadian—would have definitely been Best Book and Best Emerging Talent for his own introductory year. There was also the sad news that one of the star performers of the evening, Lister Sinclair, a legendary Canadian actor best-known today for his CBC Radio series Ideas—who had been scheduled to share his recollections of “Giants of the North” inductee George Feyer—had been taken ill unexpectedly and was at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. We all wish him a speedy recovery.
Chet arrived shortly on his bike and surprised everyone by wearing a dress shirt, dress pants and a tie—and then pulling his suit jacket out of his backpack (and I mean surprised everyone audibly—you could hear the gasps from anywhere in the room as each new arrival saw him: “Chester! You’re wearing a tie!”). Peter Birkemoe introduced me to one of the nominees for Best Emerging Talent, Scott Chantler and I was able to talk with him for a while about his book Northwest Passage, the second volume of which has recently been published by Oni Press. It turned out that he lives in Kitchener’s twin city, Waterloo (having moved there from St. Thomas to go to school and having stayed after graduation) so we had any number of topics to discuss that ranged across comics and “local boys” Kitchener-Waterloo subjects. James Waley (and his lovely daughter, Mary) and Kevin Boyd of the “other” Canadian comics awards, the Shusters were there, as well as Bryan Munn, who has been developing a Canadian Cartoon Studies Centre in Guelph. There was also a good turn-out of nominees, including the aforementioned Scott Chantler (Northwest Passage), Marc Ngui (Lordie Jones), Lorenz Peter (Dark Adaptation), Rosalind B. Penfold (Dragonslippers), Mariko Tamaki (Skim)—who, unfortunately could not be joined by her cousin and collaborator Jillian Tomaki because of immigration issues—Chet’s neighbour and our old pal James Turner (Nil) and, of course, last year’s Best Book winner, Seth (Wimbledon Green).
With about a half-hour to the interview segment it looked as if it might be touch-and-go as to whether they could fill even half the 40 or so seats set out in rows. Seth and his lovely bride Tania arrived and, with Seth occupied with all the last-minute details—including one last “I only smoke in Toronto” cigarette—I had a chance to talk with Tania (who I had never met) and within minutes the room was packed (I mean standing-room only plus) with the room temperature starting to soar.
The one-hour interview segment was a lot of fun as Seth grilled Chester on any number of subjects that you could see Chet would really like to have had a few minutes to mull over before answering, many of which verged on the boundary of “too personal” and others of which left Chet flummoxed as to whether to disagree with the “liberal-centric” premise of the question or to answer it as if he agreed with the premise and which were, consequently, the show’s highlights, all us voyeurs in the audience eating it with a spoon. At one point, answering a question about his Libertarian political views Chet said, “All of my friends are liberals” and I momentarily considered yelling “HEY!” really loud from the back of the room for comedic effect (being, I was pretty sure, the only other person in the room besides Chet whose politics were to the right of Pierre Trudeau’s) but thought better of it (yelling tends to frighten liberals terribly at the best of times and therefore has limited comedic applications in their native habitats) and Chet apologized the next day when I pointed out the omission. It was pretty formal and genteel but there were a few moments where Seth and Chet seemed to forget the audience was there and it was just like being back at Sushi on Bloor where it was usually Joe Matt asking the most provocative questions—in that case, just to get a rise out of someone.
After a short intermission, the awards ceremony—presided over by Brad Mackay and Doug Wright’s widow, Phyllis, and the youngest of his three sons, Ken (who mock-ruefully informed the crowd that, “Just when I thought I had finally outlived my association with the name Nipper…”)—went off without a hitch with Lorenz Peter winning the Best Emerging Talent Award for Dark Adaptation (that’s him and me in the Gladstone’s lobby next to the vintage elevator). In his on-stage appreciation, Chet said:
I read his first book, The Last Remaining Mellish Bird several years ago when it was first released. I’ve got to admit that I had not liked its shapeless and meandering story, but I thought the artwork showed promise. A while later I was at a comic-book store here in town and I saw Lorenz sitting behind a table, so I went over and told him that I’d read Mellish Bird and that I liked his drawing style.
He said, “Oh, well, here’s my new book, Chaos Mission.”
There was an awkward pause…
…I was hoping he would give me a free copy.
When the pause got too long, I reluctantly pulled out my wallet and paid for a book I didn’t expect to like. To my surprise, I was wrong—I enjoyed Chaos Mission enormously. It was a huge creative leap forward for Lorenz. The main character was a young man who does a lot of drugs and who survives by shoplifting.
I assumed that it was at least semi-autobiographical.
I don’t know if Lorenz wants to confirm that or not.
Anyway, when Dark Adaptation came out last year I was eager to buy and eager to read it. I wasn’t disappointed. Like Chaos Mission, Dark Adaptation is a creative leap forward. It, also, seems to be based on Lorenz’s real-life experiences, in this case as related to family matters, particularly his mother’s illness and his antagonistic relationship with his father.
