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Friday, August 31, 2007

Doug Wright

Over the past year or two, Seth, Brad MacKay and I have been going through thousands of pieces of artwork, photographs, and related ephemera regarding the great Canadian cartoonist Doug Wright (1917-1983).

If you haven't heard of Wright before it's probably because his work never really appeared outside the borders of Canada during his lifetime. And since his weekly strip ended in 1980, few Canadians under the age of 40 or 45 have any recollection of Wright's comics. That's too bad, because I'd easily place Wright among the greatest and most accomplished cartoonists of the 20th century. As a master storyteller working with challenging constraints (he did a weekly pantomime strip for three decades) and, in particular, as draughtsman, Wright had few peers.

In his day, Wright was well known in Canada, but he was working in an era when work did not travel easily outside of borders. In books and comics, few Canadians who didn't leave the country could find an outlet for their work in the United States. For cartoonists things began to change by the late 1970s (the debut of Dave Sim's Cerebus in 1977 was a seminal point in the early rise of the independent comics movement, and two years later Lynn Johnston began a daily strip that went on to become one of the most successful newspaper comics ever).

But all of that happened too late for Wright; he was in his sixties by then and his skills were sadly in decline. His strip, Doug Wright's Family, was cancelled in 1980, and, in an event that eerily foreshadowed what would later happen to Charles Schulz, he suffered a stroke on exactly the same day his final strip appeared in national newspapers.

The work of Doug Wright is now gradually receiving some of the attention it deserves. In recent years The Doug Wright Awards were inaugurated to honour the best works in Canadian publishing. Over the next month Seth will be designing volume one of a series of comprehensive books that D+Q will be publishing on the life and work of Wright. The first volume will be out by this time next year, and we hope it will go a long away to establishing Doug Wright as one of the finest cartoonists of his era.


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