Artists honoured for comics hailing nostalgia, everyday life

Canadian comic artists Joe Ollman of Hamilton, Ont. and Rebecca Kraatz of Dartmouth, N.S. are the latest winners of the Doug Wright Award for cartooning in Canada.

Two Canadian comic artists— one who delves into the struggles of average people and another who playfully blends family memories and the 1940s era— are the latest winners of the Doug Wright Award for cartooning.

Joe Ollman ofHamilton, Ont., and Rebecca Kraatz of Dartmouth, N.S., received the annual honour on Friday night at a ceremony in Toronto.

"I'm stunned," Ollman said as he accepted the best book trophy for his work This Will All End in Tears.

"It was a great honour to be nominated. Even nicer to win," said Ollman who described himself as ahuge fan of Doug Wright.

Ollman's work explores people's everyday obligations and turmoil.

"What contradictions, what energy, what tension, what struggle, what humour, what characters!" said writer Judy MacDonald, speaking on behalf of the five-member Wright Award jury.

Ollman's collection transport readers "into cramped and messy living rooms where we discard ourselves and want to stay," she said.

"These stories and characters aren't tidy. The ends aren't tidy. Life, fear isn't tidy," she said. "Art doesn't have to be tidy either."

Ollman, who works as a graphic designer by day, describes his style as "sort of depressing but ultimately with enough elements of humour withinit— kind of like life."

"I try and make it not like a happy ending but open-ended, that could be interpreted either way," he told CBCNews.ca Arts.

Finding inspiration everywhere— from within his reading material to watching and eavesdropping on those around him —Ollman also said he is drawn to creative works that others might consider "completely bleak."

"But I think there is so much humanity in it that I don't find it bleak at all," he said.

"It's like you getting a glimpse of people's lives. And if they're in a depressing, dark place, then that's real and good and I like to explore that."

Kraatz hailed for 'child-like glee'

An astonished Kraatzwas left nearly speechless when organizers named her this year's best emerging talent.

"I just really was not expecting this at all," Kraatz told CBCnews.ca Arts following the awards ceremony. She said she first learned about her nomination from her friend and fellow nominee Hope Larson.

A cartoonist and woodburn painter who isinspired by old movies, family memories and old photographs,Kraatz washonored for House of Sugar, a collection of nostalgic comic strips that were first published in Halifax weekly The Coast and on the internet.

"It's nice to know that other people read it," said Kraatz, who has also designed album artwork for her husband, Nova Scotia indie rocker Joel Plaskett.

"It's just really nice to be recognized. It's what they always say, but it is kind of true."

Jury member Lorenz Peter, one of the 2006 Wright Award-winners, described Kraatz's strips as "little four-square bursts of uncontrolled, uncontrived imagination linked perfectly together."

"Tales of lightning storms, old men and deep lakes are created with a childlike glee and playfulness that makes one want to explore their own memories and the realm of imagination that is the true essence of comics," Peter said.

The jury also included filmmaker Bruce McDonald, writer and professor Mark Kingwell and journalist Jessica Johnson.

Organizers also inducted the late Rand Holmes, the West Coast cartoonist dubbed "king of the Canadian underground," into Giants of the North, a hall-of-fame style tribute presented alongside the Wright Awards each year.

"I don't know if he'd have shown up here because he was a recluse," Holmes's son Ron said upon accepting the honour. "I'm really glad he's being recognized for his abilities and his talent."

The evening also featured a reunion of and chat featuring the "Toronto Three," established cartoonists and old friends Seth, Chester Brown and Joe Matt, who is now based in Los Angeles.

First presented in 2005, the awards honour excellence in Canadian artistic or alternative comics. The awards are named for Doug Wright, a U.K.-born cartoonist whose work was published in magazines and newspaperssuch asthe Hamilton Spectator and the Montreal Standard.

Wright, who died in 1983, is best known as the creator of the internationally syndicated comic strip Nipper (later known as Doug Wright's Family).