If Chaos Mission had a problem it was that it was a bit wordy. Wordiness is fine, but a cartoonist should also let a story breathe by occasionally letting the images speak for themselves. Lorenz has now learned to do this…
…It’s too bad we have to give the emerging talent award to only one winner, because all of the creators in this category are doing great work. But, I do think Lorenz is a cartoonist who does deserve more attention, so I hope that winning this award will help to push him into the public eye a bit more.
Dark Adaptation [ISBN 1-897141-06-8] is available from Pedlar Press, PO Box 26, Toronto, ON, M5S 2S6.
Later, Michel Rabagliati won the Best Book Award for Paul Moves Out from Drawn & Quarterly. Chester accepted the award on behalf of Michel who hadn’t been able to attend:
I’m delighted to be able to accept this on Michel’s behalf. It does seem appropriate after yesterday’s terrible news out of Montreal [a deranged gunman had shot and killed an eighteen-year old girl and wounded twenty others at Dawson College] that we would tonight be celebrating a very positive and life-affirming story set in that city.
I was born in Montreal, grew up in that area, and went to art school there in the late 1970s. The first half of Paul Moves Out is an autobiographical account of Michel’s experiences in a Montreal art school in the late 1970s. So when I read the book it was stomping on my nostalgia buttons on almost every page.
And it did it so well.
I was stunned at just how perfectly Michel captured that particular urban environment. At times the book almost feels like a love letter to Montreal. I wasn’t surprised to find out that the French-language edition was a best-seller in Quebec.
But I wasn’t sure how well the book would read for people who weren’t a part of that time and place. Any concern that I had that this is a “you had to be there” type of book has been laid to rest by the decision of the Wright Awards jury.
As the title indicates, Paul Moves Out is about young people becoming adults. It’s a very sweet portrait of a time of youthful enthusiasm and an innocent belief in love. Look at this page [indicating the image of page 51 projected on the screen behind him]—what makes me feel so wistful about that last panel? It’s not just being under the covers with someone you love. It’s being under the covers with someone you love…on a mattress…on the floor…in an empty apartment, with an episode of Dynasty on TV. Despite the casual simplicity of the drawing, every detail is important.
Chet then read Michel’s thank-you speech which had been faxed from the Montreal offices of Drawn & Quarterly:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Chester for accepting this award on my behalf.
I wish I could be here tonight, to meet you and participate in this event. Unfortunately, I’m right in the middle of launching my newest book here in Montreal (Paul Goes Fishing, yup, another catchy title!). Previous commitments having to do with the book release have prevented me from joining you tonight.
I would like to begin by applauding the organizers of the Doug Wright Awards for putting together an event that sheds light on the work of Canadian cartoonists: work that is too rarely brought to the public’s attention.
Congratulations to all the other nominees in the Best Book category, whose oeuvres I have read with great enjoyment and profound interest. We have here an impressive display of talent. I am honoured and moved that the jury would choose to recognize my work out of such a distinguished group.
I would like to thank Chris Oliveros and Peggy Burns of Drawn & Quarterly for their elegant handling of the material, their enthusiasm and their professionalism. I feel extremely lucky to be included in the roster of fine authors published by this continually surprising and innovative publisher.
A very special thank you to Helge Dasher, the ingenious and creative translator who undertook the very difficult task of translating my Quebecois dialogues into English while retaining the texture and colour of the language.
Again, bravo to the organizers of this even and thank you for this honor!
Paul Moves Out is available at the Drawn and Quarterly website www.drawnandquarterly.com.
The “Giants of the North” award for lifetime achievement (with a newly designed logo by Seth) went to George Feyer, who was, in addition to being a very famous quick-sketch artist in the mould of Sergio Aragones, also a television celebrity here in Canada (there were several of them in the early days of television where the visual emphasis of the new medium made them—however briefly—in demand for a decade or so back in the 1950s and early 60s). The award was accepted by his son, Anthony Feyer, on behalf of the family and several vintage clips of Mr. Feyer from his appearances on the CBC were shown.
Thanks to Chester for loaning me his digital camera (so I could play Jimmy Olsen throughout the event), faxing me his appreciation notes and Michel’s acceptance fax, Chris Butcher at The Beguiling for facilitating the scanning of the photos and their transmission along with the text (e-mailed by Ger) to Jeff Tundis and Jeff for getting them all up on the screen here. Take a bow everybody!
It’s a gorgeous room they’ve got at the Gladstone, but they’re really going to have to figure out how to get some oxygen in there next year.
Seth and Chester before the interview. Seth: I tell ya, I’m going to mop the floor with him!
Stuart Mclean really working hard to remember when it was he interviewed me on CBC-Radio
Brad Mackay, master of ceremonies at the microphone and Phyllis Wright, Doug Wright’s widow, holding the Best Emerging Talent Award
Chester reading his appreciation of Paul Moves Out.
Loren Peter and me with my newly autographed copy of Dark Adaptation the Best Emerging Talent winner (don’t feel bad, Chet, I had to buy mine, too)
Seth, me and Tania after the ceremony.
You can download a powerpoint presentation of the Doug Wright Awards here (also available in a Flash version):
Powerpoint version (right click and select "save target as")
Download the Powerpoint viewer
Flash version (right click and select "save target as")
Download the Flash plugin
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