Nipper 1963-1964: Doug Wright's comic about family life with two young boys

Nipper-Cover-1

I'd never heard of Doug Wright or Nipper before I received this comic strip anthology published by Drawn & Quarterly. It's about the day-to-day events of a suburban family: husband, wife, and two small boys (one named Nipper). I read it a couple of nights ago with my daughter and we laughed quite a few times. (When I say "read," I mean I studied the panels, because the comic strips are wordless.)

There are a lot of things to like about these comic strips, which appeared in newspapers across Canada in the mid-20th century. First, Wright's artwork is charming. The facial expressions of the people are subtle and often essential to understanding the joke of each comic strip. Wright's balance between detail and economy reminds me of Hank Ketcham's, but with less forcefulness. Wright doesn't overtly tell you what to look at. Instead, he invites you to soak in the scene and absorb the different things going on in each panel.

Second, Wright's depiction of children is the best I've seen in a comic. They way the siblings behaves rings true: the taunting, tormenting, fighting, playing, thoughtlessness, selfishness, fear, and joy. These are real kids, as opposed to the pint-sized adults of the Peanuts universe (as Art Spiegelman once pointed out, the only kid in Peanuts is Snoopy). Their antics (as well as their parents' antics) are timeless.

Third, the way these wordless stories are told is like nothing I've seen in a comic strip before. The apparent simplicity of the strips is deceptive. Often, it's not clear what is going at the beginning of a strip. But as the story unfolds, the meaning is revealed. It's very lifelike. These aren't gags; they're slices of life.

Nipper: Classic Comics from 1963-64

See two example strips after the jump.


Nipper-Example-1

Nipper-Example-2

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  1. This brings back a lot of memories for me. My parents had clipped these strips and pasted them in a large scrapbook. Dubbed “the sick book” it would be pulled out when I was home sick from school, or on rainy Sunday afternoons. I could never remember the name of the strip or the artist, making searching for this difficult for me. Thank you so much for posting this.

    There’s a strip where the older boys have set up a messy production line in the kitchen, steaming and reforming the curves of their hockey sticks. I think about it every time I see broken sticks on the ice, or I hear about a players custom line of equipment.

    The detailed inking and selective colorization is such a beautiful style, and I think helped shape my artistic tastes.

  2. The artwork is lovely, particularly noteworthy if these were daily strips.

    As far as the storytelling goes, perhaps the two strips selected for the posting were not Wright’s most sophisticated???

  3. It’s sad that Doug Wright isn’t known outside of Canada, he’s truly wonderful.

    Especially because on of the most prestigious awards given out for Canadian comics ever year are the Doug Wright Awards.

    http://www.wrightawards.ca/pages/rules.html

    Dustin Harbin, an American comic artist who was at TCAF last year talks about his experience as an American attending the very Canadian Doug Wright awards. It’s long, but quite lovely.

    http://www.dharbin.com/blog/2010/05/tcaf-the-toronto-comic-arts-festival-my-report-part-2-the-doug-wright-awards/

  4. Actually, the genuis of Schultz allowed us to think of them as BOTH kids and adults. Especially in Peanuts early days, they behavored more kid-like, around the time Wright was plying his trade …

    1. These are real kids, as opposed to the pint-sized adults of the Peanuts universe (as Art Spiegelman once pointed out, the only kid in Peanuts is Snoopy).

      I have to say that, reading Peanuts as a kid, it was one of the few comics where the characters rang true as other children, if odd ones. In most comics they only seem like children to adults, doing the darnedest things but without a real viewpoint of their own.

      I’m afraid I missed Wright, so I can’t tell you what my young opinion would have been of him, but these samples seem to be closer to the latter.

  5. I remember this cartoonist from my early childhood. Except he featured two teen girls, also wordless.
    I don’t remember if he appeared as an addition to archie comics, or if he had his own comic books. But I remember noticing the way, even though there was no dialogue, his teen girls were obviously yelling and laughing at each other.

  6. I remember reading Doug Wright’s cartoon as a child. Trying to figure out which publication … might have been the Toronto Star’s “Star Weekly” magazine or, perhaps, Macleans (back when it was a monthly) or Chatelaine (a “sister” publication from Maclean-Hunter).

  7. “I remember reading Doug Wright’s cartoon as a child. Trying to figure out which publication … might have been the Toronto Star’s “Star Weekly” magazine or, perhaps, Macleans (back when it was a monthly) or Chatelaine (a “sister” publication from Maclean-Hunter).”

    It was Star Weekly, for sure.

    As for
    Anon • #7 • 11:42 AM Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010 • Reply I remember this cartoonist from my early childhood. Except he featured two teen girls, also wordless.

    I think you’re referring to another strips, called “Cynthia” that Wright did. He juggled about 5 or 6 in total.

  8. Dad has to clean up kids’ toys to get the car out of the driveway.

    After finishing his errands, he returns home to find the toys all over the driveway again already!

  9. It’s good that Doug Wright’s getting the attention he richly deserves. He’s truly one of the unsung Canadian cartoonists who clearly influenced other Canadian artists in their infancy, such as Lynn Johnson, Dave Sim and Chester Brown. I mentioned him in the middle of a blog entry here:
    http://sundaycomicsdebt.blogspot.com/2010/07/foob-redundancy.html

    Those samples you’ve posted seem to be from later in his career, while mine are from an earlier bigger collection. (It was red and HUGE. Hopefully, they’ll re-release the relevant Nipper strips in that book into a more manageable form)

    One other detail that’s worth mentioning that was pointed out in the large Doug Wright collection – with a few exceptions, every Nipper strip is done in Black and White and Red. The Red being the colour to pay attention to.

  10. @ Chentzilla and johnca
    I initially thought the second strip was that he had injured himself on the kids toys and had to rush to the ‘Pharmacy’.
    But I am now wondering if in fact the kids are supposedly home sick and he has had to clean the kids toys from the driveway so he could go to the ‘Pharmacy’ to get medication for ‘supposedly’ sick kids, only find they have been out to play while he was away.

    There seems to be some indication of words on the front door, but I cant make it out, maybe something like cough cough or sneeze, from the sick kids inside.

    Just my thought.

    I remember as a kid reading comic books my parents had, they were very similar to this, and I always got a kick out reading or should I say looking at them.

    Wordless and timeless masterpieces.
    Let’s please see more of this from time to time.

    rockwallaby ;~)

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