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.
See two example strips after the jump.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.