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The pen and Ben Wicks

The Story

Ben Wicks came to cartooning late in life, but as with most things in his busy career, he more than made up for any lost time. After arriving in Canada in the 1950s, Wicks developed a reputation as a musician and later as a cartoonist whose deceptively simple work first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. A keen observer of social foibles and political fumbles, the popularity of his strip The Outcasts spawned an active side career as a media personality and host of his own CBC show. This obituary for Wicks, from September 2000, reflects on his career as an artist, author and tireless advocate for charitable causes around the world. 

Medium: Television
Program: Saturday Report
Broadcast Date: Sept. 10, 2000
Guests: Pierre Berton, Knowlton Nash
Host: Mark Kelly
Reporter: Norman Hermant
Duration: 2:28

Did You know?

• Alfred (Ben) Wicks was born on Oct. 1, 1926, in London, England. The son of a newspaper typesetter and a cleaning woman (working at rival papers The Mirror and The News), he grew up in a poor Cockney household.
• When London was bombed during the Second World War, the Wicks family was evacuated to the English countryside where they lived as refugees. When he was 14, Wicks dropped out of school and returned to London where he worked a variety of odd jobs which included shipping clerk.

• After working more than 30 different jobs including barrow boy, electrician's mate, clog maker, window cleaner and janitor, Wicks emigrated to Canada in 1957 with $25 in savings.
• He settled in Calgary, where he first worked as a milkman, then later as a musician with the Canadian army playing clarinet. While in the service, Wicks began studying cartooning as a hobby.
• Wicks was given the name "Ben" by a fellow musician, who was inspired by the bandleader Benny Goodman.
• In 1962, Wicks submitted his first cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post - the most read magazine of the day.

• The Post accepted three of his cartoons and over the next 12 months Wicks, now in his late 30s, made a quick rise in the comic business. By 1963, he had moved to Toronto to work as a full-time cartoonist for the Toronto Telegram where he wrote and drew The Outcasts
• The strip featured Wicks' trademark loose style and commented widely on politics and social issues. "Those cartoons worked like what is called a 'blackout' on stage a comic idea that lasts 30 seconds with one strong, self-explanatory punch line," commented comedian Dave Broadfoot. That's "not easy to do. That's what Ben's cartoons were: funny, political and brief."

• At the peak of his popularity in the 1970s, Wicks was the most widely syndicated cartoonist in Canada, with The Outcasts and his self-titled one-panel cartoon Wicks running in 57 papers at home and nearly 150 around the world.
• Wicks also collaborated on many popular books, including the satirical How To Get A Man with Maggie Siggins, and the cookbook The Naked Gourmet, with friend Peter Worthington.
• Wicks also made dozens of appearances on CBC Television, and in the 1980s hosted his own offbeat talk show The World of Wicks.

• Wicks was also involved in a number of charities and humanitarian causes, including the I.Can Foundation (a literacy foundation that ran the "Born To Read" program) and the Regional Maple Leaf, which publishes educational magazines for kids.
• In 1986, Wicks was made a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of both his cartooning career and his many charitable efforts at home and in the developing world.
• His wife, Doreen Wicks, became a member three years later for her work with Global Ed/Med Supplies, an organization she founded to help fund educational and medical initiatives around the globe.

• Ben Wicks died in Toronto on Sept. 10, 2000, of a rare form of skin cancer. He was 73.
• In an obituary in the Globe and Mail, Peter Worthington said of his friend, "He was a sweet personality who had this burning compassion to save the world."
• Quoted in the same article, Wicks himself summed of his life by saying, "I don't know anything about gambling, but if seven is a lucky number, this is the way I fell when I was born. It's always been seven up for me all the time."



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