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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.

Southern Cross - a woodcut novel

In early 1951 artist Laurence Hyde showed his proposed woodcut novel Southern Cross to several New York publishers and they all passed on the project. "We don't publish picture books for adults" was the most common refrain given.
Later that year Southern Cross was published in a limited edition of 1,000 copies by Ward Ritchie Press. Jump ahead 56 years and now Drawn & Quarterly is publishing a facsimile edition of the 1951 printing, complete with the original introduction by Rockwell Kent and with an added forward by woodcut novel historian David Berona.
Southern Cross came about as a result of Hyde's outrage at the United States' testing of atomic bombs in the Bikini Atoll and here he creates a narrative, told in single-page woodblock drawings, of the destruction of the islands and its inhabitants. It's a powerful political and artistic document. Look for it in stores in early October.

Red Colored Elegy

I'm pretty excited about this comic even though it's something like nine months away from arriving in stores but I've been working on it recently. Red Colored Elegy is a true cornerstone of the Japanese underground scene of the early 1970s.

Seiichi Hayashi produced Red Colored Elegy between 1970 and 1971, in the aftermath of a politically turbulent and culturally vibrant decade that promised but failed to deliver new possibilities. With a combination of sparse line work and visual codes borrowed from animation and film, the quiet melancholy lives of a young couple struggling to make ends meet are beautifully captured in this poetic masterpiece. Uninvolved with the political movements of the time, Ichiro and Sachiko hope for something better, but they're no revolutionaries; their spare time is spent drinking, smoking, daydreaming, and sleeping—together and at times with others. While Ichiro attempts to make a living from his comics, Sachiko's parents are eager to arrange a marriage for her, but Ichiro doesn't seem interested. Both in their relationship and at work, Ichiro and Sachiko are unable to say the things they need to say, and like any couple, at times say things to each other that they do not mean, ultimately communicating as much with their body language and what remains unsaid as with words.

Red Colored Elegy is informed as much by underground Japanese comics of the time as it is by the French Nouvelle Vague, and its cultural referents range from James Dean to Ken Takakura. Its influence in Japan was so large that Morio Agata, a prominent Japanese folk musician and singer songwriter, debuted with a love song written and named after it.

"I wanted to live like Sachiko and Ichiro; to have aspirations even while living stoically and humbly." – Morio Agata (from obi)

Interns. Still awesome.

Chuck Forsman. CCS student. D+Q summer intern. Awesome. Unlike previous interns (I won't name names, SF), he maintains a deferential air about him at all times. This coffee is delish!

Glowing praise for John P.

Julie Walters from the Montreal Mirror positively gushes over John's King Cat Classix collection.

A coarse approximation

We got this from Mr. F. C. Ware the other day. I think it's best to let Mr. Ware describe it himself:

Cartoonist and Walt and Skeezix co-editor Chris Ware fakes his way through a wretchedly "low-fi" home recording of the 1923 Skeezix song in a coarse approximation of what the average American pianist might've been able to make of this completely forgotten composition 75 years ago. He does not honor the repeats, nor does anyone sing the lyrics; however, a complete pdf of the sheet music may be downloaded here.

Partially penned by popular ragtime composer Egbert Van Alstyne (who also wrote the well-known "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" as well as sharing dubious co-credit with Afro-American composer and performer Tony Jackson for the jazz (ne⁄ ragtime) standard "Pretty Baby".) This song was apparently never phonographically recorded, at least until now. The circumstances surrounding King's association with the composers are uncertain, but King clearly drew the cover artwork. (It should also be noted that Jerome Remick was one of the most respectable publishers of popular songs of his day.) Other tunes based on cartoon characters were not uncommon, including "Bringing Up Father in Society" (1918), King's friend and colleague Sidney Smith's "Oh! Min" (1918) and the "Andy Gump Fox Trot" (1923) and, of course, the still-sung "Barney Google" (1923).

TCAF photos

Friday night kicked off the fest with the Doug Wright awards and a spotlight on Joe Matt & his new book Spent, reunited on stage with Seth & Chester Brown.

It turns out that Seth would never have banged his head on the table,

would never have said
"That's just the way it is,"

and definitely did not lick any bread.

So just how truthful is Joe Matt in his autobiographical book? Despite his inclinations to lay it all honestly on the page, the story is his first priority. But after seeing the three together in conversation, it's clear that Joe represents their pecking order perfectly: Seth gives Joe the gears, Chester backs him up, Joe gets defensive... and it's all hilarious. So let's just say that Spent is "truthy."

Rebecca Kraatz took home the Doug Wright award for best emerging talent, for House of Sugar, (Tulip Tree Press). I haven't read it yet, but I did get a copy and am looking forward to it! Joe Ollmann won Best Book, for This Will All End in Tears.

The rest of the weekend unfolded as one would expect..

Chris Oliveros, Seth, Joe Matt, Kevin Huizenga, and Peter Thompson behind the tables..

Randy Chang drinks coffee and chats with Tom Neely and Dylan, while Kevin and Anders-Nilsen-doppelganger Casey work the Bodega table upstairs..

Buenaventura's looking good.. the table yeah, but especially Alvin's t-shirts! awesome!

Seth, Peter Birkemoe (of The Beguiling) and comics historian Jeet Heer talk about.. um.. probably comics...

And Rebecca watches over things back at the D+Q table.

Thanks to all the fans, cartoonists, organizers and everyone else involved!

Rutu Modan interview on the BBC!

Check out Rutu Modan's interview with the BBC. Then, when you've watched that, have a gander at what they have to say about her and her new book, Exit Wounds.

What happened at TCAF 2007?

Beats me, I didn't go. But here's a couple photos I found on the office camera:

See how Kevin Huizenga tries not to look at the revealing holes in Alvin Buenaventura's shirt while Peter Thompson locks right in.

Books loom over the triumphantly returning Joe Matt as he draws himself on the "terlet" for a fan.

Doug Wright's wife Phyllis, Chris Oliveros and Seth post Doug Wright awards. {this last photo was swiped from Brad Mackay's Flickr set.}

L.A. = Awesome Comics Town

This summer, the L.A. Weekly contacted me to excerpt Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings. I said yes right away. Why? I'm hard pressed to name another city with as many comic stores and comic friendly bookstores. Sure, there are other cities with great stores, but collectively? Ok, I'm bound to forget one, but let's try in alphabetical order: Booksoup, Duttons, Family, Giant Robot, Golden Apple, Hammer, Hi De Ho, House of Secrets, Meltdown, Secret Headquarters, Skylight Books, Third Planet, Vromans, and...? Email me to let me know if I forgot anyone. It's Sunday night, go easy on me.

The excerpt ran on Thursday: "His crisp, almost gestural line work is both modern and retro, and each painstakingly composed individual panel comes across like a scene from a movie. It's pure story done in a pure style..."


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