This shiny, retro-modern-style coffee table book on the work of the once-celebrated cartoonist Doug Wright, edited by well-known comic book artist Seth, is a beautiful object. Filled with full-page strips and blown-up illustrations, the book revisits an important part of Canadian cultural history, charting the early years of Wright’s career, from 1949 to 1962. Seth, who also designed the book, began collecting Doug Wright cartoons in the 1980s. This volume is the first of a pair, the second of which will cover Wright’s later career, from 1962-1980.
Each page is filled with images, most notably of Nipper, his popular, wordless strip about a hell-raising child (predating both Peanuts and Dennis the Menace), which ran in the Montreal Standard and was syndicated across the country. Page after page showcases the increasing sophistication of Wright’s storylines and stylistic flourishes, for example his effective use of a single colour – red – for emphasis.
In the book’s introductory essay, Brad Mackay traces Wright’s engaging life story from Dover, England, to Montreal and the accidental birth of Nipper, begun when Wright was a bachelor but coming into its own as he married and started his own family. Numerous anecdotes give the reader insight into Wright’s career, from his big break when he was asked to take over from the successful cartoonist Jimmie Frise to possible reasons for his later obscurity: an editorial misstep in 1949 forced Wright to pay royalties to a British artist with a similarly named strip, thus preventing him from capitalizing on Nipper’s potential merchandising opportunities.
Both general-interest readers and fans of modern-day graphic novels will find much to enjoy in this highly entertaining book. It reminds us of simpler times, when couples dealing with young children looked to the funny papers for lighthearted commiseration, but it’s also a reminder of Wright’s immense talent.
Thus far, there has been little republication of work by Canada’s early comic artists. The Collected Doug Wright makes it hard to believe that his work was almost forgotten. The book is a fitting testament to a prolific and talented artist.