Tuesday 12 April 2011

A lost monument to a comic strip of the past

I suppose I should have saved this post for Canada Day, but the guys over at Sequential compiled a thoroughly satisfying post today about Canadian cartoonist landmarks that roused me from my lazy blogger tendencies. Is there anything more satisfying than a statue or structure to a once-great comics character? They serve as permanent reminders of the profile these characters once enjoyed, even long after their cultural gravitas has waned. Just think of Chief Wahoo (who is based on the 1940s comic strip character Big Chief Wahoo) or,my personal favourite, Hamilton Tiger Cats mascot/booster Pigskin Pete who is the direct descendant of Jimmy Frise's boisterous Birdseye Center character Pigskin Peters.      

All of this got me thinking about a great lost monument to Birdseye Center, made by Frise's replacement on the strip, Doug Wright. On top of being a master artist, Wright was also an obsessive model-maker. During the research for The Collected Doug Wright Volume 1 I heard stories of his model plane, cars and trucks -- all made from scratch in his spare time. So it only made sense that after inheriting the popular strip from Frise, he would eventually turn his model making to the strip's fictional namesake.

At some point in the 1950s, Wright turned his obsession to Frise's great creation and built a scale model of Birdseye Center (which had become known as Juniper Junction due to copyright issues). The model (seen below) featured "Noazark" (a sightseeing ship/tourist trap), a dock building and a structure that looks to be the town hall.    

For comparison's sake, here's a Juniper Junction strip as drawn by Wright depicting the sink-prone  "Noazark".

I was lent the picture by Phyllis Wright, Doug's widow, who told me that he passed the model on to a neighbourhood teen after the strip came to an end in the late 1960s. That was very kind of him, if a bit foolhardy. The teen eventually grew up and grew tired on the model and threw it out years later. Egads, that shattered a little piece of my soul! But at least Wright was smart enough to take this picture, which remains the last evidence of a great comics -- if little-seen -- monument to Canadian comics history.